Weekly Legal News 11/17/13

In Pennsylvania, a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss a case about the state’s same-sex marriage ban.  His reasoning was that in recent decades, the Supreme Court has shown that same-sex marriage is both a federal and state issue, referencing the recent overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Plaintiffs of the case are arguing the law violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the fourteenth amendment.  The trial will most likely be held sometime next year.

In South Carolina, advocates are asking for a retrial of a fourteen year-old African-American boy who was executed in 1944 for the death of two young girls.  More recent evidence has been procured that suggests the boy, George Junius Stinney Jr., was not guilty of murder.  Although he was only fourteen, in 1944 execution of children was still legal.  Stinney’s surviving family members want his name to be cleared for an act they believe he did not commit.  They claim he was punished unfairly because of his race and hope that the state of South Carolina will recognize their mistake.

Defense lawyers of accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes are claiming that if Holmes is charged for murder, he should not be executed because of a chronic mental illness.  They made a motion to strike the death penalty, but because the motion was filed under seal, the nature of the claimed mental illness is still unclear.  Hearings on the death penalty motions will occur in December and the trial should begin in February.

A former Los-Angeles school teacher Mark Berndt was sentenced to 25 years in prison for 23 felony counts of lewd acts on 23 children aged seven to ten.  The teacher “was accused of putting pupils in bondage and then photographing them with semen-filled spoons held at their mouths and 3-inch cockroaches crawling across their faces.”  There were originally 191 lawsuits against Berndt and the school district had to pay $27.3 million to settle 58 of the lawsuits.

In Brazil, elites found guilty in a huge corruption scandal turned themselves into the police after a Supreme Court ruling that they must begin to serve their prison sentences.  The scandal involved presidential aides paying off legislators to support Workers Party initiatives.  Twelve of the defendants will get new trials for the counts in which at least four out of eleven judges voted not guilty.  Although this may allow them a less harsh punishment, the Supreme Court ruling is still a blow to the immunity that powerful citizens in Brazil had for so long.