Archive for the 'Court' Category

Did the Execution of Cecil Clayton Violate the 8th Amendment?

Cecil Clayton, 74, was killed by lethal injection Tuesday night at a Missouri prison. He was convicted of murdering a police officer in 1996, and was given the death penalty by the jury. This case may seem like a typical “murderer gets put on death row” scenario, but Clayton is an exception. It’s possible the Missouri Supreme Court violated his fundamental right of protection from cruel and unusual punishment due to his mental condition.

Cecil Clayton ExecutedIn 1972, when Clayton was 32, he suffered from an extremely serious work accident. He was working on a sawmill when a piece of wood shot out and impaled him in his skull. In order for the doctors to remove the piece of wood, they also had to remove 20% of his brain. The part they extracted was from the frontal lobe, which controls impulse control, basic judgment, memory, social behavior, and other important function.

Before the accident, Clayton was a happy, sober, married man, who was a hard worker with a clean record. After the accident, he was diagnosed with chronic brain syndrome, paranoia, schizophrenia, and depression.

Last month, a psychiatrist evaluated Clayton and deemed him incompetent to be eligible for execution due to his mental state. His lawyers made many attempts to halt the execution, even bringing the case to the Supreme Court. But in a 4 to 3 vote, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that Clayton did not meet the requirements to be considered incompetent and therefore an execution was lawful.

According to the Eighth Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”. In 2002, the case Atkins v Virginia determined that death to a mentally disabled person was unconstitutional. Executing an inmate who is intellectually disabled directly violates the Eighth Amendment. An inmate must be aware of their impending death, and fully understand why they are being executed.

Clayton was neither aware nor understood. He not only suffers from the mental illnesses described above, but he is also intellectually disabled; having an IQ of only 71. This qualifies Clayton as mentally disabled and he should not have been executed due to his fundamental protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Supreme Court to Decide If States Can Ban Same-Sex Marriage

It’s happening, whether you like it or not. In 2013, Justice Scalia predicted that the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage would inevitably lead to a Court decision invalidating state laws banning same-sex marriage. Two years later, Scalia’s prophecy has come true.

EP-141009361The Supreme Court has agreed to hear four cases that would decide if states can ban same-sex marriage. The decision will be announced in June. If the Court finds against the state bans, then same-sex marriage will be legal everywhere in the United States.

The cases themselves are a mixed bag of issues. One couple was wed in New York in 2011 and went to Ohio in 2013 to adopt a child. Ohio refused to list both men on the birth certificate, citing a state law that limited parentage to one father because Ohio only recognized marriages between one man and one woman. In Michigan, a lesbian couple sued to have their relationship recognized so that they could adopt each other’s children if one of them passed away. The third couple met and was married in New York, but Tennessee refused to recognize their marriage when they moved to the state for work. The last couple was married in California, but the men moved to Kentucky to adopt children.

The Court has combined the four cases to address two questions:

  1. Does the 14th Amendment require states to recognize marriages between two men or two women?
  2. Does it require states to recognize a same-sex marriage that was lawfully performed in another state where such marriages were legal? The four cases come from the Sixth Circuit, which decided 2-1 that the authority to legalize same-sex marriage comes from voters, not the courts.

The Path to Recognition

Most commentators (including yours truly) would be shocked if the Court found against same-sex marriage. It is possible that the Court would rule against same-sex marriages, but precedent makes that unlikely. The Court only recently announced that the federal government cannot distinguish between same-sex and heterosexual marriages. The main question is how the Court will make the decision. Here are a few ideas on how the Court could go about doing that:

  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation – this is the main argument being pushed, but sexual orientation has not officially been recognized by the Court as a protected class.
  • Discrimination based on sex – Old fashioned sexism is an idea the Court has dealt with before. The logic is a little flawed though because states that ban same-sex marriage prohibit both men and women from entering into a same-sex marriage.
  • Right to Marriage – This right has been well established from interracial marriage cases. However, recognition of same-sex marriage based purely on a right to marriage would limit other rights that homosexuals could have.
  • Full Faith and Credit – This clause in the Constitution is suppose to require that states recognize contracts, including marriages, formed in other states. If the Court fails to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country, states that ban same-sex marriage may still be required to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

The details of how the Court recognizes same-sex marriage is important. As mentioned, if the Court only recognizes a right to marriage without equal protection, then states can enact other laws restricting same-sex couples. Many businesses, such as wedding photographers and bakeries, are already refusing to serve same-sex couples.

It’s also important to realize that even if the Court rules that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States, states will still resist. Many states are preparing laws in anticipation of such a decision. Oklahoma has proposed a law that would allow parents to take their children to gay conversion therapy. Similarly, South Carolina has proposed a bill that would allow government employees, including judges and court clerks, to opt out of issuing marriage licenses if issuing such licenses would violate their religious beliefs.

The battle over same-sex marriage might soon be over, but the war over homosexuality may yet continue in conservative states.

California Judge to Decide Whether Marijuana Should Still Be a Schedule I Drug

2015 could be the beginning of the end for the war on marijuana. Last year, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller agreed to hear five days of evidence and testimony about whether marijuana has any medical value. Judge Mueller will then rule whether marijuana should continue to be a Schedule I drug.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller

The case seemed ordinary on its face. In 2011, the California Highway Patrol arrested 15 suspects and uncovered a marijuana farm with more than 500 marijuana plants in a national park. The men faced 10-15 years in prison each. Defense attorneys argued that cultivation of marijuana should not warrant punishment because marijuana itself should not be classified as a drug with no medical value.

For those unfamiliar with federal drug laws, illegal drugs are regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA classifies drugs into five different groups known as schedules. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance. In the eyes of the federal government, Schedule I drugs: have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use, and lack accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Under the CSA, it is illegal to manufacture, distribute, purchase, or possess Schedule I drugs. If marijuana were to be rescheduled as a different drug, the sentence could be reduced or marijuana could be decriminalized altogether.

Judge Mueller’s decision to hold the evidence hearing was extraordinary in itself. Defense lawyers have argued that marijuana is misclassified before, but this is first time in many decades that a judge has agreed to take such an argument seriously. It’s possible that Judge Mueller could rule that marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug. However, the fact Judge Mueller even bothered to spend five days on the issue indicates there is a real possibility that she may rule in favor of marijuana reclassification, at least in the case before her.

A judicial ruling that marijuana has been misclassified is a step in the right direction. However, this is only the first step. Congress should scrap and replace the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) altogether.

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Teen Forced to Undergo Chemotherapy against Her Will

Picture this: You’re locked in a room and tied down to a bed. A man stands guard night and day. Your phone has been taken from you and your family is only allowed to visit a few times and only under supervision. Daily, you are subjected to radiation that makes you feel sick and nauseas. You are held down, against your will, during these sessions, as your body is poisoned. Eventually, you are sedated. When you wake up, you discover your chest has been cut open so that a port could be inserted inside you.

cancer patient forced to undergo chemotherapyIs this a nightmare? Are you a prisoner of war?

In September 2014, seventeen year old Cassandra C. was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that is fatal if left untreated. Doctors explained to Cassandra and her mother that chemotherapy had an excellent chance of saving her life, but mother and daughter refused any chemotherapy.

The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) petitioned for temporary custody of the child, on the grounds that the mother’s refusal to side against her daughter’s decision was a form of child neglect. The DCF obtained legal custody of Cassandra and the seventeen year was taken from her mother. Cassandra agreed to undergo chemotherapy if she would be allowed to return home.

After two sessions of chemotherapy, Cassandra ran away from home. During the week of November 18, 2014, DCF and police searched for Cassandra. The mother claimed to have no knowledge of her daughter’s location. Cassandra returned a week later. The trial court ordered Cassandra placed under DCF custody again and authorized DCF to make all medical decisions on Cassandra’s behalf. DCF decided Cassandra’s cancer should be treated with chemotherapy, despite Cassandra’s complete refusal to any further treatment.

Cassandra and her mother appealed the decision, but the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled against the young woman.

Who Can Be Forced to Undergo Treatment?

Normally, people in the United States cannot be forced to undergo treatment they do not consent to. Indeed, this principle is the basis of a personal injury claim, medical battery. However, this principle only applies to legal adults, persons eighteen years or older. Doctors and hospitals only need the consent of the legal guardian to perform medical treatments on minors.

In some state, however, some minors may have the ability to make their own medical decisions. Under the “mature minor doctrine,” a mature minor is judged to have the same capacity as an adult to make decisions regarding their health. The Connecticut Supreme Court refused to recognize such a doctrine, so Cassandra’s case was over. Even if the high court had recognized the doctrine though, Cassandra still wouldn’t have won. The trial court had already decided that Cassandra wasn’t mature enough, so that judgment would also have to be overturned for her to win.

Healing the Body While Destroying the Soul

This story has already received a great deal of attention on the Internet. People more medically savvy than I am have described what death by cancer looks like. Cancer means constant vomiting. Tubes protruding from your stomach to drain fluids until the day you die. Starvation until you look like a concentration camp victim. Chocking on your own secretions. Cancer is not a pretty way to go and chemotherapy is often the only thing between cancer patients and a slow, painful end. The state has an obligation to preserve life and cancer is one of the worst ways to die.

But if I don’t fully appreciate what it means to die with cancer, many physicians don’t fully appreciate what it means for the state to seize complete control of your life.

The state’s brief to the court (a 131 page volume) has an interesting view of events. State attorneys emphasized, over and over again, that it was the mother’s fault that Cassandra refused treatment. The mother failed to bring her daughter to appointments. The mother didn’t cooperate when the police looked for her missing daughter. The mother did most of the talking at the hospital and before the court. The state points out that the mother is a single parent and that she homeschooled her daughter. The state uses every detail to make the mother the bad guy in the story.

As a legal strategy, this makes sense. Cassandra’s argument is that she does not consent to chemotherapy. If Cassandra is refusing only because of her mother’s influence, then Cassandra’s consent is no longer an issue.

It’s questionable whether Cassandra was influenced by her mother to the degree that the state believes. Cassandra was separated from her mother twice and Cassandra did not change her mind. According to Cassandra herself, she only agreed to treatment the first time because she wanted to go home and then she ran away from home because she wanted to avoid anymore therapy. Both events are evidence she is immature, but they are also evidence that Cassandra’s mind is her own. Attacking the mother’s integrity was unnecessary and will only antagonize the mother and daughter.

The state insists that this case does not violate any rights. However, the court order removing Cassandra from her mother’s custody was extremely draconian. The mother is ordered to “allow DCF to enter the premises and inspect premises whenever DCF wishes to do so. The respondent mother will cooperate with all home visits, announced or unannounced, and will allow DCF unfettered access to all areas of her home.” The mother is also ordered to sign all documents that the DCF needs to review Cassandra’s medical files and the physician who testified against Cassandra is ordered to be her treating physician. Cassandra has lost all control over her medical treatment and her mother has lost all legal control over her daughter.

Well, Cassandra and her mother have lost until Cassandra turns eighteen. In nine months, everything Cassandra and her mother have suffered will be considered illegal and unjust. In the meantime, Cassandra will be tormented endlessly. She will be isolated from the mother who tried to stand by her daughter. She will be treated by a doctor she loathes, who will subject her to a medical treatment she despises. The state will have the power to rummage through her house at any hour of the day without consent or announcement. And her mother is required to be a party to this madness.

But at least she’ll live. There’s no reason Cassandra and her mother would resent Connecticut for that, right?

Boston Marathon Bombing Trial: The Challenge of Selecting a Jury

The process has begun for the selection of a jury for the Boston bombing trial. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 felony charges, 17 of which include the death penalty. He is the 21-year-old accused of the Boston bombing on April 15, 2013, along with his brother who died in a police shoot-out days later. The bombing killed three people and injured 260 others. Finding a non-biased jury is going to be extremely difficult for this case.

boston marathon bombingTsarnaev’s legal team has requested from U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. that the trial be moved to another city. Their reasoning is that Tsarnaev cannot receive a fair trial in a city that is still suffering and mourning the loss of its citizens. O’Toole has rejected the request every time.

Selecting the Jury

There will be 1,200 potential jurors interviewed and asked to fill out questionnaires. Forty will be questioned each day. Such a large amount is necessary to eliminate people who are influenced by heavy news coverage and those affected by the bombings. Few of them will resemble Tsarnaev and almost all are older.

O’Toole made it clear the jury needs to set aside any judgment and let Tsarnaev have a fair trial. Also, since 17 of the charges include the death penalty, jurors will be disqualified if they are against the death penalty.

Boston discontinued the death penalty in 1984 and attempts to reinstate it have been dismissed. This presumably means that most Boston citizens are against the death penalty and so the jury will consist of a political minority of citizens.

The governments witnesses will consist most likely of F.B.I. agents and police officers. The defense witnesses will consist of friends, neighbors, family and experts. The defense is planning to argue that Tsarnaev’s difficult childhood and loyalty to his brother affected his mental ability. Trial testimony is set to begin January 26th, and will last about three to four months. If convicted, Tsarnaev will either face the death penalty, or will serve life in prison without possibility of parole.

The Boston Bombing is the worst terrorist attack on the U.S. since 9/11. It will be a closely watched trial over the next several months. The final jury will be faced with one question: does this man deserve to live, or die?