Blog Archives

The Long and Short of Prison Beards

Arkansas prisons limit the length of inmates’ beards to a quarter inch. One of those inmates, a Muslim whose faith requires a full beard, tried to compromise by only growing his beard to a half inch but that was still too long for the warden. Contraband might be concealed in the half-inch beard, or the inmate could change his appearance to evade detection by shaving the beard.

None of those arguments were even considered plausible by the justices when the case, Holt v. Hobbs, was argued today. Justice Alito suggested using a comb on the beard “to see if a SIM card – or a revolver – falls out.” And Scalia asked why not take a photo of the inmate before he grows the beard?

“You’re really just making your case too easy”, the chief justice told petitioner’s lawyer, Douglas Laycock pictured above.

Arkansas Deputy Attorney General David A. Curran didn’t have much to show why the courts should defer to the bureau of prisons.

All bets are that the Court votes 9-0; not even close to a close shave.

 

 

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , , ,

In Other Supreme Court News . . .

While the big news today was the denial of all same-sex marriage ban petitions the Court also heard its first argument of the term, Heien v. North Carolina, a Fourth Amendment “reasonable” search case from the home town of Andy Griffith: Mt Airy, North Carolina.

In April, 2009, Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Darisse – pictured above with beard (and dislexically id’d) as he waited in line for a seat in the courtroom this morning – was working “criminal interdiction” on Highway 77 when he pulled over a vehicle for having a stop light out. After asking permission to search the vehicle officers found a baggie of cocaine and the owner of the car, Nicholas Heien, was arrested along with the driver.

It turns out, however, that North Carolina law only requires “a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle” and since Heien’s car still had one good light the stop was illegal, and the cocaine “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

The question is whether the search was reasonable. After all, most of us would expect two working stop lights to be the law, and were surprised to learn otherwise (at least in NC). On the other hand ignorance of the law is no excuse for most defendants, so why should a police officer be allowed a mistake when enforcing the laws?

Not much has yet been published on today’s argument, and I have to confess that I get most of my information after the fact from what I read. I find it very difficult to draw and at the same time follow the thread of the argument; must be different parts of the brain – plus my wife says I’m hard-of-hearing. I did manage to pick up that Justice Scalia was never satisfied with the answer he got form petitioner’s lawyer, Jeffrey Fisher.

Above is my best drawing of the day, I think. Great subject.

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , ,

White House Intruder Back in Court

Omar Gonzalez appeared before magistrate judge Deborah Robinson for arraignment on charges stemming from the Sept. 19 incident in which he managed to scale the fence, run across the lawn and enter the White House before finally being stopped in the East Room. Gonzalez did not speak during the twenty minute hearing letting his lawyer, federal public defender David Bos, enter a plea of not guilty for him. He also waived his rights to a formal reading of the charges and to a detention hearing.

Judge Robinson ordered a mental competency screening for Gonzalez which his lawyer vigorously opposed. As the judge and defense attorney Bos argued about the competency screening Gonzalez himself seemed to recede into a wallflower.

Posted in Courtroom Tagged with: , ,

White House Fence Jumper In Court

Omar Gonzalez, the first fence jumper who managed to enter the front door of the White House after sprinting 70 yards across the lawn without being stopped by the Secret Service, appeared before a Federal magistrate yesterday. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, sporting a goatee and what little bit of hair he had pulled back into a small knot, Gonzalez appeared alert and to understand what was happening.

The government prosecutor informed the court that Mr. Gonzalez is facing charges in Virginia for possession of a sawed-off shotgun and eluding police after a 20-mile car chase. Also found in the Ford Bronco Gonzalez was driving when he was arrested July 19 were two sniper rifles, an assault rifle, a bolt-action rifle, another shotgun and five handguns along with ammo and a map of the DC area with a circle drawn around the masonic temple in Alexandria and a line drawn from it to the White House. The only weapon illegal in Virginia was the sawed-off !

 

Posted in Courtroom Tagged with: , , ,

McDonnell Closing Arguments

Grateful for not having to go down to Richmond to sketch the trial of former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen, I had a pleasant summer paying little attention to the news accounts. The prosecution on charges that the couple accepted gifts and loans from a vitamin magnate in exchange for favors seemed a little thin, and despite the unusual defense that the McDonnells could not have conspired because their marriage was on the rocks the story did not hold my attention.

But then Thursday evening, wouldn’t you know it, I got the call to jump in at the last minute, so I set the alarm for 4:00 and made the three hour drive to Richmond early yesterday morning.

It was a full day, but really not bad.

The prosecutor’s argument to the jury – Assistant U.S. Attorney David Harbach, mislabeled on my sketch above – was pretty convincing; at least to me, who knows nothing. For over two and a half hours he laid out in detail the quids and the quos. I don’t think the bad-marriage defense was even addressed; speaking of which, pictured on the right in my sketch above is Father Wayne Ball with whom Bob McDonnell has been bunking in the rectory.

Of course once the defense lawyers had made their arguments I was back to questioning the government’s case. As Bob McDonnell’s lawyer, Hank Asbill told the jury, “there was no quo, and there was no plan.” I’ll buy that.

I missed much of the prosecution’s rebuttal because I had to leave the courthouse to scan and upload my last sketches. I probably would have been swayed back to the government’s side, but at the end of the day I’d have to say that it looks like a fifty-fifty crapshoot going to the jury.

On Tuesday Judge James R. Spencer will charge the jury and deliberations will begin.

 

Posted in Courtroom Tagged with: ,

Abu Khattala Meets His Trial Judge

Abu Khattala

“From here on out you are stuck with me,” US District Court Judge Christopher R. Cooper told Ahmed Abu Khattala. The Benghazi suspect has previously twice appeared in court but this was his first time before the trial judge  At the conclusion of the very brief status hearing – which didn’t reveal much beyond that the judge’s wife used to work for the DOJ – Judge Cooper set the next hearing date in September. It’s likely we’ll see Khattala before then as a grand jury is expected to bring additional charges.

You may wonder how I got in so much detail of the courtroom in the short time, maybe 15 minutes that the hearing lasted. Most of it, on the left side, was sketched during an hour-long hearing in a civil case that preceded Khattala’s. I did the background, the court  reporter and the judge, leaving only the lawyers and defendant to do once the actual hearing got under way. Some have been critical of this approach, saying the drawing should be done entirely as the events unfold. I don’t agree. I’m telling a nonfiction story about what I have witnessed, and I need to use certain tools to edit, compress, and highlight so that my story/drawing is readable. I even went further and pulled Khattala from the background to the foreground. Is that wrong?

Posted in Courtroom Tagged with: , ,

Benghazi Suspect Back In Court

Ahmed Abu Khattala, suspect in the attack on the american embassy in Benghazi, was back in a Washington courtroom for a detention hearing. I failed to notice it last time but Khattala appears to have a zebibah, or prayer bump, on his forehead. Zacarias Moussaoui developed one about halfway through his trial; I wonder if he still has it, and if it’s any larger after eight years in solitary.

There was some trouble setting up the audio for the translator so we had a little more time to observe Khattala as they tried to get his earphones working.

As expected the government asked that Khatalla be held without bail, and his lawyer, Federal Public Defender Michelle Peterson said Mr. Khattala had no objection for now.

Khattala will be back in court next Tuesday.

 

Posted in Courtroom Tagged with: , , ,

Alito’s Day, But Ginsburg Has The Last Word

There was a long line and demonstrators, both pro-choice and pro-life (though no pro or anti-union for the Harris case that I could see) outside the Supreme Court this morning on the last decision day of the term.

Inside the courtroom the press was there in full force; retired Justice Stevens was seated on the opposite side in the VIP section; the section for members of the bar never quite filled up, but there were plenty of spectators.

The bleached faux-hawk in the public section caught my attention. I was told these visitors are teachers attending the Supreme Court Summer Institute.

Justice Alito had both opinions for the last day, Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn. He started with Harris in which the Court ruled that “partial public employees” such as homecare  workers paid under Medicaid that do not belong to the union representing public employees do not have to pay a fee to the union to support collective bargaining.

Alito’s second opinion, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, drew the most attention. The decision gives for-profit family owned corporations the same rights as persons under The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) which prohibits “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion . . ” Two family owned Christian businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities appealed under RFRA because they objected to the requirement under Obamacare that cover the costs of certain contraceptives for their employees.

Justice Ginsburg dissented. “The court forgets that religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers,” she wrote. “For-profit corporations do not fit that bill.”

 

Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Benghazi Terror Suspect Appears in US Court

“He looks like Moses” said the US marshal as he looked at the sketch I was working on. He did indeed look pretty wild as he was escorted into a DC courtroom looking perplexed. Two weeks ago he was seized on the Libyan coast and brought here aboard a U.S. warship.

“I never knew Santa Claus was a terrorist”, someone tweeted in response to my Twitter post of the above sketch.

Khattala will be back in court on Wednesday for a detention hearing. I wonder if the flak-vested heavily armed US marshals will again be out in full force around the courthouse?

 

 

Posted in Courtroom Tagged with: , , ,

Two “Faux-nanimous” Supreme Court Decisions

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate magazine, coined the term “faux-nanimous” for the kind of unanimous decisions the Supreme Court delivered today where concurring opinions read more like dissents. Read her article, you’ll like it. And I’ll just go ahead and post my pictures.

UPDATE: Another great article on the “faux-nanimous” opinions, this time from professor Garret Epps for The Atlantic

Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , , , ,
2013_Blawg100Honoree_300x300
TWITTER @courtartist

Blog Updates

Enter your name and email below to receive blog updates via email.