Challenge to the Voting Rights Act Reaches Supreme Court

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The opposing sides in a landmark Supreme Court case concerning a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have filed court briefs that suggest they see America through two different lenses.

At issue is a key provision of the law -- Section 5 -- that requires certain states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to have any changes in voting procedures pre-cleared by either the attorney general or a three-judge Federal District Court in Washington, D.C.

On one side is the Department of Justice, which says that Section 5 is the "most consequential, and amply justified exercises of federal power in the nation's history." A brief filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund says that Section 5 is still necessary because "notwithstanding undeniable progress, striking voting discrimination continues and is concentrated in the covered jurisdictions."

On the other side are lawyers for Shelby County, Ala., a covered jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act, who say that Congress was wrong in 2006 to extend the provision for 25 more years. They argue that "things have changed in the South" and that the mostly Southern states covered by Section 5 should no longer be subject to a law that exacts a "heavy, unprecedented federalism cost" absent a widespread and persisting pattern of constitutional violations.

Both sides meet Wednesday, when the Supreme Court takes up the issue.

Last December, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made a speech in which he vigorously defended Section 5, calling it an "indispensable tool for eradicating racial discrimination." He noted that Congress reauthorized it in 2006, and that it has been upheld eight times from 1965 to 2012.

But Holder said that over the past two years there had been at least 10 lawsuits -- more than in the first four decades of the statute's existence -- arguing that it is no longer constitutional.

He said, "The reality is that, even today, too many citizens have reason to fear that their right to vote, their access to the ballot and their ability to have their votes counted is under threat."

The jurisdictions covered under the law include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as portions of California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.

All sides agree on the importance of the Voting Rights Act that was passed after "Bloody Sunday" in 1965, when protesters urging voting rights protection were beaten while trying to march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. The question before the court is whether Congress assembled an appropriate record in reauthorizing Section 5 for 25 more years.

The case will be decided by July.

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Jodi Says Ex Made Her Feel 'Like a Prostitute' 

ABC News(PHOENIX) -- Though accused murderer Jodi Arias said she sometimes felt "like a prostitute" at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, she admitted on Tuesday that she often enjoyed their sex life and even suggested sex acts they could try.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez, after a day of aggressive questioning and bickering with Arias, asked her about her own suggestions for her sex life with Alexander, including a phone conversation in which she suggested using sexual lubricant.

Arias, 32, is accused of killing Alexander, but claims it was in self-defense.

"You introduced KY Jelly into the relationship to make it more sexually enjoyable, right?  When we're talking about the level of experimentation, it looks like both of you were experimenting together sexually.  So when we hear things like, 'I felt like a prostitute,' that's not exactly true, is it?" Martinez said.

"It was often mutual," Arias said.  "I didn't feel like a prostitute during, just after."

Martinez showed the jury a text message Arias sent offering to perform oral sex on Alexander, comparing it to a statement she made on direct testimony saying that she once felt like a prostitute when Alexander tossed a piece of chocolate at her and walked away without a word after she performed oral sex.

"How is it you can say you 'felt like a prostitute' when you're moving the relationship ahead like this?" Martinez asked.  "The act itself is the same thing, and here you're requesting it.  The geography is different, but that aside, isn't it the same act?  And you're requesting it?"

"When he (ejaculated) and left afterward I felt like a prostitute.  When we mutually went through things together I didn't," she said.

Arias also admitted that she sent Alexander a topless photo of herself after he sent her photos of his penis, and that she only did it after she had her breasts enhanced surgically.

The testimony came as Martinez continued his efforts to discredit Arias' testimony on the stand, including her statements that she often succumbed to Alexander's sexual fantasies so she wouldn't hurt his feelings.  Martinez has focused on portraying Arias as a liar for much of his direct examination.

Arias is charged with murder for killing Alexander at his home in Mesa, Ariz., in June 2008.  She claims she killed him in self defense and that he had been increasingly violent and sexually demanding in the months before the confrontation.  She also claimed he was interested in young boys.

The prosecution claims she killed him in a jealous rage.  She could face the death penalty if convicted of first degree murder.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Two Missing Children, Grandmother Found Dead in Conn.

Joseph Devenney/Getty Images(STONINGTON, Conn.) -- Two missing children and their grandmother were found dead Tuesday night in a vehicle police were searching for during an Amber Alert in Connecticut.

The Amber Alert was issued for Alton Perry, 2, and Ashton Perry, his 6-month-old brother, of North Stonington, Conn.

The boys' mother told authorities the children had been picked up from day care in Danielson, Conn., Tuesday afternoon by their grandmother, 47-year-old Debra Denison, according to a news release from state police.

Police located the vehicle they were looking for -- a white 2001 Chrysler Town & Country minivan, according to the Amber Alert -- at 9:30 p.m. near Lake of Isle near Preston, Conn., State Police Lt. Paul Vance told ABC News.

Afterwards, authorities cancelled the Amber Alert.

State Police told ABC News affiliate WTNH that Denison was bipolar.

Vance would provide no further detail on causes of death, citing the ongoing investigation. However, all three were pronounced dead at the scene.

A civilian spotted the vehicle and reported that it looked suspicious, Vance said.

Police plan to conduct autopsies Wednesday.

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Deadly Balloon Accidents Relatively Rare

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The tragic hot air balloon crash in Luxor, Egypt on Tuesday that killed 19 people was one of the deadliest accidents of its kind, with reports that some tourists leaped 1,000 feet rather than remain in the burning basket.

However, as USA Today reports, more than 90 percent of hot air balloon accidents in the U.S. since 1964 have not resulted in fatalities.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, 67 accidents of the 760 reported over the past 50 years have been fatal.

The most recent one was a year ago when a pilot crashed into the woods in Georgia because of bad weather.  But before that happened, the pilot had all seven passengers who were in the balloon for a parachute outing jump to safety.

Air safety expert Carl Holden of Australia said 11 people were killed in a hot air balloon accident last year in New Zealand.

Nonetheless, Holden remarked, "People have been flying hot air balloons safely, since 1783 to be exact, long before the Wright Brother's first successful powered flight in 1903."

Former Federal Aviation Administration inspector Dominic Chemello also contends, "From an accident safety standpoint balloons are about 10 times safer than airline travel."

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California Student Catches Alleged Thief: Her Teacher

ABC News(LINDEN, Calif.) -- A California high school student was shocked at what she found when she decided to play detective and stop a string of thefts from backpacks during gym class.

Justine Betti said she decided to hide in a locker to see if she could catch the thief in action. She didn’t expect the alleged culprit to be her gym teacher.

After all of the students left the locker room, the teacher stayed behind, rummaged through backpacks and took money, Betti said.

“Something needed to be done. That’s not okay,” she told ABC News’ Sacramento affiliate, KXTV. Betti is a sophomore at Linden High School in Linden, Calif., about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento.

Betti decided to hide in the locker again — this time, with a cellphone camera to record what she saw. She set up a second camera in another locker to get two angles.

Once again, she said she saw the teacher go through the bags.  Her video shows someone digging through the bags, and one video appears to show the person taking something out of a pink duffel bag.

“I didn’t want to believe that she would do something like that because she was so nice, but then she did it,” Betti said. “It was really scary. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe I just got this on video.’”

Betti said she kept watching it “over and over” and eventually took the video to her principal with some friends.

“He said that he’ll investigate it and he told us to delete the video, but I had already sent it to my dad,” she said.

The teacher is on administrative leave, according to KXTV. The Linden School District told ABC News that it is investigating the matter, but the superintendent did not immediately respond to requests for further information.

The teacher has not been identified, but is a 30-year teaching veteran described as a “great teacher” by many students.

Betti said she struggled with recording and sharing the video, but said classmates have supported her.

“They’ve been supportive and said that we did the right thing,” she said. “We feel like we did the right thing, but it’s still kind of hard.”


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Las Vegas Strip Shooting Suspect Has 'Live Fast, Die Young' Tattoos

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department(LAS VEGAS) -- The fugitive shooting suspect in the Las Vegas strip attack that killed rapper Kenny Clutch in his Maserati and two people in a taxi has the words "Live fast, die young" ominously tattooed on his shoulders.

The tattoo is visible in a new photo released by police of suspect Ammar Harris. "Live fast" is printed on one shoulder and "die young" is on the other. He also has a heart-shaped tattoo below his right eye and an owl tattoo on his neck.

Harris, 26, has been named the primary suspect in the Feb. 21 shooting that killed three people. An arrest warrant for Harris has been issued.

Police are calling him "absolutely armed and dangerous."

"The focus is to find him and we will find him," Las Vegas Metropolitan Officer Jose Hernandez told ABC News Tuesday. "We're leaving nothing unturned."

A nationwide search is on for Harris, with police reaching out to law enforcement agencies across the country.

"We don't have any indication that he's left so we're just conducting this investigation and continuing to provide information to outside agencies," Hernandez said.

Harris' lengthy criminal history includes charges of pandering with the use of force, robbery, sexual assault and kidnapping, according to ABC News' Las Vegas affiliate, KTNV. Authorities are "making tremendous progress," Hernandez said, but most of the details of the investigation remain under wraps since the situation is ongoing.

The verbal altercation between Harris and Clutch, 27, whose legal name was Kenneth Cherry Jr., originated in the valet area of a Las Vegas hotel, police said.

Police said Harris fired several rounds into the Maserati that was being driven by Cherry as both vehicles continued northbound on glitzy Las Vegas Boulevard.

The rapper's expensive sports car careened out of control after he was shot, slamming into several cars, including a taxi. The impact caused the cab to burst into flames, killing the driver, Michael Boldon, and a female passenger identified as Sandra Sutton-Wasmund of Maple Valley, Wash. Witnesses said it looked like the car exploded.

A passenger in the Maserati was hit and sustained only a minor injury to his arm. Clutch died at University Medical Center.

The SUV allegedly driven by Harris was found Saturday in the garage of a gated apartment complex where police believe Harris was living.

"We are confident that Ammar Harris was and is the only shooter on that night," Las Vegas Lt. Ray Steiber said at a news conference. "Right now, we're utilizing any resource we can, and [those resources] can be from California all the way to Maine if we have to."

Authorities emphasized that they will not rest until Harris is found and anyone who may be helping him hide would also be guilty of crimes.

"To anyone who is aware of his location, or is assisting Ammar Harris in any way, you will be arrested and prosecuted," Las Vegas Metropolitan Captain Chris Jones said at the news conference. "You may think you're being a friend, but keep in mind Ammar Harris is wanted for the murder of three citizens."

Harris is described as 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Las Vegas Metro Police Department's homicide division at (702) 828-3521.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Appears Divided on Major DNA Case

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- It’s not very often a Supreme Court justice says something like this at arguments: “I think this is perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades.”

But that was Justice Samuel Alito Tuesday, talking about Maryland v. King, a case concerning a Maryland law that allows officials -- without a warrant -- to take the DNA of someone who has been arrested but not convicted of a serious crime. The federal government and 28 other states have similar laws.

Alonzo Jay King Jr. is challenging the law. In 2009 he was arrested for assault. But when -- pursuant to the Maryland DNA Collection Act -- officials took his DNA, they were able to eventually produce a match with a previously unsolved rape case from 2003. King argued that the DNA draw violated his constitutional rights, but he lost and was sentenced to life in prison for the 2003 case. In April, an appeals court ruled in favor of King. The court said that King’s rights to be free from unreasonable warrantless searches had been violated.

On Tuesday, lawyers for the State of Maryland and the Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to rule in favor of so-called Arrestee DNA laws.

During extremely animated arguments the justices seemed divided on some key issues.

Alito teed up a central question: "So this is what is at stake: Lots of murders, lots of rapes that can be solved using this new technology that involves a very minimal intrusion on personal privacy. But why isn’t this the fingerprinting of the 21st century?”

Kannon K. Shanmugam, King’s lawyer, argued emphatically that the taking of DNA is distinguishable from the taking of fingerprints because DNA contains far more information, the search is physically intrusive, and law enforcement’s primary purpose to take the DNA is not for identification purposes.

On the question of the law’s purpose, Shanmugam stressed the fact that the government was using the DNA to solve cold cases. He said the intrusive swab of his client’s cheek constituted a search.

“Maryland searched my client without a warrant in order to investigate crimes for which there is no suspicion,” Shanmugam argued. “It is settled law that warrantless, suspicionless searches are presumptively unconstitutional.”

Justice Elena Kagan posed critical questions regarding the law. She asked Katherine Winfree, the chief deputy attorney general of Maryland, that if the purpose of the law is not so much for identification, but to solve cold cases, “then it’s just like searching your house, to see what’s in your house that could help solve cold cases.” A search of the home – unless there is an emergency – requires a warrant.

“Just because you’ve been arrested, doesn’t mean that you lose the privacy expectations and things you have that aren’t related to the offense that you’ve been arrested for, ” Kagan said.

Winfree responded that there was a “very real distinction” between the police "generally rummaging in your home” and “swabbing the inside of an arrestee’s cheek to determine his DNA profile.” She said that the DNA numbers revealed “tell us nothing about that individual.”

The United States government favors the law, and argues that arrestees lose some of their privacy by virtue of the fact they’ve been arrested: “Arrestees are in a unique category, they are on the gateway into the criminal justice system. They are no longer like free citizens who are wandering around on the streets retaining full impact Fourth Amendment rights.” Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben noted that when someone is taken into jail he is subject to a visual strip search. If he’s admitted into the prison population, he is subject to a TB test and a thorough medical screening.

Dreeben also said that the government’s analysis of the DNA is restricted and that it is not like going into a house and exposing “a substantial number of highly private things." He said it is much more like taking a fingerprint.

The fingerprint comparison brought up another concern of the justices. A fingerprint analysis is almost immediate while DNA can take days or sometimes weeks to analyze depending upon the available technology and backlog. How can something that can take days to acquire have a primary purpose for identification?

Dreeban said that soon this distinction won’t matter: “The future is very close to where there will be 'rapid DNA analyzers' that are devices that can analyze and produce the identification material in the DNA within 90 minutes.”

Winfree followed up on the point. She said that “rapid DNA” is developing so quickly that the FBI estimates that within about two years it will be more of a reality.

“This is the fingerprinting of the 21st century, but it’s better,” she said, echoing Justice Alito.

But Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia noted that if, at the end of the day, the case revolves around the primary purpose of the law, and if that is for identification purposes, then today, DNA is not readily available for that purpose.

"How can I base a decision today on what you tell me is going to happen in two years? You say in two years we will have this 'rapid DNA' available, but we don’t now. Don’t I have to base a decision on what we have today?”

And Scalia said: “If we believe that the purpose of it has much to do with whether it’s legitimate or not, you can’t demonstrate that the purpose is immediate identification of the people coming into custody.”

“The purpose now,” he continued, is “to catch the bad guys, which is a good thing. But you know, the Fourth Amendment sometimes stands in the way.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Illegal Immigrants Released from Prison Ahead of Sequester

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The White House has announced that thousands of detainees who are currently facing deportation will be released from jails across the country in an effort to save money.

The announcement comes just as the nation's economy lurks closer to sweeping spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Friday.

ICE was ordered to review the number of detained illegal immigrants to make sure they fall within budget guidelines.

“Over the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement. “All of these individuals remain in removal proceedings. Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.”

Illegal immigrants were released in several border states, including California. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday, “We're doing our very best to minimize the impacts of sequester but there's only so much that I can do."

Napolitano added, “You know, I'm supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration. How do I pay for those?”

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Search for Missing Sailboat Suspended, Hoax Possible

ABC News(SAN FRANCISCO) -- The U.S. Coast Guard suspended a search for a sailboat off the California coast Tuesday and conceded there is a chance the distress call that triggered a massive hunt was a hoax.

The Coast Guard received a distress signal about 5:30 p.m. Sunday reporting a sailboat was sinking and a family of four was abandoning ship.

An intense search by air and sea, deploying resources from the Coast Guard and the California National Guard, was called off Tuesday.

"We've saturated the area with multiple assets over a roughly 42 hours period, searched approximately 20,000 square miles and we have come up with no signs of distress, no debris in the water and that has led us to suspend this case,” Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mike Lutz told ABC News.

"There's always that chance [it's a hoax], but as far as we're concerned, anytime we get a call for distress, we treat it as peoples' lives are in danger and we'll treat it like that until we have reason to believe otherwise," Lutz said.

Nobody has been reported missing and no boats are missing from marinas, he said.

The names of those reportedly on board and their destination were unknown, however the missing were said to include a man and a woman, their 4-year-old son, and his cousin, Coast Guard Lt. Heather Lampert said.

Officials were told the boat's electronics system was failing as it took on water, making it impossible for rescuers to determine the precise location where it went down.

Rescuers initially believed the boat was sinking 65 miles from Pillar Point, just south of San Francisco, Lampert said. After reviewing radio tapes and making new calculations, Lampert said the search effort was shifted slightly south to 65 miles off the coast of Monterey Bay.  

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Civilians Walk Off with $20M in Army Clothes, Equipment: Report

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Little by little the Army has lost at least $20 million as civilians and contractors keep walking away from their jobs with military-issued clothing and equipment, according to a new government report.

In the Feb. 22 report, the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office said it identified “approximately $20 million in unreturned clothing and equipment” given to the tens of thousands of civilians and contractors working at two stateside U.S. bases from 2006 to 2012. From 2006 to 2007 alone, the IG said that 80 percent of the nearly 1,000 employees deployed that year did not turn in “recoverable” equipment, amounting to a loss of approximately $2.5 million.

The IG made several recommendations for the Army to keep better track of their equipment. The military agreed with many of those reccomendations, the report said.

DOWNLOAD: Recovering Clothing and Equipment from Civilians and Contractors (PDF)

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