26 January 2015

Jury Selection and the Death Penalty

In class, at least some of my classes, we talked about the jury selection process taking place in Colorado where a person is being charged with shooting and killing several people in a movie theater. The case received an enormous amount of media attention, requiring a huge jury pool to be formed and jury selection process that could take weeks if not months. On the other side of the country the infamous Boston Marathon bombers is about to be tried, and there too jury selection will be tricky business. Yet this time one's views on the death penalty will also come into play. Should it? The AP has an interesting article that addresses this question.

21 January 2015

Language Matters

Or maybe not. From a legal perspective it most certainly does, but news outlets misuse legal English often. Case in point: a recent headline regarding an appeal of three lower court rulings read "Gay marriage bans in three southern states on trial at U.S. appeals court." Did you get that? "ON TRIAL".

Students in all of my courses should understanding why the use of the word trial is inappropriate here. If you don't, go back and review the meaning of a trial.

09 January 2015

Supreme Court asked to decide what "accompanying" means

Students in all three of my courses this semester have been or will soon be exposed to American concepts of statutory. The U.S. Supreme Court recently also had to tackle these concepts in a case dealing with what the word "accompanying" means. According to the New York Times:
After a botched bank robbery in 2008 in North Carolina, Larry Whitfield entered the home of a 79-year-old woman, telling her he needed a place to hide. He directed the woman, who was upset and crying, to move with him from her living room to another room some nine feet away.
Those few steps exposed Mr. Whitfield to prosecution under a federal law that calls for a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence when a criminal “forces any person to accompany him” during a bank robbery or while fleeing.

They also gave rise to a lively Supreme Court argument on Tuesday, one largely concerned with the meaning of the word “accompany.”
Read the rest of the article to see some of the questions the Justices asked as they struggled to find  meaning for this commonly used word.

08 January 2015

The Boston Marathon Bomber and Pro-Death Penalty Juries

Does the jury selection process in the United States result in pro-death penalty juries? According to one journalist watching the developments in the Boston Marathon Bomber trial, it does. To see how, check our her article in the Boston Globe.

07 January 2015

Going on Senior Status

Because the U.S. Constitution gives federal court judges lifetime appointments, and because implicitly this means Congress cannot set a mandatory retirement age for federal court judges, some judges work well beyond the normal retirement age. However, many of these judges do not work full-time, rather they go on "senior status." A recent Boston Globe article explains:
The senior status arrangement, enjoyed by some 500 federal judges around the country, allows older judges to go into semiretirement while mentoring the fresher faces on the bench and helping to clear the court’s cases. 
Federal judges at all three levels can take advantage of this status, however, when a Supreme Court Justice retires, they may only serve as lower court judges under their senior status. Once the judge takes senior status, s/he effectively goes into retirement allowing the President to appoint a new judge, with the consent of the Senate, of course.