CourtSide - The FindLaw Breaking Legal News Blog

April 2013 Archives

Pot Users Have No Job Protection, Colorado Court Rules

People who test positive for smoking pot can legally be fired from their job, the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled. So while recreational and medical marijuana is legal in Colorado, there is no employment protection for marijuana users.

A divided court upheld the firing of a man for off-the-job medical-marijuana use. The court reasoned that, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, employees have no protection to use it.

Brandon Coats is a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient who was fired from his job as a telephone operator at Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana.

The case, decided 2-1, is the first to look at whether off-duty marijuana use that is legal under state law is protected by Colorado's Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute, according to The Denver Post. The statute says employers can't fire employees for doing legal things off-the-clock.

A criminal complaint against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, has been filed in federal court. In charging Tsarnaev with using a "weapon of mass destruction," he would not be tried before a military tribunal as an "enemy combatant."

If convicted, Tsarnaev could face the death penalty, a Justice Department news statement said. The complaint said he had his initial court appearance Monday from his hospital room, where he is currently being treated for wounds sustained before his capture on Friday.

The Justice Department unsealed the attached criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. It said he is "specifically charged with one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (namely, an improvised explosive device or IED) against persons and property within the United States resulting in death, and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death." The bombings resulted in the deaths of three people and injuries to more than 200, the department's news release said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that under U.S. law, American citizens such as Tsarnaev cannot be tried by before military commissions.

"[Tsarnaev] will not be treated as an enemy combatant," Carney said at a White House news briefing. "We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice. Under U.S. law, United States citizens cannot be tried in military commissions."

The FBI has released images of two men who are suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.

For the first time, the agency made public a video (attached below) and 8 photographs of the men who were seen in the vicinity of the attack that killed three people and injured about 180.

Investigators have asked for the public's help in their search for suspects. Anyone with any information, no matter how small, is urged to contact the FBI.

"Somebody out there knows these individuals as friends, neighbors, co-workers or family members of the suspects," FBI Special Agent Rick DesLauriers told a packed press briefing in Boston on Thursday. "And though it may be difficult, the nation is counting on those with information to come forward and provide it to us."

Aurora Theater Lawsuits: Wrongful Death Claims Can Move Forward

Calling it a "close call," a federal judge on Wednesday allowed victims to pursue wrongful death and liability claims against Cinemark, which owns the Colorado movie theater where 12 people were shot to death last summer.

U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson indicated that it wasn't an easy decision but said the 10 lawsuits pose questions of interpretation and application of law.

"I suspect that many people, despite overwhelming sympathy and grief for the victims of the Aurora theater shootings, might upon hearing about these lawsuits have had reactions like, 'How could a theater be expected to prevent something like this?' " Jackson wrote. "I confess that I am one of those people."

James Holmes has been charged with murders and attempted murder in criminal court. Ten separate civil lawsuits were filed against Cinemark USA, which responded by saying that it couldn't have foreseen a shocking criminal act.

Jackson dismissed a claim of negligence but let stand a claim of wrongful death and another claim filed under Colorado's Premises Liability Act.

Warrantless DUI Blood Tests Rejected by Supreme Court

Police usually must try to obtain a search warrant before ordering blood tests for drunken-driving suspects, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The justices sided with a Missouri man who was subjected to a blood test without a warrant and found to have nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood.

The high court struck down Missouri's guidelines giving police broad discretion to forego getting a judge's prior approval before executing a search.

"We hold that in drunk-driving investigations, the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the Court.

The morning-after pill for emergency contraception, popularly known as “Plan B,” must be made available over the counter to girls 16 and under, a New York federal judge has ruled.

The ruling could end a long battle over how easy or difficult it should be for teenage girls to obtain emergency contraception. The ruling would also make it easier for all women to obtain the morning-after pill because it wouldn’t have to be kept behind drugstore counters anymore.

The judge’s order effectively overturns a controversial 2011 decision by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius that barred over-the-counter sales of the pill to girls under 17.

After years of study and internal debate, the FDA had decided that Plan B One Step should be allowed for sale without a prescription — and without age restrictions. Sebelius’ controversial ruling overturned the FDA’s decision.

Senior Judge Edward R. Korman, of the Eastern District of New York, ruled that Sebelius’s ruling on Plan B was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.” Judge Korman went on to call Sebelius’ decision “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent ….”

Ohio School Removes Jesus Painting After ACLU Lawsuit

A Jesus portrait in a small Ohio town has come down over concerns over the cost of defending a federal lawsuit against its display.

The religious painting thrust rural Jackson, Ohio into a national debate over religion in public schools.

The Jackson City Schools superintendent ordered the "Head of Christ" painting taken down Wednesday. Superintendent Phil Howard said the decision was made after the district's insurance company declined to cover litigation expenses.

"At the end of the day, we just couldn't roll the dice with taxpayer money," Superintendent Phil Howard told The Associated Press. "When you get into these kinds of legal battles, you're not talking about money you can raise with bake sales and car washes. It's not fair to take those resources from our kids' education."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sued on behalf of a student and two parents. The complaint, attached here, called the portrait an unconstitutional promotion of religion in a public school.

You Can't Resell Music Bought on iTunes, Federal Judge Rules

Thinking about making some cash selling your massive iTunes library? Think again.

A federal judge has declared a unique website enabling the online sale of pre-owned digital music files unlawful. "The first sale defense is limited to material items, like records, that the copyright owner put into the stream of commerce," ruled U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan.

This is bad news for ReDigi, which launched in October, 2011 with a bold idea: If the "first sale" doctrine in copyright law permits the re-selling of acquired copyrighted material, let's create an online market for "used" digital music.

Judge Sullivan's ruling has, for now, dampened the idea of reselling of digital goods. If it holds up, the ruling could mean digital sales venues would have to get the permission of right holders. Stay tuned for updates on this evolving area of the law.