Weekly Legal News 3/9/14

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday defended the separatist drive in the disputed Crimean Peninsula as in keeping with international law, but Ukraine’s prime minister vowed not to relinquish “a single centimeter” of his country’s territory. Over the weekend, Russia increased its military presence in Crimea and pro-Russia forces keep pushing for a vote in favor of reunification with Moscow in a referendum the local parliament has scheduled for next Sunday. President Barack Obama has warned that the vote would violate international law. But in Moscow, Putin made it clear that he supports the referendum in phone calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Minister David Cameron. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced that he will meet with Obama in Washington on Wednesday on a “resolution of the situation in Ukraine,” the Interfax news agency reported. “This is our land,” Yatsenyuk told a crowd gathered at the Kiev statue to Shevchenko. “Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won’t budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this.” In the eastern city of Luhansk, people who gathered in a square to celebrate Shevchenko’s birthday were attacked by pro-Russia protesters, and some were beaten up, local media reports said. Chanting “Russia! Russia!” the demonstrators then broke through a police barricade and took over the local government building, where they raised the Russian flag and demanded a citywide referendum on joining Russia. During his conversations with Cameron and Merkel, Putin criticized the Western leaders for what he said was their failure to press the new government in Kiev to curb ultranationalist and radical forces.


The Washington city council voted to decriminalize marijuana consumption in private homes, adding the nation’s capital to a growing list of states that have loosened sanctions for using the drug. The council approved reducing the punishment for possession of as much as an ounce of marijuana to a fine, instead of jail time. The bill will go to Mayor Vincent Gray, a Democrat, who has said he will sign it, and the U.S. Congress, which can reject it. At least 17 states have legalized or decriminalized recreational use or possession, putting them at odds with federal law. The Washington council approved the measure 10-1, with one abstention.Council members cited concern that the criminal penalties disproportionately affect blacks, who are statistically more likely to face arrest for drug charges than whites. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last year ordered changes across the Justice Department to keep some nonviolent offenders from facing mandatory minimum sentences, which swelled the nation’s prison population during the decades-long crackdown on drugs. Congress has oversight over the District of Columbia, the federal government seat that, according to the Constitution, isn’t part of any state.


As federal prosecutors in New Jersey look into whether Gov. Chris Christie’s allies broke federal laws when they orchestrated a traffic jam in Fort Lee last year, one lingering question is why state and local prosecutors stepped out of the way and let the U.S. attorney’s office in Newark take the reins of the explosive case. The Attorney General’s Office was better-positioned to investigate the September lane closings because violations of state law are more apparent, and state prosecutors would be more familiar with the cast of characters. New Jersey’s law enforcement powers are unusually concentrated around the executive — a political dynamic that might have overshadowed a state or local probe. Also, New Jersey is one of seven states in which the attorney general is appointed by the governor. And the attorney general’s office also supervises the state’s 21 county prosecutor offices, including the Bergen office.


Prisons and jails are taking advantage of the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and signing their inmates up for health insurance. The law lets states extend coverage to single and childless adults—a major part of the prison population. Medicaid does not cover standard health care for inmates, but it can pay for hospital stays longer than 24 hours. Inmates enrolled in Medicaid while incarcerated can also have coverage after they get out. People coming out of prison have disproportionately high rates of chronic diseases, such as mental illness and addictive disorders. And many of them would qualify for Medicaid under the income test of the program in the 25 states that have expanded it. Experts estimate that up to 35 percent of those now eligible for Medicaid under the law are people with a history of criminal justice involvement, including inmates and those on probation or parole. Opponents of the law say allowing inmates to enroll in Medicaid only worsens the problems of an already overburdened system. They also say that shifting inmate health care costs to the federal government will deepen the deficit.When word gets around that newly released inmates are receiving Medicaid, critics say, it could also become a public relations problem for the health care law.


A U.K. man who admitted he plotted to bomb passenger jets with explosives hidden in his shoes told a Manhattan federal jury he brainstormed with Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Saajid Badat, 34, testified this week via a television hookup from an undisclosed location in the U.K. in the terrorism case of bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghayth. The U.S. says Abu Ghayth, the most senior al-Qaeda member to be tried in civilian court in the U.S., acted as a spokesman for the group and had advance knowledge of its plots to attack U.S. nationals by various methods, including shoe bombs on planes. Badat’s testimony comes amid renewed scrutiny of potential terrorist threats against jetliners as authorities search for Malaysian Airline System Bhd.’s Flight 370, which vanished from radar screens on March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people. Two passengers used passports that were reported stolen by Austrian and Italian nationals in Phuket, Thailand, the Royal Thai Police said. Airlines were warned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in mid-February of credible threats about shoe bombs. Badat testified there were three plans; the first was to bomb a domestic U.S. aircraft in American airspace. The second was to set off explosives on a plane traveling from Europe to the U.S. and the third was to detonate a bomb on an aircraft as it traveled over Europe.