Tagged: Nerd Law

Gay couples still face legal issues when getting married

shutterstock_290917601Weeks after the Supreme Court removed the ban on gay marriage across the United States legalizing it in all states, gay couples are still facing legal issues, as some county clerks across many states are refusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples citing religious reasons.  This has become an issue across many of the Southern states and is sparking a debate over the legality of this.

Four Kentucky couples are suing a county clerk after she not only turned away two same sex couples, but two heterosexual couples.  The clerk is refusing to issue any marriage licenses after the Supreme Court ruling, claiming that her religious beliefs kept her from issuing them to any couple.  However, she is not the only clerk denying marriage licenses.  Similar instances have been seen in Texas and Tennessee.  Clerks are not only facing lawsuits from a number of couples, but face serious legal issues.  Under national laws, clerks are not allowed to refuse marriage licenses based on religious beliefs as it violates the first amendment.  Many are calling for stricter penalties to end these actions and new laws to protect same sex couples from being denied marriage licenses.  However, clerks are arguing for their actions, citing it is their right to turn down a same sex couple.

The lawsuits against clerks who refused marriage licenses have resulted in some couples later having the licenses being given to them.  Despite this, other couples are still facing problems receiving them and legal battles still continue.

Nebraska moves to abolish death penalty

shutterstock_253321300Nebraska’s legislative branch has taken another step moving them closer to abolishing death penalty. NPR reports that the lawmakers recently voted on the approval of a measure that would repeal capital punishment in the state. With votes tallying 32-15 on this third round, the legislative branch was able to overrule the possibility of a veto from Governor Pete Ricketts, who is known to be a strong supporter of capital punishment.

The movement to abolish death penalty in Nebraska has had a long history, with a failed previous attempt in 1979. It also comes from all sides of the political spectrum. Aside from opposition from Democrats and Independents, Republican lawmakers are also against death penalty on religious and fiscal grounds.

According to NPR, the state of Nebraska has not executed a prisoner for about 20 years. However, Gov. Ricketts has made concrete actions to ensure that the practice continues on. The governor was also noted to have called the two decade gap in the state’s death penalty rulings as a “management problem.” On his website, Gov. Ricketts called for Nebraska residents to express to the senate their “[deep concerns] about the repeal of the death penalty and attempts…to give more lenient sentences to hardened criminals.”

At present, there are 32 states across America where capital punishment is legal. Several states have repealed capital punishment in recent years, including Maryland in 2013 and Connecticut in 2012.

Improbable Legal Defenses that Worked

Still fresh in the outraged mind of the public, the “affluenza” defense that got a rich teenager off multiple homicide charges is just another example of some flaws in the American jury system.

Ethan Couch was 16 years old when he plowed through a stalled vehicle, killing four people and injuring two of his own passengers. He had been impaired with alcohol (testing 0.24 for blood alcohol content) and diazepam at the time of the incident. Texas is particularly harsh on driving while intoxicated (DWI) and normally the teenager would have been facing multiple second degree felony charges, each count good for 20 years in prison. Instead, he mounted the “affluenza” defense which argued that he had been so spoiled by his rich parents that he was unable to appreciate the consequences of his actions, and got probation and private rehab instead.

A similar improbably defense that worked is the Twinkie defense, in which a defendant claimed that he had been so hopped up on sugar that he was unable to control himself when he killed two people. Despite the fact that Dan White had a very good motive for murdering San Francisco mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk (he wanted his job back) his defense got him a conviction for voluntary manslaughter rather than murder.

Neither the Twinkie defense nor affluenza that so outraged the thinking public is recognized as legitimate diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, but the fact is these trials set a dangerous precedent. It sends the signal that criminals can get away with anything if they can get enough experts to say they were crazy at the time they committed a crime. Now that’s crazy…

The Issue of Marijuana Legalization

marijuanaMaryland is one of the 23 states (and the District of Columbia) that have most recently relaxed their laws regarding the possession of marijuana, and although Pennsylvania still holds to the old statutes, it is now decriminalized in Philadelphia at least. In other words, you can no longer be arrested for having a certain amount of marijuana i.e. less than 10 grams in Maryland and less than an ounce in Philadelphia. Instead, you are levied a fine i.e. $100 in Maryland and $25 in Philadelphia.

However, the issue of marijuana legalization is still a hot topic among legislators, many of whom believe that decriminalization of the substance creates more issues than it lays to rest. For example, it would require law enforcers to make judgment calls about whether the amount of marijuana they find warrants an arrest or not. It also brings up the specter of racial disparities in doing searches for suspected illegal possession of marijuana.

State law enforcement has a reason to be nervous. Making an unwarranted arrest can cost the state a bundle in lawsuits, especially there seems to be an overrepresentation of a racial group in the books. It may just be safer (and less expensive) to simply look the other way.

Supreme Court Neutral on Gay Marriage

supreme courtThe issue of same-sex marriage has been raging on ever since the first application for a marriage license was denied by a clerk in Hennepin County, Minnesota because the applicants were both male. However, this week the Supreme Court chose to take a neutral attitude towards the issue of gay marriage, allowing the rulings of lower courts to stand.

The states immediately affected by this decision are Indiana, Wisconsin, Virginia, Utah, and Oklahoma, which had appealed the lifting of the state bans on same-sex marriages by federal appeal courts. Six other states that are awaiting the ruling of the federal appeals court for the same issue may very well get the same treatment from the Supreme Court.

As of the time of this decision, there are 19 states plus the District of Columbia in which same-sex marriage is legalized. This decision could jumpstart the movement to make same-sex marriages recognized in other states, bringing the total number of states that recognize gay marriage to 30. Nine other states, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Alaska, Arizona, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, are also in line for denials by federal appeals court, which means that there could soon be 39 states in which same-sex marriage is legal or in which the state ban lifted.

This decision is considered a victory for the gay rights movement, but some advocates criticize the Supreme Court for staying on the sidelines when a definitive ruling would have made the process of nationalizing the legality of same-sex marriages much faster.

Ebola Victims May Recover Using Tobacco-Plant Drug

EbolaDeadly biological agent rears its head abroad, and infected U.S. citizens throw caution to the winds by using an experimental drug not yet approved for human testing.

The Ebola virus claimed the lives of more than 900 people in West Africa, while twice that is infected. An American missionary Nancy Writebol was evacuated to medical isolation in Atlanta together with Dr. Kent Brantly for treatment. Dr. Brantly is the physician who exhibited symptoms of the disease after treating Patrick Sawyer, the first American to die of Ebola. Both are undergoing treatment with the use of an experimental drug derived from tobacco plants that has yet to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human applications.

The virus spreads from host to host through contact via bodily fluids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have dispatched 50 infectious disease specialists to contain the outbreak in West Africa.

The spread of disease has become much more a matter of concern because of the ease of air travel. Ebola is fortunately not passed through the air, and has a 55% mortality rate, but experts caution that the virus is tricky and unpredictable. Containment is the best option. There is no confirmed treatment of the virus.

The use of the experimental drug ZMapp on Writebol and Brantly was done so without the sanction of the FDA which is required by law. However, it was first administered in Liberia, thus beyond the jurisdiction of the FDA. Despite the first positive signs of recovery, the efficacy of the drug is not yet confirmed, and the legal ramifications of such a move are also somewhat nebulous, though both patients who received the drug were aware that it was an experimental treatment.