Articles Tagged with constitutional law

shutterstock_121502677The media has been closely following the criminal trial of George Zimmerman, the racially charged trial in which Zimmerman is accused of murdering teenager Trayvon Martin. Just this week, a jury of six was chosen.

For most people, when we think of juries, we think of them as being comprised of twelve people. Indeed, for over 600 years, juries in the English and American legal systems have been 12 people (men, traditionally—which highlights another interesting aspect of this case with an all-female jury panel).

In 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Thompson v. Utah that the Constitution requires a jury to be comprised of exactly twelve persons. However, in 1970, the Court revisited that holding. After assessing the legislative history of the Sixth Amendment and the purpose of the jury, the Court in Williams v. Florida held that Florida’s law permitting a six-person jury in a criminal trial does not violate the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right to a trial by jury. The Williams Court reasoned as follows:

After President Barack Obama was reelected last week, several petitions to secede appeared on the White House website. The petition feature of the site promises that “if a petition meets the signature threshold [of 25,000 signatures within 30 days], it will be reviewed by the Administration and we will issue a response.” The Houston Chronicle reports that by 3:40 PM EST, the petition to allow Texas to secede had already accumulated over 25,000 signatures. At the time of this writing, it has over 77,000 signatures.

Petitions on behalf of other states have received less attention and fewer signatures, but several have met or are approaching the 25,000 threshold, as well. Louisiana (29,000), Florida (23,000), Georgia (22,000), Alabama (21,300), Tennessee (20,700), and North Carolina (20,200) have all accrued a substantial number of supporters.

On more than one occasion, Texans (both officials and non-officials) have suggested that their state “has the right” to secede. Texas Governor Rick Perry has disavowed the online movement to secede, despite having previously acknowledged that secession might be an option. In 2009, the state legislature passed a resolution asserting state sovereignty—a resolution Governor Perry supported—although it has no binding effect on the federal government. Continue reading →

On July 27th, 2012, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee’s ruling that a canine’s jump and subsequent sniff inside the defendant’s car was not a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment because the jump was instinctive and not the product of police encouragement.  The Sixth Circuit’s affirmation relied heavily on the idea that the canine’s jump into the car was “instinctive” and not the product of police encouragement. Continue reading →

Same-sex marriage law and DOMAOn Monday, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, in Los Angeles, made an unusual ruling for a bankruptcy court: it declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. In that case, a legally married same-sex couple in California tried to file a joint petition for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The U.S. trustee filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the two men were ineligible to file a joint petition because the federal government did not recognize them as married, and the bankruptcy code allows only married couples to file joint petitions. The court denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that no “valid governmental interest is advanced by DOMA as applied to the Debtors.”
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