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.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Clark v. Arizona: Exclusion of Mental Capacity Evidence

In Clark v. Arizona, No. 05-5966 (June 28, 2006), the Supreme Court held that Arizona did not violate Due Process when it narrowed the insanity test to inquire only whether the defendant had the capacity to tell right from wrong.
The Arizona legislature amended its insanity statute to drop the portion of the definition of insanity relating to cognitive capacity, that is the ability of the defendant to know what he was doing, leaving only the moral test of whether he could distinguish right from wrong – thereby amending the prior M’Naghten test. Consequently, at Clark’s murder trial, the trial court excluded defense evidence of Clark’s lack of cognitive capacity, evidence that was meant to negate mens rea but would not have been probative of insanity, as now defined.
The Court rejected the claim that Due Process required the full M’Naghten insanity definition. The Court noted that various definitions of insanity have been sustained over the years. Further, as a practical matter, cognitive incapacity will often imply moral incapacity, so the defendant is not significantly prejudiced.
The Court held that excluding evidence of Clark’s mental condition did not violate his Due Process presumption of innocence, and his Due Process right to present evidence showing his innocence. The Court noted that the "presumption of sanity" relieves the government of including as an element of every criminal charge an allegation that the defendant had the capacity to form the mens rea for the crime. The defendant is entitled to present evidence in order to rebut the "presumption of sanity." However the evidence must be relevant and persuasive enough to satisfy the defendant’s burden to establish the defense. Hence, the State can restrict introduction of mental disease evidence which otherwise could be considered for whatever a factfinder might think it was worth on the mens rea issue. Due Process is satisfied if the State has "good reason" to exclude the evidence, e.g. a wish to give the defendant a second, less stringent, avenue for exploring the mental capacity issue. The Court also noted the potential for juror confusion of mental capacity expert testimony, noting that such testimony relies on "judgment" and "judgment is fraught with multiple perils."

Sanchez-Llamas: Vienna Convention Does Not Require Suppression

In Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, No. 04-10566 (June 28, 2006), the Supreme Court held that a violation of Vienna Convention’s requirement that a foreigner’s consulate be notified of his detention did not result in suppression of statements given to police as a remedy for this violation.
The Court noted that the Convention does not mandate suppression, but leaves implementation to domestic law. The Court noted that its supervisory authority did not extend over State courts. Moreover, suppression for a violation of the Vienna Convention, unlike for a violation of a Fourth or Fifth Amendment right, would be a vastly disproportionate remedy.
The Court also held that violations of the Vienna Convention were subject to State procedural default rules. The Court recognized that the International Court of Justice has interpreted the Convention to preclude the application of procedural default rules. But the Court held that it was not bound to follow the ICJ’s decisions.

Beard: No Access To Newspapers, Photos

In Beard v. Banks, No. 04-1739 (June 28, 2006), the Supreme Court held that the Pennnsylvania Department of Corrections was entitled to summary judgment against inmates in its Long Term Segregation Unit (LTSU) who sued alleging that the policy of denying them any access to newspapers, magazines and photographs violates the First Amendment. The Court noted that prison restrictions are valid if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Here the undisputed evidence was that the denial of access to the contested materials was an incentive for growth of particularly difficult inmates. Given the deference courts must show to prison officials’ professional judgment, this explanation sufficed.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hamdan: Military Commissions Invalid

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, No. 05-184 (June 29, 2006), the Supreme Court held that the military commission convened by the President to try Hamdan lack the power to proceed because it structure and procedure violates both the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Convention.
The Court first rejected the government’s argument that the recently enacted Detainee Treatment Act deprived it of jurisdiction to decide the case, finding this position unsupported by the language of the law. The Court also rejected the argument that the Court should abstain, noting that this case did not involve a court martial against a member of the Armed Forces.
Turning to the validity of the commission, the Court noted that it was not expressly authorized by any congressional Act. The Court further noted that the procedure would exclude the accused and his civilian counsel from ever learning what evidence was presented against him. Further, the rules allow admission of any evidence, as long as the presiding officer concludes that the evidence is "probative." These rules were not in conformity with the UCMJ, and the Court found no justification from deviating from the ordinary court-martial rules. The Court noted in particular the jettisoning of the basic right to counsel.
The rules also violate the Geneva Conventions. The Court rejected the view that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the fight against Al Queda, noting that Article 3 covered this situation. This provisions requires trials before a "regularly constituted court." This requires at least of barest of trial protections recognized by international law.
The Court noted that it did not address the government’s power to detain Hamdan "for the duration" of hostilities.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Gonzalez-Lopez: Right to Counsel of Choice

In U.S. v. Gonzalez-Lopez, No. 05-352 (June 26, 2006), the Supreme Court held that a trial court’s erroneous deprivation of a criminal defendant’s choice of counsel is structural error, and automatically entitles him to reversal of his conviction.
For his criminal trial in federal district court, the trial court had erroneously relied on a Rule of Professional Conduct to prohibit the defendant’s counsel of choice from representing him at trial. The Court held that this violated the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which guarantees that the accused be defended by the counsel he believes to be best. The Court held that the Strickland v. Washington ineffective assistance of counsel analysis was inapposite to the choice of counsel issue, because it addressed the fairness of a trial whereas the selection of counsel is a "root meaning" of the Sixth Amendment.
The Court held that a violation of the right to counsel of one’s choice constituted structural error. The issue was not susceptible to harmless error review, because the error pervaded the trial, and gave rise to unquantifiable inquiries, for example, whether a different lawyer would have pursued a different strategy.

Kansas v. March: Equipoise Ok for Death Penalty

In Kansas v. Marsh, No. 04-1170 (June 26, 2006), the Supreme Court held that the Kansas death penalty scheme, which directs imposition of the death penalty when mitigating factors stand in equipoise with aggravating factors, is constitutional.
The Court explained that its death penalty jurisprudence mere requires States to narrow the class of death-eligible defendants. The Kansas scheme complied with this requirement.

Recuenco: Blakely Error Not Structural

In Washington v. Recuenco, No. 05-83 (June 26, 2006), the Supreme Court held that the harmless error standard of review applied to a Blakely violation for failure to submit to the jury a fact that serves as a basis for a sentencing enhancement. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that this error constitutes "structural error."
The Court first rejected the argument that the case only involved a question of Washington State law. The Court noted that while the ultimate harmless error analysis in this particular case might well be affected or determined by State law, the issue whether harmless or structural error applied to a Blakely error was an issue for the Supreme Court.
Citing Neder v. U.S., 527 U.S. 1 (1999), which held that harmless error, not structural error, applied to review of a district court’s failure to submit an element of the offense to the jury, the Court found that the prosecution’s failure to prove a sentencing factor to the jury is also reviewable for harmless error. "Failure to submit a sentencing factor to thejury, like failure to to submit an element to the jury, is not structural error."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dixon: Duress Burden on Defendant

In U.S. v.Dixon, No. 05-7053 (June 22, 2006), the Supreme Court held that Due Process is not violated when a jury instruction places the burden of persuasion on a defendant to establish by a preponderance of the evidence a defense of duress to a charge of receiving a firearm while under indictment and making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm. The Court further held tha t, considering the duress defense Congress "may have contemplated" when it created these specific offenses, the Court could presume that Congress intended for a defendant to establish the duress defense by a preponderance of the evidence.
The Court noted that a duress defense may excuse conduct that is otherwise punishable, but normally does not controvert any of the elements of the offense itself. Consequently, shifting the burden to the defendant did not run afoul of the due process requirement that the government prove all elements of the offense.
The Court noted that the long-established common law rule was the defendant bore the burden of proof on duress. The Court rejected the argument that this common-law rule had been uniformly reversed in more recent years, pointing out that Congress did not adopt the different rule proposed by the Model Penal Code, and that the Circuits were split on the burden issue. The Court held that the relevant inquiry was what Congress "may have contemplated" when it enacted the statute. The Court found that Congress most likely contemplated the long-established common law rule.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Samson: Suspicionless Search of Parolees is Ok

In Samson v. California, No. 04-9728 (June 19, 2006), the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit a police officer from conducting a suspicionless search of a parolee.
Pursuant to a California statute which requires a parolee to agree to any search, with or without a search warrant, with or without cause, a police officer searched Samson, a parolee, and found methamphetamine. Samson challenged the search as violative of the Fourth Amendment.
The Court noted the diminished expectation of privacy of parolees, who are released from prison on condition they abide by certain rules during the completion of their jail sentence. Moreover, Samson had signed a document agreeing to his search condition, and he was thus ambiguously aware of it. The State, by contrast, has a substantial interest in supervising parolees because of the risk of recidivism. California’s 60 to 70 percent rate of recidivism among parolees indicates the State’s interest in intense supervision.
The Court rejected the argument that California’s law gave unbridled discretion to police to search parolees, noting the State’s prohibition on arbitrary, capricious, or harrasing searches.

Davis: 911 Nontestimonial

In Davis v. Washington, (decided with Hammon v. Indiana) Nos. 05-5224 & 05-5705 (June 19, 2006), the Court held that, for purposes of determining whether a statement is "testimonial" and therefore covered by the Confrontation Clause rights recognized in Crawford, statements are nontestimonial when made in the course of police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency. The statements are testimonial when the circumstances objectively indicate that there is no such ongoing emergency, and that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.
Applying its test to the 911 call at issue in Davis, the Court noted that this call is ordinarily designed primarily to describe current circumstances requiring police assistance. In Davis, the declarant was speaking of events as they were actually occurring. She was facing an ongoing emergency. The statements elicited were necessary to enable the police to resolve a present emergency, rather than to learn what happened in the past. Moreover, the frantic answers on the phone indicate that the primary purpose of the call was to obtain assistance, and the declarant was not acting as a witness or testifying.
By contrast, the statements in Hammon were testimonial. The declarant gave the statements to police at her home, while no emergency was in progress. The officer who was asking questions was trying to determine what had happened, not what was happening. The declarant was physically separated from the defendant when she gave the statements, and her statements narrated how potentially criminal past events began and progressed. The Hammon statements were unlike the statements in Davis, where the declarant was unprotected by police, and apparently in immediate danger, seeking aid.
The Court remanded the Hammon case to the Indiana Supreme Court for a determination whether the forfeiture by wrongdoing doctrine meant that the defendant had forfeited his constitutional right to confrontation.

Hudson: Exclusionary Rule Inapplicable to Knock & Announce Violations

In Hudson v. Michigan, No. 04-1360 (June 15, 2006), the Supreme Court held that a violation of the "knock and announce" rule does not require suppression of all evidence found in the search.
The Court noted that suppression would not serve the interest protected by the constitutional guarantee against unannounced entry. Though the rule protected property and privacy, this interest did not protect against the government seeing or taking evidence described in a warrant. The Court also observed that the social costs of excluding relevant incriminating evidence would outweigh the deterrence benefits. The Court stated that "massive deterrence" was not necessary against unannounced entries. The Court further noted that civil rights suits, and an increased emphasis on internal police discipline, provided adequate deterrence against police misconduct.

Monday, June 12, 2006

House: Habeas Relief on Defaulted Actual Innocence Claim

In House v. Bell, No. 04-8990 (June 12, 2006), the Supreme Court held that a Tennessee death row inmate had made the stringent showing required of a habeas petitioner who seeks to assert a defaulted challenge to his conviction based on "actual innocence." House was able to show that it was more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, had the juror been aware of new evidence, including evidence that (1) semen found on the victim did not belong to House, and this removed the motive for the crime (sexual assault), (2) substantial doubts had been raised about the origin of blood found on the House’s clothing (the blood had originally been linked to the victim), and (3) the victim’s husband purportedly confessed to her murder.
The Court noted that House had not established "freestanding innocence" that would render his conviction and sentence unconstitutional. He had raised sufficient doubts about his innocence, however, to warrant further consideration of his habeas petition.

Hill: 1983 suit can stop lethal injunction

In Hill v. McDonough, No. 05-8794 (June 12, 2006), the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Eleventh Circuit, and held that a death row inmate seeking to enjoin his execution by lethal injunction in Florida could proceed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The Court noted that a proceeding which sought to enjoin a method of execution was not a challenge to a sentence, and therefore need not be characterized as a habeas proceeding, and therefore was not subject to AEDPA’s limitation on "second and successive" petitions.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Zedner: Speedy Trial Violation Can't be Harmless

In Zedner v. U.S., No. 05-5992 (June 5, 2006), the Supreme Court held that a defendant cannot prospectively waive the application of the Speedy Trial Act.
At the district court’s suggestion, the defendant agreed to waive the application of the Speedy Trial Act "for all time." After a number of delays, Zedner, who had been indicted in April 1996, was not tried until 2003.
The Court noted that the Speedy Trial Act generally requires a trial to commence within 70 days of indictment, with a number of reasons justifying extension of this deadline. But none of these exclusions cover a defendant’s waiver of the Act’s application. The Court noted that it might make sense to permit such waivers if the defendant’s right to a speedy trial were the only consideration in the Act. However, the Act also had in mind the public interest in prompt trials.
The Court recognized that the Act permitted a retrospective waiver of delays, but held that this did not cover prospective waivers. The public interest in avoid delays is not served by prospective waivers. Moreover, the prosecution cannot know whether a defendant will agree to a retrospective waiver, so retrospective waivers keep the pressure on the prosecution to prosecute the case promptly in a way that retrospective waivers do not.
The Court held that estoppel did not bar the defendant from seeking dismissal of the indictment on Speedy Trial grounds notwithstanding his inconsistent waiver. First, estoppel cannot enforce a waiver promise, since this would undercut the Act’s "no-waiver" policy. Second, the district court, not the defendant, requested the waiver. Third, seeking a continuance was not inconsistent with seeking dismissal of the case.
Finally, the Court noted that the Act requires express findings contemporaneously as to why the case should be continued. Therefore these findings could not be supplied on remand. The Court noted that harmless error does not apply to review of Speedy Trial violations, because harmless error review would undercut the 70-day rule and the other rules limiting the grounds for delay. Finding a Speedy Trial violation in Zedner’s case, the Court remanded the case for a determination whether dismissal should be with or without prejudice.