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Across the Region: April 27


SCOTUS: Prolonged Nebraska traffic stop illegal

The Supreme Court said Tuesday that police may not extend an ordinary traffic stop to seek evidence of crimes unrelated to the offense that prompted officers to pull a vehicle over.

The justices voted 6-3 in favor of a driver who was found to have methamphetamine in his car. Dennys Rodriguez was issued a warning for driving on the shoulder of a Nebraska highway and then made to wait less than 10 minutes for officers to walk a drug-sniffing dog around the car. The dog alerted and a search of the vehicle turned up the drugs.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her majority opinion that prolonging the traffic stop beyond the time needed to deal with the initial offense was improper, even if only for a few minutes.

Police may typically inspect a driver’s license, ask for the registration and proof of insurance and check for outstanding warrants because they all are aimed at ensuring that vehicles are operated safely, Ginsburg said.

“A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety,” she said.

Ginsburg also swatted away arguments that the total duration of the stop was reasonable.

The precise amount of time involved is unimportant, she said. “A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries,” Ginsburg said.

Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Rodriguez won at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, but he may not be free of legal trouble. It is possible that the police had a reasonable basis, independent of the traffic stop, to suspect that Rodriguez was engaged in drug dealing, Ginsburg said. Lower courts now will consider that issue.

Alito called Tuesday’s decision “unnecessary, impractical and arbitrary” because the officer did have reasonable suspicion that the car contained drugs.


Pro se Navajo inmate prevails in headband, venison fight

A Navajo Indian imprisoned in Wisconsin can wear a headband in his cell and celebrate a tribal feast with wild venison, a federal appeals court has ruled.

David Schlemm filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in 2011 demanding he be allowed to wear a colorful headband while he prays and celebrate his tribe’s annual Ghost Feast with tacos containing venison rather than the beef stew prison officials offer.

U.S. District Judge William Conley dismissed Schlemm’s demands last year, ruling that prison regulations barring colorful headbands prevent gang members from identifying themselves. Prohibiting Schlemm from eating wild meat doesn’t impose a substantial burden on his religion and the state has a compelling interest in both holding down food costs and using inspected meat, Conley wrote.

A three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed Conley on Tuesday. Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that Schlemm’s headband isn’t a plausible means of signaling gang membership since he has offered to wear it only in his cell or at group religious ceremonies and it will contain only earth tones that aren’t associated with gangs.

As for the wild venison, Easterbrook said that saving a few dollars and a “bureaucratic desire” to follow the rules aren’t compelling reasons to deny the meat. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act requires prisons to change their rules to accommodate religious practices, he noted.

He rejected the state’s contention that providing wild venison would be unsafe, noting the meat is consumed widely. He also noted the prisons allow external food for Passover and sweat lodges, making it “hard to credit an argument that any culinary accommodation will bring the prison’s administration to its knees.”

Schlemm also demanded weekly sweat lodge ceremonies rather than monthly as well as the right to smoke a personal pipe and wear traditional attire such as a ribbon shirt or bear-claw jewelry. Conley ruled that Schlemm failed to exhaust the prison system’s internal request process on those demands. The 7th Circuit panel agreed.

The state Department of Justice handled the lawsuit for the Department of Corrections. DOJ spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Schlemm was convicted in 1999 of kidnapping, battery and multiple counts of sexual assault. He’s not eligible for parole until 2026; his mandatory release date is 2072. He was being held at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, the state’s most secure prison, when he filed the lawsuit but has since been moved to the Green Bay Correctional Institution.


Former officials of failed Iowa bank settle FDIC lawsuit

Former officials of a failed Sioux City-based bank have settled a lawsuit filed by federal regulators after the bank’s collapse in 2009.

According to the Sioux City Journal, the $6.5 million settlement was paid by Vantus Bank’s former insurer, Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., which also was party to the settlement earlier this month.

On Sept. 4, 2009, federal regulators seized the bank, and its branches reopened the next day as branches of Springfield, Missouri-based Great Southern Bank, which acquired all of Vantus’ deposits and most of its assets.

In May 2013, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. sued Vantus’ former officers and directors for $58.2 million, alleging gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, among other things. In the settlement, the former Vantus officers and directors deny any wrongdoing.


Woman files wrongful death suit against Iowa Veterans Home

The wife of a former Iowa Veterans Home resident has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the facility, alleging its staff didn’t properly care for her husband.

Sharon Greer, who is representing Rose Wilson, said the lawsuit stems from medication issues and how care was handled after Vern Wilson allegedly fell at the veterans home located in Marshalltown.

A representative at the facility declined to comment on the allegations and pending lawsuit, which was filed April 10. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office didn’t return a message from the newspaper prior to publication Tuesday.

The Iowa Veterans Home is the largest in the U.S. and the only such facility in Iowa. It houses and cares for eligible veterans and their spouses.


Idaho man pleads guilty in North Dakota sex-trafficking case

An Idaho man arrested in a federal sex trafficking sting in North Dakota has pleaded guilty in federal court to luring an underage girl to the state for sex work.

The Bismarck Tribune reports that Michael Sackett entered his plea to an amended charge on Monday, a day before he was to stand trial.

Sackett could face up to 10 years in prison. The original charge of attempted sex trafficking of children carried a potential life sentence.

The charge against Sackett resulted from a sting operation in the western North Dakota oil patch in 2013.


Trial set for man accused in armed soda pop robbery

A Lane man accused of stealing soda pop from a Huron convenience store at gunpoint has once again pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Sixty-one-year-old Martin Moeller last September entered the same plea to charges of first-degree robbery and commission of a felony with a firearm in the June 2014 incident. A judge later declared him incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to get mental health treatment.

Moeller earlier this month was deemed competent to stand trial, and KOKK radio reports that he appeared in court again on Tuesday for an arraignment. His trial was set for mid-July.

Moeller is free on bond, but he’s being required to take an anti-psychotic medication.

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