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An Alabama inmate on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his upcoming execution to consider whether a judge should have been able to give him a death sentence when the jury recommended life imprisonment.
 
Ronald Bert Smith is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection next Thursday for the 1994 slaying of Huntsville convenience store clerk Casey Wilson. A jury recommended life imprisonment without parole by a 7-5 vote, but a judge sentenced Smith to death.

"Alabama is the only state that allows a judge to sentence a defendant to death when the jury has recommended a sentence of life," lawyers for Smith wrote in the petition, noting that Florida and Delaware abolished that capability this year.

The petition could put the issue of judicial override before the court.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January struck down Florida's similar sentencing structure because it gave too much power to judges. Justices ruled that "the Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death."

Smith's lawyers argued that Alabama's death penalty structure is also unconstitutional because an Alabama jury can recommend a sentence of life without parole, but a judge can override that recommendation and impose a death sentence.




Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is taking her bid for a statewide recount of Pennsylvania's Nov. 8 presidential election to federal court.

After announcing Stein and recount supporters were dropping their case in state court, lawyer Jonathan Abady said they will seek an emergency federal court order Monday.

"Make no mistake — the Stein campaign will continue to fight for a statewide recount in Pennsylvania," Abady said in a statement Saturday night. "We are committed to this fight to protect the civil and voting rights of all Americans."

He said barriers to a recount in Pennsylvania are pervasive and the state court system is ill-equipped to address the problem.

Stein has spearheaded a recount effort in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three states with a history of backing Democrats for president that were narrowly and unexpectedly won by Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Stein has framed the campaign as an effort to explore whether voting machines and systems had been hacked and the election result manipulated. Stein's lawyers, however, have offered no evidence of hacking in Pennsylvania's election, and the state Republican Party and Trump had asked the court to dismiss the state court case.


Gun manufacturers have the right to present evidence supporting their claim that technology does not exist to comply with a California law requiring new models of semi-automatic handguns to stamp identifying information on bullet casings, a state appeals court said Thursday.

The ruling by the 5th District Court of Appeals in Fresno overturned a lower court ruling rejecting a lawsuit by two firearms trade associations that challenged the law.

The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court for further consideration.

"It would be illogical to uphold a requirement that is currently impossible to accomplish," Justice Herbert Levy wrote for the appeals court.

Supporters of the law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007 touted it as the first such law to go into effect in the nation and said it would help law enforcement solve gun crimes by allowing them to link bullet casings to guns.

Hannah Shearer, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the argument that gun manufacturers can't comply with the law is bogus and will be rejected by the trial court.

"California's microstamping law gives law enforcement a strong tool to investigate and solve gun crimes and also combat gun trafficking," she said.

The law requires new handgun models to have a microscopic array of characters in two spots that identify the gun's make, model and serial number and that are transferred by imprinting on each cartridge case when the gun is fired.

Gun rights groups say it is not possible to "microstamp" two areas of a gun. Only the tip of the firing pin can be microstamped, and current technology doesn't allow the stamp to reliably, consistently and legibly imprint on the cartridge primer from that part of the gun, they say.




Immigrants in the United States illegally are not automatically eligible for asylum on the basis that they are former gang members who risk persecution if they return home, a federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday.

Three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld federal immigration standards that exclude former gang members from social groups that can clearly qualify for protection.

The ruling could affect thousands of immigrants who are fleeing gang-related violence in Central America, immigration experts said.

"We have so many asylum seekers form Central America, and we have a lot of people who are forced to join gangs," said Fatma Marouf, a professor at Texas A&M University School of Law who wrote a brief in the case.

The ruling came in a deportation proceeding against a man from El Salvador, Wilfredo Garay Reyes, who left a gang in his home country and entered the United States illegally in 2001 at the age of 18, after being shot in the leg by a gang leader upset about his defection. Garay sought to stay in the United States under a law that prevents U.S. authorities from sending immigrants to countries where their lives would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Garay argued that former members of his El Salvador gang constituted a "particular social group," and the gang members would kill him if he returned to El Salvador — possibly by placing a gasoline-filled tire around him and burning it, a method they prefer, he said.

Immigration officials rejected Reyes' claim on the grounds that former gang members do not constitute a particular social group.

The Board of Immigration Appeals said to qualify as a particular social group, there must be evidence showing that society "perceives, considers, or recognizes persons sharing the particular characteristic to be a group."

Garay's proposed group — members of the Mara 18 gang in El Salvador who have renounced their gang ties — was too broad, and there was little evidence society recognized them as a distinct group, the board said. The appeals court panel upheld the decision.

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