National Roundup

New Jersey
Court ruling could erase 20,000 drunken driving convictions

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A ruling issued Tuesday by the New Jersey Supreme Court could cause more than 20,000 drunken driving convictions to be vacated.

The justices unanimously found that criminal charges pending against a state police sergeant made breath-testing device test results from five counties inadmissible as evidence.

Sgt. Marc Dennis was in charge of calibrating the devices, and authorities have alleged that he skipped a required step in the calibration process. Dennis has denied any wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty to records tampering and other charges.

The court's decision means that as many as 20,667 DWI convictions could now be challenged, according to state authorities and the lawyer for the now-dead plaintiff who brought the case that the court ruled on.

The accusations against Dennis called into question any test result involving a machine he handled, including devices used by local police in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset, and Union counties between 2008 and 2016.

State authorities have maintained that the step Dennis allegedly skipped was one of several redundancies and fail-safes meant to ensure the readings are accurate. They claim that omitting that one step didn't invalidate the results, noting New Jersey is the only state that requires the step.

The Supreme Court, though, sided with Judge Joseph Lisa, who was appointed as a special master to handle the issue. He found the step omission raised substantial doubts about the reliability of the machines.

As part of their decision, the justices ordered state authorities to notify anyone whose case involved results from machines Dennis calibrated. They must tell them that those results were not scientifically sound, so they can decide whether they want to go to court and seek to have their convictions vacated.

Trump picks Kavanaugh's replacement for appeals court seat

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump is nominating administration official Neomi Rao to fill the appeals court seat previously held by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Trump said Tuesday that he was nominating Rao for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Rao currently serves as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is part of the Office of Management and Budget.

Rao previously worked as a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. She also served in President George W. Bush's administration and worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Trump made the announcement Tuesday at a White House event marking Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

Rao thanked Trump "for the confidence you've shown in me."

Trial starts for man accused of killing ­Munchausen mom

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Prosecutors say a Wisconsin man fatally stabbed a Missouri mother who forced her daughter to pretend she was disabled, not to save the daughter, but to get the mother out of the way so he could romantically pursue the daughter.

The Springfield News-Leader reports that the defense conceded Tuesday during opening statements in the first-degree murder trial of 29-year-old Nicholas Godejohn that he killed 48-year-old Clauddine "Dee Dee" Blanchard in 2015. But his attorney says he has autism and was manipulated to kill by Blanchard's daughter, Gypsy Blanchard, whom he met on a Christian dating website.

Family members say Gypsy Blanchard was forced to use a wheelchair and undergo unnecessary medical procedures. She is serving a 10-year prison sentence for second-degree murder. The case has spawned numerous TV specials.

10 Indonesian fishermen accused of shark fin smuggling

HONOLULU (AP) - Ten Indonesian fishermen arrested in Hawaii are accused of trying to smuggle nearly 1,000 fins of protected whitetip sharks from the U.S. to Indonesia.

They had been working on a Japanese boat and were headed home via Honolulu when airport security workers found shark fins in their luggage last week, according to court documents.

It's against U.S law to engage in international trade of a protected species without a permit. It's also illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins in Hawaii, which was the first state in the nation to ban the pricey delicacy often used in Chinese soups.

At least 962 shark fins were founded in 13 pieces of luggage. Some were from oceanic whitetip sharks, authorities said.

The luggage included cardboard boxes, backpacks and suitcases.

"Fins were bundled together, and some were wrapped in foil. Some fins were sealed into clear and opaque bags, such as empty bags of rice, that obscured the contents, and those bags were, in turn, sealed within other opaque bags, apparently to contain odor or otherwise obscure the contents," a complaint filed in court said.

During questioning, one of the fishermen told authorities that while at sea, they cut fins off live sharks and threw the bodies back. Another fisherman said he ate sharks on the boat and cut off the fins, according to court documents, and that he didn't want dead sharks to go to waste.

Authorities estimate that the 190 pounds (89 kilograms) of seized shark fins have a street value of between $6,695 and $57,850.

Former forensic interviewer ­sentenced to time behind bars

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - A former forensic interviewer who testified in numerous northern Arizona court cases has been sentenced to four months in prison and ordered to pay nearly $8,150 in restitution for embezzling money from her employer, Northern Arizona Healthcare.

A Coconino County Superior Court judge in Flagstaff sentenced Carli Moncher on Friday after she previously pleaded guilty to perjury and theft.

The state Attorney General's Office said Moncher falsified timesheets, falsified forms to get reimbursement money for travel expenses, and created subpoenas purporting to require her appearance in court to testify.

Moncher interviewed abuse victims while she worked at Northern Arizona Healthcare's Safe Child Center.

She also had worked as an officer with the Flagstaff Police Department.

Published: Thu, Nov 15, 2018