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UPI NewsTrack TopNews

March 26, 2013 at 12:02 PM   |   Comments

Supreme Court hears Prop 8 case

WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday heard the challenge to California's Proposition 8, which limits marriage to a man and a woman.

Any decision in the case likely would be applied nationwide.

The Supreme Court is closely divided between four liberals and conservatives, making Justice Anthony Kennedy a key swing vote, though even conservatives expressed skepticism of Prop 8 from the bench Tuesday.

In the Prop 8 argument, Kennedy expressed sympathy for the children of same-sex couples while questioning attorney Charles Cooper, who represented the private proponents of Prop 8, The Huffington Post reported.

"They want their parents to have full recognition and legal status. The voice of those children is considerable in this case, don't you think?" Kennedy asked.

Theodore Olson, a former Bush administration solicitor general, and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the Obama administration's top courtroom lawyer, argued on behalf of the challengers.

California voters approved Proposition 8, the California Marriage Protection Act, in a 2008 vote with slightly more than 52 percent for and nearly 48 percent against. Prop 8 says in part, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

A federal judge declared Prop 8 unconstitutional and a three-judge appeals court panel in San Francisco agreed 2-1.

Neither California's governor nor its attorney general is defending the law in court. ProtectMarriage -- its sponsor is a state non-profit, California Renewal -- is the official proponent of the proposition and has been allowed to defend it in the Supreme Court.

Last month, the Obama administration told the Supreme Court California's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.


Court: Amanda Knox, boyfriend be retried

ROME, March 26 (UPI) -- Italy's top court ordered a retrial of American Amanda Knox and Italian Raffaele Sollecito Tuesday for the 2007 death of Meredith Kercher in Perugia.

The Court of Cassation's decision to overturn the acquittals of Knox and Sollecito sends the matter to an appeals court in Florence, the ANSA news agency reported.

In a statement, Knox, 25, said it was "painful" to hear the decision "when the prosecution's theory of my involvement in Meredith's murder has been repeatedly revealed to be completely unfounded and unfair."

"I believe that any questions as to my innocence must be examined by an objective investigation and a capable prosecution," she said. "The prosecution responsible for the many discrepancies in their work must be made to answer for them, for Raffaele's sake, my sake, and most especially for the sake of Meredith's family."

"Our hearts go out to them," Knox said in the statement. "No matter what happens, my family and I will face this continuing legal battle as we always have, confident in the truth and with our heads held high in the face of wrongful accusations and unreasonable adversity."

Francesco Maresca, the Italian lawyer representing Kercher's family, pumped his fist in satisfaction when the Court of Cassation announced it had put aside the acquittals of Knox and Sollecito, ANSA said.

Knox and her then-boyfriend Sollecito were convicted of the 2007 killing of Kercher, a student from Britain, while the two women were exchange students rooming together in Perugia. However, the conviction was thrown out by an appeals court in 2011. Prosecutors said Knox, Sollecito and a third person, Rudy Guede of the Ivory Coast, killed Kercher in a sex game gone wrong.

Knox, living in Seattle, isn't required to return to Italy for the trial, ANSA said. If she is convicted again, that ruling would be appealed to the Supreme Court.


Ex-Khmer Rouge deputy found fit for trial

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, March 26 (UPI) -- A former top official of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge is physically and mentally fit to stand trial for crimes against humanity, two medical experts have testified.

The experts, from New Zealand and Britain, said they had not found any decline in the overall health of 86-year-lld Nuon Chea, the Phnom Penh Post reported Tuesday.

Chea, also known as "Brother Number 2," was second-in-command to Pol Pot, the leader of the Cambodian Communist party between 1975 and 1979.

During that period, tens of thousands died from execution, starvation or disease. The number of Cambodians who died from execution alone has been estimated at between 1.4 million and 3.4 million.

In a hearing at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, John Campbell, a professor of geriatrics in New Zealand, described Chea as a "frail and elderly man" who "spends most of the day lying on his bed."

He said Chea could improve his health with exercise and recommended the defendant leave his cell to travel to court in enough time to recover from the trip.

Dr. Seena Fazel, a forensic psychiatrist from the University of Oxford, said Chea had scored a 28 out of 30 on a test of cognitive ability. A score of 23 or below would have indicated some mental impairment.

After interviewing Chea, Fazel described the mental health and cognitive functions of the former political leader as 'good."


Court: Dog sniff was a 'search'

WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday that the use of a drug-sniffing dog outside a home is a "search" that must be supported by probable cause or a warrant.

"Probable cause" means police officers must have reason to believe a crime has been committed before making the search.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, backed up by the 14th Amendment, says: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Florida's Constitution reinforces that right in almost identical language.

In November 2006, the Miami-Dade Police Department received a Crime Stoppers tip that Joelis Jardines was growing marijuana in his house. A month later, a police detective with members of a drug task force that included several U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents conducted surveillance at Jardines' house.

A canine officer went up to the front porch with a dog, Franky, who alerted by sitting down. After the dog left, the detective knocked on the door to get consent for a search, without response. He did smell marijuana, court records said, and heard the sound of a constantly running air conditioner -- in the officer's experience, a sign of a drug operation.

The detective got a search warrant using the dog sniff and his own observations. The officers conducted a search and "seized numerous live marijuana plants. A DEA agent arrested Jardines as he attempted to flee through a rear door of the house."

Jardines was charged with trafficking in excess of 25 pounds of cannabis, a first-degree felony, and grand theft for stealing more than $5,000 in electricity from Florida for the grow lights.

The Florida Supreme Court eventually agreed that the search evidence should be suppressed.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia.

"The investigation of Jardines' home was a 'search. within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment," Scalia said.


Al-Khatib asks for more international help

DOHA, Qatar, March 26 (UPI) -- Syrian opposition figure Moaz al-Khatib appealed for more international help to protect rebel-held areas while rejecting foreign interference in the civil war.

Speaking through a translator at the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, al-Khatib said he had asked Washington take on a bigger role by helping to protect northern areas with Patriot surface-to-air missiles, The Guardian reported in its blog of the conference.

Al-Khatib said during the weekend he was resigning as leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main opposition coalition umbrella group, saying said he had reached his limit following what he called two fruitless years of appealing to the international community for help in ending the nation's bloody civil war.

"The role played by the U.S. should be much bigger," al-Khatib said Tuesday. "I asked [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry to provide Patriot missiles to protect the northern province. We requested NATO to spare the lives of innocent civilians."

"We do not wish to fight," al-Khatib said. "We wish to protect civilians to restore the normal way of life."

However, he said rebel forces reject "any foreign-dictated orders."

"Differences at the international level have exacerbated the crisis," he said. "We created the revolution and it is only the Syrian people who will determine how the revolution will end. We will determine who will rule the country. We will live together to in harmony."

Al-Khatib also urged Iran and Russia to withdraw their "experts" from Syria, The Guardian reported.


Early-morning quakes shake western Mexico

GOLDEN, Colo., March 26 (UPI) -- Two strong earthquakes shook the Pacific coast of Mexico before dawn Tuesday, with no initial repots of damage or injuries, officials say.

The first quake, of 5.5-magnitude, occurred just after 6 a.m. local time (9 a.m. EDT) about 11 west-southwest of Santiago Pinotepa Nacional, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The temblor was located at a depth of 4.7 miles, USGS said.

The second quake, with 5.1-mignitute, shook the ground 8 minutes later 3 miles closer to the same town. The quake was located deeper underground, at 8 miles of depth.

The quakes were about 100 miles east of Acapulco.

The Acapulco region has been an active earthquake area in recent months, LALATE reported. A 6.3-magnitude quake struck the area in April 2012. A 4.8-magnitude quake shook the same region in January.

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