U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

January 2012 Archives

New Fire-Expert Examination Allowed in 1989 Arson, Murder Case

More than two decades after Han Tak Lee was convicted of killing his daughter by a fire he purposely set, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the evidence against him deserves a second look.

The 76-year-old man was convicted in 1990 of killing his 20-year-old, mentally-disabled daughter, Ji Yun Lee, in a fire set at a religious retreat in the Poconos. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and has been contending that he was wrongfully convicted ever since.

Prosecutors Ask Third Circuit to Take Judge off Paul Bergrin Trial

In a rare legal request, prosecutors in the Paul Bergin trial asked the Third Circuit Court of Appeals for “the extraordinary remedy” of having the case reassigned to another judge because of his alleged judicial bias, according to The Record.

“Regrettably, the District Court’s ability to remain impartial can reasonably be questioned due to a number of statements and actions before, during, and after trial,” prosecutors wrote in a brief to the Third Circuit.

Prosecutors contend that U.S. District Judge William J. Martini abused his discretion by severing the indictments against Bergin into multiple trials and preventing prosecutors from presenting relevant evidence. Judge Martini also made comments that he would have acquitted Bergrin, and was severely critical of the government’s case.

Supreme Court Denies Review of Student Social Media Speech Cases

With the skyrocketing popularity of social media use, cyber bullying has become an increasingly serious problem for young people. However, it won’t be up to school officials to regulate their off-campus conduct.

The United States Supreme Court denied cert to three free speech cases involving some of the first challenges to the free speech rights of students on the Internet. The cases involved student comments made about administrators or peers on social media websites.

'Kids for Cash' Judge Gets Cash for Appeal

A former Pennsylvania judge convicted of sending juveniles to jail in exchange for monetary bribes will have his appeal paid for by taxpayers because he is considered impoverished. The irony abounds.

In an outrageous example of judicial misconduct, former Luzerne County juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted in 2010 on 12 charges, including racketeering, conspiracy and money laundering in connection with the "Kids for Cash" scandal. Prosecutors accused the 61-year-old judge of accepting nearly $1 million from the developer of a for-profit detention facility in exchange for sending thousands of juveniles to the center on questionable charges.

Triple Murderer Craig Szemple 'Tortured' By Prison Dentist?

We have all complained at least once in our lives that going to the dentist is torture. For New Jersey triple-murderer Craig Szemple, he may not have been over-exaggerating.

Szemple, the New Jersey man convicted of killing his boyhood friend and two others, alleges state prison officials ignored his health problems and a prison dentist "tortured" him in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Although a lower federal court dismissed his lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections because he only at most pleaded a case of medical malpractice, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned its decision, stating that Szemple's complaints - although unproven - "goes beyond a claim of mere negligence."

Menendez, Obama Showdown? Discord Over Third Circuit Nomination

President Barack Obama has probably gotten used to having his judicial nominations blocked by congressional Republicans. When it comes to Third Circuit Court of Appeals' nominee Patty Shwartz, however, President Obama has had to defend himself from a member of his own party.

In a rare bout between a president and a congressional member of his own party, Senator Robert Menendez has blocked President Obama's nomination for the Third Circuit.

Menendez is currently in the spotlight for being the first Democrat to block an Obama judicial appointment and said he risked drawing the president's ire because of Shwartz's lack of qualifications.

Fort Dix Five Convictions Upheld: FISA Wiretapping Reasonable

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the convictions and sentences of five Muslim men accused of planning terrorist attacks on United States military bases.

Nicknamed the Fort Dix Five, the five men were arrested in May 2007 and convicted a year later of conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel at the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey. All but one were sentenced to life in prison.

The Fort Dix Five appealed their convictions, primarily arguing that the use of wiretaps under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.