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Top Texas court says condemned inmate not mentally disabled
U.S. Legal News | 2018/06/09 02:21
Texas' highest criminal court narrowly ruled Wednesday that a death row inmate is mentally capable enough to execute, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that his intellectual capacity had been improperly assessed and agreement by his lawyer and prosecutors that he shouldn't qualify for the death penalty.

In a 5-3 ruling with one judge not participating, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said it reviewed the case of convicted killer Bobby James Moore under guidance from the Supreme Court's March 2017 decision and determined that Moore isn't intellectually disabled based on updated standards from the American Psychiatric Association.

"It remains true under our newly adopted framework that a vast array of evidence in this record is inconsistent with a finding of intellectual disability," the Texas court's majority wrote. "We conclude that he has failed to demonstrate adaptive deficits sufficient to support a diagnosis of intellectual disability."

The Supreme Court last year said the state court used outdated standards to reach its earlier decision on Moore. In a lengthy dissent joined by judges Bert Richardson and Scott Walker, Judge Elsa Alcala wrote that the majority got it wrong. "The majority opinion's assessment of the evidence in this record is wholly divorced from the diagnostic criteria that it claims to adhere to," she wrote.

The ruling came despite Harris County prosecutors telling the court they believed Moore is mentally disabled and shouldn't be found eligible for the death penalty. Cliff Sloan, who argued Moore's case before the Supreme Court, said Wednesday's ruling was "inconsistent" with the high court's decision.



High Court Rules in Dispute Over Immigrant Teen's Abortion
U.S. Legal News | 2018/06/05 02:25
The Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case about a pregnant immigrant teen who obtained an abortion with the help of the ACLU, siding with the Trump administration and wiping away a lower court decision for the teen but rejecting a suggestion her lawyers should be disciplined.

The decision is about the teen's individual case and doesn't disrupt ongoing class action litigation about the ability of immigrant teens in government custody to obtain abortions. The justices ruled in an unsigned opinion that vacating a lower court decision in favor of the teen, who had been in government custody after entering the country illegally, was the proper course because the case became moot after she obtained an abortion.

Government lawyers had complained to the Supreme Court that attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union didn't alert them that the teen's abortion would take place earlier than expected. The administration said that deprived its lawyers of the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the procedure, at least temporarily. The Trump administration told the court that discipline might be warranted against the teen's attorneys. The ACLU said its lawyers did nothing wrong.

The Supreme Court said it took the government's allegations "seriously" but the court declined to wade into the finger-pointing between the sides.

"Especially in fast-paced, emergency proceedings like those at issue here, it is critical that lawyers and courts alike be able to rely on one another's representations. On the other hand, lawyers also have ethical obligations to their clients and not all communications breakdowns constitute misconduct," the justices wrote in a 5-page opinion, adding that the court "need not delve into the factual disputes raised by the parties" in order to vacate the decision for the teen.

The teen at the center of the case entered the U.S. illegally in September as a 17-year-old and was taken to a federally funded shelter in Texas for minors who enter the country without their parents. The unnamed teen, referred to as Jane Doe, learned while in custody that she was pregnant and sought an abortion. A state court gave her permission, but federal officials — citing a policy of refusing to facilitate abortions for pregnant minors in its shelters — refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her for the procedure.

The ACLU helped the teen sue the Trump administration, and after a federal appeals court sided with her, the government was preparing to ask the Supreme Court to step in and block the procedure, at least temporarily.

But the teen, allowed out of the shelter by court order, had an abortion first, about 12 hours after a court gave her the go-ahead. In response, the Trump administration, in a highly unusual filing with the Supreme Court, cried foul. The ACLU has defended its attorneys' actions, saying government lawyers made assumptions about the timing of the teen's abortion.


Spanish court nixes terrorism accusation in Basque incident
U.S. Legal News | 2018/06/03 02:26
Spain's National Court has sentenced seven men and a woman to between two and 13 years in prison for beating up two police officers and their girlfriends, but rejected the prosecutors' argument that the defendants should face terror charges.

The call for terror charges caused outrage at the trial because the incident took place two years ago in an area of northern Spain with a strong Basque identity.

The Basque region is trying to put behind it decades of violence at the hands of armed separatist group ETA, which killed more than 800 people, including police, before giving up its armed campaign in 2011.

The court said in sentencing Friday that terrorist intent was not proven and that the accused did not belong to a terrorist organization.


Judge allows Palin's son therapeutic court for proceedings
U.S. Legal News | 2018/05/18 02:27
The eldest son of former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will go through Alaska's therapeutic court system in a criminal case accusing him of assaulting his father last year at the family home.

State District Judge David Wallace on Tuesday approved Track Palin's request to formally transfer his case to Veterans Court, which gives eligible veterans the option of enrolling in mental health treatment programs instead of a traditional sentence.

The judge also barred the media from using cameras or other recording devices during that proceeding after Track Palin's attorney filed a motion seeking to prohibit or limit media access. Wallace said he will formally rule on the matter later.

The motion to limit media access was filed Friday by Track Palin's attorney, Patrick Bergt, in an effort to ensure the case does not become a distraction to other veterans in the system.

Veterans Court program rules say veterans opt in by agreeing to plead guilty or not guilty to at least one charge.

Bergt declined to say if his client is making such a plea to get into the program, adding he can't comment on specifics of the case.



Italy's high court refuses to release migrant rescue ship
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/25 00:25
Italy's highest court has rejected a request by a German group to release its migrant rescue boat seized eight months ago by prosecutors investigating allegations that non-governmental organizations colluded with migrant smugglers.

The German group, Jugend Rettet, said Tuesday that it was devastated by the Cassation Court's ruling and that "we will fight for the right to rescue people in danger at sea."

Doctors Without Borders said the ruling "sends a working signal (that) Europe will continue to criminalize humanitarian organizations conducting search-and-rescue operations ... rather than strengthening capacities to save lives at sea."

Prosecutors told the court that the Iuventa was seized based on three episodes in which crew members had contact with migrant smugglers. The group's spokesman, Philipp Kulker, said in Berlin that the evidence had been fabricated.


Court weighs punishment for judge for courthouse affair
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/24 00:25
A Massachusetts judge who engaged in sexual acts with a social worker in his chambers has damaged the public's faith in the judicial system and can no longer command the respect necessary to remain on the bench, the head of the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct said Tuesday.

Howard V. Neff III, executive director of the commission, told the Supreme Judicial Court that an indefinite suspension that would allow lawmakers to decide whether to remove Judge Thomas Estes from the bench is the only proper punishment for behavior Neff called "egregious."

"Unless this court sets a precedent that makes it absolutely clear that this type of conduct will not be tolerated ... there is little hope that public trust in the administration of public justice in Massachusetts will be restored," Neff said.

Estes admits he had a sexual relationship with Tammy Cagle, who worked in the special drug court where he sat. But Estes denies allegations Cagle made in a federal lawsuit, including that he coerced her into performing oral sex on him and played a role in getting her removed from the drug court when she tried to end the relationship.

Estes, who's married and has two teenage boys, attended Tuesday's hearing but left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. The court did not immediately decide Estes' punishment. He is asking for a four-month suspension.



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