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Condemned inmate's last meal includes pancakes
Top Legal News | 2018/10/25 13:15
A South Dakota inmate facing execution has received a last meal that included pancakes, waffles, breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs and French fries.

South Dakota's attorney general says the state Supreme Court has rejected two motions to stop the execution of a man who killed a prison guard in a failed 2011 escape attempt.

Attorney General Marty Jackley says there are currently no court orders to stop or delay Rodney Berget's execution, which is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday. One motion was filed by a woman whose son is serving a life sentence, the other by an attorney without Berget's support.

Berget is to be put to death for the slaying of Ronald "R.J." Johnson. Berget and fellow inmate Eric Robert beat Johnson with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap.

He's to be put to death for the slaying of prison guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson in a failed 2011 escape attempt. Berget and fellow inmate Eric Robert beat Johnson with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap.

Robert was executed in October 2012. Berget in 2016 appealed his death sentence, but later asked to withdraw it.


Kavanaugh to hear his 1st arguments as Supreme Court justice
Top Legal News | 2018/10/08 01:14
A Supreme Court with a new conservative majority takes the bench as Brett Kavanaugh, narrowly confirmed after a bitter Senate battle, joins his new colleagues to hear his first arguments as a justice.

Kavanaugh will emerge Tuesday morning from behind the courtroom's red velvet curtains and take his seat alongside his eight colleagues. It will be a moment that conservatives have dreamed of for decades, with five solidly conservative justices on the bench.

Kavanaugh's predecessor, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in June, was a more moderate conservative and sometimes sided with the court's four liberal justices. Kavanaugh, in contrast, is expected to be a more decidedly conservative vote, tilting the court right for decades and leaving Chief Justice John Roberts as the justice closest to the ideological middle.

With justices seated by seniority, President Donald Trump's two appointees will flank the Supreme Court bench, Justice Neil Gorsuch at one end and Kavanaugh at the other. Court watchers will be looking to see whether the new justice asks questions at arguments and, if so, what he asks. There will also be those looking for any lingering signs of Kavanaugh's heated, partisan confirmation fight. But the justices, who often highlight their efforts to work together as a collegial body, are likely to focus on the cases before them.

Republicans had hoped to confirm Kavanaugh in time for him to join the court on Oct. 1, the start of the new term. Instead, the former D.C. Circuit judge missed the first week of arguments as the Senate considered an allegation that he had sexually assaulted a woman in high school, an allegation he adamantly denied.

Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 Saturday, the closest vote to confirm a justice since 1881, and has had a busy three days since then. On Saturday evening, Kavanaugh took his oaths of office in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court while protesters chanted outside the court building.


Court to explore competency claim of ailing Alabama inmate
Top Legal News | 2018/10/01 08:25
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in the case of an inmate sentenced to death for killing an Alabama police officer in 1985 but who lawyers say can no longer remember the murder because of stroke-induced dementia.

Justices will decide if it would violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment to execute Vernon Madison, 68, because of the mental declines he has experienced resulting from strokes. Madison was convicted of killing Mobile police officer Julius Schulte in 1985.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said death row prisoners must have "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why.

Atorneys for Madison say he has an IQ score of 72, suffers from vascular dementia and memory loss as a result of brain damage from several strokes and "does not remember the crime for which he has been convicted and does not have a rational understanding of why the state of Alabama seeks to execute him."

"The execution of Vernon Madison consequently is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment's essential commitment to human dignity," attorney Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative wrote.

Madison's lawyers in court filings described him as a physically and mentally frail man who attended a competency hearing in a wheelchair. They say he is incontinent, legally blind, frequently confused, can no longer recite the alphabet and repeatedly asks for his deceased mother to visit him.

A state court in 2016 ruled that Madison was competent. A neuropsychologist hired by the defense team said that Madison has no independent recollection of the murder. A court-appointed psychologist found that while Madison had suffered a mental and physical decline, he was able to recall details of his case and appeals.

The Alabama attorney general's office cast doubt on the defense description of Madison's mental state in court filings. They argued he claimed as far back as 1990 to have amnesia about the murder and that the court-appointed expert concluded he could recall and understood many details about his life, trial and looming death sentence.

But ultimately, the state argued the Eighth Amendment doesn't prohibit executing someone who lost can't remember their crime.


Idaho high court considers defamation lawsuit
Top Legal News | 2018/09/21 05:58
The Idaho Supreme Court heard arguments Friday in a case that could determine whether individuals have the right to sue if they think a journalist implied — but didn't outright say — something defamatory.

The issue arose in a lawsuit brought last year by former teacher James Verity against USA Today and television stations in Idaho and Oregon after they reported on the results of a national investigation into teacher licensing. The investigation found that teachers who had a license revoked in one state were often able to move to another state to be licensed there.

Verity lost his Oregon teaching license after he was disciplined for having inappropriate sexual contact with an 18-year-old student. He was later was granted an Idaho teaching license.

Verity says the news coverage wrongly implied that he was danger to female students, that he misled Idaho officials and that he committed a crime by having sex with a student. The news organizations say their reporting was accurate.


South African court says marijuana use in private is legal
Top Legal News | 2018/09/18 19:35
South Africa's top court says adults can use marijuana in private.

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday upheld a provincial court's ruling in a case involving Gareth Prince, who advocates the decriminalization of the drug.

Prince says cannabis should be regulated in the same way as alcohol and tobacco. Government authorities have said cannabis is harmful and should be illegal.

The top court says an adult can cultivate cannabis in "a private place" as long as it is for personal consumption in private. It says the right to privacy "extends beyond the boundaries of a home."

The court says it would be up to a police officer to decide if the amount of marijuana in someone's possession is for dealing or personal consumption.



Court: British surveillance violates European law
Top Legal News | 2018/09/16 02:33
Europe's human rights court handed a partial victory Thursday to civil rights groups that challenged the legality of mass surveillance and intelligence-sharing practices exposed by American whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that some aspects of British surveillance regimes violated provisions in the European Convention on Human Rights that are meant to safeguard Europeans' rights to privacy.

Specifically, the court said there wasn't enough independent scrutiny of processes used by British intelligence services to sift through data and communications intercepted in bulk.

The ruling cited a "lack of oversight of the entire selection process" and "the absence of any real safeguards."

The court's seven judges also voted 6-1 that Britain's regime for getting data from communications service providers also violated the human rights convention, including its provisions on privacy and on freedom of expression.

But the ruling wasn't all bad for British spies. The court said it is "satisfied" that British intelligence services take their human rights convention obligations seriously "and are not abusing their powers."

The court also gave a green light to procedures British security services use to get intelligence from foreign spy agencies, saying the intelligence-sharing regime doesn't violate the convention's privacy provisions.




Nevada Supreme Court taking up execution case
Top Legal News | 2018/08/10 13:34
The Nevada Supreme Court has stepped in to decide whether drug companies can try to stop the state from using their medications in a twice-postponed lethal injection of a condemned inmate who wants to die.

A state court judge in Las Vegas cancelled hearings Thursday following an order late Wednesday from six of the high court's seven justices.

Supreme Court intervention had been sought by the state attorney general's office regarding the execution of Scott Raymond Dozier.

The judge had planned to hear drugmaker Sandoz's request to join a bid by Alvogen and Hikma Pharmaceuticals to prevent Nevada from using their products in a three-drug combination never before tried in any state.

A Nevada death-row inmate whose execution has been postponed twice says the legal fight over his fate is taking a tortuous toll on him and his family and he wants his sentence carried out.

Scott Raymond Dozier told The Associated Press that the state should, in his words, "just get it done, just do it effectively and stop fighting about it."

Dozier's comments in a brief prison telephone call on Wednesday came a day before a third drug company is due to ask a state court judge in Las Vegas to let it join with two other firms suing to block the use of their products in executions.

The companies say they publicly declared they didn't want their products used in executions and allege that Nevada improperly obtained their drugs.



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