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, June 23, 2005

Gonzalez: Rule 60(b) applies to habeas

In Gonzalez v. Crosby, 2005 WL 1469516 (June 23, 2005), the Supreme Court (7-2) held that a habeas petitioner can bring a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) which challenges not the substance of a federal court’s prior resolution of a habeas petition on the merits, but "some defect in the integrity of the federal habeas proceedings." The Court rejected the Eleventh Circuit’s blanket rule that all Rule 60(b) motions were prohibited because of their inconsistency with the policies of AEDPA.
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

Stumpf: Triggerman identity

In Bradshaw v. Stumpf, No. 04-637 (June 13, 2005), the Supreme Court held that a defendant entered into a knowing guilty plea, despite the trial court’s failure to explain the specific intent to cause death element of the aggravated murder charge, when the elements of the crime were explained to the defendant by his competent defense counsel, and where the defendant so confirmed on the record.
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

Rompilla: Ineffective capital counsel

In Rompilla v. Beard, No. 04-5462 (June 20, 2005), the Supreme Court held that capital counsel’s assistance in the penalty phase was constitutionally ineffective when he failed to examine the material he knew the prosecutor would rely on as evidence of aggravation. Counsel failed to examine the court file on Rompilla’s prior felony convictions – a file which was readily available. This was objectively unreasonable, and counsel’s consultation with the defendant’s and his family was not a sufficient substitute. The Court held that the lawyer’s lapse prejudiced the defendant, because the court record would have unearthed mitigation leads – such as the defendant’s mental disorders and organic brain damage and childhood problems probably related to fetal alcohol syndrome.

Miller-El vindicates Batson challenge

In Miller-El v. Dretke, No. 03-9659 (June 13, 2005), the Supreme Court held that a Texas inmate was entitled to prevail on a Batson claim, and therefore was entitled to habeas relief.
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."

Dodd: One year limitations period construed

In Dodd v. U.S., No. 04-5286 (June 20, 2005), the Supreme Court held that the one-year statute of limitations for post-conviction motions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 for periods which run from the date on which a right was "newly recognized by the Supreme Court," begins to run on the date the Supreme Court initially recognized the right, not from the date on which the right was "made retroactive."
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

Deck: Visible Shackles are Inherently Prejudicial

In Deck v. Missouri, No. 04-5293 (May 23, 2005), the Supreme Court held that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit using physical restraints on a defendant during the sentencing phase of a capital trial, unless that use is justified by an essential state interest, such as courtroom security specific to the defendant. The Court noted that the accuracy of a life or death decision is important to a defendant, and that the view of shackles inevitably undermines the jury’s ability to weigh accurately all relevant considerations. The Court faulted the trial judge for failing to weigh all the circumstances. The shackles are presumptively prejudicial. Thus, where a court without adequate justification orders the defendant to wear shackles, visible to the jury, the defendant need not demonstrate "actual prejudice." Rather, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shackling did not contribute to the verdict.