A Pyrrhic victory for religious symbolism

While much of the week’s legal news has centered on the leaked draft of a US Supreme Court that revealed that a majority of the court have decided to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the US, there was another ruling on Monday that has much less of a momentous impact, and that was the unanimous opinion that said that the city of Boston could not forbid the flying of a flag at city hall that had a cross on it.

The city of Boston violated the free speech rights of a Christian group by refusing to fly a flag bearing the image of a cross at city hall as part of a program that let private groups use the flagpole while holding events in the plaza below, the US supreme court ruled unanimously on Monday.

The 9-0 decision overturned a lower-court ruling that the rejection of Camp Constitution and its director, Harold Shurtleff, did not violate their rights to freedom of speech under the first amendment to the US constitution.
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New trial for Melissa Lucio

I have been highlighting the potential for a gross miscarriage of justice that was due to occur today in Texas when Melissa Lucio was to be executed for the murder of her two-year old child despite the increasing evidence that she might be innocent and the appalling way that she was interrogated, using many standard coercive methods, that resulted in a confession. The potential for a massive injustice was so great that state Republican lawmakers, even those who support the death penalty, joined in a bipartisan effort to have her case reviewed. Five members of the original jury that convicted her said that if they had been told the full story, they would not have voted to convict.

Yesterday, a state appeals court stayed the execution and sent her case back to a lower court to take into account new evidence.
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We are on the verge of yet another potential tragic miscarriage of justice

On his latest show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver discussed the problem of false confessions and the infamous ‘Reid technique’ that police use in order to extract confessions out of people, even if they are innocent. Police interrogators and prosecutors love confessions because it makes their lives so much easier. It saves them the tedious work of investigating crimes, collecting evidence, and building a case against a suspect. Furthermore, juries seem to think that confessions are powerful, almost watertight, indicators of guilt.

Given the determination of police and prosecutors to quickly close cases, and their seeming lack of interest in obtaining actual justice, one should not be surprised that they put so much effort into obtaining confessions from people even if there are indicators that they might be innocent. Among the many cases, he mentioned that of Melissa Lucio who in 2007 ‘confessed’ to killing her two-year old child and is now scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, despite the very real possibility that she is innocent and that interrogators coerced her to confess.
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The scandal of false confessions

One of the big problems in the US (in)justice system is that often the zeal of police and prosecutors to get convictions overrides any desire to catch the actual guilty party. One of the many ways that innocent people end up in prison is when they ‘confess’ to crimes that they did not commit. Confessions have a powerful effect on juries because they, like many of us, cannot imagine why anyone would possibly admit to something they did not do, especially when it is a serious offense.

But false confessions are unfortunately not uncommon and the 1989 case of the Central Park Five where five Black and Latino youths aged 16 and under were convicted of the brutal rape of a young white woman who had been jogging in the park is one of the most egregious examples. Donald Trump paid for a full page ad in the New York Times calling for them to be executed. He still refuses to apologize, repeating the fact that they had confessed as his justification for continuing to think that at least some of them are guilty.
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Alex Jones files for bankruptcy protection

I wrote earlier about how the net was tightening around this spreader of all manner of false and malicious information, including some that made life a living hell for the families of the Sandy Hook massacre, who were already suffering because of the murder of their children. He was under increasing legal pressure and has now started the process by which rich people, like the Sacklers, try to avoid paying for their behavior, by declaring bankruptcy.
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The holdouts against the Sackler deal

The odious Sackler family that heavily promoted the use of their opioid drugs that has resulted in widespread addiction that led to many deaths and much suffering, have been pushing to have the courts sign off on a deal with state governments where their company Purdue Pharma, which is in bankruptcy, will supposedly pay fines that will go towards drug treatment and rehabilitation. The most noxious part of the deal is that the Sacklers’ ill-gotten personal fortunes will be largely untouched, they will not have to admit guilt, and they will gain immunity from future lawsuits by individuals. In other words, they will escape largely unscathed.

At the end of this month, [a New York] court – the second circuit appeals court in New York – will hear arguments over individual liability releases approved by a bankruptcy court charged with distributing Purdue Pharma’s assets. Those releases, another court found in December, weren’t authorized under the law and the plan was reversed.

But under the terms of the now-vacated deal, the Sacker family would contribute $6bn over 18 years to an opioid settlement trust. It’s a situation that angers Isaacs, and thousands of others, who feel that a measure of corporate responsibility may have been assigned, but Purdue’s decision-maker will never be held to account.

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A long overdue event

Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the US senate on a 53-47 vote to fill the vacancy on the US Supreme Court that will be created when retiring justice Stephen Breyer steps down in July. It is quite incredible that it has taken so long to have a woman of color on the bench. I have not blogged about it because it was almost certain that she would be confirmed and there was nothing about her nomination that was controversial, as she was very much in the legal mainstream and had no skeletons in her closet.

But the Republican party of Trump decided to make up outlandish stuff about her . Why? Because that is what they do. And their task of persuading their rabid base that Jackson was unqualified and even evil was made easier by the fact she was a woman and a person of color because we know that white men have the best legal minds and that everyone else must be an imposter, right?
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The cowardly Alex Jones held in contempt for skipping depositions

The conspiracy theorist who created such acute distress for the families of those killed in the Sandy Hook massacre by spreading the lie that it was a hoax and thus inspired his rabid followers to persecute those families and make their lives a living hell, talks very tough. But it turns out that he is, like all bullies, a coward. He has been sued by the families and been ordered by the judge to attend a legal deposition and be questioned under oath but he did not show up, citing vague medical reasons, even though he was appearing on his show that same week. Jones is clearly trying to avoid a legal reckoning for his reckless and hateful instigation against the families. He has offered a settlement to the people suing him but they have refused, demanding that he appear in court.
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The efforts to suppress voting in the US

Pamela Moses, a resident of Tennessee, tried to register to vote, after completing her period of probation for a felony violation. People in that state are ineligible to vote if they are on felony probation. She submitted a document signed by her parole office that said that the had completed her parole. The state of Tennessee argued that she had not, if fact, completed her parole and that she had tricked the parole officer into signing the document.

Mark Ward, the judge at the trial, gave her and her lawyer a scolding for her supposed fraud.

“You tricked the probation department into giving you documents saying you were off probation,” [Ward] said.

Judge Ward drilled Moses over her past convictions and the fact that she was already on probation when she committed the voting crime.

“After you were convicted of a felony in 2015, you voted 6 times as a convicted felon,” he said.

The hearing turned contentious when Moses’ lawyer tried to tell the court about the probation department’s role.

“Your honor let me school the court for a second,” the attorney said. 

“You need to stop talking sir. Sit down! Sit down!” the judge responded.

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The Trump family’s terrible week

The legal troubles keep piling up for that band of grifters, so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. It is quite extraordinary how almost everyone in the family seems to be made of the same cloth. The only people who have not been implicated in one scheme or another are the youngest daughter Tiffany (age 28) and youngest son Barron (age 15).

On Monday, Trump’s longtime firm of accountants Mazars said in a statement that they would no longer represent the Trump organization and further added that the financial statements that had been issued for the years 2011-2020 could no longer be relied upon. The Trump organization has long been accused of playing fast and loose with the valuation of his properties and this seems likely to be connected to that.
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