SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Justices say states can OK sports betting

By Jessica Gresko and Wayne Parry
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for states coast to coast to legalize betting on sports, breaking a longtime ban and creating a potential financial boon for states and the gambling industry. The first bets could be placed within weeks.

Despite opposition from the major sports leagues and the Trump administration, the high court struck down a federal law that had barred betting on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states. States that want to take advantage of the ruling now will generally have to pass legislation to allow sports books to open. Some, including New Jersey, which brought the case to the Supreme Court, have a head start.

Sports leagues had expressed concerns about any expansion of sports gambling. Their huge businesses could be badly harmed if people thought the outcome of games could be altered by someone who had wagered money on a certain result.

However, the ruling also could be seen as merely bringing an activity out of the shadows that many people already see as a mainstream hobby. Americans wager about $150 billion on sports each year illegally, according to the American Gaming Association. The law the justices struck down forbade state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions and made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.

Stock prices for casino operators and equipment makers surged after the ruling was announced.

Gambling on sports could quickly become widely available, with one research firm estimating that 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.

The ruling “opens up the floodgates” for sports gambling in any state that wants to have it, said Daniel Wallach, a sports law expert in Florida.

The decision had been eagerly anticipated by gamblers and also states that hope their cut of legalized sports betting can help solve budget problems. States that have already laid the legal groundwork include New Jersey, where one racetrack said it would begin taking bets within two weeks. Mississippi and West Virginia have also been preparing for sports betting, and gamblers there could be placing bets as early as this summer and certainly before the NFL season starts in September.

Delaware, too, could quickly expand beyond certain bets currently offered at its casinos. Pennsylvania and New York have also made moves to begin sports gambling. However, other states that want to allow sports betting could still see several Super Bowls come and go before people there can place a legal bet close to home.

The Trump administration had urged the high court to uphold the law, surprising perhaps because the president is the former owner of a New Jersey casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, now being remade into a Hard Rock casino resort. All four major U.S. professional sports leagues and the NCAA also had urged the court to uphold the federal law, saying a gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games. They also said that with legal sports betting in the United States, they’d have to spend a lot more money monitoring betting patterns and investigating suspicious activity.

Sports gambling proponents argued that the leagues already do that work and that legal sports betting will make enforcement easier than it is now, when most bets in the U.S. are made illegally. They say state regulators are capable of monitoring suspicious bets, as is done in Nevada.

On Monday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Major League Baseball issued statements saying the “integrity” of their games would remain a priority.

Representatives of the National Hockey League, National Football League and NCAA said they were reviewing the court’s decision.

Some saw other concerns, including for some gamblers. The ruling “will likely increase gambling participation and gambling problems unless steps are taken to minimize harm,” said Marlene Warner, the president of the National Council on Problem Gambling’s board of directors. The council said any government body or sports league that receives a direct percentage or portion of sports betting revenue should dedicate some of it to treat gambling problems.

The law the justices struck down was passed by Congress in 1992 and called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court, “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make.” The court’s “job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution,” he wrote. “PASPA is not.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Ginsburg wrote for the three that when a portion of a law violates the Constitution, the court “ordinarily engages in a salvage rather than a demolition operation,” preserving what it can. She said that instead of using a “scalpel to trim the statute” her colleagues used “an axe.” Breyer agreed with the majority that part of the law must be struck down but said that should not have doomed the rest of the law.

Congress could try to step in again. Sen. Orrin Hatch said he would soon introduce legislation to set national standards for sports betting, but It is unclear whether the rest of Congress will want to join him.

The ruling was a particular victory for New Jersey, which has fought for years to legalize gambling on sports at casinos and racetracks. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie tweeted that it was a “great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions.” The state’s current governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, said he was “thrilled” to see the high court strike down the “arbitrary ban.” Several hours after the Supreme Court ruled, New Jersey lawmakers introduced new legislation that would regulate and tax sports gambling in the state.

Casinos and racetracks in the state are also moving quickly. Monmouth Park, a racetrack at the Jersey Shore, has already set up a sports book operation and said Monday it plans to start taking bets within two weeks “unless someone stops us.” And Tony Rodio, president of Tropicana Entertainment, said his Atlantic City casino will offer sports betting once it can get it up and running.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

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Parry reported from Atlantic City, New Jersey. Associated Press reporters Michael Catalini in Oceanport, New Jersey; Ben Nuckols in Washington and Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, contributed reporting.


Court greenlights driver rights in rental car case

By Jessica Gresko
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Monday that people who borrow rental cars from friends or family are generally entitled to the same protections against police searches as the authorized driver.

The justices ruled unanimously that as a general rule someone who is “in otherwise lawful possession and control of a rental car” has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car even if the rental agreement doesn’t list the person as an authorized driver. That means police can’t generally search the car unless they have a warrant or what’s called “probable cause” to believe a crime has been committed.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, noted there “may be countless innocuous reasons why an unauthorized driver might get behind the wheel of a rental car and drive it,” including that the renter is drowsy or drunk and that the renter and a friend “think it is safer for the friend to drive them to their destination.”

The Trump administration had argued that anyone driving a rental car but not listed on a rental agreement does not have an expectation of privacy in the car. That would mean that police who pulled over a rental car with an unauthorized driver could search the car without the person’s consent. The Supreme Court rejected the government’s argument, saying it “rests on too restrictive a view” of protections in the Fourth Amendment.

Attorneys arguing for protections for unauthorized drivers had noted that 115 million car rentals take place annually in the United States. They said that if the government won, police would have an incentive to pull over a rental car driver who commits a traffic violation because police would know they could search the car if the driver isn’t on the rental agreement.

The case the justices ruled in dates to 2014 and involves Terrence Byrd, who was driving a car rented by his fiance when a state trooper pulled him over on a Pennsylvania highway for an alleged minor traffic violation. He acted nervous during the stop and told troopers he had a marijuana cigarette in the car. Officers eventually decided to search the car.

Because the rental agreement didn’t authorize Byrd to drive the car, troopers told him they didn’t need his consent for the search. And when troopers opened the trunk, they found body armor and about 2,500 little bags of heroin. Byrd later acknowledged he planned to sell the drugs for roughly $7,000, and a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

It’s unclear whether the justices’ ruling will ultimately help Byrd. In the ruling Monday, they sent his case back to a lower court to consider whether troopers had probable cause to believe Byrd’s vehicle contained evidence of a crime, which would have permitted the search in any event.

The court also asked the lower court to consider the government’s argument that Byrd knew he couldn’t have rented the car because of his criminal record and used his fiance to rent the car instead in a calculated plan to mislead the rental company and aid him in committing a crime. The question is whether that would make Byrd “no better situated than a car thief,” who would not have an expectation of privacy in a stolen car.


Justices rule for inmate whose lawyer conceded guilt

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a lawyer for a criminal defendant cannot override his client’s wish to maintain his innocence at trial, even if the lawyer’s aim is to avoid a death sentence.

The justices voted 6-3 in favor of Louisiana death row inmate Robert McCoy. He repeatedly objected to his lawyer’s decision to acknowledge that McCoy killed the son, mother and step-father of his estranged wife in 2008.

Lawyer Larry English said the evidence of McCoy’s guilt was overwhelming. English said his strategy was to seek a sentence of life in prison instead of death.
But jurors sentenced McCoy to death anyway.

The issue arises in capital cases, though infrequently. In that setting, jurors have to decide separately on guilt and a sentence, and some lawyers devote their defense to avoiding a death sentence. Even so, Louisiana’s Supreme Court had been alone among the highest state courts to allow a lawyer to concede guilt in the face of a client’s objections.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said McCoy must be given a new trial.

“Even when a criminal defendant is assisted by counsel, some decisions are reserved for the client,” Ginsburg said in a summary of her opinion. That includes the decision about whether to assert innocence, she said.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented.

While English admitted that McCoy killed the victims, he did not concede that his client was guilty of first-degree murder, Alito wrote in his dissent for the three justices.

Overwhelming evidence implicated McCoy in the killings, Alito said. “If petitioner is retried, it will be interesting to see what petitioner’s current counsel...will do,” Alito said.

Among the evidence was a gun found in the vehicle in which McCoy was riding at the time of his arrest in Idaho that was linked to cartridge casings found at the scene of the killings in Louisiana.

McCoy testified in his own defense, saying he was innocent and suggesting that a drug trafficking ring led by law enforcement officers had framed him for the killings. He tried to recruit witnesses he said would vouch for him, including then-Sen. David Vitter. Vitter said he did not know McCoy.

The trial court found McCoy was competent to stand trial. English, the trial lawyer, argued consistently that McCoy was in a fragile emotional state and that he lacked the intent to kill that is necessary for a jury to impose the death penalty.

English’s view of McCoy’s chances led him to concede in his opening argument that McCoy “committed these crimes.” McCoy had told English not to do that.
The case is McCoy v. Louisiana, 16-8255.


Lawsuit to go forward in trooper’s shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) — The mother of a Pennsylvania State Police trooper accidentally shot by a firearms instructor can go forward with her lawsuit against the instructor after the Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear the case.

The case stems from the September 2014 shooting death of 26-year-old David Kedra. Kedra was attending firearms training when he was accidentally shot by instructor Richard Schroeter.

Schroeter pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment of another person and was sentenced to two weeks in jail, followed by three to 18 months of house arrest and other penalties.

A court initially dismissed a lawsuit against Schroeter by Kedra’s mother. But an appeals court allowed the lawsuit to go forward.


Court won’t take appeal in Blackwater case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is staying out of a case that involves former Blackwater security contractors convicted in the 2007 slayings of 14 Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad.

The court said Monday it won’t hear an appeal brought by the four former contractors convicted after a 2014 trial in the case. They argued in part to the high court that a federal law they were charged under doesn’t apply to them. A District of Columbia federal appeals court disagreed in a ruling in August.

The appeals court did order new sentences for three of the men: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. It also overturned the conviction of the fourth man, Nicholas Slatten, saying he should have been tried separately. Slatten’s re-trial is scheduled for June.


Wyoming murder case turned down

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Wyoming man who was 16 when he fatally shot another teenager in the head at point-blank range will be resentenced for the killing after the Supreme Court declined to step in to the case.

The Supreme Court said Monday it will not take the case of Phillip Sam, who killed 19-year-old Tyler Burns in a Cheyenne park in 2014. Sam was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years, plus three consecutive sentences of at least nine years each.
Wyoming’s highest court overturned the sentence in 2017. The court said Sam was effectively sentenced to life without parole even though a court concluded he didn’t deserve to be in prison for the rest of his life.

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