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April 26, 2010

SCOTUS to examine California law banning sale of violent video game to minors

As detailed in this new SCOTUSblog post, the Supreme Court this morning announced that it will review the constitutionality of another law that seek to prohibit access to certain forms of violent "speech."  Here are the details thanks to Lyle Denniston's reporting:

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to rule on the constitutionality of a state law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.  The Court accepted for review an appeal by the state of California, urging the Court to adopt a new constitutional standard that would enable states to ban such games for those under age 18. The case is Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association (08-1448).

The Court apparently had been holding the case until it decided another First Amendment case involving violence — U.S. v. Stevens (08-769). In that ruling, the Court struck down a federal law that banned the depiction of animal cruelty in videotapes.  In that ruling, the Justices refused to create a new exception to the First Amendment free speech right.  The Court could have opted to send the California case back to the Ninth Circuit Court to weigh the impact of the Stevens decision.  Instead, it simply granted review; the case will be heard and decided in the Court’s next Term, starting Oct. 4.

As with the Stevens case, this new case does not have SCOTUS directly examining sentencing-related issues.  But, as with the Stevens case, there are an array of potential criminal justice implications that could result from the Court's ultimate resolution of this new case.

UPDATE:  I just learned from this new AP article, which is headlined "Court to hear appeal in guard's sexual assault," that the Justices' cert grant in Ortiz v. Jordan (09-737),  a case focused on civil appellate procedure, has an especially notable criminal justice backstory:

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider reinstating a $625,000 judgment against Ohio prison officials who did nothing to prevent a guard's sexual assault of an inmate and then punished the victim.

The justices said Monday they will review a federal appeals court that threw out the award to Michelle Ortiz. The lower court had said the prison officials did not violate her constitutional rights. Another federal judge called the appellate decision a "legal travesty."

Ortiz was serving 12 months at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in November 2002 when she reported that a male guard fondled her breasts and warned, "I'll get you tomorrow, watch." He did, returning when Ortiz was asleep to molest her again. When Ortiz discussed the attacks with other inmates, she was shackled and sent to solitary confinement.

She filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officials and won a jury verdict. But the appeals court in Cincinnati found by a 2-1 vote that one official, Paula Jordan, could not be held liable even though she did not take immediate action when Ortiz reported the first incident. The court said the other official, Rebecca Bright, did not violate Ortiz's rights by sending her to solitary confinement.

Bright and Jordan tried to get the case against them dismissed before the trial. A judge refused to do so and they did not appeal then. The legal issue in the case is whether they could wait until after the trial to appeal the judge's ruling.

April 26, 2010 at 10:15 AM | Permalink


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