Law News Digest – Week of May 31, 2015


If a friend commits a horrible crime, don’t hide the evidence (or lie to authorities): 3 college friends of the Boston Marathon bomber were sentenced for “obstruction of justice” this week. Two of them threw out some evidence of the crime, and were sentenced to 6 years and 3.5 years in prison. The other one lied to investigators about the incident, and was sentenced to 3 years. (Updated and moved from below)

Gun (non)control: It’s legal to openly carry a loaded assault rifle in the Atlanta airport (and in most of Georgia), and this guy exercised his rights and put the results on YouTube. And scared the shit out of people.

Hate jury duty? Don’t let your judge know: A lawyer in Nevada was selected to be on a jury, and said to the attorneys who picked him: “Thanks a lot.” The judge overheard it and declared the lawyer to be “in contempt of court.” He gave the lawyer the option to either attend the full trial as an observer or spend the night in jail. The lawyer chose to observe, but when he showed up 30 minutes late the next day, he was sentenced to jail for the night.


Government no longer has authority to collect bulk recordsMajor win for privacy rights. The Patriot Act, passed after 9/11, gives the government various powers to collect information and prevent terrorism. Certain provisions had expired at midnight May 31, as Congress couldn’t decide what to do with it. But yesterday Congress passed a bill which renewed the provisions, while limiting the government’s authority to collect Americans’ records in bulk (such as when the government required Verizon to hand over ALL of its customer phone records). Today President Obama signed the bill into law. (Updated & moved from below)


Animal rights & employee safety: Trainers at the Miami Seaquarium will no longer perform rides with killer whale Lolita. The federal safety agency OSHA recently issued a citation stating that it is a safety hazard for trainers to be in the water with Lolita during performances. PETA, which recently threatened to sue to force Lolita to be released, says that killer whales in captivity are “deeply frustrated,” leading them to lash out, as when one killed a trainer at SeaWorld a few years ago.


Are Facebook threats criminal? Depends on the intent behind itA win for free speech, but a loss for victims of online harassment. The Supreme Court today ruled 8-1 that for a threat on social media to be criminal, the person posting the threat must actually intend it to be a threat, and not simply that others view it as a threat. Story: A guy posted on Facebook about killing his ex-wife, an FBI agent, and schoolchildren, mostly in the form of “rap lyrics” under the pseudonym “Tone Dougie.” (uh what?) He claimed it was “therapy” and exercise of his 1st amendment rights. The ex-wife said she felt threatened, but the Supreme Court says it doesn’t matter. So now the prosecution needs to determine whether the guy meant his posts to be threatening. He’s in jail now on an unrelated assault charge (he threw a pot at a woman), so that may be some evidence of his intent…

Employees & religious accommodation: Major ruling from Supreme Court today: Under Civil Rights Act, employers can’t refuse to hire someone simply based on their religious attire, even if the attire violates a “look policy.” Also, the employer must make such an “accommodation” where it can be inferred that accommodation would be necessary; the employee doesn’t need to specifically ask. Story: A Muslim woman interviewed to work at Abercrombie & Fitch (back in 2008 when it was still cool), wearing a headscarf. The company had a “look policy” banning all head coverings, religious or otherwise, and thus denied her employment. She sued the company, and the Court ruled 8-1 that Abercrombie must allow employees to wear religious attire.

Creator of online drug marketplace gets life in prison: It’s the story of an ideological programmer gone wrong. The creator of the website, Silk Road, which allowed users to anonymously buy and sell drugs and other illegal things, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. He was also required to turn over about $184 million in proceeds from running the site. The creator said he simply wanted to “empower people to make choices.” Sounds nice, but he also allegedly attempted to have 3 people murdered to protect the site. So, not so nice.

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