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  Supreme Court - Legal News


The California Supreme Court on Monday overturned the murder convictions and death sentence for a man who killed three people and committed a series of other crimes in San Diego in 1985.

The court ordered a new trial for Billy Ray Waldon, ruling unanimously that a lower court judge improperly allowed Bill Ray Waldon to represent himself at trial despite testimony at an earlier competency hearing that he suffered from paranoia and a thought disorder impairing his ability to think clearly.

The judge overturned a previous decision by another judge who had found Waldon wasn’t competent to represent himself.

Authorities said that over a two-week period in December 1985, Waldon shot and killed Dawn Ellerman and set her home on fire, killing her teenage daughter, Erin Ellerman, by smoke inhalation.

He also broke into an apartment and robbed and raped the resident, robbed four women of their purses, shot and killed Gordon Wells as he worked on a car and wounded a neighbor who had heard the shots and went to help Wells, authorities said.

Waldon was finally arrested six months later.

At trial, Waldon claimed federal agents had framed him for the crimes “to thwart his efforts to promote world peace, spread new languages, and advance Cherokee autonomy,” according to the Supreme Court’s ruling. He also claimed CIA agents had monitored him.


The Illinois Supreme Court has halted provisions of a new law that would eliminate cash bail for criminal defendants, issuing a stay hours before the new policies were set to take effect Sunday.

The high court said in Saturday’s order that the stay was needed to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois” as the court prepares to hear arguments on the matter.

The order said the court would coordinate an “expedited process” for an appeal the Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed Friday with the court of a local judge’s ruling, which found that eliminating cash bail for criminal defendants is unconstitutional.

Democrats who control the Illinois General Assembly had pushed for eliminating the posting of a cash bond — a practice long used to ensure that people accused of crimes appear at trial. Opponents of requiring bail contend that it results in the poor and innocent sitting in jail awaiting their day in court while the wealthy and guilty go free.

Republicans, meanwhile, said they fear that eliminating cash bail risks potentially releasing dangerous criminals.

In November, Democrats sought to appease that criticism by adding numerous offenses to a list of crimes that qualify a defendant to remain jailed while awaiting trial.

Kankakee County Circuit Judge Thomas Cunnington ruled Wednesday that the General Assembly had violated the constitution’s separation of powers clause by eliminating cash bail in the so-called SAFE-T Act criminal justice overhaul. He said the issue of bail should be left to the judiciary.

Prosecutors and sheriffs from 64 Illinois counties had filed a lawsuit challenging the bail provision, called the Pretrial Fairness Act, although Cunnington’s ruling did not include the injunction they had sought.


A jury convicted Dayonta McClinton of robbing a CVS pharmacy but acquitted him of murder. A judge gave McClinton an extra 13 years in prison for the killing anyway.

In courtrooms across America, defendants get additional prison time for crimes that juries found they didn’t commit.

The Supreme Court is being asked, again, to put an end to the practice. It’s possible that the newest member of the court and a former federal public defender, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, could hold a pivotal vote.

McClinton’s case and three others just like it are scheduled to be discussed when the justices next meet in private on Jan. 6.

Sentencing a defendant for what’s called “acquitted conduct” has gone on for years, based on a Supreme Court decision from the late 1990s. And the justices have turned down numerous appeals asking them to declare that the Constitution forbids it.

The closest the court came to taking up the issue was in 2014, when Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg provided three of the four votes necessary to hear an appeal.

“This has gone on long enough,” Scalia wrote in dissent from the court’s decision to reject an appeal from defendants who received longer prison terms for conspiring to distribute cocaine after jurors acquitted them of conspiracy charges.

Scalia and Ginsburg have since died, and Thomas remains on the court. But two other justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, have voiced concerns while serving as appeals court judges. “Allowing judges to rely on acquitted or uncharged conduct to impose higher sentences than they otherwise would impose seems a dubious infringement of the rights to due process and to a jury trial,” Kavanaugh wrote in 2015.

Jackson, who also previously served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, could provide a fourth vote to take up the issue, said Douglas Berman, an expert on sentencing at the Ohio State University law school.

“She is someone who we’d have good reason to believe would be troubled by the continued use of acquitted conduct,” said Berman, who filed a brief calling on the court to take up McClinton’s case.

Jackson replaced Justice Stephen Breyer, who generally favored giving judges discretion in imposing prison terms. Reining in the use of acquitted conduct in sentencing would restrict judicial discretion.


School choice advocates suffered a bitter defeat Thursday, when Kentucky’s Supreme Court struck down a state law that allowed donors to receive tax credits for supporting private school tuition.

In its unanimous decision, the high court said the 2021 measure violated the state’s constitution as the justices upheld a lower court ruling issued more than a year ago.

The law’s opponents objected to using the state tax code to aid private education. The measure’s supporters said tax credits didn’t amount to government spending, even if they decrease revenues.

The measure was narrowly passed by the Republican-dominated legislature over Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto. It created a form of scholarship tax credits — referred to by supporters as “education opportunity accounts.” Under the measure, private donors backing the accounts would be eligible for tax credits.

The Supreme Court ultimately found that the formula violated the constitution.

“We are compelled to agree that the EOA Act violates the plain language of Section 184” of the state constitution, Deputy Chief Justice Lisabeth T. Hughes said in writing for the court. “Simply stated, it puts the Commonwealth in the business of raising “sum(s) . . . for education other than in common schools.”


Ohio’s historical society can proceed with efforts to gain control of a set of ancient ceremonial and burial earthworks currently maintained by a country club, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

At issue before the court were the 2,000-year-old Octagon Earthworks in Newark in central Ohio. The Ohio History Connection, which owns the earthworks, had sought to reclaim a lease held by the Moundbuilders Country Club to turn the site into a public park.

The historical society, a nonprofit that contracts with the state, proposed the site along with other ancient sites in Ohio for nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage List and argued it must control access to the earthworks for that nomination to proceed. But the society said its chief goal in taking over management of the earthworks is improving public access.

The court ruled 6-1 that the society can proceed with efforts to break its lease with the country club, which expires in 2078. Justices upheld two lower court rulings that found the society has not dealt with the country club in bad faith and has met the necessity standard for invoking eminent-domain rights. The high court sent the case back to trial court for resolution.


The Supreme Court is about to confront a new elections case, a Republican-led challenge asking the justices for a novel ruling that could significantly increase the power of state lawmakers over elections for Congress and the presidency.

The court is set to hear arguments Wednesday in a case from North Carolina, where Republican efforts to draw congressional districts heavily in their favor were blocked by a Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court because the GOP map violated the state constitution.

A court-drawn map produced seven seats for each party in last month’s midterm elections in highly competitive North Carolina.

The question for the justices is whether the U.S. Constitution’s provision giving state legislatures the power to make the rules about the “times, places and manner” of congressional elections cuts state courts out of the process.

“This is the single most important case on American democracy — and for American democracy — in the nation’s history,” said former federal judge Michael Luttig, a prominent conservative who has joined the legal team defending the North Carolina court decision.

The Republican leaders of North Carolina’s legislature told the Supreme Court that the Constitution’s “carefully drawn lines place the regulation of federal elections in the hands of state legislatures, Congress and no one else.”

Three conservative justices already have voiced some support for the idea that the state court had improperly taken powers given by the Constitution when it comes to federal elections. A fourth has written approvingly about limiting the power of state courts in this area.


The Supreme Court on Monday rejected Turkey’s bid to shut down lawsuits in U.S. courts stemming from a violent brawl outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington more than five years ago that left anti-government protesters badly beaten.

The justices did not comment in turning away Turkey’s arguments that American law shields foreign countries from most lawsuits. Lower courts ruled that those protections did not extend to the events of May 16, 2017, when during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “Turkish security forces violently clashed with a crowd of protesters,” as one judge described the situation.

The Supreme Court’s action allows the lawsuits to proceed. In the lawsuits, protesters claim they were brutally punched and kicked, cursed at and greeted with slurs and throat-slashing gestures. One woman slipped in and out of consciousness and has suffered seizures, and others reported post-traumatic stress, depression, concussions and nightmares, according to the complaints.

The high court had put off a decision about whether to intervene for months, asking for the Biden administration’s views on the legal issues presented.

Turkey can be sued in these circumstances, the Justice Department said in its high court filing, concluding that lower courts were correct in finding that the U.S. ally does not have legal immunity.

Lawyers for the Turkish government had told the court that Erdogan’s security detail had discretion to use physical force because it was protecting its head of state in a potentially dangerous situation.

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