Category Archives: Law

Senate Examines Marijuana Policy

English: Close up shot of some high quality ma...

English: Close up shot of some high quality marijuana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following Colorado and Washington’s vote to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examined emerging tensions between federal and state marijuana policy.

Inimai Chettiar writes on that the government has yet to find a solution to the question of how to reform marijuana laws. “The new approach will do little to mitigate the failed ‘war on drugs’,” she explained. “To create genuine and lasting progress, federal drug laws must be completely revamped.” Removing harsh mandatory minimum sentences, Chettiar said, should be the first step.

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Judge to Clerk: “Stop Issuing Same-Sex Couples Marriage Licenses”

Saints Sergius and Bacchus. 7th Century icon. ...

Saints Sergius and Bacchus. 7th Century icon. Officers of the Roman Army in Syria who were tortured to death for their refusal to worship Roman gods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Thursday, a Pennsylvania judge ordered a suburban Philadelphia court clerk to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini said Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes did not have the power to decide whether Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban violates the state constitution.

Hanes said he was disappointed.

It was not immediately clear what the decision will mean for the 174 couples who obtained licenses.

A 1996 state law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Via Huffington Post.

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Florida Man Kills Neighbors, Cites “Stand Your Ground” and “Bush Doctrine” as Defenses

Florida man William Woodward “snuck up” on three of his neighbors and unleashed a campaign of shock and awe on their Labor Day barbecue in the form of over fifty rounds, killing two and severely injuring (with eleven shots) a third person.

Now his lawyers have cited not only the state’s Stand Your Ground law, but also President George W. Bush’s pre-emptive war in Iraq and the Bush Doctrine as a defense.

In their motion, Woodward’s attorneys claimed that the victims had called him names and threatened to “get him.”

The motion referenced Enoch V. [sic] State, which suggests that an “imminent” threat can include something that is likely to occur at sometime in the future.

“I think legally that term has sort of been evolving especially given changes of our government’s definition of ‘imminent,’” attorney Robert Berry, who is representing Woodward, told Florida Today. “It’s become more expansive than someone putting a gun right to your head. It’s things that could become, you know, an immediate threat.”

You really can’t fault the attorneys for the obvious use of Stand Your Ground, even if it was the neighbor’s ground. After the outcome of the Zimmerman case, we understand that the law stands for the proposition that you can stalk someone to provoke them into confronting you, and then you can kill them. But the Bush Doctrine? That’s ingenious.

The court document filed by the defense also cited “The Bush Doctrine,” a foreign policy principle used by President George W. Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq. “The Bush Doctrine” embraces “preventive” or pre-emptive war.

If the Bush Doctrine taught us anything, it is that one does not leave possible threats out there. “Imminent threat” now means “something that might happen in the future” just as “no duty to retreat” means “You can hunt down unarmed people and shoot the shit out of them on their own property.”



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Judge Who Sentenced Rapist to 30 Days Orders New Hearing

Seal of Yellowstone County, Montana

Seal of Yellowstone County, Montana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Montana judge who sentenced a teacher to only thirty days for the rape of a former student has ordered a new hearing in the case.

In an order filed Tuesday, Yellowstone County District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh said that the sentence he imposed may be illegal because it departs from the mandatory minimum sentence for the crime. Stacey Dean Rambold, a former Billings Senior High teacher, admitted to raping a fourteen-year-old student who later committed suicide. Rambold received a sentence of fifteen years in prison, with all but thirty-one days suspended, and was given credit for one day served.

In explaining the first sentencing decision, Judge Baugh reasoned that the victim in the case was partly to blame for the assault. Baugh said that she was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. After sparking international outrage at his remarks and the sentence, the judge apologized for his comments. Last week, 400 people gathered in downtown Billings to protest the sentence and Baugh’s statements.

In the order reconsidering the sentence, Baugh said that the mandatory minimum sentence Rambold should have received appeared to be two years. He explained that he imposed the first sentenced based on a memorandum submitted by the attorney for Rambold, and that prosecutors failed to tell the court that the sentence violated mandatory minimum requirements. The court will hear arguments on re-sentencing Friday.

Via RHRealityCheck.

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IRS: Gay Married Couples Recognized for Tax Purposes


Marriage (Photo credit: Lel4nd)

On Thursday, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service announced that all married same-sex couples will be recognized as such for federal tax purposes, even if the state does not recognize their union.

It is the broadest rule change to come out of the Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

As of the 2013 tax year, same-sex spouses who are legally married will not be able to file federal tax returns as if either were single. Instead, they must file together as “married filing jointly” or individually as “married filing separately.” Their address or the location of their wedding does not matter, as long as the marriage is legal: a same-sex couple who marry in Albany, N.Y., and move to Alabama are treated the same as a same-sex couple who marry and live in Massachusetts.

Same-sex couples will be able to file amended returns for earlier tax years, meaning that many couples might be eligible for refunds. Couples do not have to file amended returns if they do not want to, meaning that couples who might pay the marriage penalty would not owe back taxes.

The ruling creates complications for same-sex couples who live in any of the thirty-seven states that do not recognize their marriages. Now, they will have to file their federal returns as other married couples do, but may be required to file their state returns as individuals.

Via The New York Times.

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Montana Judge: 14-Year-Old Was “As Much in Control of the Situation” as the 49-Year Old Teacher Who Raped Her

English: This map displays the legal age of co...

English: This map displays the legal age of consent for heterosexual sex in various countries.   – puberty   – less than 12   – 12   – 13   – 14   – 15   – 16   – 17   – 18   – 19   – 20   – 21+   – varies by state/province/region/territory   – must be married   – no law   – no data available (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Montana judge is making headlines for comments he made after sentencing a school teacher to only thirty days for raping a fourteen-year-old student who later committed suicide.

The case began in 2008 when prosecutors charged high school teacher Stacey Dean Rambold, now 54, with three counts of rape for having sex with Cherice Morales when she was 14. The case was pending two years later when Morales took her own life. Prosecutors decided to make a deal with Rambold under which he would have gotten no jail time. He admitted to one count of rape in exchange for them dismissing all charges against him if he completed a three-year treatment program for sex offenders. Rambold entered the program in July 2010 but stopped attending sessions in 2012. In November 2012, he was kicked out of the program when administrators learned that, in violation of the program’s rules, he was having unsupervised visits with minors and had entered into a sexual relationship with a woman without informing his treatment supervisor.

When prosecutors found out that he was no longer in the program, they revoked their deal, refiled charges, and asked the judge to sentence Rambold to twenty years, with ten years suspended.

Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh, however, did not believe that Rambold’s crime deserved that harsh a sentence. Instead, he sentenced him to fifteen years with all but thirty-one days suspended, with credit for one day spent in jail—meaning Rambold will only spend 30 days behind bars.

Baugh explained his decision by saying that the victim was a “troubled youth” who was “older than her chronological age.” Even though fourteen-year-olds cannot consent in Montana (the age of consent is 16), the judge went on to say that she was “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher. It is important to remember that he made this assessment of Morales based only on statements she made before her death. He never met her or heard her side of the story.

The age and experience gap in this case is disturbing. He was thirty-five years her senior; as her mother pointed out, she wasn’t even old enough to drive. More importantly, he was a teacher, and she was a student. There is an inherent power imbalance in this relationship, regardless of the age of the players. There is no way that Morales had as much control over the situation as Rambold did.

The judge was immediately criticized for the sentence. The following day, Judge Bough told the Billings Gazette that he thought the sentence was appropriate because of the nature of the crime. He explained, “I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.” Implying that Morales was not “really” raped because she didn’t end up with a black eye or broken rib is incredibly offensive.

On Wednesday, Judge Bough apologized for his remarks. In an apology published in the Gazette, he said he was “not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct.” He added, “What I said is demeaning of all women, not what I believe, and irrelevant to the sentencing.”

Ultraviolet and are circulating petitions calling for Bough’s resignation and dismissal, and a protest against him was held outside the courthouse on Thursday.

While the judge’s fate has yet to be decided, the fate of the others involved in the case is clear: Cherice Morales is dead, and Stacey Rambold will be free by fall.


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Hasan Sentenced to Death

On Wednesday, a jury sentenced to death  Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist killed thirteen people at Fort Hood nearly four years ago.

Since the case against Major Hasan was overwhelming, his conviction was a near certainty, and the main question in the trial was whether he would receive the death penalty. But Maj. Hasan taunted the military justice system, refusing to put up a defense and suggesting in and out of court that death to him was but a means to martyrdom, leaving jurors to ponder whether to give him what he wanted.

The Army’s lead prosecutor, Col. Michael Mulligan, told jurors during his closing argument that Major Hasan was not and never would be a martyr. “Do not be fooled,” he told the Army officers on the panel. “He is not giving his life. We are taking his life. This is not his gift to God. This is his debt to society.”

The jurors took two hours to decide on the sentence. If one of them had objected to Major Hasan’s execution, he would have been sentenced to life in prison. The same jury on Friday found Major Hasan guilty of forty-five counts of murder and attempted murder.

Major Hasan is likely to become the first American soldier in more than half a century to be executed in the military’s death chamber at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The execution would need presidential approval.

Via NYT.

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