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The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 1 agreed to decide whether police have a duty to enforce a domestic violence restraining order. Castle Rock, Colo. v. Gonzales, No. 04-278. In violation of a TRO, the estranged husband of Jessica Gonzales abducted the couple’s three daughters. Gonzales was unable to get the police to enforce the order. The husband was later killed in a gun battle at a police station, and the girls were found murdered in his truck. Gonzales filed a civil rights suit against the city, which the district court dismissed. But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Gonzales had stated a claim for a procedural due process deprivation. Some circuits have ruled that no such claim can exist if state law would not allow it. The justices on Nov. 2 considered arguments on the issue of whether a lawyer was wrong to concede a death row inmate’s guilt without his consent. The high court appeared ready to set aside a Florida Supreme Court decision to grant a new trial for Joe Elton Nixon, convicted in the 1984 murder of a woman. Florida v. Nixon, No. 03-931. At issue was the court-appointed attorney’s decision to admit at trial that Nixon was responsible for the victim’s death in the hope that his candor would persuade the jury not to impose the death penalty. Florida prosecutors say Nixon tied Jeanne Bickner, a 38-year-old state worker, to trees with jumper cables and set her on fire. Nixon’s attorney, Edward H. Tillinghast of New York’s Coudert Brothers, contended that Nixon was unfairly sentenced to death because his trial lawyer didn’t try to prove his innocence. Tillinghast was met with a barrage of skeptical questioning by justices wondering why they should second-guess Nixon’s attorney. The case hinges on a pair of 1984 Supreme Court decisions that limit inmates’ ability to claim a Sixth Amendment violation if their attorneys made a strategic choice not to pursue certain defenses at trial. The justices also heard arguments about California’s policy of temporarily segregating prison inmates by race. Johnson v. California, No. 03-636. The justices appeared skeptical of the state’s argument that the policy was needed to cope with gang-related violence in California’s prisons, with several noting that its policy is unique among the nation’s prison systems. The prison segregation case was first brought in 1995 by Garrison Johnson, a convicted murderer who was assigned to a “black cell” when he first entered the prison system in 1987. Johnson claimed that the policy violated his equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment. His complaint was dismissed, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the policy last year, invoking the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Turner v. Safley, giving deference to prison officials in assessing inmates’ constitutional claims. Johnson won support from the Bush administration, while on the other side, Democratic Attorney General Bill Lockyer defended the policy. �ALM, AP

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