[JURIST] Washington Governor Chris Gregoire [official website] on Tuesday signed a bill [materials] recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] as legal domestic partnerships. House Bill 1649 amends current law [AP report] that acknowledges out-of-state domestic partnerships and civil unions, but excludes same-sex marriage. The Senate [official website] approved the bill by a 28-19 vote [Seattle Times report] last week after the House of Representatives [official website] passed the bill [JURIST report] by a similar margin earlier in the month. The bill will become effective 90 days after the close of the current legislative session.
[JURIST] The trial for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official website, in Italian; JURIST news archive] on charges that he paid an underage prostitute for her services was adjourned Wednesday only 10 minutes after opening in Milan. Berlusconi and Moroccan-born teenager Karima El Mahroug, known as Ruby, did not attend the trial. Berlusconi faces charges [Reuters] for abusing the power of his office and allegedly offering cash and jewels in exchange for sex with the 17-year-old Ruby, who is under the legal age of prostitution in Italy. In addition to the payments, Berlusconi also allegedly called police to secure Ruby's release while she was detained on an unrelated suspicion of theft. Both Ruby and Berlusconi maintain that the two never had sex, and Berlusconi denies the charges against him. Critics and supporters gathered outside the court [AP report] as the trial commenced. Berlusconi's trial is scheduled to resume on May 31.
Last month, Berlusconi attended a hearing in Milan [JURIST report] to defend himself against charges of fraud and embezzlement. Prior to that hearing, Berlusconi had not attended a case hearing for more than seven years. In February, an Italian judge ordered Berlusconi to stand trial [JURIST report] on the current charges of paying for sex with a minor and abuse of power. Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing and has called the charges groundless. In January, the Italian Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] held hearings and subsequently struck down [JURIST reports] portions of a law [materials, in Italian] backed by Berlusconi that would have granted the premier and other public officials temporary immunity from charges while in office.
[JURIST] The Idaho legislature [official website] on Tuesday gave final approval to a bill [SB 1165, PDF] that would prohibit most abortions [JURIST news archive] after 20 weeks of gestation. The "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" is based on disputed medical evidence suggesting that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks [Reuters report], and would permit abortions after that time period only in cases where the mother's life is at risk or she faces serious injury. A doctor who performs an abortion in violation of the time limit would be subject to criminal prosecution for a felony, but there would be no penalty for the woman undergoing the procedure. The bill includes additional provisions allowing civil suits to be filed for "actual damages" against the doctor performing the procedure by a woman upon whom an abortion is attempted or performed, or by the father of the unborn child if an abortion is performed. Also made available by the bill as "civil remedies" are injunctions which can be sought by a range of parties:
A cause of action for injunctive relief . . . may be maintained by the woman upon whom an abortion was performed or attempted to be performed in violation of the provisions of this chapter, by any person who is the spouse, parent, sibling, or guardian of, or a current or former licensed health care provider of the woman . . ., by a prosecuting attorney with appropriate jurisdiction, or by the attorney general.
Regardless, there can be no damages assessed against the woman undergoing the procedure. Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter [official website] is expected to sign the approved legislation into law.
[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [text; PDF] on Wednesday urging the international community to pressure Yemeni authorities to investigate the death of protesters. The report chronicles reports of beatings and use of excessive force by security forces including shootings of peaceful protesters. AI criticizes the response of authorities to the mounting death tolls as woefully inadequate. While investigations have been announced, they are being conducted by governmental bodies that do not have a mandate to carry out the judicial investigations and they are not likely to be successful. The report also alleges that security forces have used US-made tear gas and rubber grenades to violently repress the protesters. AI recommends that the international community provide Yemeni authorities with the support necessary for an effective and independent investigation into the human rights violations, suspend the supply and transfer of weapons that could be used for excessive force and ensure that the military and security support given to Yemen adheres to international human rights standards. The protests which have been fueled by frustration at corruption, unemployment and repression of freedoms have resulted in 94 deaths.
[JURIST] The Court of Appeals of Virginia [official website] on Tuesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a conviction where police officers used a GPS device to track the movement of a suspect in a string of sexual assaults without obtaining a warrant. The state's second highest appellate court failed to address whether the Fourth Amendment [text] generally requires a warrant in such a situation, ruling on narrower grounds [AP report] that the police would have had access to the same evidence they used to convict the suspect without the GPS device and thus the evidence of sexual assault was excepted from the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The suspect, David Foltz, was on probation for sexual assault and became a suspect after police noticed a strong similarity between assaults occurring at the time and those previously committed by Foltz. Foltz's only mode of transportation was a work van provided by his employer which Foltz was supposed to use only for work and probation-related meetings. The employer's records showed the van had been near the location of each recent assault. Officers then placed a tracking device on the van and tracked it to the location of a subsequent assault. Finally, police physically followed Foltz as he drove the van and arrested him as he attempted to assault another woman which led to the conviction upheld Tuesday. The court reasoned:
The assault the officers observed was a new and distinct offense from the previously committed crimes the officers were investigating, and sufficiently independent of any information obtained by them from the GPS tracking device. The officers' focus on appellant, a registered sex offender on probation, as the likely perpetrator of the recent sexual assaults did not begin with the placement of the GPS device on his assigned work van. They knew that appellant resided, worked, and attended probation-related meetings where the recent assaults occurred. They knew that the manner in which the perpetrator of the recent sexual assaults attacked those victims was "amazingly like" that appellant used in previous sexual assaults to which he had previously confessed. The additional information obtained from the GPS tracking of the van's locations near the scene of the latest attack was just one more piece of information to add to the already strong focus on appellant as the person responsible for the assaults. * * * We hold that the officers' observations of that criminal act were sufficiently attenuated from any argued taint arising from the placement and use of the GPS device to track the movements of appellant's assigned work van and that there is no basis in law to exclude the officers' eyewitness testimony of a violent assault being committed in their presence."
Two judges filed a concurring opinion, arguing that the court should address the Fourth Amendment issues raised in the case and concluding that did Foltz did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his employer's van that he was allowed to use only for limited purposes, especially since officers placed the GPS device on the van's bumper while it was parked on a public street. Tuesday's ruling upheld a decision [opinion] by a three-judge panel from the Court of Appeals of Virginia last year which held that placing the GPS on the employer's van did not violate Foltz's Fourth Amendment rights.
[JURIST] International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] told reporters Tuesday that he is willing to investigate alleged war crimes in the Ivory Coast [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], but a lack of referrals is impeding the process. Moreno-Ocampo said that his office is "concerned" [press release] with recent reports of 1,500 casualties during the struggle to force Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile] to cede power but conceded that the office does not have strong enough evidence to proceed:
The Ivory Coast is a member of the Rome Statute [text] which established the ICC, and other member states can refer a country's conduct for scrutiny by the court. Moreno-Ocampo said that this would be helpful in allowing his office's investigation to proceed and discussed a possible a referral from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) [official website], which counts the Ivory Coast as a member. ECOWAS issued a statement [text] on Tuesday "to express its horror at the reported massacre" in the Ivory Coast and "the use of unarmed civilians as human shield in areas of conflict." The ICC's profile on the Ivory Coast [ICC profile] does not contain recent allegations, but the Office of the Prosecutor [official website] lists the investigation as pending. It is reported that Gbagbo is attempting to leave the country [Reuters report] and has instructed his forces to quit fighting [UN News Centre report].
Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] reported the deaths of at least 800 civilians [JURIST report] in the Ivory Coast town of Duekoue as a result of intercommunal violence that took place. Earlier, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] urged all parties in the Ivory Coast to show restraint [JURIST report]. A spokesperson acknowledged unconfirmed reports that the Ivory Coast Republican Forces had "engaged in looting and extortion as well as serious human rights violations such as abductions, arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of civilians" during their advance towards the country's capital of Abidjan. Last month, the OHCHR called for an independent investigation into post-election violence [JURIST report]. In January, UN officials expressed "grave concerns" [JURIST report] regarding the post-election violence, cautioning that genocide could be imminent. In February, Gbagbo dissolved [JURIST report] the country's parliament and electoral commission based on allegations of voter fraud in the long delayed presidential elections. On disbanding the government, Gbagbo charged Prime Minister Guillaume Soro [BBC profile] with creation of new government and new election format. The violence stems from Gbagbo's refusal to cede power to president-elect Alassane Ouattara, who won the November 2010 runoff election according to international observers. Gbagbo was elected president in 2000 to serve a five-year term, but he has managed to stay in office, delaying six successive elections.
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