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 21, 2007

Rita: Presumption of Reasonableness for Guideline Sentences

In Rita v. U.S., No. 06-5754 (June 21, 2007), the Supreme Court held that a court of appeals may apply a presumption of reasonableness to a district court sentence within the Guidelines.
The Court noted that the presumption was not binding, and did not reflect judicial deference to the fact-finding leeway of an expert agency. Rather, it reflected the fact that the sentencing court’s analysis of the sentencing factors set forth at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) corresponded to the similar analysis by the Sentencing Commission. The presumption only applies on appellate review. It does not apply when a district court determines the merits of arguments that a non-Guideline sentence ought to be applied.
The Court explained that the presumption would not violate the Sixth Amendment because it neither requires nor forbids a Guideline sentence.
Finally, the Court held that the district court properly analyzed the factors in Rita’s case. The Court stated that the brevity or length of what a district court had to say when pronouncing sentence was left to a judge’s own professional judgment. The judge may say less when imposing a Guideline sentence, and normally should go further when rejecting nonfrivolous arguments for a non-Guideline sentence.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Brendlin: Passenger has 4th Amendment standing

In Brendlin v. California, No. 06-8120 (June 18, 2007), the Supreme Court held that when police make a traffic stop, a passenger in the car, like the driver, is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and may challenge the stop’s constitutionality.
The defendant was a passenger in a vehicle that had been pulled over without reason to believe that it was being operated unlawfully, that is, without probably cause or reasonable suspicion to make the stop. A search of the defendant revealed his possession of drug paraphernalia. The defendant moved to suppress, but the California Supreme Court held that suppression was unwarranted because no additional circumstances indicated to a reasonable passenger that he was the subject of the police investigation.
Reversing, the Supreme Court noted that the relevant inquiry was whether a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter. Here, Brendlin would not have felt free to terminate the encounter, because any reasonable passenger would have understood the officers to be exercising control to the point where no one in the car was free to depart without police permission. The Supreme Court rejected the reasoning that the police only intended to investigate the driver of the vehicle, not the passenger, noting that for Fourth Amendment analysis, subjective intent of the police is irrelevant; the relevant objective inquiry was the understanding of a reasonable passenger.