TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Arizona Abortion Arguments

The justices left in place a lower court ruling

(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court is refusing to allow Arizona to enforce stringent restrictions on medical abortions while a challenge to those rules plays out in lower courts.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that blocked rules that regulate where and how women can take drugs that induce abortion. The rules also would prohibit the use of the abortion medications after the seventh week of pregnancy instead of the ninth.

Planned Parenthood was among abortion providers that challenged the rules in federal court. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prevented the state from putting them in place during the legal challenge. Similar laws are in effect in North Dakota, Ohio and Texas. The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the restrictions in that state.

The rules would ban women from taking the most common abortion-inducing drug, mifepristone, after the seventh week of pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration approved its use in 2000 through the first seven weeks of pregnancy. It is prescribed along with a second drug, misoprostol.

Since the FDA approval, medical researchers and clinical trials have shown that mifepristone is effective in much smaller doses and for two weeks longer in a pregnancy, the challengers said. The second drug also may be taken at home.

Arizona’s rules would require that the drugs be taken only at the doses approved by the FDA in 2000 and only at clinics.

Planned Parenthood says that medical abortions now account for more than 40 percent of abortions at its clinics.

To justify the restrictions, Arizona and the other states have pointed to the deaths of at least eight women who took the drugs. But the 9th circuit said the FDA investigated those deaths and found no causal connection between them and the use of mifespristone or misoprostol.

TIME Crime

Ferguson Protesters Try to Block Use of Tear Gas

Police Shooting Missouri
An explosive device deployed by police flies in the air as police and protesters clash after tear gas was thrown on Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Jeff Roberson—AP

A federal judge told cops not to use of gas to disperse crowds without proper warning

A federal judge in St. Louis ordered local police to limit their use of tear gas after Ferguson protesters filed a complaint alleging their right to peaceful assembly had been violated.

Carol Jackson, a judge in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Missouri, issued a temporary restraining order Thursday after a hearing in which protesters argued they had been gassed without warning amid peaceful protests that erupted anew last month when a grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

The ruling requires police to respect demonstrators’ rights to lawfully assemble and provide clear warning before resorting to the use of chemical agents. It represents a modest victory for the protest movement, which previously won a courtroom victory when a different judge ruled that a policy that required protesters to walk continuously was unconstitutional.

At the same time, the impact of the temporary order is limited. It applies only to Missouri, and leaves the definition of fair warning at the discretion of police. Another hearing was scheduled for next month, according to reports.

The suit argued that local law-enforcement leaders violated the constitutional rights of demonstrators who had peacefully gathered to protest the grand jury’s decision. It focused on an incident that occurred late on the night of Nov. 24, as the region erupted in the aftermath of the announcement.

According to court documents, protesters had gathered outside a St. Louis coffeehouse when officers ordered the crowd to vacate the street. “Without notice or warning,” the complaint alleges, police then began firing tear gas canisters at the crowd, some of whom ran into the coffee shop, which filled with gas. Several protesters were sickened by the fumes.

The suit was filed by six plaintiffs: four protesters, the store owner and a legal observer who witnessed the episode. Chemical agents like tear gas and smoke have been used frequently to disperse crowds during the demonstrations that have rocked the region since Brown’s death in August.

Police defended the practice and said there was no attempt to injure protesters.”We don’t go to tear gas right away. We said over a loudspeaker, ‘This is an unlawful assembly, please leave the area,'” Sam Dotson, the St. Louis police chief who was named as a defendant in the suit, told the Riverfront Times. “This is where people lose focus a little bit. When the order to disperse is given, it applies to everyone. People always say, ‘It’s not me, so I don’t have to leave.’ The challenge for law enforcement is that we don’t know who the good guys are or who the bad guys are, because the bad guys intermingle with the good guys.”

TIME

Confederate-Flag License Plates Get Supreme Court Scrutiny

Confederate Flag License Plate Georgia
A new Georgia license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag. Georgia Department of Revenue/AP

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving the image of a Confederate flag on a license plate and decide how much control state governments can exert over slogans and messages on vehicle tags. The court will hear an appeal from the state of Texas, which refused five years ago to approve a specialty plate for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, including a logo of a Confederate battle flag surrounded by group’s name and the year 1896.

After hearing public comments, the state motor vehicle authority rejected the request, explaining that “many members of the general public find the design offensive,” and associate the flag “with organizations advocating expressions of hate…”

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Courts

Chimpanzees Are Not Entitled to Human Rights, New York Court Says

ICOAST-ANIMAL-ZOO
A chimpanzee holds a lettuce at the zoo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on June 12, 2014 Sia Kambou—AFP/Getty Images

The chimpanzee at issue is not entitled to a writ of habeas corpus allowing him freedom from his cage

A chimpanzee does not have legal personhood and is not entitled to human rights, a New York appeals court has decided.

The three-judge Appellate Division panel ruled unanimously on Thursday that the owner of Tommy, a chimpanzee, is not obligated to release him from what an animal-rights’ group has called unlawful detention.

The Nonhuman Rights Project had sought Tommy’s freedom from a cage in upstate New York, arguing that the animal’s living conditions, selected for him by his owner, equated to unlawful solitary confinement. The group, which planned to move Tommy to a sanctuary, did not seek to have the chimpanzee declared a human, but to obtain legal personhood, a status that would entitle him to a writ of habeas corpus and merit his release.

A trial level court had in October denied the Nonhuman Rights Project’s effort, when the group’s lawyer, Steven Wise, argued that Tommy, 26, is best compared to a human child who “can understand that he does not want to be imprisoned for his life in a cage,” but, unlike a human adult, cannot be held legally responsible for his actions. The judge, Michael Lynch, had noted that legal personhood comes with “responsibilities” and it would be unwise “to foist any responsibilities on this chimpanzee.”

In its decision, the appeals court reiterated the lower court’s findings that chimpanzees, though intelligent, are unfit take on the legal implications of personhood, ruling that, “unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions.”

“In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights — such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus — that have been afforded to human beings,” reads the decision.

Tommy’s owner, Patrick Lavery, told the Guardian that he finds the Nonhuman Rights Project’s argument for his pet’s legal personhood “ridiculous.” Lavery, who has not attended any of the proceedings, called the chimpanzee’s living quarters “an excellent home” that includes a TV and in which the chimpanzee is “happy.”

The Nonhuman Rights Project did not allege that Lavery had violated any state or local laws in keeping Tommy as a pet. The appeals court concluded that if the group believes that current legal protections for animal welfare are insufficient, they should seek improved legislation on the issue, not legal personhood.

TIME Courts

Indictment Decision In NYC Chokehold Death Expected Soon

Jury to say if NYPD officer should be charged

A decision is expected soon on whether to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo over the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner, according to the New York Times, which cited Pantaleo’s lawyer.

Garner died in July after being put into what appeared to be a chokehold by Pantaleo, while being detained by the officer on suspicion of selling contraband cigarettes. An autopsy found that the manner in which Garner was restrained contributed to his death.

Chokeholds have long been banned in New York City. The Garner case prompted widespread outrage and an intense examination of the New York Police Department’s protocols on the use of force.

[NYT]

TIME justice

Transgender Teen Awarded $75,000 in School Restroom Lawsuit

Jonas Maines,  Nicole Maines, Wayne Maines
In this file photo, transgender student Nicole Maines, center, speaks to reporters as her father Wayne Maines, left, and brother Jonas, look on outside the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor, Maine. Robert F. Bukaty — AP

Case was brought when a Maine school district forced the student to use a staff restroom

A court in Maine awarded the family of a transgender teenager $75,000 in a discrimination lawsuit against a school district that forced the student to use a staff restroom rather than a facility reserved for pupils, reports the Associated Press.

Nicole Maines, 17, had won her lawsuit against the Orono school district earlier this year in front of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that the school district had violated the state’s Human Rights Act.

The case marked the first time a state’s highest court ruled that a transgender person has the right to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.

In the wake of the court’s decision, a lower court awarded the financial settlement to the Maines family and the activist organization, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defender, on Nov. 25. In accordance with the order, the Orono school district is prohibited from refusing transgender students access “to school restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity.”

The case stemmed from an incident in 2007 when the grandfather of a fellow fifth grade classmate complained to school administrators that Maines was allowed to use the girls’ restroom. In the wake of the protest, the Orono school district began forcing Maines to use a staff facility — a decision that her parents argued was discriminatory.

[AP]

TIME Courts

Judge Overturns One of 9 Convictions Against Former Virginia First Lady

Former Virginia Gov. McDonnell And Wife Appear In Court For Federal Corruption Case
Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen leave the court in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 24, 2014 Mark Wilson—Getty Images

However, eight other convictions stand

A federal judge on Monday overturned one conviction against Maureen McDonnell, the wife of the former Virginia governor, but allowed all other convictions against the couple to stand.

McDonnell and her husband, Bob McDonnell were found guilty in September of collecting more than $165,000 in gifts from a dietary supplement producer, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., in exchange for boosting the product’s reputation, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. A federal jury convicted the former governor on 11 of 13 counts and his wife on nine of 13.

The pair had sought to have the charges overturned or to win a new trial.

The former first lady is now guilty of eight charges. The tossed out charge, for obstruction, relates to allegations that she sought to cover up the corruption in a note to Williams.

The couple are expected to be sentenced on Jan 6.

[Richmond Times-Dispatch]

TIME Hong Kong

British Banker Rurik Jutting Is Fit to Stand Trial for Hong Kong Murders

Rurik George Caton Jutting
In this photo taken through tinted glass, Rurik George Caton Jutting, a 29-year-old British banker, sits in a prison bus arriving at a court in Hong Kong on Nov. 10, 2014 Vincent Yu—AP

However, the high-profile case will now be adjourned until July 2015 to allow for extensive DNA testing of evidence

A young British banker accused of murdering two young Indonesian women in his Hong Kong apartment, leaving the body of one of them to rot in a suitcase for days, is psychologically fit to stand trial.

A judge said in a Hong Kong court on Monday that a report, based on two weeks of psychiatric testing, had cleared the way for judicial proceedings against Rurik George Caton Jutting, 29.

Judge Bina Chainrai also accepted the prosecution’s request to adjourn the case until July 6 to allow 28 weeks for the DNA testing of some 200 pieces of evidence. The defense had no objection to the adjournment.

Jutting, dressed in the same “New York” T-shirt he has worn on his previous court appearances, stood with his hands folded, index finger twitching, as he watched the proceedings. Jutting has not entered a plea in the case and will not do so until at least his next court appearance in almost eight months’ time. He is being held without bail in a Hong Kong jail.

Prosecutors contend that Jutting, a Cambridge graduate and former Bank of America Merrill Lynch employee, murdered Seneng Mujiasih, 28, also known as Jesse Lorena, and Sumarti Ningsih, 23, on different days in his apartment in Hong Kong Island’s gaudy Wan Chai district. Both women had left Indonesia for Hong Kong to earn more than they could back home, in hopes of supporting their families and bettering themselves upon their return.

The case has fascinated an affluent city that is both unused to violent crime and to seeing the lives of its thousands of poor temporary foreign workers, like Sumarti and Seneng, thrown into such stark relief.

TIME Courts

Appeal Pending for Missouri Man Awaiting Execution

(BONNE TERRE, Mo.) — Attorneys for Missouri inmate Leon Taylor asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution on Tuesday, citing several concerns that led to the death sentence for the convicted killer.

Taylor, 56, is scheduled to die early Wednesday for killing gas station attendant Robert Newton in suburban Kansas City in 1994, in front of Newton’s 8-year-old stepdaughter. Taylor would be the ninth man put to death in Missouri this year and the 11th since November 2013.

The appeal notes that Taylor’s original jury deadlocked and a judge sentenced him to death. When that was thrown out, an all-white jury gave Taylor, who is black, the death sentence.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only a jury could impose a death sentence. Taylor’s lawyers contend that a Missouri Supreme Court ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court decision led the state to commute at least 10 other death sentences for inmates sentenced by a judge to life in prison — everyone except Taylor.

Attorney Elizabeth Carlyle said Taylor essentially has been penalized for successfully appealing his first conviction.

“It is difficult to imagine a more arbitrary denial of the benefit of a state court decision,” Carlyle wrote in the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Gov. Jay Nixon is also considering a clemency petition. In addition to the racial concerns, the petition cites abuse Taylor suffered as a child, saying his mother began giving him alcohol when he was 5 and that he later became addicted to alcohol and drugs.

According to court records, Taylor, his half brother and half sister decided to rob a gas station on April 14, 1994. Newton was at the station with his stepdaughter.

Taylor entered the store, drew a gun and told Newton, 53, to put $400 in a money bag. Newton complied and the half brother, Willie Owens, took the money to the car.

Taylor then ordered Newton and the child to a back room. Newton pleaded for Taylor not to shoot him in front of the little girl, but Taylor shot him in the head. He tried to kill the girl but the gun jammed, so he locked her in the room and the trio drove away.

“She had the gun turned on her,” said Michael Hunt, an assistant Jackson County prosecutor who handled the case. “It didn’t fire. If it had fired, we’d have had a double-homicide.”

Hunt said the child’s testimony at trial was pivotal in the death sentence.

“You can imagine what a horrible crime this was, but when you see it coming out of a young person like that, it was hard to listen to,” Hunt said.

Taylor was arrested a week later after police responded to a police-tip hotline call.

TIME Courts

L.A. School District Fires Lawyer Who Faulted Student in Teacher Sex Case

Lawyer Keith Wyatt blamed the victim of a sex abuse case in defending the L.A. school district in court

It’s one thing to argue in court that a 14-year-old student shares responsibility for a sexual relationship with her 28-year-old teacher. It’s another, apparently, to make insensitive public comments about the success of that unorthodox legal strategy.

On Nov. 14, the Los Angeles Unified School District fired a lawyer who had successfully represented the district when it was sued by the girl and her family. In a civil jury trial in late 2013, the lawyer, W. Keith Wyatt, argued that the girl’s sexual past was relevant to what occurred and that she knew engaging in sex with her teacher was wrong and therefore was partly to blame. Such a legal strategy is highly unusual, according to legal experts and victims’ advocates. (The teacher was sentenced in 2011 to three years in prison for lewd acts against a minor.) According to public radio station KPCC, which first reported details about the civil case, Wyatt said in his closing statement at trial:

“She wants to be paid for doing something that she knew was wrong, that she acknowledged was wrong, that she knew was from the beginning,” Wyatt argued, adding, “She doesn’t want therapy, she wants money. That’s what they are asking you for.”

The jury found that the district was not negligent nor liable for damages. That decision is being appealed.

Asked by KPCC to explain his legal reasoning, Wyatt told the station, “She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher…She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”

Wyatt later apologized for his comments, but amid a public outcry, the district said Wyatt’s statements to KPCC were “completely inappropriate” and he was let go.

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