Supreme Court limits power of states and localities to impose fines, seize property

Photo by Mr. Kjetil Ree. [CC BY-SA 3.0]

According to a recent Washington Post report, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, 2/20/19, that “the Constitution’s prohibition on excessive fines applies to state and local governments, limiting their abilities to impose financial penalties and seize property.”

The unanimous vote was prompted by a case at the court which involved Tyson Timbs of Marion, Ind. In 2015, Timbs’ Land Rover SUV, worth $42,000, was seized after his arrest for selling heroin valued at a few hundred dollars. According to the Washington Post, “Timbs has sued to get it back, and while Wednesday’s decision did not dictate that outcome, it gave him a new day in court.”

According to the Washington Post article, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a recent opinion, “This system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.”

Lawsuit Asserts Immigration Hearings by Videoconference is Unconstitutional

Federal District Court in Manhattan, where a new lawsuit was filed stating challenging the constitutionality of immigrants appearing before judges by videoconference. Photo credit: Hiroko Masuike, as reported in The New York Times, 2/12/18.

According to a report by the New York Times, a lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the Federal District Court in Manhattan, asserting that “detained immigrants could not fully communicate with their lawyers and participate in proceedings when their only interaction with immigration court was through video.”

In response to the overcrowding in immigration courts, last year, federal authorities in New York started keeping immigrants in detention centers for their legal proceedings, utilizing videoconferencing technology to appear before judges.

According to the NYT report, the lawsuit claims that “the policy infringes upon immigrants’ constitutional rights in a deliberate attempt to speed up and increase deportations.”

“As a result, the lawsuit said, immigrants who might otherwise be granted the ability to stay in the United States instead could be deported. The suit cited several instances when videoconferencing had harmful effects on immigrants and their hearings,” reports the NYT.

Anonymous Alfalfa

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher
(Originally published in CityWatch LA on 2/14/19)

Senator John Kerry steps down as Alfalfa president (Photo originally published in CityWatch LA)

Every 3rd week in January, the “.02%” take over Washington DC to host their annual dinner at the Capital Hilton. Established in 1913, the Alfalfa Club cultivates its membership of elite powerbrokers from all over the United States.

With a membership of 200– including Fortune 500 executives, politicians, and Presidents.— members invite guests to attend the DC dinner. This is a seldom refused invitation. However, breaking with long-standing tradition, the ever-insecure Trump declined the invite for 2018 and 2019.

So, if you weren’t one of the lucky few invited to attend the passing of the gavel from former Senator John Kerry (photo above) to newly elected Alfalfa President, Senator Mitt Romney, you can still be a spectator from the basement of the Hay Adams Hotel. If there is an optimal time to catch a glimpse of the accomplished and well-heeled crowd, it’s the weekend of January 25th.

Read more here.


Amid forest fire claims, PG&E files for bankruptcy

The Camp Fire in California as seen from the Landsat 8 satellite on November 8, 2018.

Pacific Gas and Electric Corp has filed for bankruptcy, a legal proceeding that could deny forest fire victims compensation.

“California’s largest utility, facing up to $30 billion in potential liability for recent California wildfires, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection,” CBS News reports.

“Filing for bankruptcy essentially ensures the company can continue to operate and its customers will get power, but doesn’t assure any of the fire victims will get compensation — or that ratepayers won’t get hit with part of the bill, CBS San Francisco and CBS Los Angeles say,” the report notes.

“The filing enables PG&E to freeze its debts and continue operations while developing a financial reorganization plan,” CBS News reports.

PG&E aims to secure $5.5 billion in loans during the bankruptcy.

Marijuana adjudication, programs for mentally ill focus of new California laws

Juvenile justice reform, sentence reductions or expungement of convictions for marijuana users and expansion of programs that focus on mentally ill defendants all are highlights of new laws in California.

The judicial branch of California reports that the passage of recreational marijuana legalization in 2016 ushered in reforms — a legislative shift noted among new laws that went into effect on Jan. 1.

“AB 1793 provides a new process to identify an estimated 220,000 cannabis cases that qualify for dismissal or reduced sentences. If unchallenged by prosecutors, courts will automatically modify the sentences of those affected,” the state judicial website notes.

“California offers more than 400 specialty courts that treat the underlying causes of crime, and a new law (AB 1810) helps expand such programs for mentally ill defendants,” the article continues. “The state will funnel $100 million to county programs that divert some mentally ill defendants from jails into treatment (defendants charged with particularly serious crimes are excluded).

A change to California’s felony murder rule, SB 1437 stipulates that “only accomplices who act with ‘reckless indifference’ to human life, aid in the murder or conspire to commit murder can now be held responsible for first-degree murder,” the state reports.

Several laws target juvenile justice. These include SB 439, which ends criminal prosecution of children younger than 12, except in the case of specific violent crimes; SB 1391, which prohibits the prosecution of children under 16 years old as adults; and AB 1214, which aims to “ensure consistent procedures for restoring the competency of children declared mentally unfit by a judge.”

Another new law, SB 1208, “improves emergency procedures available to courts in a disaster,” the state notes.

Modernization of the warrant process and the launch of pilot programs at eight courts to take traffic court online are among the other highlights.