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Supreme Court Gun Case Draws Protesters
Law Firm News | 2008/03/18 16:09
Advocates of gun rights and opponents of gun violence demonstrated outside the Supreme Court Tuesday while inside, justices heard arguments over the meaning of the Second Amendment's "right to keep and bear arms."

Dozens of protesters mingled with tourists and waved signs saying "Ban the Washington elitists, not our guns" or "The NRA helps criminals and terrorist buy guns."

Members of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence chanted "guns kill" as followers of the Second Amendment Sisters and Maryland Shall Issue.Org shouted "more guns, less crime."

A line to get into the court for the historic arguments began forming two days earlier and extended more than a block by early Tuesday.

The high court's first extensive examination of the Second Amendment since 1939 grew out of challenge to the District of Columbia's ban on ownership of handguns.

Anise Jenkins, president of a coalition called Stand Up for Democracy in D.C., defended the district's 32-year-old ban on handgun ownership.

"We feel our local council knows what we need for a good standard of life and to keep us safe," Jenkins said.

Genie Jennings, a resident of South Perwick, Maine, and national spokewoman for Second Amendment Sisters, said the law banning handguns in Washington "is denying individuals the right to defend themselves."

The court has not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment in the 216 years since its ratification. The basic issue for the justices is whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own guns or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.

Even if the court determines there is an individual right, the justices still will have to decide whether the District's ban can stand and how to evaluate other gun control laws. This issue has caused division within the Bush administration, with Vice President Dick Cheney taking a harder line than the administration's official position at the court.

The local Washington government argues that its law should be allowed to remain in force whether or not the amendment applies to individuals, although it reads the amendment as intended to allow states to have armed forces.

The City Council that adopted the ban said it was justified because "handguns have no legitimate use in the purely urban environment of the District of Columbia."

Dick Anthony Heller, 65, an armed security guard, sued the District after it rejected his application to keep a handgun at his home for protection. His lawyers say the amendment plainly protects an individual's right.

The 27 words and three enigmatic commas of the Second Amendment have been analyzed again and again by legal scholars, but hardly at all by the Supreme Court.

The amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The last Supreme Court ruling on the topic came in 1939 in U.S. v. Miller, which involved a sawed-off shotgun. Constitutional scholars disagree over what that case means but agree it did not squarely answer the question of individual versus collective rights.

Chief Justice John Roberts said at his confirmation hearing that the correct reading of the Second Amendment was "still very much an open issue."



High Court Agrees to Hear Indecency Case
Legal Network | 2008/03/18 00:00
The Supreme Court will decide whether it is indecent when some foul-mouthed celebrity drops the "F-word" on live television, stepping into its first major broadcast indecency case in 30 years.

The high court said Monday it will hear arguments in a case over whether the government can ban "fleeting expletives," one-time uses of familiar but profane words.

The case grew out of decision by the Federal Communications Commission in 2006 that two broadcasts of the "Billboard Music Awards" show were indecent, though the agency levied no fines. Cher uttered one fleeting expletive beginning with "F" and Nicole Richie uttered a variation of the same word and another one beginning with "S."

Fox Broadcasting Co. and others appealed the decision, saying that the agency had changed its enforcement policy without warning and that the new ban was unconstitutional.

A federal appeals court in New York agreed, 2-1, throwing out the ban and sending the case back to the agency, which appealed to the Supreme Court.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told The Associated Press Monday that he was pleased the justices are stepping in. He said the appeals court had "put the commission in an untenable position" by giving it the responsibility to enforce indecency rules but not the tools to take action.



Inmate Wins Supreme Court Review
Law Firm News | 2008/03/17 23:58
A Texas inmate acting as his own attorney persuaded the Supreme Court on Monday to hear his case.

Carlos Jimenez was sentenced to 43 years in prison in 1995 after pleading guilty to burglary and violating the terms of his probation. Jimenez had a prior felony conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

In 2005, acting as his own lawyer, Jimenez petitioned a federal court, challenging his burglary conviction and asserting that he had not received proper legal representation when he went before the state courts in San Angelo, Texas.

The federal judge said Jimenez had waited too long to file his petition and refused to extend the deadline. Federal law gives state inmates one year after a conviction is final to petition a federal court for review of their cases.

At issue is Jimenez's argument that the one-year clock should have started all over again in 2005 because of the unusual circumstances of his case.

In 1996, a state appeals court dismissed Jimenez's appeal after a court-appointed lawyer said in court papers that in his professional opinion, Jimenez had no grounds for an appeal.

Nearly six years later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to let Jimenez file an appeal based on his argument that his attorney in 1996 had not properly notified him of what the attorney was planning to do. The appeals court wrapped up its work on Jimenez's belated petitions in 2005, after affirming his conviction and sentence.



Court Will Decide Wash. Shooting Case
Law Firm News | 2008/03/17 23:57
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider reinstating the murder conviction of the driver in a gang-related drive-by shooting that horrified Seattle in 1994.

The court will hear arguments in the fall in the case of Cesar Sarausad II. He was convicted for his role as the driver in the shooting in which Melissa Fernandes, 16, was killed and Brent Mason, 17, was wounded outside a Seattle high school on March 23, 1994.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned the conviction because of faulty jury instructions.

In his instructions to the jury, Judge Larry A. Jordan said Sarausad could be convicted of murder regardless of whether he knew of any plan for a killing. The appeals panel ruled that the jury should have been told Sarausad could be convicted of murder only if he knew what was being planned.

The state of Washington asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the conviction, which had been upheld by state appeals courts.



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