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Supreme Court Rejects Calif. Sentencing Law
Court Feed News | 2007/01/22 20:17

The US Supreme Court handed down decisions in three cases Monday, including Cunningham v. California where the Court struck down as unconstitutional California sentencing rules that allow judges to exercise discretion to tack on additional years to prison sentences beyond that determined by a jury. The Court overturned a California Court of Appeal decision, holding that California's Determinate Sentencing Law allows judges to impose enhanced sentences based on a judge's, not the jury's, finding of facts and therefore violates the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. Read the Court's opinion per Justice Ginsburg, along with a dissent from Justice Kennedy and a second dissent from Justice Alito.

In the consolidated cases of Jones v. Bock and Williams v. Overton, the Court rejected rules established by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit as to when a prisoner can file a lawsuit contesting prison conditions under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA). According to the Court, the PLRA "requires prisoners to exhaust prison grievance procedures before filing suit," but Sixth Circuit rules concerning when a prisoner has exhausted other administrative procedures go too far:

The Sixth Circuit, along with some other lower courts, adopted several procedural rules designed to implement this exhaustion requirement and facilitate early judicial screening. These rules require a prisoner to allege and demonstrate exhaustion in his complaint, permit suit only against defendants who were identified by the prisoner in his grievance, and require courts to dismiss the entire action if the prisoner fails to satisfy the exhaustion requirement as to any single claim in his complaint. Other lower courts declined to adopt such rules. We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict and now conclude that these rules are not required by the PLRA, and that crafting and imposing them exceeds the proper limits on the judicial role.

Prosecutor in Apple Case Joins Law Firm
Headline News | 2007/01/21 22:20

Christopher J. Steskal, a lead prosecutor of a federal task force investigating the backdating of stock options at Apple Inc. and other companies, is leaving his San Francisco post to join a law firm, the United State Attorney’s office in San Francisco confirmed late Friday.

Mr. Steskal’s decision follows the recent resignation of his boss, United States Attorney Kevin V. Ryan.

Mr. Steskal also was the lead prosecutor in the government’s case against Gregory L. Reyes, the former chief executive of Brocade Communications Systems.

Mr. Steskal, who was to try Mr. Reyes’s case in June in San Francisco, is the second of five assistant United States attorneys on the task force to leave since its formation in July. He said he would join the San Francisco office of Fenwick & West within 30 days.

William J. Portanova, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said that he believed that the Brocade case would not suffer, no matter who is picked to succeed Mr. Steskal.

“The government has people stacked up ready to pick up the case and run with it,” he said.

Luke Macaulay, a spokesman for the United States Attorney’s office in San Francisco, said that one of two prosecutors the office is planning to hire would replace Mr. Steskal on the task force.

Iraqi draft oil law to offer oil transparency
Legal World News | 2007/01/21 13:02

An Iraqi cabinet-level committee proposed a draft law Friday that would allow the national government in Iraq to control oil revenues. Negotiations concerning the draft law have been a source of tension in Iraq for months as most Kurds and many Shiites want to retain control of the country's oil resources. On the other hand, Sunni Arabs, who do not dominate the oil-rich regions of the country, insist on central oversight.

Recent debate has centered on the establishment of a federal committee, called the Federal Oil and Gas Council, to review oil contracts. Kurds did not want to give the committee the power to "approve" contracts, so the draft law instead allows regions to initiate and guide the process of awarding oil contracts and gives the committee the power to review and reject contracts. The Iraqi cabinet and the country's parliament must approve the draft before it becomes law. If the draft passes, enforcement might prove difficult in Iraq's wartime environment.

Mexico extradites cartel kingpins to US
Legal World News | 2007/01/20 22:53

Mexico extradited drug kingpins Osiel Cardenas and Hector "El Guero" Palma and thirteen other major traffickers to the United States Friday as part of an effort by new Mexican president Felipe Calderon to follow through on a promise made by former President Vincente Fox to make increased extraditions to the US. Since taking office, Calderon has mobilized elite police and military forces against the rival Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels. Although the widely popular initiative is showing initial success, experts warn that Calderon must address the political and judicial corruption that allows cartels to run rampant in Mexico.

Kingpins are often able to continue running their organizations from within corrupt Mexican prisons, making the extradition of leaders a key tool for scaling back cartel activity. In November 2005, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that prisoners serving life sentences can be extradited abroad, overturning a 2001 decision that prevented such prisoners from answering to charges in the US insofar as punishment there might be cruel and unusual and not directed at rehabilitation of the prisoner. A 1978 treaty between the US and Mexico still prevents the extradition of prisoners who face the death penalty.

Court steps into dispute over issue ads
Court Feed News | 2007/01/20 17:43

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to referee a challenge to limits on pre-election ads, a key provision of the landmark campaign finance law that the court upheld in 2003. The justices will hear an appeal of a lower court decision that relaxed restrictions on mentioning candidates by name in issue ads run by corporations, labor unions and other special interest groups near the climax of a campaign. The court will hear the case in April and almost certainly decide it by July, well before the first presidential voting takes place in the Iowa caucuses next January.

Issue ads are those that do not purport to influence an election, but rather focus attention on an issue their sponsors find important. A provision of the McCain-Feingold law prohibits mentioning a candidate in issue ads in the 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary.

Its purpose was to end the common practice of circumventing limits on contributions in federal elections by airing ads that avoided expressly advocating a vote for or against someone while making clear a preference for, or more often, disapproval of one candidate.

Supreme Court takes campaign issue ads cases
Legal Career News | 2007/01/20 13:03
The US Supreme Court Friday granted certiorari in five cases and ordered all briefings on a challenge to the limits on pre-election advertisements introduced as part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003 to be completed by April 18. The two consolidated cases, FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., et al. (06-969) and McCain, et al. v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., et al. (06-970), stem from a District Court ruling that advocacy groups must be allowed to run issue ads in the two-months period immediately prior to elections.

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