June 23, 2008
SCOTUS Clarifies When Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel Attaches
The Court decided Rothgery v. Gillespie County today. In an 8-1 decision, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attached after the Petitioner was arraigned before a magistrate -- that is, when the magistrate determined there was probable cause to charge him with a criminal offense -- even though he was not indicted until six months later. Only Justice Thomas dissented.
The virtual unanimity, however, masks a deeper division on the Court. Rothgery was out on bond until he was indicted. He claims he was harmed by the deprivation of counsel in that, once he was indicted, he was rearrested and jailed for three weeks until his appointed counsel proved to the prosecutor that Rothgery did not violate the criminal statute at issue (essentially, it was a felon-in-possession statute, and Rothgery had never been convicted of a felony). In a separate opinion joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Scalia, Justice Alito cautioned against reading the decision too broadly. It held only that the Sixth Amendment attached for Rothgery; but it did not hold that any Sixth Amendment rights were violated. Since the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is essentially a trial right, the concurrence pointed out, it remains to be seen whether Rothgery's claim was cognizable, given that he was never tried. [Mike Mannheimer]
June 19, 2008
SCOTUS Decides Indiana v. Edwards
The Supreme Court decided Indiana v. Edwards today. In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that the standard for competency to stand trial is not the same as the standard for competency to waive counsel and go to trial pro se.
For many of the reasons discussed by Justice Scalia (joined by Justice Thomas) in dissent, I think it is a pretty poor decision. While the Court tells us that a State does not necessarily deprive a competent defendant of the right to self-representation by forcing him to accept counsel, the Court provides no guidance as to what the standard is to determine competence to go pro se. I think that the upshot of this will be, as the dissent predicts, that trial judges will routinely reject a defendants' requests to go pro se whenever he has any kind of mental illness.
The Court invokes fairness -- that a competent but mentally ill defendant will suffer an unfair trial if he is allowed to represent himself -- but it seems to me that the decision is more about efficiency. The question is: how can we process as many mentally ill criminal defendants through the system as possible? The Court has hit upon the answer: find them competent to stand trial but incompetent to act as their own attorneys. Though my own experience representing the mentally ill is brief and anecdotal, it has always struck me that the standard for competence to stand trial is simply too low.
And that is the real problem with today's decision: the standard for competence to go pro se should be the same as the standard for competence to stand trial, but the latter should be higher than it is currently. [Mike Mannheimer]
April 17, 2008
SCOTUS Hears Death Penalty for Rape Case
From npr.com: The Supreme Court on Wednesday takes up a major death penalty case testing whether capital punishment is constitutional for the rape of a child. It is the first time that the newly constituted Supreme Court will be examining what the standards are for determining what crimes can be punished by execution.
For the last three decades, the high court has limited the use of the death penalty, ruling that it can't be imposed against kidnappers who do not kill or even some accomplices to murder.
In 1977, the court, by a 7-to-2 vote, ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment for the rape of an adult woman. In that case, the victim was a 16-year-old woman — considered by the state to be an adult — raped by an escaped prisoner convicted previously for rape."
Execution is "excessive," the court said, for the rapist who does not take a human life.
In the 31 years since the decision, nobody has been executed for rape in the United States. But on Wednesday, the high court will hear arguments on the question of whether a person can be executed for rape if the victim is a child. Six states now have laws that allow capital punishment for child rape. Only Louisiana has actually sentenced anyone to death for child rape. The state allows execution for the rape of someone under age 13, and has two men on death row for the crime.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 16, 2008
SCOTUS Backs Lethal Injection
In a 7-2 decision, the justices rejected a constitutional challenge to the procedures in place in Kentucky, which uses three drugs to sedate, paralyze and kill inmates.
"We ... agree that petitioners have not carried their burden of showing that the risk of pain from maladministration of a concededly humane lethal injection protocol, and the failure to adopt untried and untested alternatives, constitute cruel and unusual punishment," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.
Executions across the country have been on hold since September, when the court agreed to hear the Kentucky case. Texas, which leads the nation in executions, has also had an unofficial moratorium. It is not known when executions will resume. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 15, 2008
SCOTUS Looks into Whether Judges Must Notify After Sentencing Guideline Deviation
From NPR.com: The Supreme Court on Tuesday hears a case involving whether a judge must notify the defense if he deviates from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. A pre-sentence report recommended a sentence of 41 to 51 months in prison for a California man who pleaded guilty to threatening his wife. Without notifying defense counsel, the judge rejected the recommendation and instead sentenced the man to the maximum penalty of five years in prison. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 01, 2008
SCOTUS Rejects the Reopening of a Dual Murder Case Against an Mexican Citizen
From reuters.com: Mexico protested on Monday a U.S. Supreme Court ruling rejecting the reopening of a dual-murder case against a Mexican on death row.
The court rule last week that U.S. President George W. Bush exceeded his authority when he directed Texas to comply with a World Court ruling mandating the review of the cases of Jose Medellin and 50 other Mexicans in U.S. prisons awaiting execution.
Mexico's Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic letter to the U.S. State Department expressing its unhappiness.
"Mexico is concerned with the decision taken last March 25 by the United States' highest court," the ministry said in a statement, adding it would do everything in its power to have the World Court's ruling upheld.
The Hague court in 2004 ordered the United States to review Medellin's case, and those of the other Mexican death row inmates, on the grounds that his Vienna Convention right to talk to consular officers after his arrest had been violated.
Bush in 2005 decided to comply with the World Court's ruling.
Medellin has been on death row since 1994. [Mark Godsey]
March 19, 2008
SCOTUS Overturns Murder Convictions Due to Racism
From NPR.com: The Supreme Court overturns a murder conviction and death sentence for a black defendant in Louisiana who said his trial was tainted by racism. A seven-member majority of the justices said the prosecutor improperly kept blacks off the jury. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
February 25, 2008
SCOTUS to Hear Car Search Case
The justices agreed to hear an appeal by Arizona officials of a ruling declaring such searches unconstitutional when the scene has been secured and the suspect has been handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car under police supervision.
The high court's conservative majority in recent years has generally
sided with the police while cutting back on the rights of criminal
suspects in car cases.
The U.S. Constitution protects suspects against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence.
The Arizona case will require the Supreme Court to reexamine its 1981 ruling that risks to officer safety and the preservation of evidence justify a warrantless car search as part of the arrest.
Arizona officials said the state Supreme Court effectively overruled the 1981 ruling in requiring that the police show that inherent dangers actually existed at the time of the search.
The case began in 1999 when the police in Tucson received a tip of drug activity at a house. Two officers went to the house, and when Rodney Gant answered the door he told them the owner was not home, but would return later in the day.
The officers left, but then discovered Gant had a suspended driver's license and an outstanding warrant for driving on a suspended license. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
February 20, 2008
SCOTUS Will Hear Evidence Suppression
From NYTimes.com: In theory, a criminal-law doctrine known as the exclusionary rule forbids prosecutors from using evidence obtained by the police as the result of an improper search. In practice, the rule has significant exceptions, like for evidence obtained in good faith through reliance on an invalid search warrant or as the result of erroneous information from a court official.
Justices on the current Supreme Court have made no secret of their desire to carve more exceptions out of the nearly 100-year-old exclusionary rule. On Tuesday, the court accepted a new case that could provide a route toward that goal.
The question in the case is whether the list of exceptions should be expanded to include evidence obtained from a search undertaken by officers relying on a careless record-keeping error by the police.
In this instance, officers in Coffee County, Ala., arrested a man, Bennie Dean Herring, in 2004 after being informed by the Sheriff’s Department in neighboring Dale County that he was the subject of an outstanding warrant. But the warrant, although still in Dale County’s computerized database, had in fact been withdrawn five months earlier. In the 10 or 15 minutes it took for the Dale County officers to realize their error, the Coffee County officers had already stopped Mr. Herring, handcuffed him, and searched him and his truck, finding methamphetamine and an unloaded pistol.
Rest of Article. . .[Mark Godsey]
February 19, 2008
SCOTUS Rejects Wiretapping Case
From latimes.com: The Supreme Court today dismissed the first legal challenge President Bush's warrantless wiretapping order, but without ruling on any of the key issues.Since Congress is now fighting with the White House over new rules for wiretapping, the court may have chosen to stand aside from the controversy.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union had argued that this dispute went beyond whether the nation's spy agency could intercept international phone calls and e-mails. It raised the question of whether the president must abide by the law, they said.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, a Cold War-era compromise, said the president could order secret wiretapping within the United States, but only with the specific approval of a special court.
But after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush issued a secret order to the
National Security Agency
that authorized it to intercept phone calls or e-mails coming into or going out of this country if there was a "reasonable basis" to believe there was a link to Al Qaeda. More significantly, the NSA did not need the approval of the FISA court to conduct this spying, according to the order.
When Bush's order was revealed in 2005, the president defended his decision as necessary for protecting against another attack within the United States. He also argued that the president, as commander in chief of the armed services, had the constitutional authority to act in the national interest, even if a law stood in the way.
The ACLU's lawyer urged the courts to take up the issue and rule that the law must be followed. "The president is bound by the laws that Congress enacts. He may disagree with those laws, but he may not disobey them," the ACLU said in the appeal to the Supreme Court. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
January 12, 2008
SCOTUS to Hear Admissibility Case Concerning Out of Court Statement from murder Vic to Police
From latimes.com: The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a Los Angeles murderer's appeal to decide a legal question that sounds like a macabre joke: The man argues that his victim's statements to police shouldn't be admissible, because the dead witness isn't available for cross-examination.
The case, to be decided in the spring, could have a serious impact in many trials where a key witness isn't there to testify.
Three years ago, in something of a surprise, the high court said "hearsay" or other out-of-court statements generally cannot be used in a trial. That repealed the more relaxed rule that had been in effect for more than two decades. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
January 06, 2008
SCOTUS to Hear Lethal Injection Case
From dallasnew.com: On Monday, the
U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a Kentucky case to decide
whether the method of lethal injection used in more than two dozen
states, including Texas, is cruel and unusual punishment. The
case will not decide whether the death penalty itself is
unconstitutional, but whether the drugs used to inflict death – sodium
thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride – cause
unnecessary pain. Sodium thiopental is used to render the inmate
unconscious; pancuronium bromide paralyzes the muscles; potassium
chloride stops the heart. The three-drug cocktail was first used in
Texas in 1982. The Kentucky inmates – Ralph Baze, who was
convicted of killing a sheriff and deputy in 1992, and Thomas C.
Bowling, who was convicted of killing a couple after an automobile
accident in 1990 – argue that if the first drug wears off, the
paralysis caused by the pancuronium bromide may hide excruciating pain,
causing the inmate to suffer needlessly. Pancuronium bromide
"prevents a person from speaking, moving, or expressing any other
outward signs of pain or consciousness, but is extremely agonizing in a
conscious person as the person suffocates just as if he or she was
drowning with weights on his or her body to prevent movement," the
filings say. In addition, the filings say, potassium chloride,
"otherwise known as road salt ... is excruciatingly painful in a
conscious person." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
The case will not decide whether the death penalty itself is unconstitutional, but whether the drugs used to inflict death – sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride – cause unnecessary pain.
Sodium thiopental is used to render the inmate unconscious; pancuronium bromide paralyzes the muscles; potassium chloride stops the heart. The three-drug cocktail was first used in Texas in 1982.
The Kentucky inmates – Ralph Baze, who was convicted of killing a sheriff and deputy in 1992, and Thomas C. Bowling, who was convicted of killing a couple after an automobile accident in 1990 – argue that if the first drug wears off, the paralysis caused by the pancuronium bromide may hide excruciating pain, causing the inmate to suffer needlessly.
Pancuronium bromide "prevents a person from speaking, moving, or expressing any other outward signs of pain or consciousness, but is extremely agonizing in a conscious person as the person suffocates just as if he or she was drowning with weights on his or her body to prevent movement," the filings say.
In addition, the filings say, potassium chloride, "otherwise known as road salt ... is excruciatingly painful in a conscious person." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
December 03, 2007
SCOTUS to Once Again Decide if Federal Judges Have Jurisdiction to Hear Guantanamo Cases
The question before the court will be whether federal judges have jurisdiction to hear cases brought by detainees at Guantanamo, Cuba. A lawyer for a group of detainees will argue that they do; the Bush administration’s solicitor general will argue that they do not.
But did not the court already decide that question? Did not the justices rule in Rasul v. Bush in 2004 that federal judges could review the legality of the Guantánamo detentions, rejecting the administration’s position that the detainees’ fate was a question for the executive branch alone?
No, history will not just be repeating itself at the court Wednesday. It has moved on, and the four years since the court shocked the administration by agreeing to hear the Rasul case have been busy ones.
Each of the three branches of government has made a series of judgments on how to strike the balance between individual liberty and national security in the post-9/11 era. This latest Supreme Court confrontation, round three of the justices’ encounter with the detainee question, reflects an extraordinary interbranch drama, played out as a series of actions and reactions that has now cycled back to where it began: the role of the federal courts.
This third round is potentially the most momentous, because at stake is whether the Supreme Court itself will continue to have a role in defining the balance or whether, as the administration first argued four years ago, the executive branch is to have the final word.
The roots of the new case, Boumediene v. Bush, No. 06-1195, lie in the court’s second-round detainee case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, decided in 2006. The court ruled that the military commission system the Bush administration had set up to try enemy combatants for war crimes was fatally flawed because the president had acted without Congressional authorization. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
SCOTUS Takes a Right to Counsel Case
From SCOTUSBLOG.com: The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to further clarify when a suspect taken into custody by police has a right to a lawyer. The question is whether that right sets in when an individual has been taken before a magistrate, who finds reason to believe a crime has been committed and sends the individual to jail, or whether it only ataches when a prosecutor prepares to or makes a charge.
The new right-to-counsel case, Rothgery v. Gillespie County, Texas (07-440), the Justices will hear, with oral argument likely in March, involves a Fredericksburg, Texas, man, Walter Allen Rothgery, who sought but was denied the aid of an attorney when he appeared before a magistrate at a probable cause hearing. The magistrate found probable cause to support a charge that Rothgery was a felon who had a gun; Rothgery was sent to jail. He was released on bond, but rearrested later after a grand jury indicted him. Once he obtained a lawyer, the charges were dismissed; the felony allegation against him turned out to have been an error because charges against him in California had been dismissed.
Rothgery sued the county in a civil rights lawsuit over the denial of a lawyer at the first hearing. The County opposed the lawsuit, contending that the right to counsel did not attach until he actually had been indicted — a claim ultimately upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court. Rothgery’s appeal was supported by 22 law professors urging the Justices to clarify when the right to counsel attaches.
Rest of Article. . .[Mark Godsey]
October 10, 2007
SCOTUS Takes a Mexican Man on Death Row Case
From NPR.com: Jose Medellin, a Mexican man on death row in Texas has an unlikely ally in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. President Bush is asking the court to order the state to abide by an international court ruling that required it to notify Mexican authorities when the man was arrested. Texas courts have said the ruling has no weight in Texas and the president has no power to order its enforcement. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
October 09, 2007
SCOTUS Hears Third Party Fraud Case
From NPR.com: The U.S. Supreme Court is due to hear arguments in a case testing the rights of investors who are asking to recover losses from third parties, such as insurance and accounting firms, and banks that they say help corporations perpetrate a fraud.
In June, the Securities and Exchange Commission agreed that the integrity of the marketplace is at stake.
Siding with big business, President Bush overruled the commission, contending that to allow such investor claims to go forward would lead to billions of dollars in potentially abusive lawsuits.
The case before the Supreme Court involves cable company Charter Communications. The St. Louis-based company is alleged to have deceived investors by conspiring with two of its vendors to make Charter's balance sheet look better than it was. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
October 02, 2007
SCOTUS Will Once Again Address Federal Sentencing Guidlines
From NPR.com: The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in two cases testing the limits of judicial discretion in federal sentencing. The basic question: should sentencing guidelines be considered advisory or mandatory? Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
September 30, 2007
SCOTUS to Hear Boumediene, Lakhdar, et al vs. Bush
The Supreme Court has drawn intense attention by agreeing to weigh in for a third time in the ongoing battle between the Bush Administration and Guantanamo Bay detainees over the prisoners' right to bring writs of habeas corpus.
The Court rejected the prisoners' petition for certiorari in April, but reversed course two months later. Observers have speculated that at least one Justice was moved to change his certiorari vote when the detainees' lawyers filed a court paper in the underlying litigation outlining the claims of an Army lawyer that the panels provided as alternates to habeas were "shams."
The consolidated cases, Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States, Nos. 06-1195 and 06-1196, represent the ongoing struggle between the executive and legislative branches on the one hand, and the judicial branch on the other, to define the scope of the government's power to conduct the war on terror.
In 2002 Lakhdar Boumediene and five other Algerian natives were seized by Bosnian police when U.S. intelligence officers suspected their involvement in a plot to attack the U.S. embassy there.
The U.S. government classified the men as enemy combatants in the war on terror and detained them at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which is located on land that the U.S. leases from Cuba.
Boumediene filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging violations of the Constitution's Due Process Clause, various statutes and treaties, the common law, and international law. The District Court judge granted the government's motion to have all of the claims dismissed on the ground that Boumediene, as an alien detained at an overseas military base, had no right to a habeas petition.
More. . . [Mark Godsey]
September 26, 2007
SCOTUS Announces that it Will Hear Cases on Lethal Injection and Voter ID
From NPR.com: The Supreme Court announces it will hear arguments on two controversial cases. The first asks whether lethal injection should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. The second asks whether voter identification laws deter people from casting a ballot. These cases and the way the court rules on them could be a factor in next year's elections. Dahlia Lithwick, legal analyst with the online magazine Slate, talks to Alex Cohen. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
July 01, 2007
SCOTUS May Plan to Impact Enemy Combatant Policy
From NPR.com: The Supreme Court's surprise decision this week to hear another case involving the rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees could have a profound impact on hundreds of prisoners there, and for U.S. policy on detaining enemy combatants. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]