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SCOTUS to Decide on Friday Whether to Rule on CA’s Prop 8….and Other Stories

November 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF GAY MARRIAGE OVERALL…OR ONLY SEE LESS SWEEPING CASES?

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News has the story. Here is a clip:

When the U.S. Supreme Court convenes behind closed doors Friday, the justices will weigh whether to jump headlong into the historic same-sex marriage debate — or merely dip their toes in the roiling legal waters.

The high court could decide whether to rule once and for all on California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. And it could choose to hear up to eight other cases that challenge the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal benefits to same-sex couples.
Depending on how far the court goes, it could end up legalizing gay marriage nationwide, banning it nationwide, or continuing the current state-by-state experiment in whether gays and lesbians can marry and whether they are entitled to equal benefits under federal law.

All the cases on the court’s docket involve lower court decisions declaring gay marriage restrictions unconstitutional.

Both sides in the gay marriage battle and legal experts have little doubt the Supreme Court will take up at least some of the cases to put its stamp on one of the country’s most pressing social issues. The mystery is in how far it will go.

If the Supreme Court chooses not to review the challenge to Proposition 8, gay and lesbian couples will have the right to legally marry in California.

The court is expected to announce it’s decisions about taking or not taking the various cases in early December.


CALIFORNIA THREE-STRIKES HORROR STORIES

The Sunday New York Times featured an Op Ed by Brent Staples detailing some of the horror stories wrought by California’s 3-Strikes law, which the state’s residents have (thankfully) just voted to reform.

Here are some clips:

…The revised law preserves the three-strikes concept, but it imposes a life sentence only when the third felony offense is serious or violent, as defined in state law. It also authorizes the courts to resentence thousands of people who were sent away for low-level third offenses and who present no danger to the public.

The resentencing process is shaping up as a kind of referendum on the state’s barbaric treatment of mentally ill defendants, who make up a substantial number of those with life sentences under the three-strikes rule. It is likely that many were too mentally impaired to assist their lawyers at the time of trial.

[BIG SNIP]

Among the more horrifying cases investigated by the Three Strikes Project is that of 55-year-old Dale Curtis Gaines, who suffers from both mental retardation and mental illness. He has never committed a violent crime, but is serving a life sentence for receiving stolen property. His first two strikes, daytime burglaries of empty homes during which he was unarmed, appear to have involved thefts valued at little more than pocket change.

According to court documents, Mr. Gaines’s early childhood was a nightmare, filled with the most savage forms of abuse. His grandmother, a primary care giver, is said to have beaten him when he urinated or defecated in bed — and forced him to eat his feces as punishment. Later, as often happens with mentally impaired adolescents, he began to skip school because he was ashamed that he could not keep up with his classmates. He was often homeless. While serving time for his second crime, he was diagnosed by the prison system itself as both mentally disabled and schizophrenic.

He was clearly too impaired to help with his defense, and at one point simply put a blanket over his head and declined to speak to a doctor who was questioning him. His ability to read is comparable to that of a kindergartner.

At the time of his third strike, for receiving stolen computer equipment, Mr. Gaines was getting Social Security and disability benefits because of mental illness and retardation. His mental health history, readily available in the prison record, would probably have been recognized as a mitigating factor and prevented him from being so harshly sentenced. But, according to court documents, his public defender presented no evidence about his disability.


MARYLAND GOVERNOR EYES DEATH PENALTY REPEAL FOR STATE

John Wagner reports for the Washington Post. Here’s a clip:

Coming off some high-profile wins at the ballot box this month, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is considering another run at repealing the death penalty when lawmakers reconvene in January, aides say. It’s an issue that could add to his progressive legacy.

But even if the law remains on the books, advocates on both sides agree that O’Malley (D) is all but certain to finish his two terms in office without having presided over a single execution of one of the state’s five condemned prisoners.

That’s largely because O’Malley’s administration has yet to implement regulations required for executions to resume, nearly six years after Maryland’s highest court halted use of capital punishment on a technicality. And there’s little reason to believe the politically ambitious governor will do so in his remaining two years, as drug shortages and other factors have complicated the mechanics of lethal injection in other states.

“It’s legislating by inaction,” said Sen. Joseph M. Getty (R-Carroll), a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and an O’Malley critic. “I’m among the members of the General Assembly who would like to see the law followed.”


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