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News Briefs II

Man Will Face Assisted Suicide Charges Despite Court Rulings

Los Angeles Times

Concluding that recent court decisions allowing assisted suicide apply only to physicians, a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge refused Monday to dismiss felony charges against a man who helped his AIDS-ravaged lover commit suicide last year.

In the first such test of California law since the issuance of opinions by two federal appeals courts, Judge Linda Lefkowitz rejected arguments that the rulings had rendered the state's ban on assisted suicide unconstitutional.

Referring at length to the federal rulings, Lefkowitz hewed to a narrow interpretation, ultimately agreeing with the prosecution that the opinions did not open the door to all forms of assisted suicide involving the terminally ill.

"I read the opinion to stand for no more" than the right of physicians to help terminally ill patients end their lives, Lefkowitz said of last month's U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

That means Keith W. Green continues to face prosecution for helping Los Angeles designer James Northcutt kill himself in his garage last December.

Northcutt, 54, was in the advanced stages of AIDS and had previously attempted suicide when Green helped him run a hose from his car's exhaust pipe to the rear window.

Judge Rejects Request for 25-Year Sentence for Smuggler

Los Angeles Times

In a defeat for prosecutors seeking to increase prison sentences for smugglers of illegal immigrants, a San Diego judge Monday rejected the U.S. attorney's request for a 25-year sentence for a smuggler involved in a high-speed crash that killed three people and injured 16.

Federal District Court Judge Marilyn Huff gave Gilberto Baez-Luna, who had pleaded guilty, a sentence of two years and nine months, to run concurrently with a sentence of eight years handed down by a state court after Baez-Luna pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter.

Huff declined to sentence Baez-Luna, 27, an ex-convict, under a 1994 law that calls for sentences up to life in prison for smugglers involved in cases where people are put in danger, injured or killed.

Since the sentences will run concurrently, the term handed down by Huff will not increase the time Baez-Luna spends behind bars. With time off for good behavior, he could be free in four to five years.

Alberto A. Arevalo, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the smuggling case, said Huff's decision will not keep prosecutors from invoking the 1994 against other smugglers. Arevalo and his boss, U.S. Attorney Alan Bersin, had hoped a tough sentence by Huff would act as a deterrent to smugglers who routinely risk the lives of illegal immigrants.

Huff said she was bound by the "quite low" sentencing guidelines for immigrant smuggling set forth by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, created in 1984 by Congress to insure that judges throughout the country give similar sentences for similar offenses.