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Court tosses black man's murder conviction over racial bias
Court Center | 2019/06/20 01:19
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the court's majority opinion. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

In Flowers' sixth trial, the jury was made up of 11 whites and one African American. District Attorney Doug Evans struck five black prospective jurors.

In the earlier trials, three convictions were tossed out, including one when the prosecutor improperly excluded African Americans from the jury. In the second trial, the judge chided Evans for striking a juror based on race. Two other trials ended when jurors couldn't reach unanimous verdicts.

"The numbers speak loudly," Kavanaugh said in a summary of his opinion that he read in the courtroom, noting that Evans had removed 41 of the 42 prospective black jurors over the six trials. "We cannot ignore that history."

In dissent, Thomas called Kavanaugh's opinion "manifestly incorrect" and wrote that Flowers presented no evidence whatsoever of purposeful race discrimination."

Flowers has been in jail more than 22 years, since his arrest after four people were found shot to death in a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, in July 1996.

Flowers was arrested several months later, described by prosecutors as a disgruntled former employee who sought revenge against the store's owner because she fired him and withheld most of his pay to cover the cost of merchandise he damaged. Nearly $300 was found missing after the killings.



Oregon city stops jailing poor who can't pay court debts
Headline News | 2019/06/16 23:45
The eastern Oregon city of Pendleton has stopped jailing people unable to pay fines, a city official said, following the settlement of a federal lawsuit contending city officials were running a debtors' prison.

The East Oregonian reports in a story on Saturday that city attorney Nancy Kerns said city court officials recently adopted new policies that ban the use of jail time for fines arising from minor violations.

"No person shall be incarcerated for the inability and lack of financial resources to pay financial obligations to the Court, including fines, costs and restitution," the policy states.

The policy also requires the city court to consider defendants' ability to pay and appoint attorneys to indigent defendants who face jail time.

Anglea Minthorn spent nearly two months in jail in 2017 for owing about $1,000.

She sued in early 2018, contending the city was violating the U.S. Constitution by incarcerating a debtor unable to pay the debt.

Minthorn's "experience is not unique," the lawsuit said. "It is a reflection of how defendants operate a modern-day debtors' prison in which people who cannot afford to pay court-imposed fines arising out of minor violations are arrested, incarcerated, and fined further."

The lawsuit described Minthorn as a low-income person with disabilities who struggled to get stable housing, medical care and food. The lawsuit said she was hospitalized for 74 days in 2016 because of stroke-like symptoms.


Ohio high court won't hear challenge over bite-mark evidence
Headline News | 2019/06/16 06:50
The Ohio Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from a man sentenced to death for the 1985 rape, torture and slaying of a 12-year-old boy.

Attorneys for 52-year-old Danny Lee Hill have unsuccessfully argued bite-mark evidence used against him was unreliable and that he should get a new trial.

A county judge rejected his request, and a state appeals court upheld that decision. The state Supreme Court this week declined to consider a further appeal.

Hill was convicted of aggravated murder in the killing of Raymond Fife in Warren.

Hill is separately challenging his eligibility for the death penalty, citing intellectual deficits. A federal appeals court is slated to hear arguments in that case this fall.




Brazil's supreme court votes to make homophobia a crime
Court Center | 2019/06/14 06:51
Brazil's supreme court officially made homophobia and transphobia crimes similar to racism on Thursday, with the final justices casting their votes in a ruling that comes amid fears the country's far-right administration is seeking to roll back LGBT social gains.

Six of the Supreme Federal Tribunal's 11 judges had already voted in favor of the measure in late May, giving the ruling a majority. The final justices voted Thursday for a tally of eight votes for and three against.

Racism was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years. The court's judges ruled that homophobia should be framed within the racism law until the country's congress approves legislation specifically dealing with LGBT discrimination.

The court's judges have said the ruling was to address an omission that had left the LGBT community legally unprotected.

"In a discriminatory society like the one we live in, the homosexual is different and the transsexual is different. Every preconception is violence, but some impose more suffering than others," said justice Carmen Lucia.

Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, one of the judges who voted against the measure, recognized the lack of congressional legislation on the issue but said he voted against putting homophobia inside the framework of the racism legislation because only the legislature has the power to create "types of crimes" and set punishments.


Washington Supreme Court weighing legislative records case
Court Center | 2019/06/13 06:54
Washington Supreme Court justices had pointed questions Tuesday for lawyers representing the Legislature and a media coalition who argued that lawmakers have been violating the law by not releasing emails, daily schedules and written reports of sexual harassment investigations.

The high court heard oral arguments on the appeal of a case that was sparked by a September 2017 lawsuit from a coalition led by The Associated Press. The group sued to challenge lawmakers' assertion they are not subject to the law that applies to other elected officials and agencies.

A Thurston County superior court judge in January 2018 ruled that the offices of individual lawmakers are in fact subject to the Public Records Act, but that the Washington Legislature, the House and Senate were not.

The media coalition's lawsuit had named the individual entities of the Legislature, as well as four legislative leaders. The Legislature has appealed the portion of the ruling that applies to the legislative offices, and the media coalition has appealed the portion of the ruling that applies to the Legislature, House and Senate.

The Public Records Act was passed by voter initiative in 1972. The Legislature has made a series of changes in the decades since, and lawyers for the House and Senate have regularly cited a 1995 revision in their denials to reporters seeking records.


Kansas court OKs school funding law but keeps lawsuit open
Court Center | 2019/06/13 06:52
The Kansas Supreme Court signed off Friday on an increase in spending on public schools that the Democratic governor pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature, but the justices refused to close the protracted education funding lawsuit that prompted their decision.

The new school finance law boosted funding roughly $90 million a year and was enacted in April with bipartisan support. The court ruled that the new money was enough to satisfy the Kansas Constitution but also said it was keeping the underlying lawsuit open to ensure that the state keeps its funding promises.

"The State has substantially complied with our mandate," the court said in its unsigned opinion, referencing a decision last year that the state wasn't spending enough.

Gov. Laura Kelly had hoped the Supreme Court would end the lawsuit, which was filed by four local school districts in 2010. The districts' attorneys argued the new law would not provide enough new money after the 2019-20 school year and wanted the court to order additional increases.

Kansas spends more than $4 billion a year on its public schools ? about $1 billion more than it did during the 2013-14 school year ? because of the court's decisions. Some Republican lawmakers, particularly conservatives, have complained that the court has infringed on lawmakers' power under the state constitution to make spending decisions.



Semenya wins in court again; claims was denied race entry
Headline News | 2019/06/10 06:53
Caster Semenya has won another court decision in her battle to get track and field's testosterone regulations thrown out.

The Olympic 800-meter champion's lawyers say the IAAF, the governing body of athletics, has failed with an urgent request to Switzerland's supreme court to have the testosterone rules immediately re-imposed on Semenya.

The Swiss supreme court ruled earlier this month that the regulations should be temporarily suspended for Semenya, who has appealed against them.

That full appeal could take a year or more to be heard. Semenya has requested the rules be suspended throughout the appeal process, possibly allowing her to run at this year's world championships without taking testosterone suppressing medication.

The IAAF has until June 25 to respond to Semenya's request for a long-term suspension of the rules.

Semenya also claims she was denied entry to the 800-meter race at the Diamond League event in Rabat, Morocco this weekend despite the court order allowing her to run in her favored race again.



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