Law News Digest – Week of May 10, 2015


Boston Marathon bomber sentenced to death.


Environmental crimes and misdemeanors: Duke Energy, the country’s largest energy producer, pleaded guilty today for violating the Clean Water Act, agreeing to pay $102 mil in fines. The company was charged with the crimes (yes, crimes) as a result of its North Carolina power plant spilling coal ash into a river, and for mismanaging several coal ash sites around that state.

Revenge porn ban sweeping the nationFlorida passed a ban on “revenge porn” today, making it the 17th state in the country to do so. The law makes it a crime to post images of sexual activity in which the subject can be identified, without the subject’s consent.


Bulk collection of Americans’ records may be ended: As we mentioned last week, the NSA had been collecting millions of Americans’ phone records until a court last week said they had to stop. Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent any such bulk collection of records. The bill is called the “USA Freedom Act” (can we stop using the word “freedom” for awhile?), and is mostly bipartisan, though Republicans are split on the issue (some want the government to have even more authority to collect data on our activities!). It’s unclear if it will pass the Senate, but if it does, President Obama says he will sign it into law.

Shoddy reporting can be very costly: In November 2014, Rolling Stone magazine published an article called “A Rape on Campus” alleging that the University of Virginia was indifferent to rape on campus, and more specifically that an assistant dean persuaded the victim to not report it. The story has been debunked, and the assistant dean is now suing the magazine and the reporter for $7.85 million for defamation (unfair damage to one’s reputation). Note: the Reuters article calls it a “libel lawsuit,” and libel is simply defamation in written form.

American man sentenced for aiding ISIS: A man in North Carolina expressed his support for ISIS aka the Islamic State via frequent posts on social media and an interview with an international reporter. He also attempted unsuccessfully to travel to Syria to join ISIS militants. For these activities he received a sentence of 20 years in prison.


Get a warrant: Authorities at the border can’t take your computer and search the contents for evidence of a crime unless they get a warrant, a court ruled today. Even though they are allowed to search any container you take across the border, such as a handbag, the court said searching a computer is not the same thing. Bottom line for law enforcement: get a warrant. It’s actually not that hard; an officer just needs to convince a judge that they will likely find evidence in searching someone.

Police violence goes both ways: 51 police officers were killed by felons while on duty in the U.S. in 2014, almost double the number killed by felons in 2013, but still below the average of 64 per year over the past 35 years.


No money for spilled coffee: Police officer in North Carolina got a free coffee at Starbucks, which spilled onto his lap because it allegedly did not have a properly attached lid. He sued Starbucks for $750,000 for his injuries. The jury’s verdict today: Nice try.

HBO wins defamation suit: In 2008, HBO broadcast a report showing children in India stitching Mitre soccer balls. Mitre sued HBO for defamation (unfair damage to one’s reputation), claiming that the report was largely false and that HBO’s reporting was “grossly irresponsible.” Well after over 6 years, the case finally came to an end last week, with a jury deciding in favor of HBO. The jury did NOT state whether it believed the report to be substantially true or not, only that HBO was not “grossly irresponsible.”

Animal rights: PETA and the Animal Legal Defense Fund sent a letter to the Miami Seaquarium threatening to sue unless the aquarium improves conditions for a killer whale held for over 40 years at the facility. The animal rights groups say the aquarium is in violation of the Endangered Species Act due to the tank being too small, forced performances in searing heat, and not providing a companion whale for the highly social animal.

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