Archive | Blind Justice

What is the ripple effect of SCOTUS abortion decision?

U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C.

By Koria Stanton

Two weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that sought to restrict abortion access under the auspices of health and safety. The 5-3 ruling in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt not only affirmed women’s rights, but also sent a clear message about “clinic shutdown” laws. The ruling will likely spur action on both sides of the abortion question.

The Court decided two issues related to a Texas law that did not place restrictions on a woman’s right to obtain abortion services, but instead limited how abortion clinics and staff were licensed. By placing severe restrictions on clinics and doctors who perform abortions, Texas had essentially eliminated the availability of abortion services and thus, a woman’s right to pursue an abortion.

The majority opinion relied in part on a 1992 decision of the Court. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, the Court ruled that if the “purpose or effect” of a law “is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion,” then the law is unconstitutional. The provisions of the Texas law in question in Whole Women’s Health were found to violate the U.S. Constitution because they failed to offer any justifiable medical benefit. Both were deemed to place undue burdens on a woman’s access to abortion.

The ruling, however, is not likely to spark any changes to abortion practices in Washington, D.C.

The District has the least restrictive abortion laws in the United States. Unlike Texas, Washington, D.C. abortion clinics need not be licensed as a type of surgical center and an abortion does not need to be performed by a licensed physician – let alone one with admitting privileges at a hospital. Additionally, public funds are available for a woman seeking termination of a pregnancy due to rape or incest.

It has been nearly forty-five years since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, but the ongoing controversy demonstrates that women’s rights are still being attacked in jurisdictions across the United States. Even as the Court affirmed women’s rights, there is some irony in an analogy used by Justice Breyer in the Court’s opinion.

Early in the majority opinion, while discussing claim preclusion, the Court justifies the suit against Hellerstedt, despite its appearance as successive litigation. Therein, a parallel is drawn to prisoners filing suit for prison conditions violations.

The Court’s use of prison conditions is a reminder of the larger battle for women’s rights in 2016. Despite over a century of progress, women are still imprisoned by legislation that presumes to dictate the choices they are allowed to make in regard to their bodies, medical care, and personal decisions that will ultimately affect their lives and futures.

While the pro-life movement may not condone or appreciate it, Washington, D.C. has an open door policy for women seeking assistance with an abortion. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over half of all abortions performed in the District are for out-of-state residents. Even without restrictive ordinances and statutes like those proposed in Texas, Washington, D.C. is able to offer a service to women, for women, without dire consequences.

The majority justices of the Court needed only to look out their office windows for guidance in their decision. The nation’s capital sets a strong example on a question that affects women across the country. Abortion rights are congruent with women’s rights and District abortion laws make that abundantly clear.

Attorney Koria Stanton, with the Maryland Criminal Defense Group, handles cases ranging from assault and disorderly conduct, to sex offenses and robbery.

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Minnesota judge will try to untangle Prince’s estate

8.12_Jacob Burns Film Center presents Purple Rain

This month the Minnesota judge who is handling the case regarding musician Prince’s fortune and assets has started the proceedings in order to determine the legitimate heirs of the late musician after his unexpected death. Prince left no will indicating how his fortune should be divided and to whom the inheritance should be awarded.

With both parents deceased, no current wife and no living children, the case may prove to be difficult and drawn-out for District Court Judge Kevin Eide. He is willing to work through the case no matter how long it takes as this case may set a precedent in Minnesota law.

Prince Rogers Nelson is the full name of the pop icon who died suddenly of an overdose of the powerful opioid fentanyl in April of this year.

Presiding over the hearing of Prince’s fortune without a written will and with no clear-cut inheritors makes this case a first for Minnesota law. Several potential inheritors have come forward but none have been confirmed.

The fortune they have laid claim to is no small amount; experts have speculated that it is in the range of $100 million to $300 million. Prince left archives of unreleased music, rights to his music and the Paisley Park estate near Minneapolis, where Prince lived.

The court contracted a trust management group headed by trust attorney, David Crosby, to search Paisley Park for a will, but they have not found anything that even suggests that there is a will in existence.

The wealth management firm Bremer Trust is overseeing the estate and will run DNA tests on those who have alleged themselves to be heirs to Prince’s fortune. Exactly how this testing will be done was determined in the first hearing while another hearing will utilize the scientific evidence procured by the DNA tests to qualify those claims or not.

Six people so far will be represented by lawyers in the hearing as possible heirs to a percentage of the estate. At least two of these alleged heirs have protested the mandated blood and genetic testing as unnecessary, stating that they have a way to prove their relation to Prince.

Among those who have come forward are a young man in a Colorado prison who claims to be Prince’s son and two young women who claim to be his niece and granddaughter. Prince has one biological sister and five half-siblings.

Judge Kevin Eide has not released the affidavits and documents of those who have made a claim to the inheritance and will not allow any cameras to record the hearing despite petitions by several news outlets.

Another hearing will address the media’s ability to access the documents and to enter the courtroom.

Trust and Estates attorney Kerri Castellini commented, “Whether or not a rightful heir is found, there will be at least one party that benefits from Prince’s Estate: the IRS. State and federal taxes may consume a large portion of Prince’s estate if there was no prior tax planning.”

This ruling will certainly set precedents for future cases involving inheritance of large estates, especially when a prominent figure is implicated. It appears that Prince’s legacy will now sashay into the world of law.

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Drip, drip, drip

Closer, ever closer:

NEWARK, New Jersey – A former top appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pleaded guilty Friday in connection with a plan to cause traffic problems on the George Washington Bridge as political payback. Two other former Christie allies, meanwhile, face federal criminal charges in the scandal known as Bridgegate.

At the federal court here in the Garden State’s largest city, David Wildstein acknowledged conspiring with Bill Baroni, Christie’s then-top Port Authority appointee, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich by closing lanes on the entrance to the George Washington Bridge in 2013, because Sokolich had declined to endorse Christie in his re-election bid. At the time, Wildstein was a top official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge.

Supreme Court Limits Drunk Driving Laws

SBSO DUI Checkpoint

On Thursday, June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a ruling about laws some states have in which requiring suspected drunk drivers to submit to blood alcohol tests without the police having a warrant. They decided that in order for a blood alcohol test to be given, a search warrant for the driver’s blood must be obtained by police.

The Court also ruled that there is no need for a search warrant when it comes to breath tests because these are more common and not as invasive as the blood alcohol tests.

There were three cases in the states of Minnesota and North Dakota in which the constitutionality of the  “implied consent” rule was at issue.  The issue decided by the Court in each case was whether these laws were in direct violation of the Constitution’s forbiddance of warrantless and unreasonable searches and seizures. In each case, the state supreme courts  found the implied consent rules to be Constitutional.

In the three cases heard by the Supreme Court, the lawyers defending the cases made the argument that a warrantless search should be done in unusual circumstances that are not a part of everyday life. They claimed that alcohol testing for drunk driving is a normal function of the law and therefore police officers must obtain warrants before they administer any kind of testing.

The prosecution argued that such a warrant requirement would be unduly burdensome for small localities.   The Supreme Court was not persuaded by the government’s argument.

During their oral arguments, some of the justices made the point that you can get a search warrant in a small town in a matter of minutes by calling the magistrate on duty. Waiting a number of minutes is in no way a burden to the police officer administering the test.

And while they voted in favor of this ruling, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a separate opinion where they stated that even breath tests should be subject to search warrants. They opined  that there is no governmental circumstance in which an officer having to get a search warrant for a breath test is in any way out of the ordinary or detrimental to law enforcement.

While organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving supported the government’s position that implied consent laws are necessary to ensure public safety, civil liberty groups sided with the Supreme Court on the grounds that one’s Constitutional right against warrantless and unreasonable searches and seizures should not be violated by enacting statutes that criminalize a driver’s refusal to submit to a blood alcohol test.

Defense attorney Karin Riley Porter commented, “The Court’s ruling supports the position of civil liberty activists who favor  keeping the public safe, but demand protection of their constitutional rights.”

Alligators, etc.

3S5X1787  Lazy Days

I remember being a kid and seeing “No swimming” signs at the local creek. We figured that meant it was okay to go wading, so:

When unspeakable tragedies occur, it seems to be human nature to ask the questions, why and how. Why did this terrible event happen? How could this have been prevented? When events seem so much out of our control, we want to feel that someone or something is to blame. We somehow take comfort in that.

When a toddler from Nebraska was swept away by an alligator while playing on a beach by a man-made lagoon at Walt Disney World in early June, the world was shocked, saddened and wanting to know how this could happen. Even though alligators are a known fixture in the state of Florida, most people would not expect that kind of danger at a prominent resort.

Initially, when the news first broke, as often happens with tragedies involving small children, people were quick to question the parents. However, as more information became available, it seems the incident was absolutely no fault of the parents.

According to eye-witnesses, the parents were within five to 10 feet of the toddler, along with many other people along the beach. The child was walking along the water’s edge when the alligator attacked and the shocked parents immediately attempted to rescue their child.

So now, the question is – could Disney have done more to prevent this incident? There were “No Swimming” signs posted around the man-made lagoon, but was that enough? Technically, the toddler was not swimming – only wading in very shallow water.

Guests vacation at these resorts and play on these beaches with the expectation that they are reasonably safe. The fact that Disney built this man-made lagoon and has knowledge that alligators can potentially be present and enter these lagoons, could be sufficient to prove liability.

However, because alligators are known inhabitants of Florida and because this is an extremely rare incidence, Disney may have a defense against a claim of foreseeability.

Attorney Peter Tragos commented, “This tragedy underscores the need for businesses and organizations to properly post warnings no matter how remote the danger may be.”

Since the attack, Disney has posted additional signs around all bodies of water on the property. In addition to the “no swimming” warning, there is also a warning of alligators.

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Death Row Inmate in Recusal Case

In 1984, former Philadelphia District Attorney Ronald Castille successfully sought the death penalty for 18-year-old Terrance Williams, who was convicted of murdering a man named Amos Norwood. Within a week of Williams’ scheduled execution almost 30 years later, newly uncovered evidence caused the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to reverse Williams’ death sentence.

Prosecutors appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where Castille now presided as Chief Justice, and Williams’ death penalty was reinstated despite a motion filed by Williams’ attorneys requesting Castille’s recusal.

Following oral arguments in February, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in a 5-3 decision on June 9, 2016, citing due process concerns under the Fourteenth Amendment in Chief Justice Castille’s unwillingness to recuse himself from the case.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by the liberal justices of the Court, claiming that Castille should have stepped aside to avoid violating Williams’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The due process guarantee that, “no man can be a judge in his own case,” he noted, “would have little substance if it did not disqualify a former prosecutor from sitting in judgment of a prosecution in which he or she had made a critical decision.”

The Court ordered the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reconsider the appeal, and since Chief Justice Castille is now retired, the risk of bias is much less likely.

Joined by Justice Samuel Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a dissenting opinion criticizing the Court for making a decision solely based on “proverb rather than precedent.”

He claimed that Chief Justice Castille did not have significant personal involvement in the case because the case at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarded prosecutorial misconduct, not the death penalty.

Justice Clarence Thomas also filed a dissenting opinion, in which he further pressed a distinction between Williams’ criminal proceedings issued 30 years ago and his post-conviction proceedings within the last few years.

Philadelphia Defense Attorney Amato Sanita commented, “In cases involving our Supreme Court in Pennsylvania, any such perception of bias from a particular Justice’s comments should be taken into consideration when deciding whether a recusal is in order. It is the only way to ensure an individual’s rights and liberties are protected.”

In essence, the Court has used a fairly broad legal argument citing fundamental Constitutional concerns to create a much narrower decision, since most states already use this type of judge-recusal practice to prevent bias.

However, it could be an important step in making recusal law a Constitutional right, preventing similar instances in the future.

Freddie Gray Police Van Driver Acquitted in Bench Trial

Thursday morning may prove to be a true turning point in the series of trials stemming from the 2015 arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray, events which thrust the City of Baltimore into the international spotlight.

As Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams issued a ruling in the case of Officer Caesar Goodson acquitting the officer of murder charges, many observers believe that the fates of the other officers still awaiting trial may be significantly impacted by the outcome.

Closing Arguments Heard Monday

The defense and prosecution teams presented their closing arguments on Monday in the trial of Goodson, the officer charged with the most serious charge of any of the six police defendants. The charge of second-degree depraved heart murder carries with it a possible sentence of 30 years imprisonment, making closing arguments a high-stakes proposition for Goodson’s lawyers.

Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe focused on the argument that Goodson, as the police transport van driver, placed Gray in the vehicle while shackled, but failed to restrain him in a seat belt during an intentional “rough ride.” These actions, they assert, caused him to suffer severe and indeed fatal spinal cord injuries for which Goodson declined to seek medical attention.

Defense lawyer Matthew Fraling countered the state’s position by arguing the Freddie Gray was the cause of his own injury and death by engaging in erratic, volatile movement while in the transport van, rather than remaining on the floor of the vehicle, where he was originally placed by officers. Defense attorneys further asserted that no outward sign of Gray’s injuries existed which would have alerted Goodson to the serious distress he was actually suffering.

Questioning By Judge Williams May Offer Key Insights

Judge Williams engaged in active questioning of both sides during closing arguments, particularly during Schatzow’s rebuttal to the defense team’s presentation. In particular, Williams seemed to focus on the state’s assertion that Goodson deliberately harmed Gray by taking him on what is known as a “rough ride” while leaving him unrestrained in the van.

Williams wanted the state to explain what actions taken by Goodson constituted a high level of risk for Gray and precisely what evidence had been given to demonstrate that a rough ride truly did occur. Schatzow was also asked to further explicate the prosecution’s position that Goodson committed criminal negligence by not seeking the aid of a medic.

How Acquittal Could Impact Remaining Defendants

Legal observers have suggested that the outcome of this case may have a significant effect on the defendants still waiting for their day in court. With two previous prosecution efforts failing to produce a single conviction, if Goodson is found not guilty, the state will likely face an uphill battle going forward.

Baltimore Defense Attorney Oleg Fastovsky commented, “The fact that Goodson was found not guilty not only affected the strategies of both sides in the upcoming trials of the remaining officers, but it will also add fuel to the lawsuits filed by the officers against Mosby, and could very well lead to more lawsuits and claims.”

Slated for trial later this summer are Lt. Brian Rice, Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White. Officer William Porter, whose first trial ended in a declared mistrial, is scheduled for retrial in September.

SCOTUS: NRA can’t challenge local gun laws

2010 SHOT Show - Media Day at the Range - The New Gen4 Glock 19

This was one of the big ALEC-sponsored laws. I am happy it got the treatment it deserved:

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday declined to reinstate a law that gave the National Rifle Association the right to challenge local gun-control rules in court.

The Commonwealth Court overturned the law last year on the ground that the legislative process used to make it had violated the constitution. The gun provision had been added to a bill that addressed the theft of metals.

“The Supreme Court unanimously agreed with what the Commonwealth Court unanimously found: that the legislature violated the single-subject rule in an effort to pass an unpopular and irrational bill without being noticed,” said Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), who led the lawsuit challenging the law.

House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati had appealed the Commonwealth Court ruling. Drew Crompton, the Senate GOP general counsel, said he assumed Republicans would try again to pass such a proposal, adding that some towns were going overboard in regulating gun sales.

The transgender constitution

In our professional, as well as social lives, we have encountered a variety of restrooms around town. In courthouses, they are more likely to be clearly marked “Women” or “Men.” At smaller establishments around the city where real estate is at a premium, sometimes we are lucky to find a vaguely marked unisex lavatory behind a rickety door.

Despite a variety of restroom options, the one thing we are unlikely to encounter is an awkward or dangerous encounter with a transgender person. However, with the brewing controversy in North Carolina over the constitutional right of the state to dictate who shall use which restroom, you would think a bathroom break is one of the world’s most dangerous endeavors.

In 1977, Washington, D.C. adopted the Human Rights Act to make policy on a variety of equality issues. It did not include transgender persons…until 2006. Ten years ago, the city added a chapter titled “Compliance Rules and Regulations Regarding Gender Identity.” Chaos did not ensue in public restrooms despite a policy to allow transgender individuals to use the restroom of their choice.
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