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Court to hear appeal of Dallas officer who killed neighbor
Law Firm News | 2021/04/27 20:19
A Texas court is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on overturning the conviction of a former Dallas police officer who was sentenced to prison for fatally shooting her neighbor in his home.

An attorney for Amber Guyger and prosecutors are set to clash before an appeals court over whether the evidence was sufficient to prove that her 2018 shooting of Botham Jean was murder.

The hearing before a panel of judges will examine a Dallas County jury’s  2019 decision to sentence Guyger to 10 years in prison for murder. It follows the recent conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, again focusing national attention on police killings and racial injustice.

Guyger is not expected to appear in court Tuesday and the appeals panel will hand down a decision at an unspecified later date.

More than two years before Floyd’s death set off protests across the country, Guyger’s killing of Jean drew national attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of Black men by white police officers.

The basic facts of the case were not in dispute. Guyger, returning home from a long shift, mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, which was on the floor directly below his. Finding the door ajar, she entered and shot him, later testifying that she through he was a burglar.

Jean, a 26-year-old accountant, had been eating a bowl of ice cream before Guyger shot him. She was later fired from the Dallas Police Department.

The appeal from Guyger, now 32, hangs on the contention that her mistaking Jean’s apartment for her own was reasonable and, therefore, so too was the shooting. Her lawyers have asked the appeals court  to acquit her of murder or to substitute in a conviction for criminally negligent homicide, which carries a lesser sentence.

In court filings, Dallas County prosecutors countered  that Guyger’s error doesn’t negate “her culpable mental state.” They wrote, “murder is a result-oriented offense.”

Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, told the Dallas Morning News that the appeal has delayed her family’s healing.

”I know everyone has a right of appeal, and I believe she’s utilizing that right,” Jean said. “But on the other hand, there is one person who cannot utilize any more rights because she took him away.

“So having gotten 10 years, only 10, for killing someone who was in the prime of his life and doing no wrong in the comfort of his home, I believe that she ought to accept, take accountability for it and move on,” she said.

Guyger could have been sentenced to up to life in prison or as little as two years. Prosecutors had requested a 28-year sentence ? Botham Jean would have been 28 if he were still alive during the trial.

Under her current sentence, Guyger will become eligible for parole in 2024, according to state prison records.

Following the trial, two members of the jury said the diverse panel tried to consider what the victim would have wanted when they settled on a 10-year prison sentence.

Jean ? who went by “Bo” ? sang in a church choir in Dallas and grew up in a devout family on the island nation of St. Lucia. After sentencing, Brandt Jean embraced Guyger in court and told her his old


COVID-19 concerns raised at St. Louis death penalty trial
Law Firm News | 2021/04/23 20:08
Attorneys for a St. Louis man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, her mom and his baby boy are asking the Missouri Supreme Court to delay his capital murder trial for two weeks after two potential jurors tested positive for COVID-19.

Jury selection began last week in the trial of Eric Lawson, who is accused of fatally shooting 22-year-old Breiana Ray and 50-year-old Gwendolyn Ray before setting an apartment fire that killed his 10-month-old son, Aiden. Lawson, 32, has been in pretrial detention since his arrest nearly nine years ago. The case is being prosecuted by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

Attorneys for Lawson sought a continuance in January and again in March, citing concerns about COVID-19 each time. Circuit Judge Michael Noble denied both requests.

Lawson’s attorneys asked Noble for a continuance a third time on Wednesday, this time citing the two positive cases among potential jurors. When Noble again refused to pause the case, defense attorneys asked the Missouri Supreme Court to intervene.

“Mr. Lawson and his attorneys have been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 10 days,” the court motion states. “So have the judge, the prosecutors, courthouse staff, and prospective jurors.”

St. Louis Circuit Court spokesman Thom Gross said a potential juror appeared in court on April 14. She tested positive for COVID-19 two days later and notified the jury supervisor on April 19, saying she didn’t know when or where she was exposed.

Seven of the 39 prospective jurors from the April 14 session had originally been asked to return later, but Jury Supervisor Joanne Martin called each of them and told them they were dismissed, Gross said. Martin mailed letters to the others who attended that session to inform them of the positive test.

Gross said a second prospective juror told Martin on April 16 that they had just learned that a COVID-19 test taken earlier was positive. All 40 prospective jurors from that session were dismissed.

The court filing from Lawson’s lawyers said one of the lawyers, Julie Clark, is pregnant and thus considered vulnerable. An expert witness for the defense also “has several preexisting health conditions putting him at the greatest risk of contracting COVID,” the court filing said.


Governor swears in newest Rhode Island state court judge
Law Firm News | 2021/03/25 09:23
The newest judge to the Rhode Island Superior Court was sworn in Saturday.

Democratic Gov. Dan McKee presided over the swearing in of R. David Cruise, a longtime political operative and state senator, at the Boys & Girls Club location in Cumberland.

McKee, a former Cumberland mayor who has known Cruise for years, said in a statement that he’s an “honest, fair and thoughtful leader who brings decades of legal and government experience to the bench.”

Cruise is a former state senator and Cumberland town councilor. In recent years, he’s served as former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s director of legislative affairs, former administrative magistrate with the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and chief of staff to the Rhode Island Senate, among other posts, according to McKee’s office.

In the 1990s, Cruise worked in the commerce department under President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to former Governor Bruce Sundlun. In the 1980s, he was a state senator and before that served on the Cumberland Town Council.

Cruise, who graduated from Providence College and the Suffolk University School of Law, replaces former Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo, who retired in February.

The Rhode Island Superior Court has 22 judges and five magistrates. It handles both civil and criminal matters.


Supreme Court could put new limits on voting rights lawsuits
Law Firm News | 2021/03/01 20:30
Eight years after carving the heart out of a landmark voting rights law, the Supreme Court is looking at putting new limits on efforts to combat racial discrimination in voting.

The justices are taking up a case about Arizona restrictions on ballot collection and another policy that penalizes voters who cast ballots in the wrong precinct.

The high court’s consideration comes as Republican officials in the state and around the country have proposed more than 150 measures, following last year’s elections, to restrict voting access that civil rights groups say would disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic voters.

A broad Supreme Court ruling would make it harder to fight those efforts in court. Arguments are set for Tuesday via telephone, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It would be taking away one of the big tools, in fact, the main tool we have left now, to protect voters against racial discrimination,” said Myrna Perez, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s voting rights and elections program.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said the high court case is about ballot integrity, not discrimination. “This is about protecting the franchise, not disenfranchising anyone,” said Brnovich, who will argue the case on Tuesday.

President Joe Biden narrowly won Arizona last year, and since 2018, the state has elected two Democratic senators.

The justices will be reviewing an appeals court ruling against a 2016 Arizona law that limits who can return early ballots for another person and against a separate state policy of discarding ballots if a voter goes to the wrong precinct.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ballot-collection law and the state policy discriminate against minority voters in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and that the law also violates the Constitution.

The Voting Rights Act, first enacted in 1965, was extremely effective against discrimination at the ballot box because it forced state and local governments, with a history of discrimination, including Arizona, to get advance approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes to elections.




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