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NC high court reviews death penalty of man who beheaded wife
Criminal Law Updates | 2017/10/10 16:53
North Carolina's highest court is reviewing whether justice means the death penalty for a survivor of El Salvador's blood-soaked civil war of the 1980s who strangled and then decapitated his estranged wife.

The state's Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday on whether the state can execute 41-year-old Juan Carlos Rodriguez of Winston-Salem for the 2010 murder of his wife, Maria. The high court automatically reviews death cases.

North Carolina is rare among southern states in that it hasn't had an execution in more than a decade because of various legal challenges. While the state has continued to suffer 500 to 600 murders a year, prosecutors have sought the death penalty only a handful of times each year and juries have condemned killers in only a fraction of those cases.

Rodriguez's children told investigators their father beat and bloodied Maria Rodriguez after she told them she was leaving in November 2010. He tossed the woman's still-breathing body over his shoulder, placed her in his vehicle, and said he was taking her to a hospital. Maria's body and severed head were found at different locations three weeks later, after Juan was already jailed for her kidnapping.

Justices are holding hearings in the case for the second time in almost exactly a year. Monday's hearing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this spring that states needed to use current medical standards in deciding whether a killer is so mentally disabled he can't be executed. The U.S. constitution bans "cruel and unusual punishments," and that has been interpreted to prohibit executing people with severe mental shortcomings.

Rodriguez's IQ was estimated several times at below 70, a threshold for significantly impaired intellectual functioning. But accused killers in North Carolina also must show significant inability to adapt to daily life and that their mental handicaps were evident before adulthood.


Mental health court established for offenders on probation
Criminal Law Updates | 2017/08/05 23:44
A specialized court has been established in Pinal County to give defendants with mental problems an alternative path and keep them out of the criminal justice system.

Presiding Judge Stephen McCarville signed an administrative order last month calling for the establishment of Mental Health Treatment Court. It’s a therapeutic, post-sentence court for defendants placed on supervised probation.

People screened with a mental illness are referred to the court by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office or the county’s probation department. Then the court’s staff reviews the defendant’s case to determine whether the person’s situation is appropriate for the program, the Casa Grande Dispatch reported.

The offender undergoes outpatient treatment at a mental health facility while checking in with the court on a weekly basis. If defendants don’t follow the terms of the treatment, then they’re subject to having their probation revoked.

The goal is to keep people with mental disabilities out of the criminal justice system, Pinal County Superior Court Administrator Todd Zweig said. The number of probationers with mental health conditions has been increasing in the county, he added, prompting the need for this type of service.



2 inmates seek execution stays from Arkansas high court
Criminal Law Updates | 2017/04/14 08:05
The first two inmates facing lethal injection under Arkansas' unprecedented multiple execution plan are seeking a stay from the state Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Don Davis and Bruce Ward asked justices Wednesday to block their executions, scheduled for Monday, while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case concerning access to independent mental health experts by defendants. The U.S. high court is set to hold oral arguments in that case April 24, a week after the two are set to be put to death.

The inmates' attorneys say they were denied access to independent mental health experts in their cases.

The two men are among seven inmates Arkansas plans to put to death over a 10-day period. The filing is among a flurry of lawsuits aimed at halting the executions.


High Court Struggles Over Hospital Pension Dispute
Criminal Law Updates | 2017/03/23 02:33
The Supreme Court seemed to struggle on Monday over whether some of the nation's largest hospitals should be allowed to sidestep federal laws protecting pension benefits for workers.

Justices considered the cases of three church-affiliated nonprofit hospital systems being sued for underfunding pension plans covering about 100,000 employees. But the outcome ultimately could affect the retirement benefits of roughly a million employees around the country.

The hospitals — Advocate Health Care Network, Dignity Health and Saint Peter's Healthcare System — say their pensions are "church plans" exempt from the law and have been treated as such for decades by the government agencies in charge. They want to overturn three lower court rulings against them.

Workers suing the health systems argue that Congress never meant to exempt them and say the hospitals are shirking legal safeguards that could jeopardize retirement benefits.

"I'm torn," Justices Sonia Sotomayor said at one point during the hour-long argument. "This could be read either way in my mind."

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Internal Revenue Service issued hundreds of letters over more than 30 years approving the hospitals' actions. That shows they were "proceeding in good faith with the assurance of the IRS that what they were doing was lawful," he said.

The case could affect dozens of similar lawsuits over pension plans filed across the country.

Much of the argument focused on how to read a federal law that generally requires pension plans to be fully funded and insured. Congress amended that law in 1980 to carve out a narrow exemption for churches and other religious organizations.


Those who lost North Carolina driver's licenses are restored
Criminal Law Updates | 2017/01/05 05:08
Court officials say North Carolinians who lost their driver's licenses because of problems at the Department of Motor Vehicles have gotten them back.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported that Forsyth County Clerk of Court Susan Frye said in May that thousands of North Carolina drivers had lost their licenses because DMV officials had not updated records.

Frye said the state agency did not update driver's records to show when people complied with requirements such as taking care of a ticket or getting a re-scheduled court date.

The exact number of people affect is unclear. Frye says the DMV has done a great job of fixing the problems. She says she's getting virtually no complaint calls now.


South Korean executives jailed for humidifier cleaner deaths
Criminal Law Updates | 2017/01/03 05:08
A South Korean court sentenced the former head of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser to seven years in prison Friday after the company's disinfectant for humidifiers killed scores of people and left hundreds with permanent lung damage.

The Seoul Central District Court ruled that Shin Hyun-woo, Oxy chief from 1991-2005, was guilty of accidental homicide and falsely advertising the deadly product as being safe even for children. Seven years is the maximum prison term the court could issue.

Choi Chang-young, chief judge of the case, said the disaster could have been prevented if Shin and others in the company, a subsidiary of British consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc, had tried to ensure the chemicals' safety.



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