National Roundup

State high court raises maximum bond for murder defendants

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Supreme Court has raised the maximum bail amount a judge can set for a state murder charge to $1.5 million. 

The change to Alabama’s criminal rules was approved by the high court on Jan. 14, news outlets reported. It means murder defendants now face bail that’s 10 times higher than the previous limit of $150,000. 

Alabama prosecutors had pushed for the change, saying the old bail limit was too low to keep some dangerous criminal defendants in jail while awaiting trial. 

In Mobile County, Dayvon Bray was released from jail on bond last year after being charged with murder, to be arrested again and charged with fatally shooting his girlfriend. Higher bails for those charged with murder could prevent similar cases in the future, said Mobile County Chief Assistant District Attorney Keith Blackwood.

“It’s a better opportunity to keep these offenders incarcerated while they await trial rather than have them make a very low bond and be out,” Blackwood told WKRG-TV. “It’ll be really large bonds for people accused of murder, one of the most horrific crimes that we have.”

Alabama’s bail schedule is a recommendation for judges, who have some discretion to set higher or lower amounts. But magistrates are bound by the upper limits of the rules, and they’re often the first to set bail for criminal defendants.

Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said he’s spent seven years advocating a higher bail amount for murder charges. 

“I’m very satisfied with the change,” Bailey told the Montgomery Advertiser. He added: “I think it’s ridiculous that you can be caught with drugs and get a $1.5 million bail, but if you murder someone the max is $150,000.”

Another measure aimed at keeping more criminal defendants locked away until their cases go to trial will be decided by Alabama voters in November. Voters on the fall ballot are being asked to approve Aniah’s Law, named for Aniah Blanchard, an Auburn teenager who was abducted and killed in 2019. That constitutional amendment, approved by state lawmakers, would give judges more discretion to deny bail to people accused of violent crimes.


With new AG, state takes new position on abortion case

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s new attorney general has altered the state’s position on a closely watched abortion case before the U.S. Supreme Court, with his office now saying it should be left to individual states to decide on restrictions.

When Democrat Mark Herring was attorney general, the state joined more than 20 other states in a brief filed in September urging the justices to declare unconstitutional Mississippi’s law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Herring was a strong supporter of abortion rights. 

Republican Jason Miyares, an abortion opponent, defeated Herring in November and took office last weekend. 

Citing “the change in administration,” Miyares “has reconsidered Virginia’s position in this case,” Virginia Solicitor General Andrew Ferguson wrote Friday in declaring the state no longer adheres to that friend-of-the-court brief. 

“Virginia is now of the view that the Constitution is silent on the question of abortion, and that it is therefore up to the people in the several states to determine the legal status and regulatory treatment of abortion,” Ferguson wrote to the clerk of the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case last month. 

Virginia’s position is now that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion, and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, which reaffirmed Roe but set a new standard on evaluating restrictions, “were wrongly decided,” Ferguson added. 

The letter was disclosed on the day of the annual March for Life in Washington. Miyares was part of a Republican sweep  of Virginia’s top three offices in the fall in a state where a GOP candidate hadn’t won a statewide race since 2009.


Sheriff: Woman sent fake fax trying to free jail inmate

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi sheriff says a woman was arrested and charged after sending a fake fax that she hoped would get her boyfriend released from jail. 

The Lee County jail received a fax Jan. 11 purporting to be from the county Justice Court, saying it was ordering the release of an inmate, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported. 

Sheriff Jim Johnson said jail staff noticed some irregularities in the order and called the court, which denied sending the fax. The sheriff said an investigation led to the arrest Thursday of a 28-year-old woman described as the girlfriend of the inmate the false fax was seeking to assist. 

She was charged and booked into the same jail as her boyfriend. 


Trump appointee blocks Biden federal worker vaccine mandate

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction on Friday barring the federal government from enforcing President Joe Biden’s requirement that federal workers without qualifying medical or religious exemptions be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Judge Jeffrey Brown, who was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas by then-President Donald Trump, ruled that opponents of Biden’s vaccination mandate for federal employees were likely to succeed at trial and blocked the government from enforcing the requirement.

Biden announced in September that more than 3.5 million federal workers were required to undergo vaccination, with no option to get regularly tested instead, unless they secured approved medical or religious exemptions. The requirement kicked in this past November, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that 98% of federal workers are vaccinated.

“We are confident in our legal authority here,” she added.

Those out of compliance with the policy were referred to counseling and could be terminated under an executive order signed by Biden.

Brown wrote that at issue was whether the president “can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment.” He added, “That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.”

The Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling.

The suit was brought by the group Feds for Medical Freedom.