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Court reinstates late Aaron Hernandez's murder conviction
Court Watch | 2019/03/15 06:16
Massachusetts' highest court on Wednesday reinstated the late Aaron Hernandez's murder conviction, which was erased after the former NFL star killed himself in prison.

The Supreme Judicial Court also scrapped the legal principle that wiped out Hernandez's conviction for future cases, calling it "outdated and no longer consonant with the circumstances of contemporary life."

"We are pleased justice is served in this case, the antiquated practice of vacating a valid conviction is being eliminated and the victim's family can get the closure they deserve," Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III said in a tweet.

Hernandez was convicted in 2015 of killing semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd. Two years later, the 27-year-old killed himself in his prison cell days after being acquitted of most charges in a separate double-murder case.

A judge threw out Hernandez's conviction that year, citing the legal principle that holds that a defendant convicted at trial who dies before an appeal is heard should no longer be considered guilty in the eyes of the law, thereby returning the case to its pretrial status.

Under the doctrine, rooted in centuries of English law, a conviction should not be considered final until an appeal can determine whether mistakes were made that deprived the defendant of a fair trial, legal experts say.

Prosecutors argued the legal doctrine is outdated and unfair to victims. Quinn told the court that the defendant's estate should be allowed to appeal the case, if they wish. Otherwise, the conviction should stand, he argued.

Under the new rule laid out by the court, the conviction will stand but the court record will note the conviction was neither affirmed nor reversed because the defendant died while the appeal was pending.


Court raises concerns over power lines by historic Jamestown
Court Watch | 2019/03/11 18:20
A federal appeals court raised concerns Friday that power lines with towers nearly as high as the Statue of Liberty could spoil the view in one of the nation's most historically rich areas, a stretch of river in Virginia where England founded its first permanent settlement.

The power lines cross the James River near Jamestown Island. And they began transmitting 500,000 volts of electricity on Tuesday.

Despite the project's completion, the court directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a full environmental impact statement for the project. The agency previously deemed it to be unnecessary.

The appeals court found that the Corps failed to fully consider the project's impact before issuing a permit to Dominion Energy. The ruling also said the Corps failed to resolve concerns that were raised in many of the 50,000 public comments that were submitted and by other federal agencies over the years.

For instance, the National Park Service has said utility lines should be run underground in the area, allowing people to experience views similar to what English explorer John Smith saw in the early 1600s.


Supreme Court rules for Alabama death row inmate
Court Watch | 2019/03/04 02:16
The Supreme Court is ordering a new state court hearing to determine whether an Alabama death row inmate is so affected by dementia that he can't be executed.

The justices ruled 5-3 on Wednesday in favor of inmate Vernon Madison, who killed a police officer in 1985. His lawyers say he has suffered strokes that have left him with severe dementia.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals in siding with Madison.

The high court ruling is not the end of the case. Justice Elena Kagan says in her majority opinion that, if the state wants to put Madison to death, an Alabama state court must determine that Madison understands why he is being executed.

The justices have previously said the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment means that people who are insane, delusional or psychotic cannot be executed.

But Kagan, reading a summary of her ruling, said, "Based on our review of the record, we can't be sure that the state court recognized that Madison's dementia might render him incompetent to be executed."

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, who last year would have allowed the execution to proceed without hearing the case, dissented. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was not yet on the court when arguments took place in early October.


Appellate judge announces run for Supreme Court seat
Court Watch | 2019/02/06 19:02
An appellate judge has announced he will run for a spot on the Kentucky Supreme Court days after Justice Bill Cunningham retired.

Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Christopher "Shea" Nickell told The Paducah Sun that he is running in November's election for the vacant seat, which represents the First Supreme Court District encompassing 24 counties in western Kentucky. The winner of the general election will serve the rest of Cunningham's current term ending in 2022.

Gov. Matt Bevin will appoint a temporary justice to the seat until November, but Nickell did not submit his name for consideration. He says that would have required him to step down from the appeals court.

Nickell practiced law for 22 years before he became an appellate judge.



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