February 2012 Court Decisions: Decided
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February 2012 Archives

Child Porn Suspect Can Refuse to Decrypt Hard Drive: 11th Cir

The government can't force you to decrypt your hard drive -- unless they give you complete immunity, that is.

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the 11th Circuit has reversed a lower court order requiring a child pornography suspect to decrypt his hard drives. The man, known only as John Doe, claimed the order violated his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The court agreed, finding that decryption would be akin to him testifying against himself.

All you need is love, the Beatles famously proclaimed. But if you're entering into a contract, you need a lot more than that, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.

"Love and affection are not consideration for a contract," Ohio's highest court held in the case of an ex-couple's real-estate dispute, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

The decision means Frederick Ormsby, 57, of Medina, Ohio, can keep $324,000 from the sale of a house he once shared with his ex-fiancée Amber Williams. A June 2005 contract, which called for a 50/50 split of the proceeds, is invalid, the court held.

GOP Appeals After Another Federal Judge Finds DOMA Unconstitutional

Three GOP congressional leaders are appealing a federal judge's ruling that declared a law prohibiting the government from recognizing same-sex marriages to be unconstitutional, according to court papers filed late Friday.

Private lawyers for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group notified the federal court in San Francisco that they are asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decision issued by according to Judge Jeffrey White.

Affirmative Action Returns to the Supreme Court

Affirmative action in higher education will yet again return to the Supreme Court. The Court has agreed to hear an appeal from the 5th Circuit in Fisher v. University of Texas, a lawsuit challenging the public university’s use of race in admissions.

The appeal is the first time the Court will consider affirmative action since its 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger. In that 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that public universities can use race as a “plus factor” when determining which students to admit.

A Nigerian man accused of igniting an "underwear bomb" on a U.S.-bound jetliner has been sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, now 25, sparked a fire but failed to blow up a Delta Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, Reuters reports. Passengers who pounced on Abdulmutallab told the court they were still shaken by the thwarted bombing.

Abdulmutallab also got a few minutes to address the court before he was sentenced Thursday. The admitted terrorist expressed no remorse.

A Texas court has upheld the use of a man's MySpace posts in his murder conviction, despite lingering questions about whether he actually wrote the posts.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled there was "ample circumstantial evidence" to prove Ronnie Tienda Jr. created and maintained the MySpace posts that boasted about a 2007 murder, the Associated Press reports.

"I kill to stay rich!" one MySpace post said, while another included a photo of Tienda's distinctive gang tattoo, according to the AP.

But the MySpace "evidence" can't be authenticated and is therefore not credible, Tienda's lawyer argued.

Texas Pre-Abortion Ultrasound Law Enforceable: Fed. Judge

Opponents of Texas' abortion ultrasound law may need to go all the way to the Supreme Court. In August, District Court Judge Sam Sparks issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law, which requires physicians to show women a picture of their fetus and explain its current stage of development. He said the provisions improperly mandate speech.

But then the 5th Circuit stepped in last month, vacating Judge Sparks' order. The appeals court left the Judge little choice but to allow Texas' abortion ultrasound law to go into effect.

An Arizona woman with weak English skills can be kept off the ballot as a candidate, Arizona's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. But the court declined to immediately disclose a reason for its decision.

Alejandrina Cabrera, 35, wanted to run in the March 13 Democratic primary for a city council seat in San Luis, Ariz. Spanish is the primary language in the border town of about 25,000, Reuters reports.

Cabrera, who was born in Arizona but spent much of her childhood in Mexico, speaks primarily Spanish and has weak English-language skills. So San Luis' mayor took her to court over her candidacy, citing an Arizona law.

Killer Whales Not Covered by the 13th Amendment

PETA suffered a defeat on Wednesday when U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller dismissed its lawsuit against SeaWorld. The animal rights organization had sued the park, claiming that Shamu and his friends are "enslaved" in violation of the 13th Amendment.

Judge Miller began his analysis by noting, "Plaintiffs are members of the Orcinus orca or "killer whale" species, the largest species of the dolphin family."

This little fact is what ultimately doomed PETA's SeaWorld lawsuit.

Convicted members of an international child-pornography ring will spend the rest of their lives in prison, but a lower court will reconsider a child victim's restitution award, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Eleventh Circuit on Tuesday affirmed life sentences for seven men convicted in a widespread child-porn operation that involved more than 60 people in at least six countries.

But the three-judge panel vacated a $3.2 million restitution award against one of the men, for a 4-year-old girl depicted in the illegal images. Why vacate the victim's award?

State Court Strikes Down Georgia Assisted Suicide Law

The First Amendment protects an individual's right to advertise assisted suicide services, according to a unanimous Georgia Supreme Court. The justices came to this conclusion in a suit brought by four members of Final Exit Network, a "death with dignity" advocacy group.

The plaintiffs were prosecuted after helping a 58-year-old cancer patient commit suicide. Georgia's assisted suicide law makes it illegal to publicly offer or advertise suicide assistance.

Prop. 8 Decision Avoids Issue of Same-Sex Marriage's Constitutionality

Prop. 8 is unconstitutional. But is same-sex marriage a constitutional right? Maybe not.

The 9th Circuit has upheld a lower court ruling, striking down California's same-sex marriage ban on equal protection grounds. But the court focused only on the law's purpose -- not on the constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

The ruling states that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional because it "serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California."

Prop 8 Trial Video to Stay Sealed, 9th Cir. Rules

Curiosity will remain unsatisfied for those following the Prop 8 trial. Video of the 2010 federal proceedings will remain sealed, according to an order issued by the 9th Circuit.

That video was recorded at the insistence of Judge Vaughn Walker, who ultimately found the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. He repeatedly promised the parties that it was intended for internal use only -- that it would help him when it came time to prepare his order.

Montana's medical marijuana law doesn't protect pot-smoking patients from federal prosecution, and even a Justice Department memo can't change that, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy dismissed a civil lawsuit brought by 14 Montana medical marijuana patients and providers whose homes and businesses were raided by federal agents last year, the Associated Press reports.

The medical-pot patients and providers were charged under federal laws that prohibit marijuana. But those charges fly in the face of a Justice Department memo that seemed to suggest the feds would not prosecute them, the patients' lawyers argued.