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High court declines to take Pennsylvania rap artist’s case
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/04/13 23:46
The Supreme Court is declining to take the case of a Pennsylvania rapper who was convicted of threatening police officers in one of his songs.

The high court declined on Monday to take the case of Jamal Knox, known as Mayhem Mal. In 2012, he and rapper Rashee Beasley were arrested by Pittsburgh police on gun and drug charges. A song they later wrote about the arrest contains phrases including “Let’s kill these cops cuz they don’t do us no good.”

Both were charged with terroristic threats and other crimes.

Knox argued that the song was protected by the First Amendment, but he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to one to three years in prison. Pennsylvania’s highest court upheld his convictions.



Philippine Supreme Court orders release of drug war evidence
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/04/03 05:37
The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the release of police documents on thousands of killings of suspects in the president’s anti-drug crackdown, in a ruling that human rights groups said could shed light on allegations of extrajudicial killings.

Supreme Court spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said the court ordered the government solicitor-general to provide the police reports to two rights groups which had sought them. The 15-member court, whose justices are meeting in northern Baguio city, has yet to rule on a separate petition to declare President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign unconstitutional.

Solicitor-General Jose Calida had earlier agreed to release the voluminous police documents to the court but rejected the requests of the two groups, the Free Legal Assistance Group and the Center for International Law, arguing that such a move would undermine law enforcement and national security.

The two groups welcomed the court order. “It’s a big step forward for transparency and accountability,” said Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, who heads the Free Legal Assistance Group.

He said the documents will help the group of human rights lawyers scrutinize the police-led crackdown that was launched when Duterte came to office in mid-2016, and the massive number of killings that the president and police say occurred when suspects fought back and endangered law enforcers, Diokno said.

“This is an emphatic statement by the highest court of the land that it will not allow the rule of law to be trampled upon in the war on drugs. It is a very important decision,” said Joel Butuyan, president of the Center for International Law.

“These documents are the first step toward the long road to justice for the petitioners and for thousands of victims of the ‘war on drugs’ and their families,” Butuyan said.

More than 5,000 mostly poor drug suspects have died in purported gunbattles with the police, alarming Western governments, U.N. rights experts and human rights watchdogs. Duterte has denied ordering illegal killings, although he has publicly threatened drug suspects with death.

The thousands of killings have sparked the submission of two complaints of mass murder to the International Criminal Court. Duterte has withdrawn the Philippines from the court.

After holding public deliberations on the two groups’ petitions in 2017, the Supreme Court ordered the solicitor-general to submit documents on the anti-drug campaign, including the list of people killed in police drug raids from July 1, 2016, to Nov. 30, 2017, and documents on many other suspected drug-linked deaths in the same period that were being investigated by police.


Court reinstates late Aaron Hernandez's murder conviction
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/03/15 20:19
Massachusetts' highest court on Wednesday reinstated the late Aaron Hernandez's murder conviction, which was erased after the former NFL star killed himself in prison.

The Supreme Judicial Court also scrapped the legal principle that wiped out Hernandez's conviction for future cases, calling it "outdated and no longer consonant with the circumstances of contemporary life."

"We are pleased justice is served in this case, the antiquated practice of vacating a valid conviction is being eliminated and the victim's family can get the closure they deserve," Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III said in a tweet.

Hernandez was convicted in 2015 of killing semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd. Two years later, the 27-year-old killed himself in his prison cell days after being acquitted of most charges in a separate double-murder case.

A judge threw out Hernandez's conviction that year, citing the legal principle that holds that a defendant convicted at trial who dies before an appeal is heard should no longer be considered guilty in the eyes of the law, thereby returning the case to its pretrial status.



TigerSwan appeals attorney fees ruling to state's high court
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/03/09 02:19
A North Carolina security company that won a court case in the wake of protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline is continuing to pursue reimbursement of its attorney fees.

North Dakota's Private Investigative and Security Board sued TigerSwan in 2017, alleging the company that handled security for the pipeline developer illegally operated without a state license.

Judge John Grinsteiner ultimately dismissed the case, but he also rejected TigerSwan's request for reimbursement of at least $165,000 in attorney fees. Grinsteiner said the board's case wasn't frivolous even though the board lost. TigerSwan has appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The board has appealed the dismissal of its case to the state Supreme Court and also is seeking up to $2 million in fines against TigerSwan through an administrative complaint.


High court deciding fate of cross-shaped Maryland memorial
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/02/25 15:32
The Supreme Court this week is hearing a case challenging the location of a nearly 100-year-old, cross-shaped Maryland war memorial.

Three area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association argue the cross' location on public land violates the First Amendment's establishment clause. The clause prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. They argue the cross should be moved to private property or modified into a slab or obelisk.

The cross' supporters say it doesn't violate the Constitution because it has a secular purpose and meaning: commemorating World War I veterans. The cross' base lists the names of 49 area residents who died in the war.

The American Legion and Maryland officials are defending the cross. They have the support of the Trump administration and 30 states.



Republicans pitch keeping Court of Appeals at 15 judges
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/02/19 17:45
North Carolina Republican legislators now want to give up on the law they approved two years ago that reduces the number of Court of Appeals judges from 15 to 12 as retirements and other vacancies arise.

A state Senate judiciary committee Tuesday recommended unanimously a bill that would keep the court's size at 15 after all. Bill sponsors say the measure, if agreed to by the full General Assembly, should end as moot a lawsuit filed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper challenging the 2017 law. A key House GOP leader said later that he believed party members in his chamber are inclined to go along with the repeal.

A trial-judge panel actually sided with Republicans last year in upholding the law, but the state Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments in the case for March 4. With registered Democrats a strong majority on the Supreme Court, there's uncertainty about whether they'll be inclined to uphold the law.

"I think we still feel the rationale for the bill was appropriate, but this will end the lawsuit with the governor, and so that's why we're going forward with it," said Sen. Warren Daniel, a Burke County Republican and a chief bill sponsor.

The law is one of several approved by the GOP-controlled legislature since December 2016 — just before Cooper took office — that have eroded Cooper's powers. In this case, it would prevent Cooper from filling three vacancies when they occur, because the seat would be simply eliminated.

No vacancies have occurred on the intermediate-level court since the law took effect, but the first could come next month. Court of Appeals Judge Bob Hunter, a registered Republican, must step down March 31 after meeting the state-mandated judicial retirement age of 72 the day before.


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