SCOTUS Stops Utah’s Recognition of Gay Marriages, California Death Penalty Struck Down, FedEx Indicted in Drug Investigation

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 19, 2014

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This week, the Supreme Court granted Utah’s request for a stay on recognition of same-sex marriages during the state’s appeal, a federal judge dismisses California’s “dysfunctional” death penalty punishment, and the Department of Justice files charges against FedEx for the company’s role in the online prescription drug black market.

Supreme Court stops Utah Recognition of Gay Marriages during Appeal

The Supreme Court has granted Utah’s request to ignore same-sex marriages performed while the state is appealing a recent ruling that struck down its gay marriage ban.  Utah’s governor filed an emergency document with SCOTUS arguing that the state should not have to officially recognize marriages that have been performed during the window of opportunity created when its law against gay marriage was found unconstitutional.  On December 20th a federal judge invalidated Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, allowing gay couples to wed legally in the state.  After 17 days, the Supreme Court ordered a temporary stop on gay marriages until Utah could settle the issue on appeal, but during the interim period close to 1,300 same-sex couples legally tied the knot.  Arguing that “the democratically produced decisions of Utah’s citizens should not be overturned on the discretion of a single federal district judge unchecked by subsequent appellate review,” Utah officials claim that the 1,300 marriages performed after the state ban was nullified should not take effect until, and if, SCOTUS confirms the ruling.

In addition to the request for a stay on recognizing same-sex couples, Utah officials have promised to file an appeal of the case to the Supreme Court to have final say.  Although the Court is in its summer recess, the justices came together to issue the order, which overturned a lower courts mandate that Utah recognize the same-sex marriages immediately.  Utah’s gay marriage case is the furthest along of several challenges to same-sex marriage bans across the country, and could be heard by the Court later this year when the next term begins.

Federal Judge Rules California’s “Dysfunctional” Death Penalty is Unconstitutional

A federal judge issued a significant death penalty decision this week by striking down California’s “dysfunctional” execution system – making the punishment illegal in the state and commuting several death penalty sentences to life in prison.  US District Judge Cormac Carney was heavily critical of the state’s inefficient death penalty process, and claimed that the broken system violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment because death row inmates are not certain to be executed – instead living for years with a “remote possibility of death.”

California, which has not executed anyone since 2006 due to ongoing legal challenges of its lethal injection process, has sentenced over 900 people to death since 1978, but only 13 have actually been executed.  Death row inmates spend at least 25 years waiting for appeals and procedural challenges, making the sentence effectively life in prison.  Judge Carney determined that the low percentage of death row inmates to be executed makes the process both arbitrary and unable to achieve the purpose for which it is designed, and held that the dysfunctional beyond repair system violated the constitution.  Carney’s argument is unique, and walks a fine line of legal logic that is certain to be closely scrutinized on appeal.  

DOJ Investigates FedEx in Drug Shipping Case

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed charges against shipping company FedEx Corporation for its alleged role in a conspiracy to distribute controlled substances as a transporter of painkillers.  The 15-count indictment filed in a San Francisco court alleges that since 2004, the company has ignored warnings from the government that it was violating law by shipping drugs ordered from online pharmacies to any customer who filled out a questionnaire over the internet.  Included in the charges are conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to distribute misbranded drugs, distribution of controlled substances, and misbranding drugs.

The indictment comes after an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) into the online black market for illegal prescription drugs.  Claiming that FedEx “departed from its usual business practices” to serve illegal drug operations, the indictment accuses the company of being an integral part of the market by knowingly serving two major illegal pharmacies – the Chhabra-Smoley organization and Superior Drugs.  Saying that top management approved the shipping policies of illegal prescription drugs, federal prosecutors claim that FedEx was complicit in the conspiracy to deliver the drugs despite knowledge that doing so was in violation of the law.

FedEx has released a statement claiming innocence, and vowing to fight the charges and the attack on the “integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees.”  The company has known of the investigation and pending charges for some time, but has refused to settle due to its position that no crime was committed.  Last year, UPS settled similar allegations for $40 million after being attached to distribution of prescription drugs from illegal pharmacies.  The government is seeking forfeiture of at least $820 million in FedEx proceeds linked to the shipments in question, but the company could be fined up to $1.6 billion if found guilty of all charges.

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