[JURIST] California Governor Jerry Brown [official website] submitted a plan [press release; materials] Tuesday to reduce the state's prison population by over 30,000 inmates to satisfy a court order [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] to reduce prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive]. The plan is a response to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] to uphold a federal three-judge panel order that California reduce its state prison population to within 137.5 percent of institutional design capacity. The submitted plan outlines measures that the state was taking to reduce prison populations including the passage of AB 109 [text], which once funded by the legislature, will transfer adult prisoners to local jails. Brown did not ask for an extension, though he had indicated [JURIST report] that he would ask a federal judge for more time. Brown did, however, express some reservations about the state's ability to meet the deadlines imposed, noting that the legislature has yet to pass the AB 109 funding bill and that "until AB 109 is funded and implemented and all necessary construction projects are approved, it is too soon to know precisely how fast and at what rate crowding will be reduced." California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] Secretary Matthew Cate also stressed the importance [press release] of funding AB 109:
Our current reduction plan does not include the early release of inmates. But it is absolutely critical that the Legislature understand the seriousness of the Supreme Court's decision and support a variety of measures that will allow us to lower our inmate population in the safest possible way. AB 109 is the cornerstone of the solution, and the Legislature must act to protect public safety by funding Realignment.
The plan also said SB 18 [text] "will substantially reduce prison crowding." The bill, which is already being implemented, is meant to reduce crowding by restructuring the parole system, providing inmates with more opportunities to earn early release credits, creating an alternative rehabilitative program for parole violators rather than being sent back to prison, and changing the law to increase the threshold for felonies in crimes that could be a misdemeanor depending on the amount stolen. The number of inmates currently in California prisons is approximately 143,500, about a 19,000 inmate reduction from 2006 when the plaintiffs filed their motions to convene the three-judge panel.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, upheld the three-judge panel order, concluding that the extreme overcrowding of the California prison system violated the Eighth Amendment [text] because it prevented the system from providing adequate medical and mental health care to the inmates. The Court said the inability to provide this "basic sustenance" was a constitutional violation that the courts must remedy. The California prison system was operating at nearly 200 percent capacity. The three-judge panel ordered California to reduce the population by 46,000 inmates to be under 137.5 percent institutional capacity within two years.
[JURIST] Former Icelandic prime minister Geir Haarde [official profile, in Icelandic] pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he was grossly negligent for failing to stop the nation's banking collapse during the 2008 financial crisis [JURIST news archive]. Haarde vowed that he would prove his innocence [Reuters report] and claimed that the charges were a result of the first political trial in the nation's history. Haarde is facing trial in the Landsdomur, a special court created to try government ministers, after being accused of intentionally or grossly negligently failing to prevent the 2008 Icelandic financial crisis [resolution, in Icelandic]. The Special Investigation Committee (SIC) [official website, in Icelandic], convened in 2008 by Parliament to investigate the collapse of the country's three largest banks, determined that Haarde and former central bank head David Oddsson [official profile, in Icelandic] knew that banks were assuming overseas debt but took no action to prevent or mitigate the effects of the accumulation. Haarde is the first world leader charged [AP report] in relation to the financial crisis, and, if convicted, he could face two years in prison.
Last September, the Icelandic Parliament [official website, in Icelandic] referred charges to the Landsdomur after the SIC released a report claiming that seven Icelandic government officials acted with gross negligence in their management of the country's financial system prior to a 2008 bank collapse. The SIC also found that former minister of finance Arni Mathiessen, then-banking minister Bjorgvin Sigurdsson, former Financial Services Authority [official website] director Jonas Jonsson and central bank officials Eirikur Gundason and Ingimundur Fridriksson failed to take appropriate action when presented with information about the poor state of the country's financial sector. Iceland was hit hard [BBC backgrounder] by the financial crisis that emanated from securities related to the US mortgage market. When Kaupthing, Landsbanki and Glitnir [corporate websites] were taken over by the Icelandic government in 2008, they were holding debt equal to more than 900 percent [AFP report] of Iceland's gross domestic product, causing the country's economy to collapse and the government to rely on loans [IMF materials] from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [official website] to meet its obligations.
[JURIST] Egypt officially declared the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) [party website; JURIST news archive] legal Tuesday for the first time since the powerful political organization's inception nearly 80 years ago. An Egyptian elections commission approved [AFP report] the formation of the MB's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The MB announced the FJP on April 30, which is set to challenge for half the parliament seats in the upcoming September elections. The MB was founded in 1928 and was officially banned in Egypt in 1954. But under former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive], the organization was mostly tolerated. MB chairman Dr. Mohamed Badie expressed his pleasure [press release] with the acceptance of the FJP and called on it to advocate for a civil state that promote Islamic values. A Gallup poll released Sunday suggests that only a small minority of Egyptians support the MB [AP report] and less than one percent are in favor of an Iran-style Islamic theocracy. However, the poll showed that 69 percent were in favor of religious leaders having an "advisory role."
The MB first announced in February that it would form a party [LAT report] to participate in upcoming elections. In years past, numerous MB members attempting to run for office in Egypt were arrested [JURIST reports]. The MB is gaining full recognition as a result of the uprisings across the Middle East that began earlier this year. Last week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] granted amnesty to political prisoners including all members of the previously banned MB, in a move seen as an attempt by Assad to defuse the 10-week uprising in Syria to overthrow the government.
[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Tuesday condemned [press release] the killings of protesters along the border between Golan Heights and Syria. Pillay reported that between 30 and 40 protesters had been killed by Israeli security forces along the ceasefire line between the occupied borders. Nearly 20 civilian protesters were reportedly killed [Reuters report] during a protest on June 5 marking the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East war [NPR backgrounder]. Pillay also communicated her concern regarding allegations that Syrian officials encouraged the protesters to tread on dangerous landmine-peppered terrain. Finally, Pillay urged authorities to begin conducting investigations into civilian deaths at a May 15 protest [DPA report] where protesters were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fired on Palestinian and Syrian civilians along the Golan Heights border.
Israel has faced ongoing criticism from the UN and international human rights groups for its action in the Palestinian territories, which have been under Israeli military control since 1967. In January, a UN official alleged [JURIST report] that Israeli authorities had committed several illegal acts [press release] in the Palestinian territories [UNICEF backgrounder] since the start of the year, making the prospect of a viable Palestinian state unlikely. In June 2010, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem [advocacy website] released its annual report [JURIST report], noting an advancement in the rights of Palestinians, but calling for greater improvement. The report found that fatalities had declined by 80 percent compared to the previous year, and the quality of life had improved in the West Bank. The report called on Israel to dismantle all settlements, saying that merely halting new settlements is insufficient. The rights organization also chided Israeli security forces for not adequately protecting Palestinians from violence at the hands of Israelis, criticizing a "history of leniency" against the perpetrators of that violence. In March 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal" [JURIST report], and supported a plan by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad [BBC profile] to build the institutions of an independent state by 2011.
[JURIST] Syrian and international human rights groups on Monday urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to investigate the hundreds of civilian deaths during protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile]. The ICC prosecutor's office indicated it could not investigate the killings [Reuters report] because it can prosecute only those crimes committed by nationals of ICC member states. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] also called [press release] on the UN Security Council [official website] to refer the Syria killings to the ICC. AI's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther, expressed his dissatisfaction with the UN Security Council:
As the death toll in Syria reaches staggering new heights, it is imperative that the UN Security Councilwhich has so far been silent on this issuevotes to condemn the killings. ... It must also take decisive action and refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Those responsible for the brutal crackdown of pro-reform protesters must no longer be allowed to get away with murder.
Unless the UN Security Council refers the matter to the court, the ICC does not have jurisdiction in Syria because Damascus is not a party to the 2002 Rome Statute [text, PDF] that established the court.
There has been a major struggle to put an end to Syrian violence since the protests began earlier this year. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], in an emergency special session in April, publicly condemned [text, PDF; JURIST report] the violence used by Syrian authorities against peaceful protesters. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. Also in April, al-Assad ended [JURIST report] the country's 48-year-old state of emergency, but protests have continued. Earlier in the same month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text] that Syrian security forces have stopped medical personnel [JURIST report], sometimes violently, from attending to injured protesters. A spokesperson for the group called the practice "both inhumane and illegal." Pillay urged the Syrian government [JURIST report] in March to ensure protesters' rights to peaceful expression and to work toward addressing their concerns instead of responding with violence. As demonstrations continued throughout the country in March, the government freed 260 political detainees [AFP report] in an overture to the protesters.
[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] Tuesday approved Donald Verrilli, Jr [Oyez profile], as the next Solicitor General [official website] by a vote of 72-16 [roll call vote], taking the position left open since Elena Kagan was sworn in [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court [official website] last August. Verrilli is a veteran Supreme Court lawyer and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan and for Judge J Skelly Wright of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Verrelli was serving in the White House Legal Counsel's office as a deputy counsel to the president and was previously an Associate Deputy Attorney General in the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] issued a statement [text, DOC] welcoming Verrilli back to the DOJ and thanking Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal [official profile] for his service as acting Solicitor General since Kagan's departure.
As solicitor general, Verrilli will be formally responsible for conducting all litigation on behalf of the US in the US Supreme Court and supervising the handling of US litigation in federal appellate courts. President Barack Obama nominated [JURIST report] Verrilli for the position last January. He has argued a dozen cases [WSJ report] before the Supreme Court, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. [opinion]. In that case, the court found for Verilli's clients, MGM, that companies can be held liable if their software is used to illegally distribute copyrighted material. He will replace Kagan who was the first woman [JURIST report] to serve as Solicitor General before moving on to the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed Kagan as solicitor general in March 2009, two months after Obama nominated her [JURIST reports].
[JURIST] The Wyoming Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion] Monday that a same-sex couple married in Canada can get a divorce in Wyoming. The couple was legally married in Canada in 2008 and began divorce proceedings in Wyoming, where the couple resides. A district court determined it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate an action to dissolve a same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] because Wyoming state statute defines marriage as "a civil contract between a male and a female person." The Wyoming high court overruled the district court's decision. Because state statute also indicates that "[a]ll marriage contracts which are valid by the laws of the country in which contracted are valid in this state," the court reasoned that it had subject-matter jurisdiction over the proceeding. In reaching its conclusion, the court distinguished between same-sex marriage and same-sex divorce:
[R]ecognizing a valid foreign same-sex marriage for the limited purpose of entertaining a divorce proceeding does not lessen the law or policy in Wyoming against allowing the creation of same-sex marriages. A divorce proceeding does not involve recognition of a marriage as an ongoing relationship. Indeed, accepting that a valid marriage exists plays no role except as a condition precedent to granting a divorce. After the condition precedent is met, the laws regarding divorce apply. Laws regarding marriage play no role.
The court reversed and remanded the decision for further consistent proceedings at the district court level.
[JURIST] The Connecticut Senate [official website] on Saturday approved by a 19-18 vote SB 1014 [text, PDF; materials] which provides for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. The vote was at 18-18 until Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman [official website] broke the deadlock. The bill must now be passed by the Connecticut House of Representatives [official website] to become law. Supporters of the bill contend that the bill is intended only to "realign" [AP report] the degree of punishment with the seriousness of the offense. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy [official website] agreed with vote calling it "common sense reforms." He stated [press release]:
The punishment should fit the crime. Let's be clear — we are not making marijuana legal and we are not allowing people who use it and get caught to avoid the repercussions. But we are acknowledging the reality that we are doing more harm than good when we prosecute people who are caught using marijuana — needlessly stigmatizing them in a way we would not if they were caught drinking underage, for example, and disproportionately affecting minorities.
However, detractors of the bill say that the bill improperly lessens the severity of drug addiction. Under SB 1014 possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana would no longer be a misdemeanor and would instead result in a $150-500 fine depending upon the number of offenses. Additionally, individuals under the age of 21 could potentially have their driver's license suspended for 60 days. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) [advocacy website], if the Connecticut legislature passes SB1014 it would join [materials] Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon as states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Yet, under Gonzales v. Raich [opinion text; JURIST report] the federal government may regulate marijuana use under the Commerce Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the US Constitution even if individual states decriminalize its possession.
Kastigar imposes a "total prohibition" on "any use" of defendants' compelled statements "in any respect" to "inflict criminal penalties" on them. It certainly advances the "infliction of criminal penalties" when a prosecutor uses a defendant's compelled statement to decide to indict the defendant, and to obtain authorization from DOJ to seek the indictment, as happened here. A defendant who is indicted as a result of his compelled statements is hardly in the same position as if he had stood on his privilege.
The lawsuit, the last remaining in relation to the shooting incident, was filed by the families of six victims.
[JURIST] Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako on Monday appealed [text, PDF] the refusal by the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to transfer two cases against high-ranking Kenyan officials for their alleged involvement in the violence after the 2007 Kenyan elections [JURIST news archive]. In response, the ICC called for a hearing [press release] "to properly assess the desirability and feasibility of conducting the confirmation of charges hearings in the Republic of Kenya." Wako announced his country's intent to appeal the decision [JURIST report] soon after the ICC announced that they were denying [text, PDF; press release] Kenya's request to transfer the cases last week. The men facing charges in the ICC, the "Ocampo Six," are accused of inciting violence after the 2007 Kenyan elections which resulted in more than 1,100 deaths, 3,500 injuries, hundreds of rapes and up to 600,000 individuals being forcibly displaced.
The Ocampo Six include several high-ranking members of Kenya's government, the head of operations at Kass FM [official website] in Nairobi and the son of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta [Africa Within backgrounder]. Three of the men are members of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) [party website], and the other three are members of the opposing Party for National Unity (PNU). The ODM suspects are charged with fomenting violence against PNU members following the 2007 elections because they believed the election of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] to be rigged. In response, the PNU suspects are charged with the conspiring with the Mungiki criminal organization [Safer Access backgrounder, PDF] to attack members of the ODM party. The ICC summoned the suspects [JURIST report] after determining they would not be charged in Kenya for the alleged crimes. In April, Kenya requested that the ICC dismiss the case [JURIST report], arguing that the government is capable of prosecuting the six men domestically. Lawyers for the Ocampo Six called for the timely release of evidence [JURIST report] against their clients that month as well.
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