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Judge Rules Arizona Did Not Violate Rights During Executions: Michael Kiefer of The Arizona Republic reports U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake ruled Wednesday that the Arizona Department of Corrections did not violate prisoners' constitutional rights, even if the DOC varied from its court-approved protocol for lethal injection executions. By ruling in favor of the state, Judge Wake denied an injunction requiring the DOC to conform to its established protocol. "This ruling puts to rest yet another of the specious legal barricades that capital-punishment opponents have thrown up in the past few decades to challenge the death penalty," Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said. The Federal Public Defender's Office brought the suit on behalf of five death row inmates and one who has already been executed and said it will appeal the ruling.

PA High Court Rules on Burden of Proof of Mental Disability in Death Penalty Cases: Mark Scolforo of the Associated Press reports the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in most instances, juries will have to make the decision when a defendant in a death penalty case wants to argue they are mentally disabled and thus ineligible for execution. The burden of proof will be put on defendants under a "preponderance of the evidence standard." The high court said placing the burden on prosecutors gives defendants less incentive to cooperate. The court said jurors should rule on the issue before deciding if aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors, and jurors will have to unanimously agree that the defendant qualifies to avoid execution. In the ruling, the state Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for Abraham Sanchez Jr., who had challenged the timing and use of the jury in adjudicating his claim of death penalty ineligibility under Atkins v. Virginia. Sanchez's lawyer said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court's decision is here.

1974 Killing of 13-Year-Old Girl Linked to Serial Killer: Greg Bluestein and Jeff Martin of the Associated Press report the 1974 Georgia slaying of 13-year-old Ima Jean Sanders has been linked to Paul John Knowles, a serial killer blamed for murdering at least 18 people. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said agents were "reasonably confident" that Sanders was killed 37 years ago by Knowles. The break in the case came in January after a Texas investigator realized data from Sanders' murder was not entered into a database that matches unidentified remains with missing persons cases. Sanders' mom, who lives in Texas, submitted DNA, and this week investigators said it matched the skeletal remains found in a wooded area in the central part of Georgia. Investigators also tracked down a 1975 letter located in the state archives written by a former U.S. attorney who summarized Knowles' confessions.  

T.S.A. is "Security Theater": Charles Mann of Vanity Fair has this story about his airport meeting with Bruce Schneier, one of the top security experts in the U.S. and a relentless critic of the Transportation Security Agency. The U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security since 9/11. According to the article, it's a lot of inconvenience for little benefit at a staggering cost directed against a threat that is quite modest. "Focusing on specific threats like shoe bombs or snow-globe bombs simply induces the bad guys to do something else. You end up spending a lot on the screening and you haven't reduced the total threat," says Schneier. If the T.S.A. focuses on shoes or snow-globe, terrorists will just put their explosives elsewhere. Schneier also talks about how even if airports became fool-proof, it would just divert terrorists to other places like shopping malls. "You spend billions of dollars on the airports and force the terrorists to spend an extra $30 on gas to drive to a hotel or casino and attack it," he says. Mann describes how he created a fake boarding pass by downloading an image of a boarding pass from the Delta website, copied and pasted the letters with Photoshop, and printed it with a laser printer - the T.S.A. agent waved him through without a word.

Federal Judge Halts Key Parts of South Carolina Immigration Law:
Meg Kinnard of the Associated Press reports U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled Thursday to block several provisions of South Carolina's immigration law from taking effect January 1st. Key provisions of the law that were blocked include requiring law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they pull over if officers suspect the person is in the county illegally, and sections that make it a state crime to not carry immigration paperwork or for illegal immigrants to transport or house themselves. The state had requested that the law proceed as scheduled and that all court hearings on the case be suspended until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Arizona's immigration law. A federal appeals court on Thursday also denied requests by Georgia and Alabama to delay action on legal challenges to their state immigration laws pending the U.S. Supreme Court decision.  

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"[T]he Arizona Department of Corrections did not violate prisoners' constitutional rights, even if the DOC varied from its court-approved protocol for lethal injection executions."

Who woulda thunk it? State administrative procedures do not ipso facto create federal constitutional rights.

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