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Kentucky high court: Death penalty IQ law unconstitutional
Legal Topics | 2018/06/17 23:53
The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that the state's practice for determining if someone is intellectually disabled and not eligible to receive the death penalty is "unconstitutional."

News outlets report that the court on Thursday deemed Kentucky's use of an IQ test to determine if defendants have the mental competence to be sentenced to death outdated. Trial courts required defendants show an IQ of 70 or below before a hearing to determine intellectual disability.

The court's opinion came in the case of a man convicted of murdering a Muhlenberg County girl 20 years ago. Robert Keith Woodall was sentenced to death after pleading guilty in the killing of 16-year-old Sarah Hansen.

Woodall's attorneys, assistant public advocates Mike O'Hara and Dennis Burke, say the court's decision to abandon Kentucky's statute is modern and appropriate.



NY high court nixes Trump's bid to delay defamation suit
Legal Topics | 2018/06/15 16:09
New York's highest court on Thursday turned down President Donald Trump's latest bid to delay a defamation suit filed by a former "Apprentice" contestant who accused him of unwanted groping and kissing.

The ruling by the state Court of Appeals didn't address either side's central arguments. But it means evidence-gathering in Summer Zervos' lawsuit can proceed, at least for now.

Zervos' lawyer, Mariann Wang, said she looks forward to continuing with the case "and exposing the truth."

Trump, who denies Zervos' allegations, is trying to get the case dismissed or postponed until after his presidency. A mid-level appellate court is due to consider that request in the fall.

Trump's lawyers at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP noted that Thursday's ruling didn't speak to their argument for tossing out the case: That a sitting president can't be sued in a state court.

Instead, the Court of Appeals said the case was simply in too early a stage for its consideration.

Zervos, a California restaurateur, appeared in 2006 on the Republican president's former reality show, "The Apprentice."

She says he made unwanted advances when she sought career advice in 2007, then defamed her by calling her a liar after she came forward late in his 2016 presidential race. She is seeking a retraction, an apology and compensatory and punitive damages.


Supreme Court allows Arkansas to enforce abortion restrictions
Legal Topics | 2018/05/22 23:02
The Supreme Court is allowing Arkansas to put into effect restrictions on how abortion pills are administered. Critics of a challenged state law say it could effectively end medication abortions in the state.

The justices did not comment Tuesday in rejecting an appeal from the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Arkansas that asked the court to review an appeals court ruling and reinstate a lower court order that had blocked the law from taking effect. The law says doctors who provide abortion pills must hold a contract with another physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital and who would agree to handle complications.

The law is similar to a provision in Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the court order barring enforcement of the law, but put its ruling on hold while Planned Parenthood appealed to the Supreme Court.

The legal fight over the law is not over, but the state is now free to enforce it, at least for the time being. Planned Parenthood has said that if the law stands, Arkansas would be the only state where women would not have access to a pair of drugs that end pregnancies: mifepristone, which makes it difficult for a fetus to attach to the uterine wall, and misoprostol, which causes the body to expel it, similar to a miscarriage.

The organization offers pills to end pregnancies at clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock but says it cannot find any Arkansas obstetrician willing to handle hospital admissions. Preventing women from obtaining medication abortions would create an undue burden on their right to an abortion, Planned Parenthood says. Undue burden is the standard set by the Supreme Court to measure whether restrictions go too far in limiting women who want an abortion.


Court to hear challenge to Winona County's sand mining ban
Legal Topics | 2018/05/05 08:58

Winona County, Minnesota's only county to ban the mining of silica sand for use by the oil and gas industry in hydraulic fracturing, goes to court Monday to defend the ban.

Minnesota Sands LLC, which holds extensive mineral rights in southeastern Minnesota, is challenging the legality before the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Here's a look at the ban and key issues before a three-judge panel:

The Winona County Board adopted the ban in 2016 after public hearings that drew large crowds. The Land Stewardship Project spearheaded a 17-month grassroots campaign, citing risks to public health, air and water; damage to the scenic landscape of southeastern Minnesota; the impact on roads from heavy truck traffic and the loss of farmland.

Minnesota Sands LLC sued, arguing it was an unconstitutional restraint on interstate commerce and it made worthless the company's mineral rights leases on nearly 2,000 acres of land in the county. The company says the silica sand there is worth between $3.6 billion and $5.8 billion. Winona County District Judge Mary Leahy rejected those arguments last November, so the company appealed.


Supreme Court to hear appeal of Missouri death row inmate
Legal Topics | 2018/04/26 02:12
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to review the case of a Missouri death row inmate who says his rare medical condition could cause him to choke on his own blood during an execution.

The justices said they would hear the appeal of inmate Russell Bucklew. The court blocked Bucklew's execution in March after he argued that a tumor in his throat is likely to rupture and bleed during the administration of the drugs that would be used to kill him.

Bucklew argues that subjecting him to lethal injection would violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The issue is whether Bucklew has to show there is another method of execution available that would reduce the risk of needless suffering.

Bucklew has proposed that the state use lethal gas instead of an injection of pentobarbital, if the execution is carried out. Missouri law still provides for the option of lethal gas, but the state no longer has a gas chamber and has not used the method since 1965.

Bucklew says it is likely he would essentially suffocate for two to three minutes if he is given a drug injection. The feeling of suffocation would last no more than 30 seconds using gas, he says.

But the federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled against him and concluded that he did not prove the alternate method would reduce his suffering. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that inmates challenging a method of execution have to show that there's an alternative that is likely to be less painful.

None of the 20 inmates executed since Missouri began using pentobarbital in 2013 have shown obvious signs of pain or suffering.



Question of sales tax on online purchases goes to high court
Legal Topics | 2018/04/17 12:17
Online shoppers have gotten used to seeing that line on checkout screens before they click "purchase." But a case before the Supreme Court could change that.

At issue is a rule stemming from two, decades-old Supreme Court cases: If a business is shipping to a state where it doesn't have an office, warehouse or other physical presence, it doesn't have to collect the state's sales tax.

That means large retailers such as Apple, Macy's, Target and Walmart, which have brick-and-mortar stores nationwide, generally collect sales tax from customers who buy from them online. But other online sellers, from 1-800 Contacts to home goods site Wayfair, can often sidestep charging the tax.

More than 40 states are asking the Supreme Court to reconsider that rule in a case being argued Tuesday. They say they're losing out on "billions of dollars in tax revenue each year, requiring cuts to critical government programs" and that their losses compound as online shopping grows. But small businesses that sell online say the complexity and expense of collecting taxes nationwide could drive them out of business.

Large retailers want all businesses to "be playing by the same set of rules," said Deborah White, the president of the litigation arm of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents more than 70 of America's largest retailers.

For years, the issue of whether out-of-state sellers should collect sales tax had to do mostly with one company: Amazon.com. The online giant is said to account for more than 40 percent of U.S. online retail sales. But as Amazon has grown, dotting the country with warehouses, it has had to charge sales tax in more and more places.

President Donald Trump has slammed the company, accusing it of paying "little or no taxes" to state and local governments. But since 2017, Amazon has been collecting sales tax in every state that charges it. Third-party sellers that use Amazon to sell products make their own tax collection decisions, however.

The case now before the Supreme Court could affect those third-party Amazon sellers and many other sellers that don't collect taxes in all states — sellers such as jewelry website Blue Nile, pet products site Chewy.com, clothing retailer L.L. Bean, electronics retailer Newegg and internet retailer Overstock.com. Sellers on eBay and Etsy, which provide platforms for smaller sellers, also don't collect sales tax nationwide.

States generally require consumers who weren't charged sales tax on a purchase to pay it themselves, often through self-reporting on their income tax returns. But states have found that only about 1 percent to 2 percent actually pay.


Singer Cliff Richard's case against BBC begins in High Court
Legal Topics | 2018/04/10 00:50
begun in a London court.

Richard is suing the broadcaster for its coverage of the 2014 raid, when police were investigating an alleged sex assault.

The 77-year-old singer was never charged with any crime. His lawsuit claims he suffered "profound" damage to his reputation as a result of the BBC's coverage of the police activity at his home.

BBC says it will "vigorously" rebut Richard's case. Richard's lawyer Justin Rushbrooke told the court BBC used its cameras to "spy" into Richard's home.

He said it was hard to describe "the sense of panic and powerlessness" Richard experienced when he realized the BBC was broadcasting images of the raid based on allegations he knew were false.


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