SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Court rejects appeal in texting suicide case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday left in place the conviction of a Massachusetts woman who sent her boyfriend text messages urging him to kill himself.

Michelle Carter is serving a 15-month sentence after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. A judge determined that Carter, who was 17, caused the death of the 18-year-old Roy when she ordered him in a phone call to get back in his carbon monoxide-filled truck that he’d parked in a Kmart parking lot.

The phone call wasn’t recorded, but the judge relied on a text Carter sent her friend in which she said she told Roy to get back in. In text messages sent in the days leading up to Roy’s death, Carter also encouraged Roy to follow through with his suicide plan and chastised him when he didn’t, Massachusetts courts found.

The case has garnered national attention and sparked legislative proposals in Massachusetts to criminalize suicide coercion.

Carter’s lawyers argued in their Supreme Court appeal that the conviction should be thrown out because it was an “unprecedented” violation of her free speech rights that raised crucial questions about whether “words alone” are enough to hold someone responsible for another person’s suicide.

The lawyers also argued there was simply not enough evidence to prove Carter urged Roy to get back in his truck to die, or that he would have lived if she had called for help or taken other actions to try and save his life.

Joseph Cataldo, one of Carter’s lawyers, said Monday’s decision was an “injustice” and that the legal team is weighing its next steps. He didn’t elaborate.

“The Court passed on the rare chance to clarify an outdated and confusing exception to the First Amendment, which has divided courts around the country,” said Daniel Marx, another one of Carter’s lawyers. “It also missed an invaluable opportunity to address the toxic combination of mental illness, adolescent psychology, and social media that was at the heart of this suicide case and will likely lead to additional tragedies in the future.”

The court’s decision was welcomed by Bristol District Attorney Thomas Quinn III, whose office prosecuted the case.

“The US Supreme Court’s decision today brings closure to the family of Conrad Roy for his tragic death. I hope that the finality of this decision brings some solace to them,” he said in a statement.

Carter has been serving her sentence at the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

She was initially set to be released in May, but is now scheduled for release Jan. 23, according to a spokesman for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office.

Jail officials said Carter has accrued enough “good time” credits for good behavior and attending programs while incarcerated after she was denied parole last September.

“Ms. Carter continues to attend programs, is getting along with other inmates, is polite to our staff and volunteers, and we’ve had no discipline issues at all,” Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said in an email.


Appeal of death row inmate denied

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has denied the appeal of an Oklahoma death row inmate who was convicted of killing his common-law wife.
The Oklahoman first reported that the high court’s ruling on Monday that denied without comment the appeal of Carlos Cuesta-Rodriguez, 64.

Cuesta-Rodriguez was convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal shooting in 2003 of Olimpia Cardina Fisher at the south Oklahoma City home they shared.
A federal public defender representing Cuesta-Rodriguez did not immediately return a phone call for comment Tuesday.

Cuesta-Rodriguez had argued that Oklahoma law requiring indigent defendants in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties be represented by the counties’ public defenders office denied him effective assistance of counsel on his first appeal.

He also argued that during closing arguments, prosecutors improperly described how the jury should consider mitigating circumstances in the case.

The court’s rejection of the appeal makes Cuesta-Rodriguez eligible to be scheduled for execution, although Oklahoma has not put an inmate to death since executions were halted in 2015 following a series of bungled lethal injections.


Justices turn away appeal of women who went topless at N.H. beach

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court is leaving in place the public nudity convictions of three women who removed their bathing suit tops on a New Hampshire beach as part of a global campaign advocating for the rights of women to go topless.

The justices declined Monday to review a state court decision that found no violation of the women’s constitutional rights.

Heidi Lilley, Kia Sinclair and Ginger Pierro are part of the Free the Nipple campaign, a global effort advocating for the rights of women to go topless. They were arrested in 2016 after removing their tops at a beach in Laconia and refusing to put them on when beachgoers complained. Pierro was doing yoga, while the two others were sunbathing.

Dan Hynes, who represented the women, said he was disappointed. They are considering their next option, he said, including filing for relief in federal court and asking the New Hampshire legislature “to make it clear that towns and cities lack the authority to create violations of law involving someone’s sex.”

“The government should not be allowed to create a crime that requires proof of someone’s sex as an element of the offense,” he said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that 100 years after being granted the right to vote, the City of Laconia has decided to keep women second class citizens, with permission of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.”

In a 3-2 ruling last year, New Hampshire’s highest court upheld the conviction of the three women, finding their constitutional rights were not violated.

The court decided that Laconia’s ordinance does not discriminate on the basis of gender or violate the women’s right to free speech. The Laconia law on indecent exposure bans sex and nudity in public but singles out women by prohibiting the “showing of female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple.”

New Hampshire is just one of several places around the country where topless bans have been litigated.

Supporters celebrated in February when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling blocking a Fort Collins, Colorado, law against women going topless in public.

The justices sided with activists who argued that the ban treated women and men differently.

A federal judge, meanwhile, ruled in October 2017 that a public indecency law in Missouri didn’t violate the state constitution by allowing men, but not women, to show their nipples. A court allowed a San Francisco public nudity ban to remain on the books in 2013.


Court declines review of ex-L.A. sheriff’s case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is likely headed to prison after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review his corruption case, a newspaper reported.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year rejected Baca’s request to reconsider an earlier ruling upholding his conviction and three-year prison sentence.

The lower court previously ruled that Baca received a fair trial.

The Supreme Court denied Baca’s request to reopen his case for review, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Baca, 77, stepped down as sheriff in 2014 amid an FBI investigation into abuses at the nation’s largest jail system. A jury convicted him in 2017 of obstructing the investigation and lying to prosecutors. His lawyer unsuccessfully argued on appeal that the jury should have been told of Baca’s Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis in 2016.

“The Supreme Court missed an opportunity to right the significant legal wrongs that occurred in Sheriff Baca’s case,” his attorney, Nathan Hochman, said in a statement Monday.

In the filing, Baca’s attorneys had asked the justices to consider two issues, according to the newspaper. The first was whether the trial court had properly instructed the jury about the obstruction of justice counts.

They also asked the justices to review the trial court’s use of an anonymous jury, in which the jurors’ identities were unknown even to Baca and attorneys. The 9th Circuit had ruled that the district court’s decision to impanel an anonymous jury was reasonable because of the highly publicized nature of the case and Baca’s position as a former high-ranking law enforcement officer.

Baca has remained free while his appeals were pending. The Supreme Court’s decision clears the way for U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, who sentenced Baca, to set a date when he must begin serving his sentence.

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