SCOTUS weighs legality of U.S. healthcare law

The Supreme Court this morning is hearing arguments this morning on President Obama’s landmark health care law. Richard Wolf of USA Today summed up the importance of this case: “Not since the court confirmed George W. Bush’s election in December 2000 — before 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq, Wall Street’s dive and Obama’s rise — has one case carried such sweeping implications for nearly every American.”

The first question is, considering that fines for not buying health insurance don’t kick in until 2015, should the justices wait until then to hear the case?

What do you think? Should the justices wait? Should they be hearing the case at all? Should they overturn the mandatory purchase provision? Should they leave the law as is? Feel free to post your comments here.


(Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

SCOTUS: DAs not liable for evidence-withholding prosecutors

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that District Attorneys cannot be held liable for failing to train their prosecutors about their obligation to turn over evidence that favors the defense.

The Supreme Court case was brought by a Maryland man convicted for attempted armed robbery after prosecutors withheld a crime lab report exonerating him. When he was later on trial for murder, he chose not to testify because of the robbery conviction, and was found guilty of murder. The lab report was uncovered a month before he was to be executed. Both convictions were thrown out, and he was acquitted of murder at a second trial.

The man sued the DA’s office, claiming that his convictions were the result of the DA’s “deliberate indifference” to prosecutors’ lack of training on what are called Brady violations. But in a 5-4 decision, written by Judge Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court found that “a district attorney’s office may not be held liable for failure to train its prosecutors based on a single Brady violation.”

“Prosecutors not only are equipped but are ethically bound to know what Brady entails and to perform legal research when they are uncertain,” Thomas wrote. “Thus, recurring constitutional violations are not the “obvious consequence” of failing to provide prosecutors with formal in-house training.”

Here in Westchester, the last two district attorneys have come under fire over allegations that their prosecutors withheld evidence.

This past January, a judge overturned the 1992 manslaughter conviction of Louis Hairston, finding that the prosecutor in the case withheld evidence that could have exonerated him in a fatal shooting. Hairston was prosecuted under late District Attorney Carl Vergari, and the prosecutor in the case, George Bolen, retired. Hairston is due back in court for a pre-trial conference on May 5.

Former District Attorney Jeanine Pirro was sharply criticized for withholding evidence in the Anthony DiSimone case.  DiSimone’s murder conviction was overturned in 2007 when it was discovered that boxes of evidence pointing to the possibility that another man killed Louis Balancio were never turned over to the defense. DiSimone, who served seven years in prison before getting his conviction thrown out, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to time served.

SCOTUS decision: Don’t lock up teens for life

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that teenagers may not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if they haven’t killed anyone, according to the Associated Press and other news outlets.

In a 5-4 vote Monday, the court said the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution barring cruel and unusual punishment requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor voted in the affirmative. Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. opposed the majority. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. voted with the majority in the specific case but not with the overall opinion as it applies to all young offenders who are serving life sentences for crimes other than murder.

To read the AP’s story on the decision, click here. To read The New York Times’ version, click here.

SCOTUS, Souter and the Senate

Federal court followers are all abuzz over who will replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice David Souter after he ends his 19-year SCOTUS career and returns to the simple life in the woods of New England.

A lot of news organizations are speculating on whom President Obama will choose. Click here to read some of those stories.

Since I don’t cover federal courts, I’m not going to wage a guess on exactly who will fill Souter’s seat. But I do think she will be wearing a skirt and heels under her black robe.

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