Legal Research Blog


California Supreme Court Authorizes DNA Warrants

In a groundbreaking 5-2 ruling, the California Supreme Court ruled this week that an arrest warrant can be issued for an unknown suspect on the basis of DNA evidence. The ruling, written by Justice Ming. W. Chin, enables law enforcement to beat filing deadlines in criminal cases with the suspect’s DNA profile as their unique qualifier.

The court held that DNA profiles describe the suspect sufficiently for identification. “A warrant or complaint is an accusation against a person, and not against a name, and [w]hen the name is unknown, the person may be identified with the best description available. … A genetic code describes a person with far greater precision than a physical description or a name.”

Dissenting Judge Carols Moreno, questioned the authenticity of “John Doe” warrants, stating that document was “a clever artifice intended solely to satisfy the statute of limitations until the identity of the perpetrator could be discovered.”

The court’s ruling upheld the conviction of Paul Robinson on sexual charges. Evidence linking Robinson to the crime was discovered when his DNA was mistakenly collected and entered into the state’s DNA database, which matched his profile with that of the suspect profile in the “John Doe” warrant.

Conan to part with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog? Say it ain’t so!

Does it bring you to tears to imagine Conan O’Brien’s comedy skits without characters like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and the Pimbot 5000? Does the pain strike you like a 1,000 bricks when flirting with the thought that you could never see Conan perform sketches about the Year 3000? Unfortunately for Conan, many of his memorable characters and sketches are now legal property of NBC.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by BobbyProm

[More after the jump]

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Conan v. NBC, Google v. China, and Citizens United v. FEC

Happy Friday Dear Readers:

Although this was a short week for most, there was certainly no dearth in legal news. Some of the highlights in legal news this week include:

Conan O’Brien and NBC finally resolved their public dispute over the broadcasting giant’s plans to push “The Tonight Show” time slot back to 12:05 a.m. so that Jay Leno’s late night show could air at 11:35 pm. The resolution came in the form of a deal that, as the Wall Street Journal reported, includes a $32.5 million payout for O’Brien, approximately $12 million for his staff, and a release allowing O’Brien to pursue other opportunities starting September 1, 2010.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by chrisdlugosz

Tensions between Google and China continued to rise as Google threatened to stop censoring search results and pull its operations out of China following an attack on its servers there. So far, the Chinese government is not backing down from its censorship requirements and has rebuffed international criticism of its policies. For a helpful timeline of Google/China relations check out this PC World .

But the biggest story of all is surely the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205 handed down on Thursday. In this decision, the Supreme Court struck down existing limits on corporate and union spending in elections declaring these limits a violation of the corporate entities’ First Amendment rights.

The reason this decision has garnered so much attention is that it represents a serious departure from the Court’s past precedents. Specifically, the Supreme Court overruled two prior decisions: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates, and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, which upheld the part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (“McCain-Feingold”) that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions.

Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court was bitterly divided on the issue and the 5:4 vote ultimately tracked the ideological split between the 9 justices.

For media coverage of the decision, check out The New York Times, The WSJ Law Blog, ScotusBlog, and Slate.

The full text of the opinion is available here:

Murder, Twins, and the Law

Are you one of those people who actually enjoyed the logic puzzles on the LSAT? If you are, then chances are that you are going to get a kick out of a particularly bizarre legal riddle that was recently crowned Slate’s “Explainer 2009 Question of the Year.”

Here it is: How would the law punish Siamese twins if one of the twins committed murder without the other being involved?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by brain_blogger

Not surprisingly, the caselaw on this fact pattern is relatively thin. Explainer unearthed only one case in which Siamese twins were ever prosecuted. In that case, one twin was arrested for “graz[ing] a caraboa cart” with his car. Both men were set free when the other twin “appealed the case on the grounds that as an innocent man, he could not be legally incarcerated.”

Go to for Explainer’s thoughtful and witty analysis of the subject.

There’s an App for That…much money?

The most expensive iPhone app in the App Store helps law students prepare for the California bar exam.

Though BarMax is marketing its new iPhone application as the inexpensive alternative to typical California bar prep packages, the buzz surrounding the App is focused on its $1,000 price tag, the highest in the App Store. Yes, the App costs several times the price of the phone itself. Yes, this might sound crazy at first; however, it is likely that many students will find BarMax CA to be a sound alternative compared to other bar preparation courses.

With outlines, lectures, 1500 questions, 1000 flashcards, and 18 real CA practice tests (taking up over a gig of space!) the App provides a lot of content. The real variable, of course, is functionality. Time—and reviews—will tell whether or not the App is overpriced.

BarMax CA can be found here in the Education category of the iTunes store, but we’re hoping the growing number of attorneys using iPhones and law-related Apps will encourage Apple to finally create a legal category of its own.

At a quarter of the price of competitors’ packages (which typically include live classroom instruction), BarMax is marketing the innovative app as a way to “enable bar prep at a much better price.” While $1000 is still a lot to pay for an iPhone App, we’re all for lowering the “bar” to access in the legal industry with tech-savvy alternatives.

Cheers to BarMax…and stay tuned.