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double jeopardy

Supreme Court Calendar: 3 Cases to Watch in January 2016

After a momentous 2015 that saw the Supreme Court save Obamacare (again), give same-sex couples the right to marry, and preserve the death penalty (for now), the Court's October term moves into 2016. While the January session doesn't appear as juicy as previous dockets, there are some cases that will no doubt have a lasting impact. Here are three cases to watch in January 2016 as the Supreme Court closes out the October 2015 term: 1. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (January 11) Even if teachers and other public employees don't want to join a union, they can benefit from the union's collective bargaining on their behalf. Therefore, the Court has previous held that public employees may be required to pay union fees, even if they have opted out of joining the union. These are called "agency shop" arrangements, whereby public employees are still represented by the union for purposes of collective bargaining, but those who opt out of union membership only an agency fee for a "fair share" of the union's costs and unions are prohibited from spending nonmembers' agency fees on "ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining." But a group of California teachers are saying that even public-sector collective bargaining is political speech and they shouldn't be compelled them to subsidize that speech. The Supreme Court will decide whether these "agency shop" arrangements and violate the First Amendment. 2. Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle (January 13) Is Puerto Rico part of the United States? Sort of -- it is a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship, but no star on the flag or senator in Congress. Puerto Rico has its own Supreme Court, but also a U.S. District Court. So how does double jeopardy work with these two court systems? Luis Sanchez Valle was indicted in a Puerto Rican court on gun charges, and then also indicted in a U.S. federal court based on the same facts. His lawyers argued that this was essentially charging someone twice for the same crime, violating the prohibitions on double jeopardy. The Supreme Court will decide whether Puerto Rico and the federal government are separate sovereigns for purposes of double jeopardy. 3. Heffernan v. City of Paterson (January 19) Can public employees get demoted if their boss thinks they support a certain candidate? In this case a city police officer (Heffernan) was demoted after another officer saw him holding a campaign sign for a mayoral candidate (Spagnola) who was running against his chief's chosen candidate (Torres). And here's where it gets even murkier: Heffernan is friends with Spagnola, but wasn't working with the campaign or even campaigning at the time -- he was picking up the sign for his bed-ridden mother. The Court will have to decide whether Heffernan has a valid First Amendment claim based on his boss's incorrect perception of his "speech." Keep an eye on FindLaw's Law and Daily Life blog and Supreme Court blog as we update the oral arguments and the rulings in these and other major SCOTUS cases throughout 2016. Related Resources: The Big 4: Major Cases and Legal Issues of 2015 (FindLaw's Decided) The 5 Most Important Supreme Court Cases of 2015 (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog) Supreme Court Could Soon Ban the Death Penalty, Scalia Says (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog) Supreme Court Calendar: 3 Cases to Watch in November (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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First Trial in Freddie Gray Homicide Ends in Mistrial

After 16 hours of deadlocked jury deliberations, the judge finally declared a mistrial in Baltimore Police Officer William G. Porter's trial in the homicide of Freddie Gray. Jurors told the judge they could not reach a verdict on any of the charges against Porter, the first of six officers to stand trial after Gray died in police custody last April. The Baltimore Sun is reporting that a new trial date for Porter will be set on Thursday morning. Homicide, but Is It Manslaughter? Six Baltimore Police officers face charges relating to Gray's homicide. Porter specifically was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. Each of the six is scheduled to be tried separately and consecutively, although it is unclear how Porter's mistrial will affect that schedule. Gray was allegedly the victim of a "rough ride," during which suspects are handcuffed but not secured to a seat in a police vehicle and then intentionally battered by a rugged and bumpy ride to the station. Gray suffered fatal injuries to his spine after being placed in police custody, and an investigation suggested his arrest may have been illegal in the first place. Deadlock in Death Case Porter's trial lasted two weeks and jury deliberations spanned three days. It was apparent to Judge Barry G. Williams that further discussion wouldn't lead to a verdict: "You clearly have been diligent," he told jurors. "You are a hung jury." Following a deadlocked jury, prosecutors have the option of a retrial on any charges on which the jury was unable to come to a verdict. And because the jury did not decide any of the charges in this case, double jeopardy doesn't apply. Prosecutors declined to comment after the mistrial ruling, citing a "gag order that pertains to all cases related to Freddie Gray." Related Resources: Mistrial Declared in Baltimore Police Officer's Trial (Reuters) Baltimore Offers Freddie Gray's Family $6.4M to Settle Civil Claims (FindLaw's Injured) 6 Police Officers Involved in Freddie Gray Homicide Indicted (FindLaw Blotter) 4 Updates on Recent Police Shootings (FindLaw Blotter)
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Lori Voepel Wins Appeal for Woman Who Spent 22 Years on Death Row on Egregious Prosecutorial Misconduct

Attorney Lori Voepel, from Phoenix, Arizona, won a stunning appeal last week for Debra Jean Milke, who spent 22 years on death row for the alleged murder of her 4 year old son. The Arizona Court of Appeals ordered the dismissal of murder charges against Milke and agreed with Voepel that to conduct a retrial would amount to double jeopardy. The Court was extremely critical of the prosecutors’ failure to turn over evidence during Milke’s trial about Detective Saldate who had a long history of misconduct and lying. The case was largely built on the detective’s testimony that Milke had confessed to him in spite of the fact that it was not preserved by recording or in writing. The Court called the prosecutors’ actions “a severe stain on the Arizona justice system” and stated that the failure to turn over the evidence “calls into question the integrity of the system and was highly prejudicial to Milke.” The Huffington Post detailed the appellate twists and turns starting from the federal habeas to 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that resulted in the conviction being reversed in March of 2013. Listen here to Voepel discussing the 9th Circuit’s ruling last year. The 9th Circuit cited numerous instances of now-retired Detective Saldate committing misconduct in previous cases, lying under oath, and violating suspects’ rights. The federal appeals court went as far as asking the Justice Department to investigate whether he had committed civil rights violations. Thereafter when the prosecutors were preparing for a retrial the detective refused to testify and asserted his Fifth Amendment right, which the trial judge accepted. When the State appealed, the court’s ruling was reversed after both State and Federal authorities said they would not prosecute him. Finally, the last appeal resulted in the Arizona Court of Appeals agreeing that a retrial would amount to double jeopardy. Some news reports have indicated that the County Attorney plans to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. In September of last year Milke posted bond and was released from prison after spending close to 25 years in prison to await her retrial and the appeals the followed. This case is yet another example of the insidious nature of Brady violations. Here the prosecutors had evidence that went directly to the credibility of the main witness against the defendant and rather than follow the law, they chose to break the law. Thankfully in this instance Lori Voepel was able to demonstrate that Brady evidence existed but wasn’t turned over. This kind of case is a prime example as to why we, as trial attorneys, need to remain vigilant about Brady and continue to shine a bright light on the damaging effects of Brady violations. Congrats to Lori Voepel and her tireless fight for justice for her client. Bravo!
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Dad Acquitted of Shooting Drunken Driver Who Killed His Sons

A father accused of murdering the drunken driver who killed his two sons was acquitted by a Texas jury. In 2012, David Barajas and his two sons -- David Jr. 12 and Caleb 11 -- were pushing Barajas' truck on a road near their home in Alvin, Texas after the truck ran out of gas. A drunk driver, 20-year-old Jose Banda, plowed into the two boys, killing them. Prosecutors accused Barajas of running home, grabbing a pistol, and fatally shooting Banda in revenge, reports the Houston Chronicle. The jury in Barajas' criminal trial, however, wasn't convinced. Why not? Guilt Must Be Beyond a Reasonable Doubt In any criminal trial, the prosecution my show the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A reasonable doubt is generally considered doubt that would cause a reasonable person to hesitate before acting in a matter of importance or which prevents a person from saying with moral certainty that a person is guilty of the crime that person is accused of committing. There were several aspects of prosecutors' case against Barajas that could have created doubt in jurors' minds. There were no witnesses to the alleged murder, and police were unable to find the weapon used to kill Banda. In addition, reports the Houston Chronicle, gunpowder tests performed on Barajas' hands came back negative -- which may have indicated if the father had fired a weapon recently. Jury Nullification In some instances, juries faced with convicting a defendant who they believe may have committed a crime but is being unjustly or unfairly prosecuted may choose to acquit the defendant regardless of the facts. This phenomenon is known as jury nullification. In this case, jurors may have sympathized with Barajas, who had watched his two sons killed by a driver, Banda, who was driving with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. In either event, Barajas' constitutional rights to be free of double jeopardy mean that following his acquittal, he may not be charged for the same crime again, even if police uncover new evidence. Related Resources: Dad Acquitted in Slaying of Driver Who Killed Sons (Houston's KTRK-TV) Stand Your Ground Rejected in TX Murder Case (FindLaw's Blotter) Texas Man Shot, Killed Over Flirtatious Tweet (FindLaw's Blotter) When Can a DUI Be Charged as Murder? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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