Supreme Court upholds bulk of Obamacare

With Chief Justice John Roberts among the 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court of the United States mostly let stand President Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul, known as “Obamacare.”

We’re a law firm.  We believe that legal scholarship is important rather than just taking cues from the media spin machines.  So get out your reading glasses and read what SCOTUS decided by clicking here for the full decision.

You might want to get a cup of coffee first because it is a 193-page decision.  If that’s not brief enough for you today, you can google to your heart’s content or read some media summaries.  The New York Times has a story running here.  Our own Columbus Dispatch has one here.

Independence Day and the Declaration

As we celebrate the 234th birthday of these United States, it is appropriate to have a look at the document that launched our independence from Great Britain.  In the realm of natural law and the destiny of mankind, this document may not be a statute, a code, or even “legal” as the existing governing body might decree, but it is certainly worth our greatest admiration for many reasons.  From the art of Thomas Jefferson’s prose to the struggles that would come next.  Take a moment and reflect on the Declaration of Independence:

It's much easier to read to the left

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Continue reading

Speeding tickets based on a guess are OK, Ohio Supreme Court says

If I guess 5 MPH over, you get a green frog. If I'm under, you get a $100 fine.

In a 5-1 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a conviction on a speeding ticket solely based on the arresting officer’s guess as to how fast the car was moving.  No radar.  No lasers.  Just a cop that said, “Man, it looks like he’s going 79 miles per hour in this 60 mile per hour zone.”  That’s right, 79.  Not 75 and certainly not 80.  Exactly 79.

Officer Christopher R. Santimarino testified that he had worked traffic enforcement since 1995 and received specialized training to visually estimate the speed of a vehicle.  This training means that Santimarino was able to correctly guess the speed of a vehicle within 4 miles per hour of its actual speed. It must have been plain luck that Santimarino did not write the driver a ticket for going 64 in a 60.

The real kick in this case is that Santimarino claimed that his radar gun clocked the driver at 82 miles per hour – but he could not produce a copy of his radar training certificate on the day of trial so that evidence was thrown out.  But the trial court allowed his guess to be considered as evidence and convicted the driver based on that alone.

From an academic standpoint, I understand what Justice Maureen O’Connor is saying in her opinion.  She’s saying that a properly trained police officer’s account of the event is admissible evidence so the jury should be allowed to hear the officer’s guess.  Maybe that is admissible persuasive evidence, but maybe a guess is not “sufficient evidence” to convict.

Ohio appellate courts were split on this “guess evidence.”  Six appellate districts have held that a guess is good enough and three districts have held that a guess is not enough to overcome the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction.

The theory here is that machines, like radar guns, are exacting instruments, but humans can make mistakes – even the highly trained ones.  Just ask Major League umpire Jim Joyce who mistakenly called a Cleveland Indians runner safe at first base robbing the Detroit Tigers’ Armanda Galarraga of a perfect game this season.  Joyce has officiated major league baseball games for 21 years including All-Star games, division championships, league championships, and World Series games.  The Indians runner was out by a mile and Joyce called him safe based solely on his visual observation and standing just a few feet away.  He later acknowledged his mistake upon seeing the replay footage.  Human error.  Highly trained human error.

You can’t reverse a bad call like Joyce’s in baseball because it is accepted that human error is a part of the game.  But, is human error an accepted part of our justice system to the point where an erroneous allegation can result in a criminal conviction?  Our Nation’s “presumption of innocence” and the necessity for “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” does not sound like guess work to me.

You can read the decision in Barberton v. Jenney right here.