May 2012 Court Decisions: Decided
Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

May 2012 Archives

John Edwards has been acquitted on one count in his federal campaign corruption case, and a judge has declared a mistrial on the remaining five counts.

The mixed result ends a tumultuous afternoon in court. The judge in Greensboro, N.C., initially thought jurors had reached a verdict on all six counts, the Associated Press reports. But when jurors said they were deadlocked on five of the charges, the judge sent them back to try again.

But after about an hour, jurors again said they couldn't agree on verdicts for the five remaining counts. The judge accepted that, and declared a mistrial for those charges.

So which count did jurors acquit him on? Will prosecutors dare to retry him a second time?

The First Circuit has ruled that part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex married couples, is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

But a court-ordered injunction is on hold, as the three-judge panel of the First Circuit anticipates "that Supreme Court review of DOMA is highly likely."

In the case before the First Circuit Court of Appeals, seven same-sex married couples and three surviving same-sex spouses in Massachusetts challenged Section 3 of DOMA, a federal law that defines "marriage" as "only a legal union between one man and one woman."

Family Has Constitutional Right to Autopsy Photos: 9th Cir.

Not only are autopsy photos private, but the deceased's family has a constitutional right to bar the release of such photos even when taken as part of a criminal investigation. Or so says the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Marsh v. County of San Diego.

The court was tasked with deciding whether a former San Diego prosecutor violated Brenda Marsh's constitutional right to privacy when he released autopsy photos of her 2-year-old son. He did.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that immigrants can't avoid deportation for criminal activities based on how long their parents have been in the country.

Under federal law, immigrants who've been in America continuously for seven years are given leniency in deportation hearings. They must also be legally registered for at least five years. The Court's latest decision makes it so that immigrants can't tack on their parents' residency years to reach the seven year minimum, Reuters reports.

So what motivated the Court to reach this ruling?

Supreme Court to Consider International Wiretapping Law

A 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is heading to the Supreme Court. A group of activists, lawyers and journalists, including the ACLU, challenged the international wiretapping law, which gives the government permission to listen to overseas communications without much judicial oversight.

Though the high court will be opining on the lawsuit, it will not be considering the law's substance. The Obama administration is trying to stave off the challenge and has argued that the plaintiffs have no standing to sue.

A federal appeals court has declined to stay a lower court ruling requiring groups that finance election ads to reveal their secret donors.

A U.S. Court of Appeals panel voted 2-1 that political advocacy groups failed to provide sufficient evidence to grant the stay, the Los Angeles Times reports. The groups argued contributors needed to have their identities kept secret in order to protect them from retribution due to their political views.

The lawsuit was brought by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). He sought to overturn a Federal Election Commission regulation that allowed advocacy groups to keep their funders anonymous. So what effect will this latest ruling have on political ads?

Citizens Can Record On-Duty Police Officers: 7th Cir.

Illinois' eavesdropping law cannot be used to punish individuals who record police officers in public places, according to a new ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. To do so "likely violates the First Amendment's free-speech and free-press guarantees."

This conclusion was reached in a preemptive suit brought by the ACLU, which had planned to record police officers as part of an accountability project. The project had stalled, as the group feared prosecution under the law. It's a class 1 felony to audiotape a police officer without consent.

Viewing Child Porn Not a State Crime: NY Appeals Court

The line for acceptable behavior when it comes to child pornography just got blurrier in New York. The state's highest court just ruled that viewing child porn online isn't a crime, the Associated Press reports.

The decision came down in a hearing for James D. Kent. In 2007 a virus scan of Kent's computer uncovered child porn. Kent, 65, a former professor of public administration at Marist College, was subsequently convicted of 134 counts of possessing child porn and two counts of procuring it. He was sentenced to one to three years imprisonment.

The New York Court of Appeals' ruling dismissed two of Kent's possession charges because he only looked at the material.

Abbott Labs Settles Depakote Lawsuits for $1.6B

Pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories has agreed to pay the government a total of $1.6 billion to settle claims that it illegally promoted off-label uses of its drug, Depakote. As part of the Abbott settlement, the company will pay a $700 million criminal fine and will plead guilty to one misdemeanor, The Washington Post reports.

The agreement marks the end of a four-year investigation into Abbott's marketing practices. Whistleblowers accused the company of marketing Depakote to doctors for schizophrenia, autism and dementia even though it is only approved to treat epilepsy, migraines and bipolar disorder.

Ninth Circuit Can't Order VA Mental Health Fixes

The Ninth Circuit can't order a major overhaul of the VA's mental health care system.

A group of 11 appeals court judges reached this conclusion Monday, affirmatively overruling a May 2011 decision stating otherwise. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit had originally ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to institute drastic mental health care reforms.

But on reconsideration, the Ninth Circuit has decided it simply does not have the jurisdiction to order such sweeping reforms.

MD Appeals Court Rules Pit Bulls 'Inherently Dangerous'

A Maryland appeals court has declared pit bulls "inherently dangerous," MSNBC reports.

The new ruling imposes strict liability onto Maryland owners whose pit bulls attack people. The decision makes it easier for victims to sue and recover against pit bull owners. The original case started when a 4-year-old Prince George's County boy was viciously mauled by a pit bull. The court's opinion applies to both pure and cross-bred pit bulls.

Though the decision only affects Maryland, the court's ruling could signal the beginning of possible statewide legislation against the animal.

Hustler magazine will not have to pay $250,000 in punitive damages for publishing nude photos of pro wrestler Chris Benoit's late wife, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

But the racy men's magazine is still on the hook for $125,000 in compensatory damages to the estate of Nancy Benoit, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Nancy Benoit's mother sued Hustler for publishing 20-year-old nude photos of her daughter without permission in March 2008 -- about eight months after Nancy Benoit was killed by her husband, CNN reports.

Hermes Wins $100M in Fake Birkin Bag Lawsuit

French fashion house Herm├Ęs successfully won a fake Birkin bag lawsuit on Tuesday. A federal judge in New York awarded the high-end retailer $100 million in damages to be paid by 34 websites that had sold counterfeit versions of the company's luxury goods.

The sites, which didn't defend themselves, were found to have infringed upon 9 trademarks. In addition to fake Birkin bags, they sold fake wallets, watches, belts and jewelry.

Texas Can Ban Planned Parenthood Over Abortions: 5th Cir.

A U.S. appeals court has ruled that Texas can cut funding to Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions, Reuters reports.

The emergency stay was granted by 5th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Jerry Smith. It reversed a lower court injunction in favor of the organization. Planned Parenthood sued Texas last year over a law that cut state funding to any abortion providers. The stay, in essence, bans Planned Parenthood from receiving any money from the state's Women's Health Program.

So what does this mean for the over 40,000 Texas women who currently depend on Planned Parenthood for their healthcare?