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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Topside Rita and Claiborne Briefs Filed

The briefing has begun in Rita v. U.S. and Claiborne v. U.S., two pending cases in which the Court will decide if guidelines sentences are presumptively correct and if sentences below the guidelines require extraordinary circumstances. I've collected and stored the topside briefs online -- they are terrific resources for ongoing sentencing litigation as we await argument and decision later this Term. Petitioners' merits briefs are just a click away for both Rita and Claiborne. Many amicus briefs supporting the petitioners are also available for your reading enjoyment and case prep:

Oral argument will occur on February 20, 2007.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Carey v. Musladin: Absence of Clear Binding Precedent to Allow Habeas

Carey v. Musladin, 127 S. Ct. 649 (2006). Federal court granted habeas relief in a state first degree murder case because the courtroom spectators included three family members of the victim who wore buttons depicting the deceased family of murder victim. State courts had denied relief on this ground, but the Ninth Circuit concluded that the state court determination was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Ninth Circuit exceeded its authority under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), because there is no Supreme Court precedent clearly establishing that an unfair trial occurs, or habeas should be granted, when spectators wear such buttons.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lopez v. Gonzales: State Drug Crimes as Aggravated Felonies

Lopez v. Gonzales, 126 S. Ct. 2557 (2006). Lopez was convicted in South Dakota for helping someone else possess cocaine, which under South Dakota state law was the same as possessing cocaine, a felony under S.D. law, and sentenced to a five-year term of incarceration. He was released after 15 months’ imprisonment. Immigration authorities began removal proceedings against him and the I.J., after a remand from the BIA, held that the S.D. conviction was an aggravated felony. The Supreme Court reversed; Justice Souter’s opinion for the 8-1 majority held that conduct made a felony under state law but a misdemeanor under the Controlled Substances Act is NOT a "felony punishable under the Controlled Substance Act." 18 U.S.C. §924(c)(2). The Court first noted that adopting the government’s position that "drug trafficking" can encompass conduct punishable only as a misdemeanor under the CSA runs counter to the common meaning of the applicable statutory language. It noted that "an offense that necessarily counts as ‘illicit trafficking’ under the INA is a ‘drug trafficking crime’ under §924(c), that is, a ‘felony punishable under the [CSA],’ §924(c)(2)." Because Congress provided no more detailed definition, the Court held that "using the phrase to cover even a misdemeanor punishable under the Act would be so much trickery, violating the cardinal rule that statutory language must be read in context." The common definition of drug trafficking requires some act beyond mere possession. The Court also noted that Congress would not have intended that State law supplant its own definition of drug trafficking, and in turn aggravated felony, especially given the consequences flowing from those designations. "The Government’s reading would render the law of alien removal, see 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(a)(3), and the law of sentencing for illegal reentry into the country, see USSG §2L1.2, dependant on varying state criminal classifications even when Congress has apparently pegged the immigration statutes to the Classification itself chose." Justice Thomas was alone in dissent.