Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

December 2017 Archives

It was a busy year for the Supreme Court, which started 2017 down one justice. Then Neil Gorsuch joined the Court in April, and immediately began making an impact. Lower federal and state courts handed down some influential rulings as well.

Here are the major court decisions from 2017:

The long, strange, and often silly legal saga of Cliven Bundy and his anti-federal government militiamen took another odd turn this week, one that indicates this is not the last we'll hear about the men in court. A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case against Bundy, his two sons Ryan and Ammon, and a fourth man, Ryan Payne, relating to an armed standoff with federal agents in Nevada in 2014.

A mistrial can be declared for any number of reasons, so why did the judge think it was warranted in this case?

The long, tragic legal saga of Brendan Dassey continued last week, this time taking a turn for the worse. After a federal magistrate judge and a three-member panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled Dassey's 2006 confession to officers was coerced, a full panel of the Seventh Circuit overturned those rulings, reinstating his murder and rape conviction.

Despite conceding that Dassey's "youth, his limited intellectual ability, some suggestions by the interrogators ... and inconsistencies in Dassey's confession," the appeals court ruled that the trial court was not unreasonable in ruling the confession was voluntary.

Selling food or goods on L.A. sidewalks is illegal, and remains so despite promises from lawmakers to legalize and regulate vending. Even so, the city is about to spend $150,000 to settle a class action lawsuit claiming that police and cleaning crews confiscated and destroyed vendors' property as "a sort of extrajudicial street punishment."

"Law enforcement now recognizes that street vendors have legal rights to their property," said plaintiffs' attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker, adding the settlement "restores some dignity to a group that has been mistreated by law enforcement."

As the Supreme Court said in one of the seminal free-speech-in-school cases, "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." So if students still have First Amendment rights on school grounds, what about speech that takes place outside of school? And do "likes" on social media posts fall under freedom of speech protections?

A student at a high school in the Bay Area started a racist Instagram account, and had other students interacting with the posts. A federal judge just ruled that the school could discipline those students for their social media activity, even off-campus.