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Supreme Court hears arguments on firearm possession, judicial recusal

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Monday on the recklessness standard of domestic violence misdemeanors that can federally ban someone from the ability to possess a firearm and judicial recusal in capital punishment cases. In Voisine v. United States [transcript, PDF], the two petitioners pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence charges in Maine. Both were later found to be in possession of a firearm, which is a federal offense for anyone with a domestic violence record. The petitioners argue that because the Maine domestic assault statute broadly allows conviction for reckless assaults, but their federal indictment is unclear as to whether a reckless mens rea meets the federal definition of "misdemeanor domestic violence." Justice Clarence Thomas expressed concern that the constitutional right to possess a firearm may be suspended under this law under a mere recklessness standard. The petitioners hold the position that such a suspensions of rights violates due process, and that federal statute is broad enough that it may be interpreted according to the rule of lenity.

Williams v. Pennsylvania [transcript, PDF] asks the court to determine whether a prosecutor who approved a death penalty charge may later preside over an appeal regarding misconduct of the prosecutor's office. In this case, Williams was convicted of first degree murder in Philadelphia and sentenced to death. Ronald Castillo was the district attorney in Philadelphia during the trial, and was subsequently elected to serve on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website]. Williams then appealed his death sentence to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, arguing misconduct on the part of the Philadelphia prosecutor's office when Castillo was serving as the district attorney. Castillo did not recuse himself from the case on appeal, claiming that he was not improperly biased. The Pennsylvania court unanimously denied Williams' appeal, then denied his motion for reconsideration after Castillo retired from the bench. Williams now argues to the Supreme Court that the failure to recuse created a due process violation and asks for de novo appellate review.

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