Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ohio Tort Reform Decision

The Ohio Supreme Court today announced its decision in the Arbino case. Readers of this blog will know of my interest in that case, which deals with caps on non-economic and punitive damages in tort cases in Ohio. The court held that the statute was constitutional.

I have not yet analyzed the full opinion, which I plan to do over the weekend, but in reading it today one thing stood out. A majority of the court (five of the seven) appears to hold that the right to a trial by jury is not a fundamental right in Ohio, at least as applied to civil cases.


It strikes me as amazing that five judges could sign off on something as outrageous as that. As pointed out in the dissent, the right to a trial by jury is so enshrined in the law that it is actually mentioned in the Declaration of Independence as being one of the reasons why we broke away from England. We couldn't abide by King George's abrogation of the right to trial by jury in some cases. How can that not be a fundamental right?

Since the court held that a fundamental right was not implicated, the statute was analyzed only under rational basis instead of strict scrutiny. The dissent thought it was unconstitutional under either analysis, but the majority says that the statute is rationally related to a legitimate state interest (that interest was stated as being bringing new businesses to Ohio and keeping businesses that are there) and is, therefore, constitutional.

I will undoubtedly post more, together with a link to the decision, after I take the time to digest it further.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Supreme Court Season

The U.S. Supreme Court has begun to announce decisions on cases argued early in this term. I just read an interesting one - Watson v. United States. In Watson, the court held that a person who receives a firearm in trade for drugs has not "used" that firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime and is not eligible for the mandatory sentence that would entail. What makes this interesting is that the court had already held, in Smith v. United States, 508 U.S. 223, that a person who gives a firearm in trade for drugs has used it in a drug trafficking crime and is eligible for the mandatory sentence.

They reached these opposite conclusions through some very tortured analysis of the English language. It seems that a person who trades the firearm and receives the drugs is using the firearm to get drugs, the same way that other people use money to get groceries. On the other hand, the person who receives the firearm and gives the drugs cannot be said to have used the firearm under any possible normal usage of the word uses.

Does this remind anyone of the whole "it depends on what the meaning of the word is is" debacle?

Personally, I don't think either person should be eligible for the mandatory sentence under the circumstances of a trade. I think the reasonable interpretation of the word uses in these cases should be that the person uses the firearm as a firearm, not as a medium of exchange. It is interesting how far the court will go sometimes to reach a result.