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The California Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over a ballot initiative designed to speed up executions that could fundamentally change the way the court handles death penalty appeals.

Death penalty opponents are challenging a ballot measure passed by a slim majority of voters in November that aimed to reform a dysfunctional system that hasn't executed a condemned killer in more than a decade.

Foes of capital punishment argue that Proposition 66 was unconstitutional because it would take power away from the state's high court to decide how it handles cases and it would disrupt the court system, cost the state more money and undermine the appeals process.

If allowed to take effect, the measure would require more lawyers to take death penalty appellate cases, some trial court judges would be assigned appeals and all state appeals would have to be completed in five years, which is about a third of the time it typically takes.

With a backlog of 380 death penalty appeals, there's concern judges would be overwhelmed trying to speed through appeals, said Elisabeth Semel, a law professor at University of California, Berkeley, who consulted for death penalty opponents on the case.

"There's an enormous ripple effect to that," said Semel, who directs the school's death penalty clinic. "The attention the justices can pay to each individual case is significantly diminished. When you're talking about life and death, that's important."

The ballot initiative supported by 51 percent of voters was designed to "mend not end" capital punishment in California, where nearly 750 inmates are on Death Row and only 13 have been executed since 1978.

A competing measure to repeal capital punishment lost by a slightly wider margin. Both sides acknowledged the current system is broken.



Alabama’s attorney general on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let an execution proceed this week, arguing that questions about a lethal injection drug have been settled by the courts.

Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office asked the justices to let the state proceed with Thursday’s scheduled execution of Robert Melson who was convicted of killing three Gadsden restaurant employees during a 1994 robbery.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week granted a stay as it considers appeals from Melson and other inmates who contend that a sedative used by Alabama called midazolam will not render them unconscious before other drugs stop their lungs and heart. The state argues there was no reason to grant the stay since midazolam’s use in lethal injections has been upheld by the high court, and the court has let executions proceed using midazolam in Alabama and Arkansas.

“Alabama has already carried out three executions using this protocol, including one less than two weeks ago in which this court, and the Eleventh Circuit, denied a stay,” lawyers with the attorney general’s office wrote in the motion

“If the stay is allowed to stand, Melson’s execution will be delayed many months, if not years. The State, the victims’ families, and the surviving victim in this case have waited long enough for justice to be delivered. This Court should vacate the lower court’s stay,” attorneys for the state wrote.

Melson is one of several inmates who filed lawsuits, which were consolidated, arguing that the state’s execution method is unconstitutional. A federal judge in March dismissed the lawsuits, and the inmates appealed to the 11th Circuit saying the judge dismissed their claims prematurely.

A three-judge panel of 11th Circuit judges did not indicate whether they thought the inmates would succeed in their appeals. Rather, the judges wrote Friday that they were staying Melson’s execution to avoid the “untenable” prejudging of the inmates’ cases.

Midazolam is supposed to prevent an inmate from feeling pain, but several executions in which inmates lurched or moved have raised questions about its use. An Arkansas inmate in April lurched about 20 times during a lethal injection. Melson’s lawyers wrote in a Friday motion that Alabama “botched” a December execution in which inmate Ronald Bert Smith coughed and moved for the first 13 minutes.

“Mr. Smith’s botched execution supports the argument that midazolam is a vastly different drug than pentobarbital. It does not anesthetize the condemned inmate, and because it does not anesthetize, defendants’ use of potassium chloride is unconstitutional,” Melson’s attorneys wrote last week.



Bill Cosby arrived at the suburban Philadelphia courthouse for the start of his sexual assault trial Monday. The 79-year-old Cosby showed up at the Montgomery County courthouse at about 8:40 a.m. amid a large media presence.

Arriving with the disgraced comedian were his defense attorneys and his former "Cosby Show" castmate Keshia Knight Pullman who played his daughter Rudy.

Cosby's life and legacy are on the line when his accuser takes the stand in the only criminal case to emerge from the dozens of sexual assault allegations lodged against the actor. The former college basketball manager says Cosby drugged and assaulted her in 2004.

This is the only criminal case to emerge from the dozens of sexual assault allegations lodged against him. Cosby says he had a romantic relationship with her. She will tell her story in public for the first time when she testifies. Those involved in the case worry about duplicating the media frenzy that dominated O.J. Simpson's murder trial.

Cameras are banned in Pennsylvania courtrooms. The jury will be sequestered for the estimated two-week trial.


The Supreme Court is limiting the government's ability to seize assets from people who are convicted of drug crimes but receive little of the illegal proceeds.

The justices ruled Monday that a Tennessee man convicted for his role selling iodine water purification filters to methamphetamine makers does not have to forfeit nearly $70,000 in profits.

Terry Honeycutt helped sell more than 20,000 filters at his brother's hardware store. Prosecutors said the brothers knew the iodine was used by local meth cooks.

Honeycutt's brother pleaded guilty and forfeited $200,000 of the $270,000 in profits. But Honeycutt argued he wasn't responsible for the rest since he didn't personally see any profits.

A federal appeals court ruled against Honeycutt, saying everyone who joins a drug conspiracy can be required to give up profits.


President Donald Trump lashed out at his own Justice Department Monday for seeking the Supreme Court's backing for a "watered down, politically correct version" of the travel ban he signed in March instead of a broader directive that was also blocked by the courts.

In a series of early morning tweets, Trump urged the Justice Department to ask for an "expedited hearing" at the high court and seek a "much tougher version" of the order temporarily blocking entry to the U.S. from a half-dozen majority Muslim countries. He called the courts, which have blocked both versions of the travel ban, "slow and political."

It's unclear whether the president has conveyed his requests to the Justice Department, which he oversees, in a forum other than Twitter. The White House did not immediately respond to requests for that information.

The president has renewed his push for the travel ban in the wake of the vehicle and knife attack in London that left seven people dead and dozens injured. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Trump also stressed that his proposal was a "travel ban," a description his aides have disputed in the past. He said on Twitter that others "can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!"

The president spent much of the weekend responding to the attack on Twitter. In one instance, he leveled an inaccurate criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, saying the mayor was telling people there was "no reason to be alarmed" about the attack. The mayor had instead been telling London residents not to be concerned by a stepped-up police presence in the city following the attack.

"No reason to be alarmed," Khan said, describing a more visible presence as "one of things the police and all of us need to do to make sure we are as safe as we possibly can be."

Later, the mayor's spokesman said he was too busy to respond to Trump's "ill-informed" tweet.

Trump also addressed the London attack Sunday night at the conclusion of a fundraiser for Ford's Theater, scene of one of the most famous acts of bloodshed in American history: the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

"America sends our thoughts and prayers and our deepest sympathies to the victims of this evil slaughter and we renew our resolve, stronger than ever before, to protect the United States and its allies from a vile enemy that has waged war on innocent life, and it's gone on too long," Trump said.




Philippine opposition lawmakers petitioned the Supreme Court on Monday to review and nullify President Rodrigo Duterte's imposition of martial law in the southern third of the country.

The petition filed by six House lawmakers led by Rep. Edcel Lagman said there was no revolution or invasion where public safety required the declaration of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. It said the proclamation contained "fatal inaccuracies and falsities."

The petitioners said congressional leaders and the majority of lawmakers allied with Duterte were derelict in their constitutional duty by refusing to convene a joint session of Congress to vote whether to revoke the martial law proclamation.

Duterte made the declaration May 23 after extremists allied with the Islamic State group laid siege to Marawi city. The declaration lasts through mid-July but could be extended with the consent of Congress.

The martial law proclamation said the militants openly attempted to remove that part of the country from its allegiance to the Philippine government by taking over a hospital, establishing several checkpoints in the city, burning down certain government and private facilities, and flying the flag of the Islamic State group in several areas.

But the petitioners said the military acknowledged the conflict in Marawi was precipitated by an attempt by troops to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a high-profile militant commander. They also said the claim that militants took over a hospital and Duterte's claim that a local police chief was decapitated both turned out to be wrong.


Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged Friday that there is "a lot of skepticism about the rule of law" in the country but defended the United States judicial system as "a blessing" and "a remarkable gift" during a talk at Harvard University.

The court's newest justice marveled that in America "nine old people in polyester black robes" and other judges can safely decide cases according to their conscience and that the government can lose cases without resorting to the use of armed force to impose its will.

"That is a heritage that is very, very special," he said. "It's a remarkable gift. Travel elsewhere. See how judges live. See whether they feel free to express themselves."

Gorsuch, made the comments during his first public appearance since joining the high court in a conversation with fellow Justice Stephen Breyer at Harvard University.

Gorsuch said that particularly in tumultuous times it's important to convince the next generation "that the project (of justice) is worth it because many of them have grave doubts."

"I think there is a lot of skepticism about the rule of law, but I see it day in and day out in the trenches — the adversarial process of lawyers coming to court and shaking hands before and after, the judges shaking hands as we do, before we ascend to the bench," he said. "That's how we resolve our differences in this society."

Gorsuch, who was nominated to the high court earlier this year by Republican President Donald Trump, said he believes there is still confidence in the judicial system. He said that 95 percent of all cases are decided in the trial court, while only 5 percent are appealed, and the Supreme Court hears about 80 cases in a good year.

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