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High court rejects appeal of killer of 4 people in Omaha
Court Line | 2019/07/18 04:36

The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday upheld the convictions and death sentence of a man who killed four people in Omaha, seemingly at random, shortly after his release from prison in 2013.

Nikko Jenkins pleaded no contest in 2014 to four counts of first-degree murder and multiple weapons counts for three separate, deadly attacks around Omaha. He was sentenced to death  in 2017 after years of delays over concerns regarding his mental health. The high court’s opinion addressed combined direct appeals on Jenkins’ behalf.

Among the arguments Jenkins’ attorneys made is that the trial court abused its discretion in accepting his no-contest pleas in a death penalty case. In a no-contest plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but concedes there is enough evidence for a conviction. The plea has the same effect as a guilty plea.

The Douglas County Public Defender office also argued that the court was wrong to allow Jenkins to represent himself and that, because it believes Jenkins is mentally ill, sentencing him to death violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.


Trump asks Supreme Court to unfreeze border wall money
Legal PR | 2019/07/16 04:40

The Trump administration on Friday asked the Supreme Court to lift a freeze on Pentagon money it wants to use to build sections of a border wall with Mexico.

Two lower courts have ruled against the administration in a lawsuit over the funding. Last week, a divided three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco kept in place a lower court ruling preventing the government from tapping Defense Department counterdrug money to build high-priority sections of wall in Arizona, California and New Mexico.

At stake in the case is billions of dollars that would allow Trump to make progress on a major 2016 campaign promise heading into his race for a second term. Trump ended a 35-day government shutdown in February after Congress gave him approximately $1.4 billion in border wall funding, far less than the $5.7 billion he was seeking. Trump then declared a national emergency to take cash from other government accounts to use to construct sections of wall.

The money includes $3.6 billion from military construction funds, $2.5 billion from Defense Department counterdrug activities and $600 million from the Treasury Department's asset forfeiture fund. The Treasury Department funds have so far survived legal challenges, and the transfer of the military construction funds has not yet been approved.

At issue in the case before the Supreme Court is just the $2.5 billion in Defense Department funds, which the administration says will be used to construct more than 100 miles of fencing. The lawsuit challenging the use of those funds was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition. Late Friday, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan gave the groups until the afternoon of July 19 to respond in writing to the Trump administration's filing.


Court to Trump: Blocking Twitter critics is unconstitutional
Attorney News | 2019/07/11 18:38

President Donald Trump lost a major Twitter fight Tuesday when a federal appeals court said that his daily musings and pronouncements were overwhelmingly official in nature and that he violated the First Amendment whenever he blocked a critic to silence a viewpoint.

The effect of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision is likely to reverberate throughout politics after the Manhattan court warned that any elected official using a social media account “for all manner of official purposes” and then excluding critics violates free speech.

“The government is not permitted to ‘amplify’ favored speech by banning or burdening viewpoints with which it disagrees,” the appeals court said.

Because it involved Trump, the ruling is getting more attention than a January decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found a Virginia politician violated the First Amendment rights of one of her constituents by blocking him from a Facebook page.

Still, the appeals court in New York acknowledged, not every social media account operated by a public official is a government account, and First Amendment violations must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide-open, robust debate,” Circuit Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

The debate generates a “level of passion and intensity the likes of which have rarely been seen,” the court’s decision read.

“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” the 2nd Circuit added. “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”

The Department of Justice is disappointed by the ruling and is exploring possible next steps, agency spokesperson Kelly Laco said.

“As we argued, President Trump’s decision to block users from his personal twitter account does not violate the First Amendment,” Laco said in an emailed statement.

Appeal options include asking the panel to reconsider, or seeking a reversal from the full 2nd Circuit or from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision came in a case brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. It had sued on behalf of seven individuals blocked by Trump after criticizing his policies.


US appeals court sides with Trump in lawsuit involving hotel
Legal PR | 2019/07/11 01:38

A federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel, handing Trump a significant legal victory Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the ruling of a federal judge in Maryland who said the lawsuit could move forward.

The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia sued in 2017, claiming Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by accepting profits through foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel. The case is one of three that argue the president is violating the provision, which prohibits federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.

In the case before the 4th Circuit, the court found the two jurisdictions lack standing to pursue their claims against the president, and granted a petition for a rare writ of mandamus, directing U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte to dismiss the lawsuit.

Trump heralded the decision in a tweet, saying, "Word just out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt." Trump tweeted that he doesn't make money but loses "a fortune" by serving as president.


Court rules against Florida officials on medical marijuana
Attorney News | 2019/07/09 01:40

A Florida appellate court ruled that the state's approach to regulating marijuana is unconstitutional, possibly allowing more providers to jump into a market positioned to become one of the country's most lucrative.

If the ruling stands, it could force state officials to lift existing caps on how many medical marijuana treatment centers can operate in Florida.

Tuesday's ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee was another setback for Florida officials trying to regulate the burgeoning marijuana industry more tightly. It mostly affirmed a lower court's ruling that the caps and operational requirements violated the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in 2016.

Ever since, the law has been a subject of debate in the legislature and courts. It was unclear whether Florida officials would appeal the ruling.

Florida now has more than 240,000 people registered with the state to legally use medicinal marijuana, according to the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. They are served by 142 dispensaries across the state, the majority operated by about a half-dozen medical marijuana treatment centers that grow their own crop, process it and sell it — a business model known as vertical integration.

That business model and the limited number of treatment centers were points of contention for Tampa-based Florigrown, which sued the state after being denied a license.



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