Supreme Court overrules Bush, OKs Texas execution
Legal Topics | 2008/03/25 16:26

WASHINGTON-- The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday thatTexas can execute a Mexican murderer being held on its death row. Thecase pitted President Bush against his home state in a dispute overfederal authority, local sovereignty and foreign treaties.

The case decided by the Supreme Court on Tuesday pitted President Bush against his home state, Texas.

The man at the center of the case, Jose Ernesto Medellin, faces execution for two slayings.

At issue was whether the state must give in to demands by the presidentto allow the prisoner new court hearings and sentencing.

Bushmade that demand reluctantly, after an international court concludedMedellin was improperly denied access to his consulate before hisoriginal prosecution -- a violation of a treaty signed by the UnitedStates decades ago.

The Supreme Court justices voted 6 to 3 in favor of the state's position.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that theinternational court's ruling "is not domestic law," so Bush's authorityto demand a new hearing for Medellin is limited.

Medellin was 18 when he participated in the June 1993 gang rape andmurder of two Harris County, Texas, girls -- 14-year-old JenniferErtman and 16-year-old Elizabeth Pena. He was later convicted of thecrimes and sentenced to death.



Use of MySpace May Violate Court Order
Legal Topics | 2008/03/24 20:20

In one of the first rulings of its kind, a Staten Island judge has said that a teenage girl could be charged with violating a restraining order by using MySpace.com to reach out to people she was told not to contact.

The girl, Melisa Fernino, 16, of West Brighton, Staten Island, was charged with three counts of criminal contempt in September after she was accused of sending a MySpace "friend request" to Sandra Delgrosso and her two daughters on August 23. The order was put in place after Fernino made several violent threats against Delgrosso, who had dated her father, and against her two daughters, said a Staten Island official who insisted on anonymity because the case originated in Family Court, where proceedings are private.

On Wednesday, Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. of Staten Island Criminal Court turned down Fernino's request to dismiss the contempt charges, ruling that MySpace was a form of contact just like speaking in person or by telephone and that the order of restraint had barred any sort of contact with the Delgrossos. The judge's decision was reported in The Staten Island Advance.



Feds Open Criminal Probe Into Alcoa
Legal Topics | 2008/03/23 22:28
The U.S. Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation into whether aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. participated in bribery in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain.

In documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, federal prosecutors asked a judge to halt a federal civil lawsuit that accused Pittsburgh-based Alcoa of bribing officials through overseas shell companies to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in overpayments.

"The United States has a direct and substantial interest in this case, as the subject matter giving rise to this case is also the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation," prosecutors in the Justice Department's fraud section said in court filings.

Aluminum Bahrain B.S.C., also known as Alba, in which the Bahrain government holds a 77 percent stake, is seeking more than $1 billion in damages from Alcoa and other affiliated defendants, according to a federal lawsuit filed last month.

"The Alba complaint alleges numerous facts which, if true, could be relevant to the government's criminal investigation and a potential criminal trial," prosecutors said in court filings.



Libby Is Disbarred in Washington
Legal Topics | 2008/03/20 18:03
Former top White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was banned Thursday from practicing law in the nation's capital following his perjury conviction in the case of a CIA operative's leaked identity.

The disbarment order of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had been expected.

"When a member of the bar is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, disbarment is mandatory," the appeals court ruled.

Last May, a court panel that oversees lawyer ethics recommended that Libby be stripped of his law license in Washington. The Board on Professional Responsibility then found that Libby's conviction for lying to the FBI about the case of former CIA operative Valerie Plame amounted to "crimes that involve moral turpitude."



Gun law in sights of US Supreme Court
Legal Topics | 2008/03/18 18:07
Advocates of gun rights and opponents of gun violence demonstrated outside the Supreme Court Tuesday while inside, justices heard arguments over the meaning of the Second Amendment's "right to keep and bear arms."

Dozens of protesters mingled with tourists and waved signs saying "Ban the Washington elitists, not our guns" or "The NRA helps criminals and terrorist buy guns."

Members of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence chanted "guns kill" as followers of the Second Amendment Sisters and Maryland Shall Issue.Org shouted "more guns, less crime."

A line to get into the court for the historic arguments began forming two days earlier and extended more than a block by early Tuesday.

The high court's first extensive examination of the Second Amendment since 1939 grew out of challenge to the District of Columbia's ban on ownership of handguns.

Anise Jenkins, president of a coalition called Stand Up for Democracy in D.C., defended the district's 32-year-old ban on handgun ownership.



Supreme Court to Hear Indecency Case
Legal Topics | 2008/03/18 08:07
The U.S. Supreme Court has stepped into one of the biggest free speech fights of the past three decades, but it's unclear how far the court will go when it rules on just how much trouble broadcasters can get into for a slip of the tongue.

On Monday, the court agreed to hear arguments over the Federal Communications Commission's policy regarding so-called "fleeting expletives" in a closely watched case that will decide whether the government can fine or revoke a broadcaster's license because someone says a bad word. The case will be argued late this year.

Both News Corp., the Fox Broadcasting parent that wanted its victory in a lower court to stand, and the FCC, which pushed the Bush administration to appeal the case, applauded the justices' decision.

"The commission, Congress and most importantly parents understand that protecting our children is our greatest responsibility," FCC chairman Kevin Martin said.

Solicitor general Paul Clement, the Bush administration's top lawyer, urged the court to take the case, arguing that the appeals court decision had placed "the commission in an untenable position," powerless to stop the airing of expletives even when children are watching.

Fox said the move would "give us the opportunity to argue that the FCC's expanded enforcement of the indecency law is unconstitutional in today's diverse media marketplace, where parents have access to a variety of tools to monitor their children's television viewing."

The case surrounds two incidents in which celebrities used profanity during the Billboard Music Awards. In 2002, Cher told the audience: "People have been telling me I'm on the way out every year? So f--- 'em." The next year, Nicole Richie said: "Have you ever tried to get cow s--- out of a Prada purse? It's not so f---ing simple." (The Nielsen Co. owns Adweek and Billboard.)

Although the case concerns those utterances, it is grounded in a policy the commission developed after a 2004 incident in which U2's Bono said on NBC that winning a Golden Globe was "really, really f---ing brilliant." After that, the commission changed its long-standing policy and decided that some words are so inherently awful that broadcasters are liable even if the words come as a surprise. (NBC challenged the decision, but that case has yet to be resolved.)

The FCC found that Fox violated the Bono doctrine for the comments made by Cher and Richie, but the panel decided against issuing a fine because the shows aired before the commission altered the policy.

Fox, CBS, NBC and other broadcasters challenged the commission's decision, arguing that it chills free speech, threatens live programming and is unduly vague.


Court upholds ban on Minnesota video game law
Legal Topics | 2008/03/17 23:59
A federal appeals court on Monday upheld an injunction against a Minnesota law that targeted at children under 17 who rent or buy violent video games.

A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with a lower-court judge that Minnesota went too far when it passed its law two years ago because the state couldn't prove that such games hurt children.

The law would have hit kids under 17 with a $25 fine if they rented or bought a video game rated "M" for mature or "AO" for adults only. It also would have required stores to put up signs warning of the fines.

Game makers and retailers swiftly challenged the law, arguing it was an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum ruled in their favor in July 2006.

But the appellate opinion, written by Judge Roger l. Wollman, showed the judges weren't entirely happy about it.

"Whatever our intuitive (dare we say commonsense) feelings regarding the effect" of violent video games, precedent requires undeniable proof that such violence causes psychological dysfunction, Wollman wrote.

"The requirement of such a high level of proof may reflect a refined estrangement from reality, but apply it we must," he wrote.



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