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The U.S. Supreme Court on March 22 rendered the following decisions: The justices ruled, 5-3, that a jury that sentenced a convicted killer to death had taken proper account of his religious conversion, even though a prosecutor had argued incorrectly that it was irrelevant. Brown v. Payton, No. 03-1039. The justices said that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had erred when it held en banc that William Charles Payton was denied his constitutional right to have all relevant mitigating evidence considered. Payton was sentenced to die in 1982 for rape and murder. At issue was a comment by Deputy District Attorney Michael Jacobs suggesting that jurors were not required to consider Payton’s conduct after the murder, including his religious experience and good works in jail, as a mitigating factor in the penalty phase. “Testimony about a religious conversion spanning one year and nine months may well have been considered altogether insignificant in light of the brutality of the crimes, the prior offenses, and a proclivity for committing violent acts against women,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. “In context, it was not unreasonable for the state court to conclude that the jury believed Payton’s evidence was neither credible nor sufficient to outweigh the aggravating factors, not that it was not evidence at all.” His opinion was joined by justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer. Justice David H. Souter’s dissenting opinion was joined by justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The justices ruled unanimously that police did not violate a woman’s constitutional rights by handcuffing her and inquiring about her immigration status while searching her family’s home. Muehler v. Mena, No. 03-1423. The high court unanimously reversed a lower court ruling ordering two Simi Valley, Calif., officers to pay $60,000 to Iris Mena for their actions in a 1998 search. Mena awoke at dawn in her bed to find an officer in a ski mask pointing a submachine gun at her head. SWAT team members led the woman through rain to a cold garage, where she was kept in handcuffs and questioned for up to three hours while the home was searched. A jury had determined that her right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated, but the justices disagreed. Writing for the court, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said, “This was no ordinary search. The governmental interests in not only detaining, but using handcuffs, are at their maximum when, as here, a warrant authorizes a search for weapons and a wanted gang member resides on the premises.” The justices’ unanimous ruling that a small California town did not have to pay millions in attorney fees and damages to a local businessman who built a radio antenna on his property�a ruling limiting local governments’ liability in fights over cellphone towers�is discussed in the article “Municipalities score in cell tower case”. Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams, No. 03-1601.

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