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•  Recent Cases - Legal News


North Carolina's highest court is reviewing whether justice means the death penalty for a survivor of El Salvador's blood-soaked civil war of the 1980s who strangled and then decapitated his estranged wife.

The state's Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday on whether the state can execute 41-year-old Juan Carlos Rodriguez of Winston-Salem for the 2010 murder of his wife, Maria. The high court automatically reviews death cases.

North Carolina is rare among southern states in that it hasn't had an execution in more than a decade because of various legal challenges. While the state has continued to suffer 500 to 600 murders a year, prosecutors have sought the death penalty only a handful of times each year and juries have condemned killers in only a fraction of those cases.

Rodriguez's children told investigators their father beat and bloodied Maria Rodriguez after she told them she was leaving in November 2010. He tossed the woman's still-breathing body over his shoulder, placed her in his vehicle, and said he was taking her to a hospital. Maria's body and severed head were found at different locations three weeks later, after Juan was already jailed for her kidnapping.

Justices are holding hearings in the case for the second time in almost exactly a year. Monday's hearing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this spring that states needed to use current medical standards in deciding whether a killer is so mentally disabled he can't be executed. The U.S. constitution bans "cruel and unusual punishments," and that has been interpreted to prohibit executing people with severe mental shortcomings.

Rodriguez's IQ was estimated several times at below 70, a threshold for significantly impaired intellectual functioning. But accused killers in North Carolina also must show significant inability to adapt to daily life and that their mental handicaps were evident before adulthood.



Bosnia's war crimes court on Monday acquitted the wartime commander of Srebrenica, who was accused of committing atrocities against Serbs during the 1992-95 Balkan conflict.

The acquittal of Naser Oric immediately prompted anger from Serbian leaders, with Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin saying the court ruling "threatens security, trust and reconciliation in the whole of the Balkans."

Oric was accused of war crimes against three Serb prisoners of war who were slain in villages around the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in the early days of the conflict. A panel of judges presiding over the trial ruled Monday the prosecution did not present evidence proving the case against Oric.
 
Oric had previously been tried by a U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where he was also acquitted in 2008.



A late-night party at a vacant home in Washington with strippers and the scent of marijuana. Don't forget the hostess — partygoers said she was called Peaches.

Justices heard arguments Wednesday, and some of them brought up their own party experiences in discussing the case.

At issue are arrests that police made at the party years ago. When responding to neighbors' complaints, they found the home had been turned into something resembling a strip club, with scantily clad women wearing cash-stuffed garter belts.

Partygoers told conflicting stories about what was going on. In the end, police arrested 21 people for trespassing.




The Supreme Court won't take up a challenge to a Michigan law that allows the state to temporarily take away local officials' authority during financial crises and appoint an emergency manager.

The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the case. Voters and elected officials were challenging a state law that says that to rescue financially stressed cities and school districts the state can reassign the governing powers of local officials to a state-appointed emergency manager. An emergency manager was in place during the water crisis in Flint.

Those bringing the lawsuit said emergency managers have been appointed in a high number of areas with large African-American populations but not in similar areas with majority white populations.

Lower courts said lawsuit was brought under a federal law that didn't apply.




Disputes over a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and partisan electoral maps top the Supreme Court's agenda in the first full term of the Trump presidency. Conservatives will look for a boost from the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, in a year that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said will be momentous.

President Donald Trump's travel ban appears likely to disappear from the court's docket, at least for now. But plenty of high-profile cases remain.

The justices will hear important cases that touch on gay rights and religious freedoms, the polarized American electorate, the government's ability to track people without search warrants, employees' rights to band together over workplace disputes and states' rights to allow betting on professional and college sporting events.

Last year, "they didn't take a lot of major cases because they didn't want to be deadlocked 4-to-4," said Eric Kasper, director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. "This year, that problem doesn't present itself."

Gorsuch quickly showed he would be an ally of the court's most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, most recently joining them in objecting to the court's decision to block an execution in Georgia.

While justices can change over time, Gorsuch's presence on the bench leaves liberals with a fair amount of trepidation, especially in cases involving the rights of workers.

The very first case of the term, set for arguments Monday, could affect tens of millions of workers who have signed clauses as part of their employment contracts that not only prevent them from taking employment disputes to federal court, but also require them to arbitrate complaints individually, rather than in groups.



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