Have you ever been annoyed by those people coming up to you at the airport and trying to hand you religious material? The folks over at Los Angeles International Airport are right there with you, man. Hell, in 1983, the Board of Airport Commissioners at LAX even tried to pass a law banning the pamphlet people from hanging around anywhere near their airport.
They ran into one teensy problem, though. Let's see ... what was it? Oh, yeah! The First Amendment to the United States Constitution. That's the one that protects people's rights to say what they want, worship any way they want and express themselves however they want. It pretty much guarantees that religious groups don't get the crap harassed out of them when they peacefully try to save the souls of everyone waiting for the 5:15 to Houston.
"Yes, I've fucking heard the good word of Jesus! Fuck!"
But those ingenious bastards at LAX thought they had found a way around that pesky Constitution. In the resolution they passed, they expressly banned all First Amendment activities. Problem. Freaking. Solved.
And they didn't write it in vague legalese that they could somehow claim was misinterpreted. They expressly wrote that all First Amendment activities were forbidden in the terminal and could result in litigation. That cross around your neck that signals you're a Christian? Banned! Your Che Guevara T-shirt? Banned! Your "Free Mustache Rides" hat? You'd better believe that's banned!
Jews for Jesus was the first religious group to get kicked out under the new rule, and they filed a lawsuit. When the case got before the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor must have paused and wondered whether someone was punking her when she had to write the complaint brought before the court:
"The issue presented in this case is whether a resolution banning all 'First Amendment activities' at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) violates the First Amendment."
O'Connor, attempting to quiet the voices in her head that tell her to stab.
In the least-surprising turn of events in the history of the court, the justices unanimously found that yes, this resolution violates the First Amendment. It also likely went down as the first decision to ever have the word "Duurrrrr" scrawled in the margins.
When Curtis Lee Kyles was arrested in the murder of Dolores Dye, the prosecution had what must have seemed like a slam-dunk case. At Kyles' house, police found the murder weapon and the murdered woman's purse, and later, no fewer than four eyewitnesses would pick Kyles from a lineup.
Kyles was convicted, but his lawyers filed an appeal based on two things: 1) that the prosecution withheld some documents from the defense, and 2) that the four eyewitnesses all clearly saw his face but hadn't all agreed on his exact height and build. Why? One of them had seen Kyles only after he got into his getaway car.
We're guessing 7-foot-2, 420 pounds.
The key that allowed this clusterfuck to reach the Supreme Court was the document-sharing issue (and even if this was an honest mistake, as prosecutors have always claimed, this was still a Class A screwup on their part). But that didn't make the thing about the witnesses anything other than bullshit, as Justice Antonin Scalia couldn't resist pointing out in his written opinion:
"The desperate implausibility of the theory that petitioner put before the jury must be kept firmly in mind. ... To assert that unhesitant and categorical identification by four witnesses who viewed the killer, close-up and with the sun high in the sky, would not eliminate reasonable doubt if it were based only on facial characteristics, and not on height and build, is quite simply absurd. Facial features are the primary means by which human beings recognize one another. That is why ... bank robbers wear stockings over their faces instead of floor-length capes over their shoulders; it is why the Lone Ranger wears a mask instead of a poncho; and it is why a criminal defense lawyer who seeks to destroy an identifying witness by asking 'You admit that you saw only the killer's face?' will be laughed out of the courtroom."
Oh, yes. He. Did.
But he wasn't laughed out of the courtroom. Kyles was in fact granted a new trial, not based on the witness thing but that other issue about the prosecution failing to share information.
Kyles was actually tried three more times, with each trial ending in a hung jury, until the prosecutor called it quits and released him. But the guy shouldn't beat himself up too much. The justice system is getting another chance at Kyles, given that he was arrested in 2010. On suspicion of murder. Again. Doh.
Eddie would like to thank his sister, Marissa, and her law professor, Steve Vladeck, for their help in researching this article.
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For more courtroom shenanigans, check out 7 Ridiculous Cases Where Animals Were Put On Trial. Or find out about some fictional judges who didn't do their homework in The 5 Most Wildly Illegal Court Rulings in Movie History.
And stop by Linkstorm to see what happened when the Supreme Court tried to tell Andrew Jackson to stop shooting people.
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