Justices uphold extortion conspiracy conviction

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has upheld the conspiracy conviction of a former Baltimore police officer for his role in a repair shop extortion scheme.

The court's 5-3 decision Monday holds that Samuel Ocasio took part in a conspiracy when he received cash payments for steering people with cars damaged in accidents to a body shop.

Ocasio was among 10 Baltimore officers who were convicted for their arrangement with Majestic Auto Repair Shop in Baltimore County to send customers to the shop. Officers would receive $150 to $300 for each referral from the two brothers who owned the business.

The case probed whether Ocasio's agreement with the body shop owners amounted to an extortion conspiracy under the federal Hobbs Act.

Ocasio argued that he couldn't be charged with conspiring with the business owners to receive money from them. Their actions would amount to a conspiracy only if they were trying to extort money or property from a third party, Ocasio said.

But Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court that Ocasio's argument "is contrary to age-old principles of conspiracy law."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying that what took place in this case cannot be called a conspiracy under federal law. Joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Sotomayor wrote that "the everyday understanding of their agreement is that they intend to obtain property from someone outside of their conspiracy."

Justice Clarence Thomas also dissented.

The case is Ocasio v. U.S., 14-361.

Court won't review appeal from POM juices

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is leaving in place a court ruling that found advertising claims of the health benefits of POM Wonderful juices were deceptive.

The justices on Monday rejected an appeal from POM Wonderful LLC that argued that the ruling violated the company's speech rights. POM makes pomegranate-based products.

The Federal Trade Commission and the federal appeals court in Washington faulted POM for asserting that its products curb the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction and are clinically proven to work.

Judge Sri Srinivasan said the First Amendment does not protect "deceptive and misleading advertisements."

The three-judge panel included Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Srinivasan also was considered for the high court seat left open by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Appeal over long hair in Alabama prisons rejected

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from Native American inmates who want to wear their hair long in Alabama prisons.

The justices on Monday let stand an appeals court ruling that said the state's prison system could keep in place its policy requiring male inmates to cut hair short.

Inmates argued that keeping their hair long is part of core Native American religious traditions. But prison officials said long hair was a hygiene risk and could be used to conceal weapons and contraband.

The 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that many other prison systems allow inmates to follow the grooming practices of their religion. But the appeals court ruled that Alabama's system could make its own assessment on the benefits and risks.

Justices reject franchises' appeal over Seattle wage

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is turning away a challenge to Seattle's $15 an hour minimum wage from franchise business owners who say the law discriminates against them.

The justices are not commenting on their order Monday that leaves in place a federal court ruling in favor of Seattle.

Five franchises and the International Franchise Association said the law treats Seattle's 623 franchises like large businesses because they are part of multi-state networks. But in reality, the franchises say, they are small businesses and should have more time to phase in the higher hourly wage minimum.

Small businesses employing fewer than 500 people have seven years to phase in the $15 hourly wage, while large employers must do so over three years.

Published: Wed, May 04, 2016