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Civil Liberties

News in FiVe does not advocate on issues of civil liberties, as there is no single position that would satisfy every trade-off. What we do is strive to keep you informed about what's going on, so you can let your elected representives know how you feel and decide if their actions are consistent with your thoughts.

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Supreme Court decision could weaken Trump pardons

2019-Jun-17  (Updated: 2019-Jun-21)By: Barry Shatzman

The Supreme Court has ruled that state and federal governments can separately try someone for the same offense.

Terance Gamble's federal conviction for illegally having a gun did not violate the Constitution's double jeopardy protection - even though he already had been convicted and sentenced by Alabama - the court ruled.

Decision could help state prosecutions against Trump and associates

The ruling could have implications for President Donald Trump, who has hinted that he may pardon some of his associates indicted in the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

A president can issue pardons for federal crimes only. However, had the court ruled that double jeopardy protections apply across state and federal sovereignties, then a pardon might have precluded state charges from being brought.

But it might not have been enough anyway. Unless there is a specific federal charge, states still can press their own charges. And a blanket pardon likely wouldn't suffice, because without a charge there is no jeopardy.

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Court case could extend presidential pardon power

2018-Oct-30By: Barry Shatzman

The Supreme Court will hear a case in December that could broaden a president's pardon power.

The case involves a man convicted of illegal possession of a firearm. Terance Gamble accepted plea bargains in both state and federal courts. He appealed his federal conviction, claiming it violated the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment.

Court cases as far back as 1852 have set a precedent to allow such prosecutions - because the Constitution provides separate sovereignties for the state and federal governments - with each needing to protect its own interest. It therefore has been reasoned that federal and state offenses are separate offenses.

Others have argued that the Constitution simply says a person cannot be punished more than once for the same act.

In practice, such overlaps are rare.

This could extend some presidential pardons to the state level

While the Constitution gives the president broad power to issue pardons for federal crimes, the president cannot pardon state offenses (a state's governor can).

If the court rules in this case that a person cannot be charged at both the state and federal levels for the same charge, a court could later rule that a presidential pardon would preclude a state from filing charges for offenses covered by that pardon.

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Changed regulation could quash protests

2018-Oct-15By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration is proposing a regulation that likely would restrict protests in the Washington, D.C. area - including those near the White House.

The new regulation would shrink the area available for protests and reduce the number of attendees that trigger the need for a permit. It also would make it easier for the National Park Service (NPS) to deny a permit.

It would blur the distinction between demonstrations and special events (such as festivals). It's easier to obtain a permit for a demonstration - in many instances approval is automatic unless the NPS explicitly rejects it. With less distinction, a protest that includes music might be labeled as special event.

It also might allow the government to charge fees that could make some protests cost-prohibitive. The regulation states that fees would cover damage to the area - such as trash and "harm to turf".

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the potential fees in a public comment to the proposed regulation - stating that NPS does not charge the 45 million visitors to the National Mall each year for the sanitation and turf problems they create. They stated...

"Managing public lands for the benefit of the American people is what Congress funds the National Park Service to do. That includes demonstrators just as much as tourists or hikers. While the park service may be strapped for funds, it cannot balance its budget on the backs of people seeking to exercise their constitutional rights."

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Trump suggests making it illegal to protest

2018-Sep-05By: (External links)

Trump suggests that protesting should be illegal

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House votes to ban abortions after 5 months

2015-May-13  (Updated: 2015-May-14)By: Barry Shatzman

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban most abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

In order to become law, the bill would need to be approved by the Senate and then signed by President Obama.

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Justice Department spied on Associated Press

2013-May-13By: Rob Dennis

The Justice Department secretly obtained phone records of Associated Press journalists, apparently as part of a leak investigation into a May 2012 story about a foiled terror plot.

The Associated Press (AP) reported Monday that the government seized records for more than 20 separate telephone lines in April and May of 2012, including work and personal phone numbers of reporters and an editor, general AP office numbers, and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery.

The AP learned about the subpoenaed phone records in a letter sent Friday by Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C.

The government would not say why it sought the records, according to the AP. But U.S. officials previously have testified that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have leaked information for a May 7, 2012, AP story about a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaeda plot.

Justice Department rules require that subpoenas of records of news organizations must be personally approved by the attorney general, and can be considered only after "all reasonable attempts" have been made to get the same information from other sources

AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt on Monday sent a letter of protest to Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies. Pruitt called the subpoena a "massive and unprecedented intrusion."

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Ohio illegally jailing people who can't afford fines

2013-Apr-05By: Barry Shatzman

People in Ohio who cannot afford to pay fines and court costs are being sent to prison, in spite of federal and state laws that prohibit the practice, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional in 1983.

A court must hold a hearing to determine if a defendant has enough money to pay. However, municipal courts in at least seven Ohio counties routinely imprison those who can't afford to pay fines or costs. For example, in the second half last year, more than 20 percent of all bookings in the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines. There's no evidence defendants were given the hearings required by law, according to the report.

It costs more to jail defendants than the state recovers from them, the ACLU reported.

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