January 2012 Court Decisions: Decided
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January 2012 Archives

Woman Must Decrypt Laptop, Judge Rules

The Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination does not apply to encrypted laptops, according to a federal judge in Colorado.

The judge came to this conclusion in the case of Ramona Fricosu, a woman accused of bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Investigators believe her encrypted laptop holds vital evidence, but she has refused to provide her password.

Instead, she hid behind the Fifth Amendment, claiming it protects her from a court order to decrypt the laptop. The judge does not agree.

CA Slaughterhouse Law Struck Down by US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has overturned California's slaughterhouse law. The statute required humane treatment of downed livestock. This included animals that could not walk or stand.

California's law took effect in 2009. It was passed in response to undercover video aired by the Humane Society. The clip showed workers in a Los Angeles-area slaughterhouse dragging and forcing downed livestock into pens.

The state law sought to regulate how slaughterhouses treated these "non-ambulatory" animals. But the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) already provided regulations. After the California law went into effect, the National Meat Association brought a lawsuit seeking to overturn the new statute.

Supreme Court Rules GPS Tracking Requires a Search Warrant

Police should probably get a warrant before attaching a GPS tracking device to a suspect's vehicle. Or so implies the Supreme Court.

The new technology has been used to track a suspect's every move -- 24 hours a day for weeks on end. But in a unanimous decision, the Court has ruled that the use of such a device is a search under the 4th Amendment.

 In most, if not all, situations police need a warrant.

Interim Texas Redistricting Maps Trashed by Supreme Court

Today's Supreme Court decision has once again left Texas' legislative future up in the air. Just 11 days after oral arguments, the Court has issued a per curiam opinion rejecting interim redistricting maps drawn by a panel of federal judges.

The interim set of Texas redistricting maps affects voting for the State Legislature and the House of Representatives. They are believed to increase the power of Hispanic voters and help Democratic candidates.

This is contrary to the state-drawn maps, which favor Republicans.

Mass. Court Reverses Judge's Abortion, Sterilization Order

A Massachusetts appellate court has stepped in on behalf of "Mary Moe," a 32-year-old schizophrenic and bipolar woman ordered to undergo an abortion and sterilization procedure.

The woman's parents asked Family and Probate Court Judge Christina Harms to declare her incompetent so they could force her to abort the fetus. But Judge Harms went one step further and ordered the hospital to sterilize her, too.

That sterilization order was produced "out of thin air," according to Appeals Court Judge Andrew Grainger.

Prayer Banner in RI School Must Be Torn Down: Federal Judge

A federal judge has stepped in on behalf of teen Jessica Ahlquist, ordering the removal of a prayer banner displayed at Rhode Island's Cranston High School West.

The eight-foot by four-foot mural urges students to be honest and kind, and to embrace friendship and sportsmanship. It also begins with the words "Our Heavenly Father" and closes with "Amen."

As an atheist, Ahlquist felt ostracized by its presence.

A Washington sheriff's deputy's Whopper of a spit-burger lawsuit is on hold, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seeks clarification about a Washington state law.

Clark County Sheriff's Deputy Edward Bylsma's beef with Burger King began at a drive-thru window, Reuters reports. Bylsma's spit-burger suit claims he ordered a Whopper -- but he didn't have it his way, as Burger King's slogan promises.

Instead, Bylsma pulled back the Whopper's bun and found a "slimy, clear and white phlegm glob" -- a topping he most certainly didn't order.

Supreme Court Blocks Lawsuit Against Private Prison Employees

In an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that inmates do not have a right to file a federal lawsuit against private prison employees for alleged 8th Amendment violations.

The case -- Minneci v. Pollard -- follows up on a 2001 decision in which the Supreme Court barred constitutional lawsuits against federally-contracted private prison companies. As in that ruling, the Court has decided that federal inmates may only seek damages from private prison employees in state court.

State tort law -- not constitutional law -- is their only option.

10th Cir. Enjoins Oklahoma's Sharia Law Ban

Citing the Establishment Clause, the 10th Circuit has upheld an injunction preventing Oklahoma's Sharia law ban from going into effect.

The ban -- a constitutional amendment known as the "Save Our State Amendment" -- was passed by state voters in 2010. It prevents state judges from basing decisions on international and Sharia law.

The amendment mentions no other religion-based codes of conduct.

Woman Too Conservative for Iowa Law School Has Suit Reinstated

A political discrimination lawsuit filed by Teresa Wagner can go forward, according to the 8th Circuit. Wagner, a conservative Republican, applied for a professorship at the University of Iowa College of Law in 2006.

Despite being qualified for the job, she was not hired. She believes that the law school's dean, along with its faculty hiring committee, denied her the position after learning of her active involvement in "socially conservative causes."

The court unanimously agreed that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the hiring decision was "in part motivated by Wagner's constitutionally protected First Amendment rights of political belief and association."

Police Can't Use Knife to Cut Drugs Off a Suspect's Penis: 4th Cir.

Joseph Edwards is one lucky man, and not because the 4th Circuit has agreed to suppress evidence related to his drug conviction.

During a 2009 arrest, Baltimore police cut a plastic baggie full of drugs off of Edwards' penis. Outside. With a knife. In the dark. Without a flashlight.

He wasn't hurt, but the court determined that a knife to the groin posed a "significant and unnecessary risk of injury." The search was thus ruled unreasonable under the 4th Amendment.

Record $322M Asbestos Verdict Thrown Out by Miss. Judge

A state judge has vacated a $322 million Mississippi asbestos verdict --& the largest single-plaintiff asbestos award in history.

The ruling comes just two months after defense attorneys asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to disqualify Judge Eddie Bowen from the case. Soon after the jury announced its award, defendants Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and Union Carbide learned that Bowen's parents had previously sued them over asbestos-related matters.

This connection probably should have disqualified Bowen from the start.

Ex-HP CEO Mark Hurd Sexual Harassment Letter Unsealed by Del. Court

The Delaware Supreme Court has ruled that the letter sent to Ex-HP CEO Mark Hurd accusing him of sexual harassment should be made public.

The letter served as the impetus behind his subsequent resignation.

Hurd was accused by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred of sexually harassing her client, Jodie Fisher. Fisher was a contractor working for HP. Hurd was accused of treating her to expensive meals. He was also accused of telling her confidential, non-public company information.