due process

On February 9 the Ninth Circuit refused to stay a district court’s temporary restraining order disallowing the President’s travel ban from going into effect. The executive order prevents people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days.

Washington and Minnesota sued President Trump claiming their public universities are harmed because students and faculty of the affected countries cannot travel for research, academic collaboration, or personal reasons.

The government argued that the President has “unreviewable authority to suspend admissions of any class of aliens.” The Ninth Circuit disagreed stating: “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewablity, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” 

The Supreme Court will decide in Nelson v. Colorado whether it violates due process to require criminal defendants whose convictions have been reversed to prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence to receive refunds of monetary penalties they have paid.  

Shannon Nelson was convicted of five charges relating to sexually assaulting her children. She was ordered to pay a variety of costs and fees. The appeals court overturned her conviction because the trial court allowed a lay witness to testify about the age at which children have the ability to remember information and relate it accurately. A new jury acquitted her.

She asked the trial court to refund the money she paid in costs and fees. It refused ruling that the legislature has not given it authority to issue refunds.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that when a judge had significant prior personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision in the defendant’s case the judge must recuse himself or herself. 

District attorney Castille approved a subordinate prosecutor’s request to seek the death penalty against Terrance Williams. Williams was accused of a robbery and murder which he denied, on the stand, participating in.

Almost 30 years later Williams’s co-conspirator revealed that he had informed the prosecutor on the case that Williams and the victim had a sexual relationship that was the motive for the murder. A lower state court threw out Williams’s execution after discovering extensive prosecutor misconduct. 

Meanwhile, Castille had become Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which was tasked with reviewing the lower court’s decision. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court. Castille refused to recuse himself.

Like many cases involving the death penalty, Williams v. Pennsylvania is a long story.

Terrance Williams was sentenced to death for killing Amos Norwood during a 1984 robbery in Philadelphia when Williams was eighteen. Williams claimed at trial he did not know Norwood, who was fifty-six.

In 2012 Williams’ co-conspirator Marc Draper revealed, among other things, that the prosecutor urged him to falsely testify that the motive for the murder was robbery, not that Norwood had sexually abused Williams, and the prosecutor wrote an undisclosed letter to the parole board on behalf of Draper. A hearing revealed the prosecutor failed to disclose extensive evidence of Norwood’s homosexual ephebophilia (attraction to teenagers).

In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Kennedy the Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. All state laws and court decisions banning same-sex marriage are now invalid.  

Justice Kennedy’s opinion can fairly be described as a celebration of marriage generally.  “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.”

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