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Lawyer: Case of Black inmate set to die reveals racial bias
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/09/26 15:38
The lawyer for the first Black inmate scheduled to die this year as part of the Trump administration’s resumption of federal executions says race played a central role in landing her client on death row for slaying a young white Iowa couple and burning them in the trunk of their car.

One Black juror and 11 white jurors heard the 2000 federal case in Texas against Christopher Vialva, who is now 40 but was 19 at the time of the killings. Prosecutors portrayed Vialva as the leader of a Black street-gang faction and alleged he killed the deeply religious husband and wife, Todd and Stacie Bagley, to boost his status within the gang, attorney Susan Otto said.

But Otto contends there was no evidence Vialva, scheduled to be put to death Thursday, was even a full-fledged member ? let alone a leader ? of the 212 PIRU Bloods gang in his Killeen, Texas, hometown. She said the false claim only served to conjure up menacing stereotypes to prejudice the nearly all-white jury.

“It played right into the narrative that he was a dangerous Black thug who killed these lovely white people. And they were lovely,” Otto said in a recent phone interview. She added: “Race was a very strong component of this case.”

Questions about racial bias in the criminal justice system have been front and center since protests erupted across the country following the  death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on the handcuffed Black man’s neck for several minutes.


Alaska court rules police need aerial surveillance warrants
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/09/10 00:02
The Alaska Court of Appeals has ruled law enforcement officers cannot use cameras and drones for aerial searches of property without a warrant.

The court acknowledged police have a legal right to fly over property, but the use of observational technology violates the right to privacy guaranteed in the Alaska Constitution, KTVF-TV reported  Monday.

“An officer’s use of vision-enhancing technology should be deemed a ’search’ if the technology allows the officer to make observations that are significantly more detailed than what an unaided human eye would be able to see at the same distance,” the ruling said.

Maria Bahr, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Law, said in an email the state is deciding whether to seek a review by the Alaska Supreme Court. She noted the Supreme Court is not obligated to accept any possible petition for review of the case.

The Fairbanks Police Department uses drones, but it said the ruling is unlikely to affect their work.

“Our policy has always been, if you think you need a search warrant we should probably get one, especially if we are already going to be somewhere with the intent of looking into private property,” said Officer Jason Pace, who flies the department’s drones.

The ruling stems from a 2012 case in which Alaska State Troopers received a tip about marijuana being grown on a property near Fairbanks.

Troopers could not confirm the report because of thick trees obscuring the view. But then they used a helicopter to take photos with a telephoto camera lens.

Troopers used the images to apply for a search warrant and arrest John William McKelvey.

McKelvey’s attorney, Robert John, filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming that taking photos from the air to obtain a warrant invaded his client’s right to privacy.

The trial court rejected the argument, and McKelvey was found guilty on two charges. The case was heard by the Alaska Court of Appeals in 2018.

John said the appeal ruling confirmed police in the air “can only investigate with their naked eye. They cannot employ technology. They cannot employ drones.”


Saudi court issues final verdicts in Khashoggi killing
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/09/07 16:41
A Saudi court issued final verdicts on Monday in the case of slain Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi after his son, who still resides in the kingdom, announced pardons that spared five of the convicted individuals from execution.

While the trial draws to its conclusion in Saudi Arabia, the case continues to cast a shadow over the international standing of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose associates have been sanctioned by the U.S. and the U.K. for their alleged involvement in the brutal killing, which took place inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The Riyadh Criminal Court’s final verdicts were announced by Saudi Arabia’s state television, which aired few details about the eight Saudi nationals and did not name them. The court ordered a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the five. Another individual received a 10-year sentence, and two others were ordered to serve seven years in prison.

A team of 15 Saudi agents had flown to Turkey to meet Khashoggi inside the consulate for his appointment on Oct. 2, 2018 to pick up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiance, who waited outside. The team included a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers, and individuals who worked directly for the crown prince’s office, according to Agnes Callamard, who investigated the killing for the United Nations.

Turkish officials allege Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw inside the consulate. His body has not been found. Turkey apparently had the consulate bugged and shared audio of the killing with the C.I.A., among others.

Western intelligence agencies, as well as the U.S. Congress, have said the crown prince bears ultimate responsibility for the killing and that an operation of this magnitude could not have happened without his knowledge.

The 35-year-old prince denies any knowledge of the operation and has condemned the killing. He continues to have the support of his father, King Salman, and remains popular among Saudi youth at home. He also maintains the support of President Donald Trump, who has defended U.S.-Saudi ties in the face of the international outcry over the slaying.



Census Bureau must temporarily halt winding down operations
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/09/05 23:41
The U.S. Census Bureau for now must stop following a plan that would have it winding down operations in order to finish the 2020 census at the end of September, according to a federal judge's order.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, issued a temporary restraining order late Saturday against the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department, which oversees the agency. The order stops the Census Bureau from winding down operations until a court hearing is held on Sept. 17.

The once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident helps determine how $1.5 trillion in federal funding is distributed and how many congressional seats each state gets in a process known as apportionment.

The temporary restraining order was requested by a coalition of cities, counties and civil rights groups that had sued the Census Bureau, demanding it restore its previous plan for finishing the census at the end of October, instead of using a revised plan to end operations at the end of September. The coalition had argued the earlier deadline would cause the Census Bureau to overlook minority communities in the census, leading to an inaccurate count.

Because of the pandemic, the Census Bureau pushed back ending the count from the end of July to the end of October and asked Congress to extend the deadline for turning in the apportionment numbers from December, as required by law, into next spring. When the Republican-controlled Senate failed to take up the request, the bureau was forced to create a revised schedule that had the census ending in September, according to the statistical agency.

The lawsuit contends the Census Bureau changed the schedule to accommodate a directive from President Donald Trump to exclude people in the country illegally from the numbers used in redrawing congressional districts. The revised plan would have the Census Bureau handing in the apportionment numbers at the end of December, under the control of the Trump administration, no matter who wins the election in November.

More than a half dozen other lawsuits have been filed in tandem across the country, challenging Trump’s memorandum as unconstitutional and an attempt to limit the power of Latinos and immigrants of color during apportionment.

“The court rightfully recognized the Trump administration’s attempted short-circuiting of our nation’s census as an imminent threat to the completion of a fair and accurate process,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups that brought the San Jose lawsuit.


Court hears testimony on whether Assange was spied on
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/07/27 19:57
Spain’s National Court heard testimony Monday in an investigation into whether a Spanish company was hired to spy on Julian Assange during the seven years the WikiLeaks founder spent in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

The court is investigating whether David Morales, a Spaniard, and his Undercover Global S.L. security agency invaded the privacy of Assange and his visitors at the embassy by secretly recording their meetings. The intelligence that Morales’ company collected is suspected of being handed over to third parties, according to court papers.

Among those set to face the court's questions Monday were prominent Spanish lawyer Baltasar Garzón, who is part of Assange’s legal team; former Ecuadorean consul in London Fidel Narváez; and Stella Morris, a legal adviser and Assange’s partner, who revealed earlier this year that she had two children with him while he lived in the embassy. Staff of the Spanish security company are due to testify on Tuesday.

Assange, whose lawyers filed a complaint at the court to trigger the investigation, is in a British prison after being removed from the embassy last year. He is fighting extradition to the United States, where he faces espionage charges over the activities of WikiLeaks.

The court is conducting an investigation, begun last year, before deciding whether there is evidence of wrongdoing that warrants a trial.

Undercover Global, also known as UC Global, was hired by Ecuador’s government to provide security at the Ecuadorean embassy in London between 2015 and 2018. Its main task was to secure the property’s perimeter, including the deployment of security staff, due to Assange’s presence inside, court papers say.



Ohio court to hear arguments in appeal over judge shot video
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/07/21 16:31
Surveillance video showing an Ohio judge being shot and wounded at a courthouse before the assailant was himself shot and killed is a public record that should be released, according to arguments by an attorney for The Associated Press in a case before the state Supreme Court.

The video shows Jefferson County Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. being shot outside a Steubenville courthouse in eastern Ohio in August 2017 by 51-year-old Nathaniel Richmond, and then Richmond being killed by a probation officer.

Richmond had a pending wrongful death lawsuit in front of Bruzzese at the time. The judge recovered and returned to the bench. The Ohio Supreme Court planned oral arguments for Tuesday. A decision isn't expected for weeks.

The day of the shooting, the AP asked for a copy of the surveillance video recorded by a camera positioned in front of the courthouse, but Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin denied that request, saying the video was a confidential law enforcement record and part of the courthouse’s infrastructure security system, among other arguments.

In February 2019, the Ohio Court of Claims sided with an appeal brought by the AP, saying the video doesn’t contain information used to protect a public office from “attack, interference or sabotage.”
 
Hanlin appealed, and in September 2019, the 7th District Court of Appeals in Youngstown agreed with the prosecutor, determining the video is exempt from being released under Ohio public record laws as part of the courthouse’s security measures.
 
The appeals court said, in part, that the Court of Claims should have considered affidavits submitted by Hanlin, based on her personal knowledge of the situation, that the video met the security exemption under state law.



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