Monday, September 26, 2016

SCOTUS ConLaw Cases Preview for 2016-17 Term

The United States Supreme Court hears only small fraction of cases: The Court hears about 80 cases a year, of the approximately 8,000 requests for review filed with the Court each year, flowing from the approximately 60, 000 circuit court of appeals decisions and many more thousands of state appellate court opinions. And of this small fraction, generally about half involve constitutional issues, including constitutional criminal procedure issues.

Not surprisingly then, with the new Term starting October 3, the traditional first Monday in October, there are only a handful of constitutional law cases included among the less than 30 the Court has already accepted.


The Court is set to hear two racial gerrymandering cases, both of which involve the tensions between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause with underlying political contentions that Republican state legislators acted to reduce the strength of Black voters; both are appeals from divided opinions from three-judge courts. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the challenge is to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Virginia concededly did consider race in the redistricting, but the more precise issue is an interpretation under current doctrine regarding whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court is faulted for requiring an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race. The petitioners argue that “where a legislature intentionally assigns voters to districts according to a fixed, nonnegotiable racial threshold, “strict scrutiny cannot be avoided simply by demonstrating that the shape and location of the districts can rationally be explained by reference to some districting principle other than race.” If it were other-wise, they argue, even the most egregious race-based districting schemes would escape constitutional scrutiny. In McCrory v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case involving North Carolina, the challenge is to a three-judge court’s decision finding a constitutional Equal Protection Clause violation. The plaintiff originally argued that the congressional map drawn by the NC Assembly in 2011 violated the Equal Protection Clause in two districts by making race a predominant factor and by not narrowly tailoring the districts to any compelling interest. North Carolina argues that the conclusion of racial predominance is incorrect and that it need not show that racial considerations were “actually necessary” as opposed to “having good reasons” under the Voting Rights Act. The North Carolina districts have been long controversial; a good timeline is here.

In another Equal Protection Clause case, the classification is sex rather than race.  In Lynch v. Morales-Santana, the underlying problem is differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child; the Second Circuit held that the sex discrimination was unconstitutional, subjecting it to intermediate scrutiny under equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment. The United States argues that because the context is citizenship, only rational basis scrutiny is appropriate. This issue has been before the Court before. The last time was 2011 in Flores-Villar v. United States when the Court's per curiam affirmance by an "equally divided Court" upheld the Ninth Circuit’s finding that the differential residency requirement satisfied equal protection. In Flores-Villar, Kagan was recused. The Court hearing Morales-Santana, scheduled for oral argument November 9, will also seemingly be only eight Justices, but this time including Kagan.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley also includes an Equal Protection issue, but the major tension is between the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment and principles of anti-Establishment of Religion. Like several other states, Missouri has a so-called Blaine Amendment in its state constitution which prohibits any state monies being used in aid of any religious entity. It is concededly more expansive/restrictive than the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the First Amendment as the United States Supreme Court has interpreted it. Missouri had a program for state funds to be awarded to resurface playgrounds with used tires; the state denied the Trinity Lutheran Church preschool’s application based on the state constitutional provision. Trinity Lutheran argues that the Blaine Amendment violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, with the Eighth Circuit siding with the state of Missouri.

There are also several cases involving the criminal procedure protections in the Constitution.  Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado involves a claim of racial bias on a jury in a criminal case. The Colorado Supreme Court resolved the tension between the “secrecy of jury deliberations” and the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in favor of the former interest. The court found that the state evidence rule, 606(B) (similar to the federal rule), prohibiting juror testimony with some exceptions was not unconstitutional applied to exclude evidence of racial bias on the part of a juror.  Bravo-Fernandez v. United States involves the protection against “double jeopardy” and the effect of a vacated (unconstitutional) conviction. It will be argued in the first week of October. Moore v. Texas is based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, with specific attention to capital punishment and the execution of the mentally disabled. In short: what are the proper standards for states to make a determination of mental disability?

Finally - - - at least for now - - - the Court will also be hearing a constitutional property dispute.  Murr v. Wisconsin involves the Fifth Amendment’s “Taking Clause,” providing that private property cannot be “taken” for public use without just compensation. At issue in Murr is regulatory taking. The Court granted certiorari to a Wisconsin appellate court decision regarding two parcels of land that the Murrs owned since 1995; one lot had previously been owned by their parents. Under state and local law, the two lots merged. The Murrs sought a variance to sell off one of the lots as a buildable lot, which was denied. The Murrs now claim that the denial of the variance is an unconstitutional regulatory taking. The Wisconsin courts viewed the two lots as the “property” and concluded that there was no regulatory taking.

We will be updating this post as the Court adds more cases to its docket.

UPDATE September 29, 2016:  The Court granted certiorari to two important First Amendment cases.

September 26, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Religion, Sixth Amendment, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ninth Circuit: Shackling Pregnant Woman During Labor *Might* Be Unconstitutional

Reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Maricopa County Sheriff, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Mendiola-Martinez v. Arpaio held that shackling a pregnant woman while she gives birth might rise to a constitutional violation:

We are presented with an important and complex issue of first impression in our circuit: whether the U.S. Constitution allows law enforcement officers to restrain a female inmate while she is pregnant, in labor, or during postpartum recovery. We hold today that in this case, the answer to that question depends on factual disputes a properly instructed jury must resolve.

Ms. Mediola-Martinez was 6 months pregnant when she was arrested for forgery and unconstitutionally detained:   "Because she could not prove she was a legal resident of the United States, she was detained under the Arizona Bailable Offenses Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13- 3961(A)(5)," before the Ninth Circuit "later ruled it unconstitutional. See Lopez-Valenzuela v. Arpaio, 770 F.3d 772, 792 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc), cert denied, 135 S. Ct. 2046 (2015)." 

Ms. Mediola-Martinez went into early labor about two months later.  During the actual C-section procedure, she was not restrained.  However, before the procedure when she was "in active labor" and during the postpartum recovery, she was restrained.  She had plead guilty a few days before the birth and was released on a sentence of time-served a few days after.

The Ninth Circuit panel acknowledged that the weight of precedent and evidence decries the practice of shackling pregnant women in its discussion of whether the practice is a "sufficiently serious deprivation" of medical care posing a substantial risk of serious harm and thus constitutes an Eighth Amendment claim.  Additionally, the panel held that she had sufficiently alleged deliberate indifference.  A jury, the court held, should consider this claim.

The Ninth Circuit was not so welcoming to the Equal Protection Clause claim.  Mediola-Martinez argued that the county's restraint policy discriminated on the basis of race against Mexican-Americans.  But as the court noted, she needed to show that the "Restraint Policy not only had a discriminatory impact, but that it was enacted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against members of a protected class."  The "offensive quotes" of Sheriff Arpaio were not sufficient to prove intent:  "Even if those hearsay statements were admissible, however, they do not mention the Restraint Policy and do not otherwise lead to any inference that Sheriff Arpaio’s 2006 Restraint Policy was promulgated to discriminate against Mexican nationals."  Likewise, discriminatory intent could not be inferred from the general population statistics; there needs to be a "gross" statistical disparity to raise the specter of intent.

The court was cautious but clear:

Crafting a restraint policy that balances safety concerns with the inmates’ medical needs is equally challenging. But it is not impossible. And we leave it to a jury to decide whether the risk the Maricopa County Restraint Policy posed to Mendiola-Martinez was justified, or whether the County Defendants went a step too far.

Or perhaps several steps?


image: "Birth Room" via



September 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Family, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifth Circuit Panel Denies Stays of Texas Executions by Pentobarbital

In its opinion in Wood v. Collier, Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote for the panel and rejected the claims of death row inmates that Texas is obliged by the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law to re-test the execution drug - - -a single, five-gram dose of pentobarbital - - -  to assure it does not present a high risk of unnecessary pain.

Pentobarbital_DOJThe identity and sources of drugs to accomplish "lethal injection" has been much litigated, including the Court's 2015 decision in Glossip v. Gross, rejecting an Eighth Amendment challenge to Oklahoma's three-drug lethal injection cocktail. As this Fifth Circuit opinion notes:

Texas originally used pentobarbital purchased from a pharmaceutical firm in its executions. However in 2011, Lundbeck, the Danish pharmaceutical firm that produces manufactured pentobarbital, refused to supply the drug to states that execute by lethal injection.In response, in September 2013, Texas began purchasing pentobarbital compounded by pharmacies.Texas alleges, and Appellants do not dispute, that Texas has used compounded pentobarbital to execute thirty- two prisoners since 2013 without issue.

Yet in June, Texas agreed to re-test the pentobarbital for a death sentenced inmate, mooting his civil action.  The inmates here argue that this settlement essentially substantiates their Eighth Amendment claim and creates an Equal Protection Clause claim.  The court disagreed:

However one kneads the protean language of equal protection jurisprudence, the inescapable reality is that these prisoners have not demonstrated that a failure to retest brings the risk of unnecessary pain forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. Attempting to bridge this shortfall in their submission with equal protection language, while creative, brings an argument that is ultimately no more than word play.

In short, the "strategic decision" of Texas to re-test the drug for one inmate is irrelevant for the others, especially "in the context of an ever-changing array of suits attacking its use of capital punishment from all angles."


September 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sixth Circuit Holds Michigan's Sexual Offender Registration Act is Unconstitutional Ex Post Facto Law

In its opinion in Doe v. Snyder, the Sixth Circuit has concluded that the 2006 and 2011 amendments of Michigan's Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA), as retroactively applied to plaintiffs violate the Ex Post Facto Clause, United States Constitution, Art. I §10, cl. 1.

The Ex Post Facto Clause only applies to retroactive punishment, and the opinion notes that under the United States Supreme Court's Smith v. Doe (2003), upholding Alaska's SORA, the test is "quite fixed": "an ostensibly civil and regulatory law, such as SORA, does not violate the Ex Post Facto clause unless the plaintiff can show 'by the clearest proof' that 'what has been denominated a civil remedy' is, in fact, 'a criminal penalty.'"

Judge Alice Batchelder, writing for the unanimous panel, applied the Smith v. Doe test for determining whether a statute that does not have a punitive intent nevertheless has actual punitive effects, including five factors:

  • Does the law inflict what has been regarded in our history and traditions as punishment?
  • Does it impose an affirmative disability or restraint?
  • Does it promote the traditional aims of punishment?
  • Does it have a rational connection to a non-punitive purpose?
  • Is it excessive with respect to this purpose?

Grand Rapids mapIn considering the history factor, the court relied on an amicus brief from law professors and discussed the relationship of SORA to ancient punishments of banishment.  To this end, the court reproduced a map for Grand Rapids Michigan, illustrating (in blue) where persons under SORA were now prohibited from living, working, or traveling.  

The map also figured into the court's conclusions regarding the other factors, including the rational relationship.  Indeed, the court found that SORA may actually increase recidivism rates and that "Tellingly, nothing the parties have pointed to in the record suggests that the residential restrictions have any beneficial effect on recidivism rates."

There were other constitutional challenges to SORA, but the court seemingly found the Ex Post Facto argument most determinative. The court's originalist theoretical perspective on the Ex Post Facto Clause is  striking:

Indeed, the fact that sex offenders are so widely feared and disdained by the general public implicates the core counter- majoritarian principle embodied in the Ex Post Facto clause. As the founders rightly perceived, as dangerous as it may be not to punish someone, it is far more dangerous to permit the government under guise of civil regulation to punish people without prior notice. Such lawmaking has “been, in all ages, [a] favorite and most formidable instrument[] of tyranny.” The Federalist No. 84, supra at 444 (Alexander Hamilton). It is, as Justice Chase argued, incompatible with both the words of the Constitution and the underlying first principles of “our free republican governments.” Calder, 3 U.S. at 388–89; accord The Federalist No. 44, supra at 232 (James Madison) (“[E]x post facto laws . . . are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation.”).

 Thus, while the court acknowledged that the Smith v. Doe test was a difficult one to meet, "difficult is not the same as impossible" and Smith v. Doe should not "be understood to write a blank check to states to do whatever they please in this arena." Most likely, Michigan will disagree and seek United States Supreme Court review to ask the Court to clarify its understanding.




August 25, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Supreme Court Finds Due Process Violated When Prosecutor-Turned-Judge Did Not Recuse

In its highly anticipated opinion in Williams v. Pennsylvania, the United States Supreme Court found that the failure of Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ronald Castille to recuse himself in the death penalty review of Williams' postconviction appeal constituted a violation of the Due Process Clause.

Recall that Chief Justice Castille, who retired from the court when he reached the state mandatory retirement age, was elected in 1993, and retained in elections in 2003 and 2013.  Importantly, before his election to the bench, Castille worked in the district attorney's office for over 20 years, including being twice elected to the District Attorney position; he reportedly claimed to have "sent 45 people to death row." One of those people on death row is Terrance Williams, convicted at age 18 and whose story has attracted much interest. Williams claims that it was a violation of due process and the Eighth Amendment for Justice Castille to deny the motion to recuse himself from consideration of Williams' petition for post conviction relief.  Williams contends that Castille, as a prosecutor, was personally involved in the case and the decision to seek the death penalty.  Williams' post-conviction claim, moreover, is based on prosecutorial misconduct. 

Writing for the five Justice majority, Justice Kennedy relied on the Court's previous decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal. Co. in 2009 - - - which Kennedy also authored - - - to articulate the applicable "objective standard" of recusal when the "likelihood of bias on the part of the judge 'is too high to be constitutionally tolerable.'" While Kennedy noted that the "due process precedents do not set forth a specific test governing recusal when, as here, a judge had prior involvement in a case as a prosecutor," the Court articulated a clear rule:

The Court now holds that under the Due Process Clause there is an impermissible risk of actual bias when a judge earlier had significant, personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision regarding the defendant’s case.

This rule, the Court reasoned, is based upon the due process guarantee that “no man can be a judge in his own case,” which would have little substance if it did not disqualify a former prosecutor from sitting in judgment of a prosecution in which he or she had made a critical decision."

Justice Kennedy's relatively brief opinion for the Court specifically rejected each of Pennsylvania's arguments. 

As to the passage of time between the prosecutorial and judicial events, the Court reasoned that

A prosecutor may bear responsibility for any number of critical decisions, including what charges to bring, whether to extend a plea bargain, and which witnesses to call. Even if decades intervene before the former prosecutor revisits the matter as a jurist, the case may implicate the effects and continuing force of his or her original decision. In these circumstances, there remains a serious risk that a judge would be influenced by an improper, if inadvertent, motive to validate and preserve the result obtained through the adversary process. The involvement of multiple actors and the passage of time do not relieve the former prosecutor of the duty to withdraw in order to ensure the neutrality of the judicial process in determining the consequences that his or her own earlier, critical decision may have set in motion.

As to the argument that Castille's authorization to seek the death penalty against Williams was insignificant in a large office, the Court specifically found that "characterization cannot be credited." First, the Court stated that it would not assume that the District Attorney treated so major a decision as whether or not to pursue the death penalty as a "perfunctory task requiring little time, judgment, or reflection."  Second, the Court noted that "Chief Justice Castille's own comments while running for judicial office" refute any claim that he believed he did not play a major role in seeking death sentences.  And third, the Court noted that claim and finding that the trial prosecutor had engaged in multiple and intentional Brady violations, it would be difficult for "a judge in his position" not to view this as a "criticism of his former office, and, to some extent, of his own leadership and supervision as district attorney."

As to the argument that Castille did not cast the "deciding vote" - - - unlike the situation in Caperton - - - and so any error was harmless, the Court stressed the role of the court as a unit:

A multimember court must not have its guarantee of neutrality undermined, for the appearance of bias de- means the reputation and integrity not just of one jurist, but of the larger institution of which he or she is a part. An insistence on the appearance of neutrality is not some artificial attempt to mask imperfection in the judicial process, but rather an essential means of ensuring the reality of a fair adjudication. Both the appearance and reality of impartial justice are necessary to the public legitimacy of judicial pronouncements and thus to the rule of law itself. When the objective risk of actual bias on the part of a judge rises to an unconstitutional level, the failure to recuse cannot be deemed harmless.

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Alito, and Justice Thomas writing separately, dissented - - - not surprising given that they have also dissented in Caperton.  Roberts's opinion draws the line between due process and judicial ethics: just because it was an ethics violation, does not mean it is a due process violation.  Roberts states that it is "up to state authorities" to determine whether recusal is required. 

In sum, this extension of Caperton to judicial decisions by former prosecutors and the Court's articulation of a clear rule should result in a new regime of uniform recusal mandated by the Due Process Clause.


 [image NYPL digital collection, "A Murder Trial in the Court of General Sessions, circa 1901, via]

June 9, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Second Circuit Holds No First Amendment Claim for Prisoner's Journalistic Publication

Daniel McGowan was incarcerated in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), but had been transferred to the Brooklyn House Residential Reentry Center (“RRC”) near the end of his sentence with work passes and other privileges.  McGowan is well known as an environmental activist and featured prominently in the 2011 documentary, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. 

While at RCC in April 2013, McGowan published an article on Huffington Post entitled "Court Documents Prove I was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for my Political Speech."  This article caused the RCC manager to essentially revoke the RRC status and remand McGowan back to the Bureau of Prisons - - - in solitary confinement -  - - for an infraction of a regulation that provided “an inmate currently confined in an institution may not be employed or act as a reporter or publish under a byline.”

Daniel McGowan via

But this "byline regulation" had been declared unconstitutional by a federal district court, Jordan v. Pugh, 504 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1124 (D. Colo. 2007).  Soon thereafter, the BOP had instructed staff not to enforce it.  In 2010, the BOP issued an interim regulation rescinding the byline regulation; in 2012 it issued the final rule.

McGowan's lawyers soon figured out the byline regulation under which he had been charged was no longer in force and McGowan was returned to the RRC.

McGowan sued the RCC personnel for a violation of the First Amendment, but the Second Circuit, affirming the district judge, rejected the claim in its opinion in McGowan v. United States, concluding that the BOP was insulated by qualified immunity.  Qualified immunity protects the government from liability for violation of a constitutional right unless that right was "clearly established" at the time of the violation.  Here, despite the conclusion of a district judge six years prior that the byline regulation was unconstitutional and the rescission of the byline regulation by the BOP, the Second Circuit held that the right the byline regulation infringed was not clearly established:

We conclude that, at the time the alleged violation occurred, our case law did not clearly establish that McGowan had a First Amendment right to publish his article. The Supreme Court has held that “when a prison regulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). This test is “particularly deferential to the informed discretion of corrections officials” where “accommodation of an asserted right will have a significant ‘ripple effect’ on fellow inmates or on prison staff.” Id. at 90. For example, the Supreme Court has upheld “proscriptions of media interviews with individual inmates, prohibitions on the activities of a prisoners’ labor union, and restrictions on inmate‐to‐inmate written correspondence.” Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 229 (2001) (citations omitted).

In short, the " only authority that McGowan has identified that involved expression similar to that at issue in this case is a district court opinion, which, of course, is not binding."

The court also rejected claims sounding in tort regarding the BOP's failure to follow its own regulations.

Thus, McGowan has no remedy for the BOP enforcing a rescinded and it seems unconstitutional regulation that caused his removal from a work program to solitary confinement.

June 8, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Death Row Inmate on Batson Racial Challenge to Jury Selection

In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts in Foster v. Chatman, the Court reversed the finding on the Georgia courts that death row inmate Timothy Foster did not demonstrate the type of purposeful discrimination in jury selection to substantiate an Equal Protection Clause violation as required under  Batson v. Kentucky (1986).  

Recall  that in 1987 an all-white jury convicted Timothy Tyrone Foster, a "poor, black, intellectually compromised eighteen year old" of the murder of an elderly white woman.  At trial, one black potential juror was removed for cause, and the prosecutors removed all four of the remaining black prospective jurors by peremptory strike, and proffered race-neutral reasons when defense counsel raised a challenge under the then-recent case of  Batson.  The judge rejected defense counsel's argument that the race-neutral reasons were pretexual and denied the Batson challenge.  The Georgia courts affirmed.

FosterImageAlmost twenty years later, pursuant to a request under the state open records act, Foster gained access to the prosecution team's jury selection notes, which included highlighting the black potential jurors (image at right), circling the word "black" as an answer to the race question on the juror questionnaire, identifying the black potential jurors as B#1, B#2, and B#3 in the notes, and a draft affidavit by the prosecution investigator stating "“if we had to pick a black juror then I recommend that [Marilyn] Garrett be one of the jurors; with a big doubt still remaining.”  (The affidavit was originally submitted to the court with all mentions of race excised). 

In today's relatively brief opinion - - - 25 pages - - - Chief Justice Roberts carefully recited the facts and then focused on the materials in the "prosecution file."  The Court concluded:

The contents of the prosecution’s file, however, plainly belie the State’s claim that it exercised its strikes in a “color-blind” manner.  The sheer number of references to race in that file is arresting. The State, however, claims that things are not quite as bad as they seem. The focus on black prospective jurors, it contends, does not indicate any attempt to exclude them from the jury. It instead reflects an effort to ensure that the State was “thoughtful and non-discriminatory in [its] consideration of black prospective jurors [and] to develop and maintain detailed information on those prospective jurors in order to properly defend against any suggestion that decisions regarding [its] selections were pretextual.” Batson after all, had come down only months before Foster’s trial. The prosecutors, according to the State, were uncertain what sort of showing might be demanded of them and wanted to be prepared.

This argument falls flat. To begin, it “reeks of afterthought,” [citation omitted] having never before been made in the nearly 30-year history of this litigation: not in the trial court, not in the state habeas court, and not even in the State’s brief in opposition to Foster’s petition for certiorari. In addition, the focus on race in the prosecution’s file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury. The State argues that it “was actively seeking a black juror.” But this claim is not credible. An “N” appeared next to each of the black prospective jurors’ names on the jury venire list. An “N” was also noted next to the name of each black prospective juror on the list of the 42 qualified prospective jurors; each of those names also appeared on the “definite NO’s” list. And a draft affidavit from the prosecution’s investigator stated his view that “[i]f it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors, [Marilyn] Garrett, might be okay.” Such references are inconsistent with attempts to “actively see[k]” a black juror.

The State’s new argument today does not dissuade us from the conclusion that its prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race when they struck [potential jurors] Garrett and Hood from the jury 30 years ago. Two peremptory strikes on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows.

[citations to record omitted].

Only Justices Alito and Thomas did not join Roberts's opinion for the Court; Alito to write a separate concurring opinion and Thomas to write a dissenting opinion.  Alito's concurring opinion states its purpose as to "explain my understanding of the role of state law in the proceedings that must be held on remand." For Alito, while the Georgia Supreme Court is "bound to accept" the Court's evaluation of the federal constitutional question that there was an Equal Protection Clause violation under Batson, "whether that conclusion justifies relief under state res judicata law is a matter for that court to decide."  Alito notes that the Court is "evidencing a predilection" for granting review of state-court decisions denying postconviction relief, a "trend" he argues is inconsistent with the States' "legitimate interest in structuring their systems of postconviction review in a way that militates against repetitive litigation and endless delay."  Alito's opinion only vaguely alludes to the claim that the Batson evidence was not made available to Foster.  As for Thomas, his dissenting opinion stresses that the trial court observed the jury selection "firsthand" and "its evaluation of the prosecution's credibility" is "certainly far better than this Court's 30 years later."  Thomas's opinion also argues that the "new evidence" has "limited probative value" and is "no excuse" for the Court's reversal of the state court's "credibility determinations."

Nevertheless, the Court's clear majority (of six) conclude that the prosecution violated the Equal Protection Clause when it engineered an all white jury to convict and sentence Timothy Foster.


May 23, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 29, 2016

Federal Magistrate Finds All Writs Act Not Sufficient to Compel Apple to "Unlock" IPhone in Brooklyn Case

Bearing remarkable similarity to the ongoing controversy in California often styled as FBI v. Apple, a federal magistrate in the Eastern District of New York today sided with Apple, finding that the All Writs Act does not grant judicial authority to compel Apple to assist the government in "unlocking" an iPhone by bypassing the passcode security on a iPhone. 

In his 50 page Memorandum and Order in  In Re Order Requiring Apple, Inc. to Assist in the Execution of a Search Warrant Issued By This Court, Magistrate James Orenstein concluded that while the All Writs Act as applied here would be in "aid of jurisdiction" and "necessary and proper," it would not be "agreeable to the usages and principles of law," because Congress has not given such specific authority to the government.  Similar to Apple's argument in the California case, Magistrate Orenstein notes the constitutional argument:

The government's interpretation of the breadth of authority the AWA confers on courts of limited jurisdiction thus raises serious doubts about how such a statute could withstand constitutional scrutiny under the separation-of-powers doctrine.

There is no mention of the First, Fifth, or Fourth Amendments.

500px-Apple_Computer_Logo_rainbow.svgMagistrate Orenstein engaged in an application of the United States v. New York Telephone Co. (1977) factors, finding that even if the court had power, it should not exercise it.   The magistrate found that New York Telephone was easily distinguished.  On the unreasonable burden factor, the magistrate stated:

The government essentially argues that having reaped the benefits of being an American company, it cannot claim to be burdened by being seen to assist the government. See Govt. II at 19 (noting the "significant legal, infrastructural, and political benefits" Apple derives from being an American company, as well as its "recourse to the American courts" and to the protection of "American law enforcement ... when it believes that it has been the victim of a crime"); id at 19-20 ("This Court should not entertain an argument that fulfilling basic civic responsibilities of any American citizen or company ... would 'tarnish' that person's or company's reputation."). Such argument reflects poorly on a government that exists in part to safeguard the freedom of its citizens – acting as individuals or through the organizations they create – to make autonomous choices about how best to balance societal and private interests in going about their lives and their businesses. The same argument could be used to condemn with equal force any citizen's chosen form of dissent.

At the end of his opinion, Judge Orenstein reflected on the divisive issues at stake and concluded that these were ones for Congress.

But Congress will certainly not be acting in time to resolve the pending controversies.  Unlike the California case, this warrant and iphone resulted from a drug prosecution and had proceeded in a somewhat haphazard manner.  Pursuant to the Magistrate's request about other pending cases,

Apple identified nine requests filed in federal courts across the country from October 8, 2015 (the date of the instant Application) through February 9, 2016.  In each, Apple has been ordered under the authority of the AWA (or has been told that an order has been requested or entered) to help the government bypass the passcode security of a total of twelve devices; in each such case in which Apple has actually received a court order, Apple has objected. None of those cases has yet been finally resolved, and Apple reports that it has not to date provided the requested assistance in any of them. 

So it seems that the California "terrorism" case is not unique.  Judge Orenstein's opinion is well-reasoned and well-structured and could easily be echoed by the federal courts in California - - - and elsewhere. 

February 29, 2016 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge's Recusal

The Court today heard oral arguments in Williams v. Pennsylvania on issues of due process and the Eighth Amendment revolving around the court's decision in a death penalty case and judicial ethics. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been especially rocked by scandals - - - with one Justice resigning because of corruption and another because of sexually explicit emails and another Justice being subject to disciplinary proceedings over the explicit emails - - - but this controversy involves a different Justice, former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ronald Castille. Castille, who retired from the court when he reached the state mandatory retirement age, was elected in 1993, and retained in elections in 2003 and 2013.  Importantly, before his election to the bench, Castille worked in the district attorney's office for over 20 years, including being twice elected to the District Attorney position; he reportedly claimed to have "sent 45 people to death row."

One of those people on death row is Terrance Williams, convicted at age 18 and whose story has attracted much interest. Williams claims that it was a violation of due process and the Eighth Amendment for Justice Castille to deny the motion to recuse himself from consideration of Williams' petition for post conviction relief.  Williams contends that Castille, as a prosecutor, was personally involved in the case and the decision to seek the death penalty.  Williams' post-conviction claim, moreover, is based on prosecutorial misconduct. 

The central case in today's oral argument was  Caperton v. Massey (2009) regarding judicial bias. Unlike the situation of Justice Benjamin in Caperton, Castille did not cast a "deciding vote" on the court.  [Nevertheless, Castille's concurring opinion is worth reading for its defensiveness].  The problem is how - - - or even whether - - - to apply the 5-4 decision in Caperton, which involved judicial bias resulting from campaign contributions. 

Nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e4-4e67-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.wStuart Lev, arguing for Williams, faced an almost-immediate question from Chief Justice Roberts, who dissented in Caperton, asking whether the nature of the decision of the former-prosecutor now-Justice should matter - - - was it mere policy or something more individualized?  Justice Alito, who also dissented in Caperton, was wary of constitutionalizing the matters of recusal without clear lines.  On the other hand, Ronald Eisenberg, arguing for Pennsylvania, seemed to admit that there could be cases in which recusal was necessary, but stressed the long time involved here - - - 30 years - - - which at one point prompted Justice Kennedy to ask "So the fact that he spent 30 years in solitary confinement actually helps the State?"  (Eisenberg noted that this wasn't "exactly" the situation).  Justice Sotomayor stressed that what was important was that Castille was prosecutor and judge in the "same case."  For both sides, much of the wrangling was over what any "rule" should be - - - with the background of the Caperton rule being fluid rather than rigid.

The fact that Castille was only one of the Justices was important, but perhaps less so than it would be for another court.  The idea that a judge simply "votes" for a result was looked on with disfavor.  As Justice Kennedy stated:

But if - - - ­­ if we say that, then we say that being a judge on a 15­ judge court doesn't really make much difference. You ­­ - - - you don't have a duty, and you don't have can't persuade your colleagues. It's very hard for us  to write that kind of decision.

Earlier in the argument, there was some discussion of the remedy - - - and the "unsatisfying" remedy (as Justice Kagan phrased it) of sending the case back to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to (re)consider the recusal motion.  Lev, arguing for Williams, noted that this was the remedy in Caperton and also that the "Pennsylvania Supreme Court is constituted differently," now than it was then.  "There were three new justices elected this last November and took office in January."

But what rule should the Court instruct the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to apply?  This is likely to divide the Court just as it did in Caperton.  But there does seem to be a belief among a majority of Justices that the judicial ethical rules alone are not protecting due process.  

February 29, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Apple Responds to Order to "Unlock" IPhone

In its Motion to Vacate filed today, Apple, Inc. argued that the Magistrate's Order Compelling Apple, Inc. to Assist Agents in Search of an Apple IPhone was not supported by the All Writs Act and is unconstitutional. 

The constitutional arguments are basically three:

First, embedded in the argument that the All Writs Act does not grant judicial authority to compel Apple to assist the government is the contention that such would violate the separation of powers.  Crucial to this premise is the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which Apple contends does not apply to Apple and which has not been amended to do so or amended to provide that companies must provide decryption keys. Absent such an amendment, which was considered as CALEA II but not pursued, the courts would be encroaching on the legislative role. 

For the courts to use the All Writs Act to expand sub rosa the obligations imposed by CALEA as proposed by the government here would not just exceed the scope of the statute, but it would also violate the separation-of-powers doctrine. Just as the “Congress may not exercise the judicial power to revise final judgments,” Clinton v. Jones (1997), courts may not exercise the legislative power by repurposing statutes to meet the evolving needs of society, see Clark v. Martinez (2005)(court should “avoid inventing a statute rather than interpreting one”) see also Alzheimer’s Inst. of Am. Inc. v. Elan Corp. (N.D. Cal. 2013) (Congress alone has authority “to update” a “technologically antiquated” statute “to address the new and rapidly evolving era of computer and cloud-stored, processed and produced data”). Nor does Congress lose “its exclusive constitutional authority to make laws necessary and proper to carry out the powers vested by the Constitution” in times of crisis (whether real or imagined). Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952).

[citations abbreviated].  Apple adds that "whether companies like Apple should be compelled to create a back door to their own operating systems to assist law enforcement is a political question, not a legal one," citing Baker v. Carr (1962). 

Second, Apple makes a cursory First Amendment argument that commanding Apple to "write software that will neutralize the safety features that Apple has built into the iPhone" is compelled speech based on content and subject to exacting scrutiny.  Apple also contends that this compelled speech would be viewpoint discrimination:

When Apple designed iOS 8, it wrote code that announced the value it placed on data security and the privacy of citizens by omitting a back door that bad actors might exploit. The government disagrees with this position and asks this Court to compel Apple to write new software that advances its contrary views.

Third, and even more cursorily, Apple makes a substantive due process argument under the Fifth Amendment.  Here is the argument in full:

In addition to violating the First Amendment, the government’s requested order, by conscripting a private party with an extraordinarily attenuated connection to the crime to do the government’s bidding in a way that is statutorily unauthorized, highly burdensome, and contrary to the party’s core principles, violates Apple’s substantive due process right to be free from “‘arbitrary deprivation of [its] liberty by government.’” Costanich v. Dep’t of Soc. & Health Servs., 627 F.3d 1101, 1110 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted); see also, e.g., Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 845-46 (1998) (“We have emphasized time and again that ‘[t]he touchstone of due process is protection of the individual against arbitrary action of government,’ . . . [including] the exercise of power without any reasonable justification in the service of a legitimate governmental objective.” (citations omitted)); cf. id. at 850 (“Rules of due process are not . . . subject to mechanical application in unfamiliar territory.”).

Interestingly, there is no Fourth Amendment argument.

The main thrust of Apple's argument is the statutory one under the All Writs Act and the application of the United States v. New York Telephone Co. (1977) factors that the government (and Magistrate) had relied upon.  Apple disputes the burden placed on Apple that the Order would place.  Somewhat relevant to this, Apple contends that "Had the FBI consulted Apple first" - - - before changing the iCloud password associated with one of the relevant accounts - - - "this litigation may not have been necessary." 



February 25, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Federal District Judge Finds Recording Police Conduct Not Protected by First Amendment

In a Memorandum Opinion in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, recently appointed United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Mark Kearney held that the First Amendment does not protect video-recording of the police absent a "stated purpose of being critical of the government." 

For Judge Kearney, video-recording is conduct and there is no "expressive" element unless there is an explicit intent of being critical of police conduct. Mere "observation," Judge Kearney wrote, is not expressive.  It is not within the First Amendment unless the observers are "members of the press."

Judge Kearney rather unconvincingly distinguished the First Circuit's 2011 opinion in Glik v. Cunniffee, by stating [in a footnote], "In Glik, the plaintiff expressed concern police were using excessive force arresting a young man in a public park and began recording the arrest on his cell phone and the police then arrested plaintiff."  Even if valid, this distinction is problematical.  It may be pertinent with regard to one plaintiff, Richard Fields, who took a picture of 20 or so police officers outside a home hosting a party.  However, with regard to the other plaintiff, Amanda Geraci, who the judge notes is a "self-described 'legal observer'" with training, the distinction seems to be one without a difference: she was at a protest and "moved closer" to videotape an officer arresting one of the protesters when a police officer restrained her and prevented her from doing so.

image via

Judge Kearney thus granted the motion for summary judgment on the First Amendment claims.  The judge did, however, deny summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claims for unreasonable search and false arrest (for Fields) and excessive force (for Geraci).  Yet however these claims are resolved, the First Amendment ruling is one that is exceedingly suitable for Third Circuit review.


February 23, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Judge Finds "Parents for Megan's Law" a State Actor in Fourth Amendment Challenge

In her opinion in Jones v. County of Suffolk (NY) and Parents For Megan's Law, Judge Joanna Seybert found that the group was a state actor for constitutional purposes and that the complaint stated a valid Fourth Amendment claim. 

The facts as alleged in the complaint illustrate the continuing constitutional issues with civil monitoring of persons convicted of sex offenses.  Jones, convicted in 1992, is a low-risk sex offender subject to numerous requirements under the New York Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA).  New York's Suffolk County (on Long Island), passed an additional act, the Community Protection Act, which Judge Seybert described as including "aggressive sex offender monitoring and verification."  The county act authorized the county law enforcement agency to enter into a contract with the organization Parents for Megan's Law (PFML), a “victim’s advocacy organization that campaigns for increased punitive regulation of people registered for past sex offenses” and “has called for legislative changes that, among other things, would require people convicted of SORA offenses to live far away from population centers.”  The contract requires PML to "use ex-law enforcement personnel" to "engage in proactive monitoring of registered sex offenders."  And "proactive" would be one way to describe the actions of the PFML personnel who came to Jones' home several times, waited for him at the doorstep, asked for his driver's license and kept it for several minutes,  questioned him about his employment, and warned that they would make further unannounced visits to his home and work. 

Illustration from Hound of the Baskervilles via

In its motion to dismiss, PFML argued that it was a private entity not subject to constitutional constraints.  Judge Seybert, relying on Second Circuit precedent, held that there was a "close nexus" and a "delegation of a public function," and thus PML was a state actor.  This was not an ordinary contract, but one in which the police department directed the monitoring operations of the PFML.  Important to her analysis, there was a letter from the county police department informing designated  sex offenders that they would be required to provide identification to PML personnel, thus "creating the appearance of joint action" between the state and the organization.

The letter was also important to Judge Seybert's Fourth Amendment analysis.  The judge distinguished the allegations here from Florida v. Jardines (2013), on which both parties relied, regarding the constitutionality of a so-called "knock and talk" by law enforcement:

Defendants assert that because PFML agents’ interactions with Jones can be classified as a “knock and talk,” no Fourth Amendment violation occurred. However, the allegations in the Complaint raise questions about whether a reasonable person in Jones’ position would feel free to terminate his interactions with PFML. The questioning here did not take place in an open field, or a Greyhound bus, but rather within Jones curtilage--an area afforded heightened Fourth Amendment protection. Moreover, in advance of the visits, Jones received a letter from the SCPD instructing him that he would be visited by PFML for the purpose of verifying his address and employment information. Although the letter stated that Jones would be “asked to provide them with personal identification” and “requested to provide employment information,” the letter begins by stating that “registered sex offenders are required to provide this information under [SORA].” Citizens do not often receive letters from the police announcing home visits by third-party groups. At the very least, the letter is ambiguous as to whether compliance was mandatory. Finally, the description of PFML agents’ conduct gives the distinct impression that compliance was not optional. The fact that the agents waited for fifteen minutes on Jones’ porch while he was in the shower, “followed [him] closely” as he walked to retrieve his driver’s license, and told Jones that “they may make subsequent, unannounced appearances at his job,” gives the encounter the appearance of a seizure of Jones’ person, rather than a consensual “knock and talk.”

Judge Seybert did dismiss the complaint's due process claim, which Jones argued were based on a right to familial association that had been injured by the PFML "visits" to his home.  Judge Seybert reasoned that there was no "invasion of a liberty interest" that was "separate and apart" from the Fourth Amendment claim and thus an independent substantive due process claim could not proceed.

While there are other issues before the court - - - including whether a state (or county) can delegate its sex offender monitoring to a private group are also before the court as a matter of state law - - - the constitutional constraints governing the monitoring of designated sex offenders seems to be squarely presented.

February 23, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Magistrate Orders Apple to "Unlock" iPhone of Deceased Shooter

A California Magistrate has issued an "Order Compelling Apple, Inc. to Assist Agents in Search" exactly as requested by the government, with the exception of the word "Proposed" crossed off in Order's title, that requires Apple to provide "reasonable technical assistance in obtaining access to data on the subject device."  The subject device is an Apple iPhone seized from a black Lexus; this is the black Lexus that was driven by the so-called "San Bernardino shooters."  The government's motion explains some of the technology involved and argues that the All Writs Act, 28 USC §1651, authorizes the Order.

Iphone_3GS-1The Order specifies that the "reasonable technical assistance" shall accomplish these functions:

  • (1) it will bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled;
  • (2) it will enable the FBI to submit passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE for testing electronically via the physical device port, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or other protocol available on the SUBJECT DEVICE; and
  •  (3) it will ensure that when the FBI submits passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE, software running on the device will not purposefully introduce any additional delay between passcode attempts beyond what is incurred by Apple hardware.

Apple is resisting the Order.  In an "open letter" to customers, the CEO of Apple has stated:

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Over at ars technica, Dan Goodin argues:

It would be one thing for the court to order Apple to brute force this one device and turn over the data stored on it. It's altogether something else to require that Apple turn over powerful exploit software and claim that whatever digital locks are included can't be undone by a determined adversary. That's why it's no exaggeration for Cook to call Tuesday's order chilling and to warn that its prospects for abuse of such a backdoor are high.

Although the Order is directed at one "subject device," Apple's compliance with the Order would make all our devices subject to government search.


February 17, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Privacy, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Eighth Amendment Does Not Require Mitigating Circumstances Instruction or Separate Sentencing

Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The Supreme Court ruled today in Kansas v. Carr that the Eighth Amendment does not require capital-sentencing courts to instruct juries that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt or that capital defendants who committed a joint crime be sentenced separately.

The ruling reversed a Kansas Supreme Court decision in favor of the criminal defendants.

The 8-1 ruling (Justice Sotomayor in dissent) reflects both the relatively simple questions in the case and the brutality of the crimes (described by Justice Scalia, for the Court, as "acts of almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity")--which made it easy for the Court to conclude that the sentencing proceeding wasn't unfair. (As to the joint sentencing, Justice Scalia wrote that "[i]t is beyond reason to think that" any prejudices that arose in the joint sentencing led to the death sentences: "None of that mattered. What these defendants did--acts of almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity--was described in excruciating detail by [a victim], who relived with the jury, for two days, the Wichita Massacre. The joint sentencing proceedings did not render the sentencing proceedings fundamentally unfair.").

As to the instructions on mitigating evidence, the Court said that the defendants' preferred instruction (that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt) was not only unnecessary under the Eighth Amendment, but would only lead to greater juror confusion in considering mitigation.

As to joint sentencing, the Court said that the Eighth Amendment doesn't require separate sentencing hearings for defendants in the same crime; and in any event, the errors or prejudices that the defendants alleged here couldn't possibly have actually prejudiced them, given the brutality of the crimes.

Justice Sotomayor filed the lone dissent. She argued that the Court shouldn't have taken the case in the first place, and that the Court's ruling could interfere with states' experimentation "with how best to guarantee defendants a fair trial."

January 20, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Court Strikes Florida's Capital Sentencing Scheme

The Supreme Court ruled today that Florida's capital sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment, because it puts in the hands of the judge, not the jury, the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty.

Florida law provides that a capital felon can only get a life sentence based on his or her conviction. But under an additional sentencing procedure, a capital felon can get death. It works like this: the judge in the additional sentencing proceeding conducts an evidentiary hearing before a jury; the jury, by majority vote, renders an "advisory sentence"; the judge then independently finds and weighs the aggravating and mitigating circumstances and enters a sentence of life or death. (The judge has to give the jury recommendation "great weight," but need not follow it.)

The Court held that this process violates the Sixth Amendment in light of Ring v. Arizona. In that case, an Arizona judge's independent factfinding exposed the defendant to a punishment greater than the jury's guilty verdict authorized. The Court struck the scheme, because under the Sixth Amendment (and Apprendi) any fact that "expose[s] the defendant to a greater punishment than that authorized by the jury's guilty verdict" is an "element" that must be submitted to a jury.

Justice Sotomayor wrote for the Court, including all but Justices Breyer and Alito. Justice Breyer wrote a separate concurrence; Justice Alito wrote the lone dissent.

January 12, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, News, Opinion Analysis, Sixth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Can a trial judge prohibit defendants (and spectators) from wearing "Black Lives Matter" shirts?

The trial judge in Massachusetts set to preside over the prosecution of four Black Lives Matter protesters has reportedly told the defendants that they cannot wear shirts with those words - - - Black Lives Matter - - - during the trial.  Apparently at a pretrial hearing, the judge noticed one of the defendants wearing attire with the words and stated:

"Is that appropriate to wear in front of a jury? Why isn't that unfair to the commonwealth? You're asking me to ferret out jurors who are not fair ... I'm not going to allow clothing with that message."

ShirtWhile judges have a great deal of discretion in the courtroom, the courtroom is not without First Amendment protections, even when it comes to the symbolic expression of attire.  However, most of the cases involving defendant attire have been about protecting the defendant's right to a fair trial rather than any right of the government's.  A quintet of cases from the United States Supreme Court - - - Illinois v. Allen (1973), Estelle v. Williams (1976), Holbrook v. Flynn (1986), Deck v. Missouri (2005), and Carey v. Musladin (2006) - - - considered various aspects of "attire" during trial.  In Allen, it was the possibility of the shackling and gagging the defendant,  in Williams it was the defendant's "prison garb," in Holbrook v. Flynn it was uniformed guards in the courtroom, in Deck it was shackling the defendant,  and in Musladin it was the defendant's objection to spectators' wearing buttons with the victim's photograph.   

The rights of court spectators to First Amendment expressions is not well-established.  Justice Souter concurred in Musladin mentioning the possibility of such a right, but contended that trial judges had affirmative obligations to ensure a fair trial, including regulating the attire of spectators. But what if the spectators support the defendant?  Some judges have prohibited supportive attire.  For example, in 2013 an Indiana judge prohibited spectators from wearing buttons supporting Bei Bei Shuai, on trial for unsuccessful suicide attempt that resulted in a miscarriage.  And last year, a judge banned spectators from wearing pink hands pinned to their shirts in support of Cecily McMillan for assaulting a police officer who she said had grabbed her breast.  

As to the defendants, they risk being held in contempt if they do wear the prohibited clothing.  Perhaps the most famous case involved the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial.

But the First Amendment principle is preserved whether or not the defendants comply with the judge's order about their expressive attire.  Prohibiting defendants from wearing non-obscene words that support their political viewpoints certainly raises a First Amendment issue of viewpoint and content discrimination.

[image via; video with defendant and shirt here]

November 11, 2015 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Race | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Court Hears Oral Arguments in Batson Challenge to Death Sentence

The Court heard oral arguments today in Foster v. Humphrey regarding a challenge to a 1987 conviction and death sentence by an all-white Georgia jury based on  Batson v. Kentucky (1986) applying equal protection principles to peremptory challenges in jury selection.

A seemingly new issue on the case involved whether or not the United States Supreme Court should be hearing the case at all.  While the Court granted certiorari to the Georgia Supreme Court (as we discussed and as the petition requested), the problem is that the Georgia Supreme Court had denied review . . . . for reasons that are unclear.  Was it discretionary? Was that discretion bounded?  Did the Georgia Supreme Court's denial of review for lack of a meritorous claim constitute a decision on the merits?  And even more complexly, did the Georgia state courts have an adequate and independent state ground - - - res judicata - - - under Michigan v. Long (1983)?  (Beth Burton, the attorney for Georgia seemed to concede this was not the case.)  And to add yet another layer of complexity, even if the United States Supreme Court decided it should review the matter, what exactly should it review? As Chief Justice Roberts asked, "In other words, are we addressing just whether there's arguable merit to the claim or are we addressing the claim on its own merits?"

On the merits of the Batson claim, the problem arises from the "smoking gun" of prosecutorial notes singling out the Black potential jurors in the case.  Although Steve Bright, attorney for Foster suggested that there was "an arsenal of smoking guns" here, Justice Scalia suggested that Foster had to "establish [in order ] to reverse the Georgia courts is that the new smoking gun, assuming that all the rest were not enough to demonstrate a Batson violation ­­ the new smoking guns would tip the scale."  Justice Kagan seemed to see it differently, suggesting to Beth Burton, the Georgia Deputy Attorney, that this was a clear Batson violation:

You have a lot of new information here from these files that suggests that what the prosecutors were doing was looking at the African-­American prospective jurors as a group, that they had basically said, we don't want any of these people.  Here is the one we want if we really have to take one.  But that there ­­ all the evidence suggests a kind of singling out, which is the very antithesis of the Batson rule.

Burton initially suggested that the prosecutors' notes highlighting Black jurors was that the prosecutor was preparing for a Batson challenge.  Justice Breyer expressed some incredulity at this based on the fact that prosecutors never previously advanced such a reason.  Justice Breyer also seemingly expressed incredulity at the prosecutors' argument that there were "40 different reasons" - - - other than race - - - meant that one was truly valid, rather than drawing an inference from the sheer number of reasons that they were invalid. 

Justice Kennedy, perhaps the decisive vote, seemed convinced the prosecutors committed a Batson violation: "They've ­­ - - - they've made a mistake - - - ­­ they've made a mistake of - - -­­ in Batson."  But Justice Kennedy was also quite vocal in pressing the attorneys on the procedural issue, which could be an escape hatch for the Court in what could prove to be a difficult case.




November 2, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ninth Circuit on Unconscious Bias, Equal Protection, and Batson

A divided Ninth Circuit panel has affirmed the district judge in granting habeas corpus and vacating a death sentence in its opinion in Crittenden v. Chappell.

Crittenden's claimed the prosecutor at trial excluded an African-American prospective juror on account of her race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted in Batson v. Kentucky (1986). The Ninth Circuit had previously clarified that the peremptory challenge at issue need not be motivated solely by race, but only “motivated in substantial part” by race, “regardless of whether the strike would have issued if race had played no role.” On remand, the district judge found that the prosecutor was substantially motivated by race.

Lady-justice-juryWhile there are several issues in the case, including deference, appellate procedure, and retroactivity, the issue of "intent" under equal protection doctrine in the Batson context was central. The district judge's opinion engaged in specific comparisons regarding jurors and also stated "[t]he [side-by-side juror] comparisons demonstrate that . . . [the prosecutor] was motivated, consciously or unconsciously, in substantial part by race."   The relevance of "unconsciously" was a division among the Circuit judges.  For the majority, this was a "passing comment" in the district judge's opinion, and "all the court meant was, whatever the explanation for the prosecutor’s racial motive, that motive was a substantial reason for his use of a peremptory strike." (emphasis in original).  The majority added, "In other words, why the prosecutor had a conscious racial motive to strike [the potential juror] Casey in the first place – whether or not 'unconscious racism' partly explained that motive – was simply irrelevant to the Batson inquiry."  It interestingly added this footnote:

It was relevant, of course, to the prosecutor’s reputation. The district court’s reference to “unconscious racism” spared him from being found a racist. By suggesting the prosecutor may have had more benign racial motives for the strike, or that his racial motive may have been influenced by unconscious racism, the court hoped to shield the prosecutor from possible disrepute. As the court made clear, however, this effort was not designed to – and did not – detract from the court’s key finding that the strike was consciously motivated by race.

Thus, because the majority upheld the district court’s finding of a conscious racial motive, "we do not – and need not – address whether unconscious bias can establish a Batson violation."

Judge Margaret McKeown dissented from the opinion authored by Judge Raymond Fisher and joined by Judge Marsha Berzon, arguing that there needed to be a clearer indication of discriminatory purpose:

The remaining question is whether, in striking [the potential juror] Casey, the prosecutor had a discriminatory purpose. “‘Discriminatory purpose’ . . . implies more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences. It implies that the decisionmaker . . . selected . . . a particular course of action at least in part ‘because of,’ not merely ‘in spite of,’ its adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” Hernandez v. New York (1991) (plurality) (quoting Person. Admin. of Mass. v. Feeney,  (1979)). The touchstone, as described in our caselaw, is whether race was a “substantial motivating factor” in the prosecutor’s decision to strike Casey.

(ellipses in original).  For dissenting judge McKeown, the burden was on the defendant to prove purposeful discrimination and he failed to do so. She added,

This case calls to mind Justice Breyer’s observation that the Batson inquiry can be an “awkward, sometime hopeless, task of second-guessing a prosecutor’s instinctive judgment—the underlying basis for which may be invisible even to the prosecutor exercising the challenge.” Miller-El v. Dretke (2005) (Breyer, J., concurring). In view of the record of what actually happened, the trial judge’s findings and the ultimate composition of the jury, our retrospective parsing simply cannot elevate ambiguous, speculative foundation to proof that the prosecutor was motivated in substantial part by racism.

The problem of the degree of proof of intent in equal protection claims generally and Batson specifically has vexed the courts.  Recall that the United States Supreme Court will be taking another look at equal protection doctrine under Batson this term in Foster v. Humphrey; the lower court had held that  merely because the prosecutor's notes and records revealed "that the race" - - - meaning Black - - - "of prospective jurors was either circled, highlighted or otherwise noted on various lists" did not establish purposeful discrimination. 

October 27, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Court Grants Review of Bias of Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice in Death Penalty Case

The Court has granted certiorari in Williams v. Pennsylvania on issues of due process and the Eighth Amendment revolving around former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ronald Castille (pictured). 


Castille, who retired from the court when he reached the state mandatory retirement age, was elected in 1993, and retained in elections in 2003 and 2013.  Importantly, before his election to the bench, Castille worked in the district attorney's office for over 20 years, including being twice elected to the District Attorney position; he reportedly claimed to have "sent 45 people to death row."

One of those people on death row is Terrence Williams, the petitioner in Williams v. Pennyslvania.  Williams claims that it was a violation of due process and the Eighth Amendment for Justice Castille to deny the motion to recuse himself from consideration of Williams' petition for post conviction relief.  Williams contends that Castille, as a prosecutor, was personally involved in the case and the decision to seek the death penalty.  Williams' claim, moreover, is based on prosecutorial misconduct. 

Williams relies on Caperton v. Massey (2009) regarding judicial bias. Unlike the situation of Justice Benjamin in Caperton, Castille did not cast a "deciding vote" on the court.  [Nevertheless, Castille's concurring opinion is worth reading for its defensiveness].  Recognizing this distinction, Williams also relies on Atena Life Insurance v. Lavoie (1986), and notes there is a circuit split regarding bias when the biased decided is only one member of a multi-member tribunal.

October 1, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Second Circuit Grants Standing to Challenge NY's Criminalization of "Gravity Knives"

A gravity knife is “any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device,” according to New York Penal Law §265.00 (5).  It is clear that having one is criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor punishable by no more than one year in prison.  It is less clear, at least according to the plaintiffs in Knife Rights, Inc. v. Vance, exactly what a gravity knife is: what if a person possesses a "common folding knife" that he is unable to open with a "wrist flick," but that someone else (presumably more talented) can open with a "wrist flick."? 

The Second Circuit's opinion in Knife Rights, Inc. v. Vance, however, is concerned not with the due process challenge to the New York law, but the Article III standing of the plaintiffs seeking to challenge it. 

circa 1613 via

Almost two years after the district judge's opinion dismissing all plaintiffs, the Second Circuit has affirmed the lack of standing of the organizational plaintiffs, Knife Rights and Knife Rights Foundation, but reversed as to the individual plaintiffs, Copeland and Perez, as well as Native Leather, a retail knife store.

In applying the well-established test for Article III standing - - -(1)  ‘injury in fact,’ (2) a sufficient ‘causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of,’ and (3) a ‘likelihood that the injury ‘will be redressed by a favorable decision.’ - - - the Second Circuit disagreed with the district judge that the plaintiffs had not established an injury in fact. 

Indeed, the three individual plaintiffs had been prosecuted under the statute.  Copeland and Perez, an artist and an art dealer, both carry knives for their work.  Perez was stopped by law enforcement in 2010 in Manhattan for a

metal clip protruding from his pocket. Inquiry revealed the clip to be part of a Gerber brand common folding knife that Perez had purchased approximately two years earlier at Tent & Trail, an outdoor supply store in Manhattan. Plaintiffs assert that the charging officers were unable themselves to flick open Perez’s knife, but based on the possibility that someone could do so, they issued Perez a desk appearance ticket charging him with unlawful possession of a gravity knife.

Copeland was similarly stopped in 2010, but although he had previously shown his knife to NYC police officers to inquire about the legality of its possession and those officers were "unable to flick open the knife and so returned it to Copeland, advising that its possession was legal," when he was stopped, the officers were "able to open the knife by “grasping the knife’s handle and forcefully ‘flicking’ the knife body downwards” and, thus, issued Copeland a desk appearance ticket for violating the statute.

As to the store, Native Leather, it had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with District Attorney Vance, which included the payment of fines and a "compliance program" to stop selling "gravity knives."

The Second Circuit easily found that the plaintiffs' alleged an imminent threat of prosecution.  The court rightly distinguished the controversial case of City of Los Angeles v. Lyons (1983) involving the police practice of choke-holds, by noting that the plaintiffs here seek to engage in the very conduct that is being subjected to criminalization.  The court denied the organization's standing by concluding that its monetary injury incurred by supporting persons prosecuted under the statute would not be adequately redressed by the injunctive relief sought in the complaint.  (The district court had denied leave to amend, which the Second Circuit affirmed).

The plaintiffs ability to move forward with the merits of their challenge to the New York statute criminalizing specific - - - or as alleged, not sufficiently specific - - - knives seems long overdue. 

September 22, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)