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States brief ~ GA high court warns about jury instructions on eyewitness evidence

[JURIST] Leading Thursday's states brief, the Supreme Court of Georgia has warned criminal trial judges to be careful in the way they instruct juries about weighing the value of eyewitness identification. In a decision [PDF text] today, the Court said "We can no longer endorse an instruction authorizing jurors to consider the witness's certainty in his/her identification as a factor to be used in deciding the reliability of that identification" and warned trial courts not to do so. The ruling overturned an armed robbery conviction in which the trial judge instructed the jury to consider the witness's certainty as a factor to decide the reliability of the identification. The only evidence against the defendant was two-eyewitness identifications. AP has more.

In other state legal news ...

  • Vermont State Attorney General William H. Sorrell has asked the US Supreme Court to review [press release] whether the state's campaign finance reform law is constitutional. In a decision earlier this year, the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] ruled that Vermont can limit spending on all state races. The ruling was the first in the nation to hold spending limits as constitutional and not a violation of a candidate's First Amendment right to free speech. The law was supposed to become effective in 2000, but has been put on hold pending appeals. Rutland Herald has local coverage.

  • A federal district court has ruled that Maryland can proceed with its plans to start killing mute swans, ending a two year challenge from some animal-rights groups. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources wants to kill the swans because of their negative impact on the environment [DNR Mute Swan Management Plan]. Two years ago when animal rights groups first challenged the DNR's right to kill the swans, US District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan found in favor of the animal rights groups. Last year, however, a Maryland Representative placed language into a federal spending bill that essentially removed the swans from protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act [text]. In his opinion [PDF text], Judge Sullivan said, "The record in this case indicates that Congress did express clear intent to exclude non-native species, including mute swans, from the protections afforded to other migratory birds by the Conventions and the MBTA." The Humane Society has not ruled out further lawsuits to prevent Maryland from killing the mute swans. The Baltimore Sun has local coverage.

  • Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell [official website] has signed into law [press release] a bill that provides immunity from civil liability for employers who disclose the work histories of current or former employees. The work history information must be requested by the employee or a prospective new employer. The bill [text] allows employees or former employees to sue if they can show that the employer or former employee did not act in good faith. AP has more.

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