Supreme Court Review-Preview-Overview
An up-to-date outline of Supreme Court criminal cases
is available here. It covers pending cert grants and decisions from the past and current Terms. Other "cites" of interest are available here.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Reversing, the Supreme Court held that Ohio law does recognize a transferred intent theory in murder cases. The Sixth Circuit erred in applying the rule that limits transferred intent liability for arson, not murder.
The Court also found that the habeas petitioner had waived his ineffective assistance of counsel claim, but remanded the case to the Sixth Circuit for a determination whether the State had itself waived its waiver objection.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Granting Dye's petition for writ of certiorari, the per curiam opinion of the Court reversed a decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that had denied habeas corpus relief on two separate procedural grounds: failure to exhaust the claim in state court and failure to allege the claim with specificity in federal court. The justices overruled both procedural bars, holding the claim was both properly exhausted in state court and alleged with particularity in federal court. As to the first purported bar, the Court determined that the Sixth Circuit erroneously based its exhaustion determination on the lack of ruling on the issue by the state court, rather than on the pleading of the petitioner:
As to the other purported bar, the Court found that "[t]he habeas corpus petition made clear and repeated references to an appended supporting brief, which presented Dye’s federal claim with more than sufficient particularity. See Fed Rules Civ. Proc. 81(a)(2), 10(c)."
The Court of Appeals examined the opinion of the state appellate court and noted that it made no mention of a federal claim. That, however, is not dispositive. Failure of a state appellate court to mention a federal claim does not mean the claim was not presented to it. "It is too obvious to merit extended discussion that whether the exhaustion requirement . . . has been satisfied cannot turn upon whether a state appellate court chooses to ignore in its opinion a federal constitutional claim squarely raised in petitioner’s brief in the state court . . . ." Smith v. Digmon, 434 U. S. 332, 333 (1978) (per curiam).
Hardly a harbinger of liberalism, the Dye opinion is nevertheless an interesting and ironic beginning for the Roberts Court.
Monday, July 18, 2005
Thursday, June 23, 2005
The Court noted that AEDPA merely limited "applications" for habeas relief, and held that a "claim" in a Rule 60(b) motion would not necessarily qualify as an "application" for habeas relief. The Court stated that Rule 60(b) "has an unquestionably valid role to play in habeas cases," pointing out that it can enable parties to obtain relief from habeas judgments which were mistakenly entered. The Court further noted that potential friction between AEDPA and Rule 60(b) was limited by the "extraordinary circumstances" required to obtain Rule 60(b) relief.
The Court found that Gonzalez had failed to show "extraordinary circumstances" because his only basis for reopening the judgment was that the statute of limitations ground for denying him habeas relief was incorrect in light of a subsequent Supreme Court interpretation of this limitations provision. The Court explained that changes in law do not always provide a basis for reopening cases long final. The Court further faulted the petitioner for his lack of diligence in seeking appellate review of the adverse limitations ruling. Decision here.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
The Court rejected the argument that Stumpf’s profession of not having been the triggerman was inconsistent with a knowing guilty plea. The Court noted that under Ohio aider and abetter theory, Stumpf could have been guilty of the offense without being the actual triggerman. The Court also rejected the argument that the plea was involuntary because the prosecution later took the inconsistent position that Stumpf was not the triggerman. The Court noted that the precise identity of the triggerman was irrelevant to the conviction.
The Court recognized, however, that the prosecution’s inconsistent position as to whether Stumpf or his accomplice was the triggerman could have affeced his death sentence. The Court pointed out that the Sixth Circuit’s opinion on this subject was ambiguous, because it focused on the validity of the conviction, not of the sentence. The Court therefore remanded the case for further proceedings to address the question of how the prosecutor’s inconsistent position related to the validity of Stumpf’s death sentence.
Monday, June 20, 2005
The prosecutors used peremptory strikes to exclude 91% of the eligible black venire panelists. The Court found the reasons proffered by the prosecution for striking the black venire members to be "unlikely" and "pretextual." The evidence supported a conclusion that race was a significant factor in determining who was struck and who was not.
Moreover, the prosecution’s practice of "shufflng the cards" did not have racially neutral reasons. Instead, Texas was trying to avoid black jurors.
The Court rejected the Fifth Circuit’s contrary conclusion, finding that it "blinked reality."
The Court grounded its interpretation of the limitations provision in the plain language of the statute. The Court recognized "the potential for harsh results" from its interpretation. But the Court held that so long as the result was not "absurd," it was not free to rewrite the statute Congress had written.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
The Court held that the jury instruction failed to convey the "corrupt persuasion" element of the offense. The Court noted the need to give this element a narrow meaning, noting that the mere persuasion of someone to withhold a document from a government proceeding is not inherently malign. The Court noted that the term "knowingly" applied to the phrase "corruptly persuades," and that accordingly only persons conscious of wrongdoing could be said to "knowingly . . corruptly persuade."
The words of the jury instruction failed to convey this meaning. The district court instructed the jury, at the government’s insistence and over the defendant’s objection, that the "knowingly" element of the offense would be satisfied if the evidence showed an intent to "impede" an investigation. But to "impede" encompasses conduct which is not "corrupt." The use of the word "impede" meant that the word "corruptly" word in the statute provided no limit on convicting a person merely because he withheld information from the government.
Further, citing U.S. v. Aguilar, the government noted that the impeded proceeding had to be foreseen. "A ‘knowingly corrupt persuader’ cannot be someone who persuades others to shred documents under a document retention policy when he does not have in contemplation any particular official proceeding in which those documents might be material."
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
The Court noted that under Michigan v. Summers, police has the authority to detain occupants of premises while a proper search is being conducted. The use of force in the form of handcuffs to detain Mena was reasonable here because the governmental interest in minimizing the risk of harm to both officers and occupants, at its maximum when a warrant authorizes a search for weapons and a wanted gang member resides on the premises, outweighs the marginal intrusion.
The Court also found no Fourth Amendment violation in the questioning of Mesa about her immigration status. Mere police questioning does not constitute a "seizure."
The Court remanded the case for consideration of Mesa’s argument that the length of her detention violated the Fourth Amendment.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Thursday, January 13, 2005
The Court found no basis for not applying the Blakely rule to the Guidelines. The Court noted that the limited availability of departures indicated that the Guidelines mandated sentences in most cases. Mandated sentence enhancements based on facts not authorized by a jury's verdict run afoul of Blakely.
Turning from the applicability of Blakely to the issue of what impact Blakely had on the Sentencing Reform Act, the Court found that Congress would not have wanted to engraft a Sixth Amendment constitutional requirement on the Guidelines. Further, Congress would have preferred excission of mandatory language to the invalidation of the entire Act. The Court emphasized that Congress sought to punish "real conduct," and to do so uniformly. Consequently, Congress would not have wanted to limit punishment to conduct found at trial, but, instead, would have wanted sentencing courts to take account of facts discovered after trial. Further, Congress would not have wanted sentencing to depend on a prosecutor's choice of facts alleged in the indictment, but would have wanted sentencing courts to take account of all relevant facts comprising the "real conduct."
The Court therefore invalidated only parts of the Sentencing Reform Act. The Court severed § 3553(b)(1), which had required courts to impose a sentence within the Guideline range. The Court also severed § 3742(e), which provided, inter alia, for de novo review on appeal of guideline departure decisions. Thus, severed, the Act requires judges to take account of the Guidelines together with other sentencing goals reflected in the Sentencing Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1)-(7). Further, in place of the appeal standards provided in § 3742(e), sentences will be reviewed for "unreasonableness."
The Court noted that its decision must be applied to all cases on direct review. The Court pointed out that not every pending appeal will lead to a new sentencing hearing, either because the challenge to the sentence would not satisfy "plain error" review if the issue was not raised below, or because a sentence may survive harmless-error review. [Note: Any pending appeal which challenged a district court's denial of a downward departure would appear to be eligible for Booker-reversal, because the district court likely denied the departure in part based on the (now-mistaken) view that departures were foreclosed because the Sentencing Commission had adequately taken all relevant factors into account. Also eligible for Booker-reversal, it appears, are all cases in which a defendant challenged the mandatory character of a Guideline enhancement, or, more generally, the validity of the Guidelines].