WASHINGTON, July 31, 2014 — The word “no” does not always mean an end to things, particularly when it pertains to legal matters. The word has numerous meanings and implications, depending upon perspective and determination. It is sometimes pivotal in sexual offense cases where a defendant claims “no” meant “yes.”
When prosecutors say “no,” it generally means a case is over. When judges say “no,” attorneys think about appealing. When belief systems are denied, believers dig deeper and come back to court trying harder.
Here are the most talked about legal “no’s” of the past few weeks and the implications thereof.
Baltimore Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said “no” to more prosecutions of police officers tied to the death of Freddie Gray. Charges against three officers were dropped. Mosby’s office was unable to convict anyone in four tries.
This high-profile case began when six police officers put Gray in a police van, alive, and Gray’s neck was broken in the van, causing his death. Mosby cited individual officers who, she claimed, thwarted her investigation. She said “police investigating police, whether they are friends or merely their colleagues, was problematic.”
Result: It is highly unlikely any further prosecutions will take place, and no one save for a few police officers will ever truly know what happened in that van.
A Broward County, Florida, judge said “no” and dismissed a case against a deputy who shot and killed a black man carrying an air rifle. Deputy Peter Peraza, who is Hispanic, claimed self-defense and convinced the judge that Florida’s “stand your ground” law applied following the death of Jermaine McBean.
McBean had just purchased the air rifle and was walking home, carrying it openly, prompting 911 emergency calls. A photo showed McBean wearing earbuds, leaving open the argument he did not hear Peraza’s commands. The judge acknowledged that he understood the national debate involving police and excessive force, particularly against minorities, but he also observed: “The political debate does not belong in the courtroom.”
Prosecutors indicated they would appeal the ruling.
Washington, D.C., prosecutors said “no” to a further murder prosecution against Ingmar Guandique. Guandique had been convicted in 2010 of murdering Chandra Levy in 2001 and a retrial was pending in October. The retrial was set last year after his attorneys argued that a key witness had lied. Last week, prosecutors obtained information that resulted in dropping the charges.
Result: The perplexing death of Ms. Levy is once again unsolved and likely will remain so, as no other suspects have been identified.
The Supreme Court of Alaska said “no” to a law that required girls under the age of 18 to obtain parental consent before seeking an abortion. The court ruled 4-1 that the 2010 law was unconstitutional as it violated the privacy rights of equal protection for pregnant teens.
Planned Parenthood and doctors had argued that the notification law was particularly threatening to vulnerable teens living in abusive homes.
Result: It is highly likely pro-life advocates will begin work on drafting a new, less restrictive law.
The Supreme Court of the United States said “no” to a Texas “abortion access” law that was one of many around the country dubbed “clinic shutdowns.” Abortion rights activists called this ruling ”the most significant decision on abortion in two decades.” The law, they said, would have closed all but a handful of clinics in the state.
Justice Breyer wrote, “Despite arguments that the restrictions were designed to protect women’s health, the reality is that they merely amounted to burdening women… the surgical center requirement, like the admitting privileges requirement, provides few, if any health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle… and constitutes an undue burden.”
Result: Again, it is highly likely pro-life advocates will be trying to figure out a way to further their agenda.
The judges of the federal 5th Circuit said “no” to a Texas law requiring individuals wanting to vote to possess an ID. Calling the Texas law “highly restrictive,” the court found that the law “abridged the right to vote on account of race.” The case before the court was returned to the lower district court and injunctive relief was ordered, meaning voting without IDs can take place.
The circuit judges acknowledged “the charged nature of accusations of racism,” but said “we must also face the sad truth that racism continues to exist in our modern American society despite years of laws designed to eradicate it.”
A federal appeals court said “no” to North Carolina’s 2013 voting law, including a provision requiring North Carolina voters to show a photo ID card. This law was also nixed, because, said the court, it was enacted “with racially discriminatory intent.”
A Wisconsin federal judge said “no” to that state’s voting law, stating that parts of the voter ID law and other voting laws, were unconstitutional, specifically the parts that seem to have been meant to discriminate against minority voters. The judge said that the state tailored the law “to curtail voting in Milwaukee, specifically to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African-Americans.”
Cumulative result: A win for Democrats. More voters.
“No” for ex-cons: Fewer voters
Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a sweeping order last April restoring voting rights to all ex-offenders, namely felons, who had served their sentences and who are no longer incarcerated or on probation or parole. The number affected was over 200,000. But the Supreme Court of Virginia said “no” to the governor and the ex-cons, ruling that McAuliffe overstepped his clemency powers.
Result: For now, a blow to the ex-cons, certainly, and for Democrats who may not be able to count gaining as many voters in Virginia–seen as a potential swing state. . McAuliffe however has vowed to start signing the clemency orders one by one, using a robo-type signing device.
No longer a danger
A U.S. District Judge said “no” to authorities and has cleared the way for John Hinckley, who wounded President Reagan, James Brady, a policeman and a Secret Service agent, in an effort to assassinate Reagan in 1981, to leave a government psychiatric hospital and live with his mother. The release order has numerous restrictions that are designed to ensure that Hinckley is adequately monitored.
The case became a touchstone for gun control laws. The Brady Campaign, a gun control group, not specifically commenting on the release, said “Americans should be outraged that it is just as easy for Jim’s would-be killer to buy a gun today as it was 35 years ago.”
Result: No comment.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.
Samakow has now also started a small business-consulting firm. His new book “Step By Step, Achieve Small Business Success” is available at www.thebusinessanswer.com.