CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, June 28, 2007

SCOTUS Decides Panetti v Quarterman

Supreme_court_20In Panetti v. Quarterman, No. 06-6407, the court awarded a new day in court to a Texas death row inmate who seeks federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that he is incompetent to be executed. According to his experts, the petitioner understands that he is to be put to death and the factual predicate for it, but he is under a delusion that the true reason for his death sentence is state officials' desire to silence his preaching. The 5-4 court concluded that the Texas courts failed to provide the petitioner with the procedures he was due under the Constitution.

The court also held that the Fifth Circuit used an improperly restrictive test in rejecting the incompetency claim on the merits. It said it is a mistake to treat a prisoner's delusional beliefs as irrelevant so long as he comprehends that the state has identified the link between his crime and the punishment to be inflicted.

Along the way, the court held that a state prisoner who seeks federal habeas relief on the ground that he is incompetent to be executed, but who previously filed a petition that failed to raise that claim, need not satisfy the gatekeeping requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act for presenting a new claim in a second or successive petition. [Mark Godsey]

June 28, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 25, 2007

SCOTUS Decides Morse v Frederick

Supreme_court_20From In Morse v. Frederick, the Supreme Court affirmed wide authority for school administrators to regulate students' speech, allowing principals to punish pupils who make any in-school speech or demonstration that may "reasonably be viewed" as promoting illegal drug use.

The finding came in a case in which a Juneau public high school teacher gave Joseph Frederick a 10-day suspension for unfurling a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" as the school was gathering outside to watch the Olympic Torch Relay pass in 2002. Joseph, who has since graduated, sued the suspension was a violation of his constitutional right to free speech.

Though the Banner's message was admittedly ambiguous, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the court majority that the school's principal, Deborah Morse, was not wrong to conclude that it promoted the use of an illegal substance, which was contrary to the Juneau school system's policy.

The dangers of illegal drug use are "serious," Roberts wrote, and the "First Amendment does not require schools to tolerate at school events student expression that contributes to those dangers," Roberts wrote.

Roberts' opinion was joined fully by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justice Stephen G. Breyer agreed with the majority that Morse should not be liable, but disagreed with its reasoning.

Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justices David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissented.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 25, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 22, 2007

SCOTUS Decides Rita v US

Supreme_court_20In Rita v. United States, No. 06-5754, the SCOTUS ruled that federal appeals courts may apply a "presumption of reasonableness" to federal sentences that fall within the range of punishment recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Critics of this approach had argued that such a presumption effectively moved the guidelines system back toward the mandatory guidelines scheme that the court struck down in United States v. Booker [Mark Godsey]

June 22, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

SCOTUS Upholds Rights of Passengers

Supreme_court_20From A passenger as well as a driver has the right to challenge the legality of a police officer’s decision to stop a car, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously today in Brendlin v. California, No. 06-8120.

The ruling came in the case of Bruce E. Brendlin, who was a passenger in a car that was stopped by a deputy sheriff in Yuba City, Calif., on Nov. 27, 2001. The deputy soon ascertained that Mr. Brendlin was an ex-convict who was wanted for violating his parole. An ensuing search of the driver, the car and Mr. Brendlin turned up methamphetamine supplies.

Eventually, Mr. Brendlin pleaded guilty to a drug charge and drew a four-year prison sentence. But he continued to appeal on the issue of whether the evidence of drugs found on him resulted from an illegal search and should have been suppressed because of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The California Supreme Court found that, consitutionally speaking, only the driver had been “seized” by the stop, and that therefore Mr. Brendlin had no basis for challenging the search that turned up the drugs. The State of California made that argument again when the case was heard before the United States Supreme Court on April 23.

But Mr. Brendlin’s lawyer, Elizabeth M. Campbell, argued that when an officer makes a traffic stop, “he seizes not only the driver of the car, but also the car, and every person and every thing in that car.”

The justices agreed. “When police make a traffic stop, a passenger in the car, like the driver, is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and so may challenge the stop’s constitutionality,” Justice David H. Souter wrote for the high court.

Most federal and state courts have ruled that passengers in a traffic stop are also “seized,” legally speaking, and thus may challenge the legality of the stop. But the state courts in Washington and Colorado, as well as California, had held otherwise until today.

The justices rejected the state of California’s contention that, if they found in favor of Mr. Brendlin, it would mean that passengers in buses and taxis would also be “seized” if the driver were pulled over for, say, running a red light. “The relationship between driver and passenger is not the same in a common carrier as it is in a private vehicle, and the expectations of police officers and passengers differ accordingly,” the ruling said.

Although today’s ruling overturns the California Supreme Court’s ruling against Mr. Brendlin, it does not necessarily end his legal troubles. Justice Souter said that it will now be up to the state courts to determine whether the drug evidence should have been suppressed. Prosecutors may try to show that the search was justified on other grounds, in part because Mr. Brendlin was a parole violator and the subject of an outstanding warrant.  Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 19, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

SCOTUS Dismisses Appeal Because of 2 Day Late Filing

Supreme_court_20From The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of a convicted murderer from Ohio Thursday because he filed it two days late, even though he met a separate deadline set by a judge.

The judge mistakenly told the prisoner, Keith Bowles, 34, that he could file court papers by Feb. 27, 2004. Under federal rules, however, the deadline was Feb. 24. Bowles filed on Feb. 26.

The high court typically adheres strictly to deadlines and this case was no exception.

The 5-4 decision, the 16th this term, fell along conservative-liberal lines and also provoked a strong dissent from Justice David Souter.

Writing the opinion for the court's majority in this case, Justice Clarence Thomas said the judge's error did not alter the 14-day time limit set in federal law and legal rules. He said Congress could relax the deadline if it wishes.

Bowles was convicted of murder in Ohio for his role in a group beating of an unarmed man, who later died. The beating was in revenge for an earlier beating that day to a relative of a member of the group in Painesville, about 30 miles northeast of Cleveland, court records showed.

Bowles was given 15 years to life in prison. Early in 2004, a federal judge gave Bowles additional time to tell the court he intended to appeal, mistakenly noting a 17-day deadline.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Bowles' appeal was untimely.

Souter said Bowles' case cries out for an exception to the rule.

“It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way, and there is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch,” Souter said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 14, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 11, 2007

SCOTUS Decides Fry v. Pliler

Supreme_court_20_2 The U.S. Supreme Court June 11 decided Fry v. Pliler, No. 06-5247.

The court prescribed a standard of harmless-error review for federal courts to use in habeas corpus proceedings under 28 U.S.C. §2254 to evaluate the prejudicial effect of constitutional errors in state trials. A federal court is to apply the "substantial and injurious effect" standard of Brecht v. Abramson on habeas review, regardless of whether the state court  recognized the error and reviewed it under Chapman v. California 's "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, the court held. [Mark Godsey]

June 11, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS Grants Review To Discuss Deviation From US Sentencing Guidelines

Supreme_court_20The U.S. Supreme Court June 11 granted review in a criminal case that raises a sentencing issue similar to that presented in a case that the court dropped last week due to the death of the petitioner.

The question presented in Gall v. United States, No. 06-7949, is as follows: When determining the "reasonableness" of a district court sentence under United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 76 CrL 251 (2005), is it appropriate to require district courts to justify a deviation from the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines with a finding of extraordinary circumstances?

The court also agreed to review a case involving federal sentencing judges' authority to impose a sentence below the guidelines range on the basis of a disagreement with the guidelines' disparate treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenses,  Kimbrough v. United States, No. 06-6330.

[Mark Godsey]

June 11, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 4, 2007

SCOTUS Decides Erickson v Pardus

Supreme_court_20_2In  Erickson v. Pardus, No. 06-7317, the court decided in a per curiam opinion that a prisoner's allegations filed in a civil rights action that he suffered a harm cognizable under the Eighth Amendment as a result of prison officials' decision to terminate his participation in a hepatitis treatment program satisfied the pleading requirements of Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(a)(2). Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 4, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS Decides Uttecht v. Brown

Supreme_court_20From The Supreme Court reinstated the death sentence Monday of a man convicted of carjacking, rape and murder who initially won a reprieve by arguing that a potential juror was wrongly excluded from his trial.

The court in Uttecht v. Brown, a 5-4 decision, said that the Washington state judge who presided over the trial of Cal Coburn Brown properly used his discretion to excuse a potential juror who expressed equivocal views about the death penalty.

The juror in question was challenged by prosecutors because he indicated he would impose the death penalty only if the defendant were in the position to kill again. Jurors' options were limited: they could sentence Brown to death or life in prison with no parole.

Defense lawyers did not object at trial. When the issue was raised on appeal, Washington state courts and a federal judge affirmed the conviction.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the juror should not have been excused because he said he would consider the death penalty in an appropriate case.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the deciding vote in every death case the court has heard this session, said the appeals court should have deferred to the trial judge.

"But where, as here, there is lengthy questioning of a prospective juror and the trial court has supervised a diligent and thoughtful (examination), the trial court has broad discretion," Kennedy wrote for the majority. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined the opinion.

Justice John Paul Stevens, reading a strong dissent from the bench, said the court wiped away earlier decisions that allow death penalty opponents to sit on juries in capital cases, provided they demonstrate they can set aside their beliefs and follow the law. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 4, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

SCOTUS Allows Parents to Sue Schools Without a Lawyer

Supreme_court_20_2 From Parents of disabled children won a major victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, as the justices ruled unanimously that parents do not have to hire a lawyer to sue a school district over providing an appropriate education for a child with special needs.

The court's ruling came in the case of Jeff and Sandee Winkelman, whose son, Jacob, is autistic. When he entered pre-school, Jacob's tantrums were severe enough that the district placed him in a special school for autistic children.

But after two years, Mrs. Winkelman says, there was a changing of the guard, and new school administrators and school board members said Jacob had to attend regular public school.

Under the Disabilities Act, parents are entitled to go to court to enforce the law, but a majority of the courts have required that parents be represented by a lawyer. If parents didn't have an attorney, their cases were thrown out.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that parents cannot be shut out of court just because they are representing themselves.

The ruling was a blow to school boards across the country. National School Boards Association General Counsel Francisco Negron says that allowing non-lawyer parents in court will lengthen the process because parents are not legally trained and often are emotional. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]

May 22, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS Decides L.A. County vs. Rettele

Supreme_court_20 From Mistakes sometimes happen when police conduct home searches, the Supreme Court said Monday in throwing out Los Angeles County vs. Rettele, a lawsuit brought by a white couple in Southern California who were rousted from bed and held naked at gunpoint by deputies looking for several black suspects.

The search of Max Rettele and his girlfriend, Judy Sadler, in their bedroom may have been an error, and it was certainly embarrassing to them, the justices said. But it did not violate their rights under the 4th Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures," they added.

Police obtain search warrants based on probable evidence, not "absolute certainty," the court said in an unsigned opinion. "Valid warrants will issue to search the innocent, and people like Rettele and Sadler unfortunately bear the cost."

Without bothering to hear arguments in the case, the Supreme Court agreed and ruled for the deputies.

The couple's "constitutional rights were not violated," the court said in Los Angeles County vs. Rettele. The deputies "believed a suspect might be armed…. In executing a search warrant, officers may take reasonable action to secure the premises and to ensure their own safety and the efficacy of the search."

As for the innocent victims, "the resulting frustration, embarrassment and humiliation may be real, as was true here," the court said in its seven-page opinion. Nonetheless, "when officers execute a valid warrant and act in a reasonable manner to protect themselves from harm, however, the 4th Amendment is not violated."

Only Justice David H. Souter dissented from the order to reject the suit. In a separate statement, Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurred in the outcome without joining the court's opinion. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

May 22, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How the Gault Case Changed Juvenile Law

From In 1967 a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision gave juveniles accused of crimes the same due process rights as adults. The case involved Jerry Gault, who at 14 was given a seven-year sentence for a prank phone call. Gault's story didn't end there.  Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]

May 20, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 14, 2007

SCOTUS Decides Schriro v Landigan

From The Supreme Court recently decided Schriro v Landigan.

Respondent Landrigan refused to allow his counsel to present the testimony of his ex-wife and birth mother as mitigating evidence at his sentencing hearing for a felony-murder conviction. He also interrupted as counsel tried to proffer other evidence, and he told the Arizona trial judge he did not wish to present any mitigating evidence and to “bring on” the death penalty.

The court sentenced him to death, and the sentence was affirmed. The state postconviction court rejected Landrigan’s claim that his counsel was ineffective for failing to conduct further investigation into mitigating circumstances, finding that he had instructed counsel at sentencing not to present any mitigating evidence at all. Landrigan then filed a federal habeas petition under 28 U. S. C. §2254. Exercising its discretion, the District Court refused to grant him an evidentiary hearing because he could not make out even a colorable ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim.

The en banc Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Landrigan’s counsel’s performance fell below the standard required by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 .

The Supreme COurt held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to grant Landrigan an evidentiary hearing. [Mark Godsey]

May 14, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 30, 2007

SCOTUS Decides Scott v Harris

Supreme_court_20From The Supreme Court today handed an important victory to police officers who are involved in high-speed chases, and took the unusual step of posting a videotape of the chase on its Web site to show that the now-paralyzed civilian driver was to blame.

The court ruled 8-1 in Scott v Harris that Georgia deputy sheriff Timothy Scott could not be sued for the accident that left then 19-year-old Victor Harris a quadriplegic. The high-speed chase down dark highways in 2001 -- which ended when Scott rammed Harris' Cadillac from behind and sent him down an embankment -- was captured on videotape by a camera in one of the pursuing police vehicles.

"Far from being the cautious and controlled driver the lower court depicts, what we see on the video more closely resembles a Hollywood-style car chase of the most frightening sort, placing police officers and innocent bystanders alike at great risk of serious injury," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia was incredulous that the lower courts had said Harris's case against Scott could proceed.

But Justice John Paul Stevens said from the bench that it was preferrable to let a jury see the tape and decide the case, rather than "elderly appellate judges." Stevens is the oldest member of the court at 87.

He said the court had "usurped the jury's factfinding function."

In this case, both a lower court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled in favor of Harris. The 11th Circuit said that Scott's actions constituted deadly force and that it was unreasonable because the officer had no reason to think Harris had done anything more than violate traffic laws. The police gave chase because they clocked him going 73 mph in a 55-mph zone.

In their opinions, Scalia and Stevens got into a battle of footnotes, which Scalia said the public could decide.

"Justice Stevens suggest that our reaction to the videotape is somehow idiosyncratic, and seems to believe we are misrepresenting its contents," Scalia wrote. "We are happy to allow the videotape for itself."

There follows a highly unusual cite for a court that rarely releases audiotapes of its oral arguments and remains steadfastly opposed to cameras in its courtroom. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

April 30, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

An Inside Look Into the Life of Justice Clarence Thomas

From Drugs have been a persistent problem in Pin Point, Ga., a tiny rural settlement best known as the birthplace of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Neighborhood leaders tried everything to chase the scourge away -- a march, a warning sign along the main drag, even a pilgrimage by the local church congregation, which prayed for and sang hymns to the dealers one Sunday morning.

"The guys who were on the corner just walked away," said Bishop Thomas J. Sills, the pastor at Sweet Field of Eden Baptist Church. But they didn't stay gone.

One of the local dealers was Justice Clarence Thomas's nephew. Until his 30-year prison sentence began in 1999, Mark Elliot Martin, the son of Thomas's sister, had been part of Pin Point's drug problem. He had been in and out of trouble, and in and out of jail -- at least 12 arrests, according to court records. In 1997, the year Martin was convicted of pointing a pistol at another person, Thomas assumed custody of his nephew's son, with the nephew's permission. Mark Elliot Martin Jr. -- "Marky," they called him -- was a precocious, curly-haired 6-year-old. The justice promised to give Mark what Thomas's grandfather had given him at the same age -- opportunities to succeed beyond what the boy had in Pin Point.

When he began raising Mark -- Thomas has one adult son from a previous marriage -- he altered his Supreme Court schedule. He sent Mark to private schools, gave him extra homework to improve his math and reading, taught him to dribble with his left hand. And Mark responded. He excelled in school, became a Harry Potter fan and took up golf, and as a teenager he is comfortable around some of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

April 29, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

SCOTUS Rules on Three Habeas Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court on April 25 issued three habeas corpus rulings overturning death sentences imposed in Texas.

Supreme_court_20 In  Abdul Kabir v. Quarterman, No. 05-11284, and Brewer v. Quarterman, 05-11287, the court held that
Texas courts' rulings  that the state's former capital sentencing scheme allowed penalty phase jurors to give constitutionally adequate consideration to mitigating evidence of mental impairment or childhood neglect and abuse constituted, for purposes of the federal habeas corpus statute, an "unreasonable application" of  Penry v. Lynaugh and other Supreme Court caselaw interpreting the Eighth Amendment.

In Smith v. Texas, No. 05-11304, the court reaffirmed an earlier ruling that the petitioner's death sentence was fatally flawed under the same Texas sentencing scheme, and it decided that the state courts misunderstood the basis of court's prior ruling when they applied a rigorous standard of review en route to upholding the sentence on remand.  [Mark Godsey]

April 26, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

SCOTUS Decides James v. United States

Supreme_court_20_2 In James v. United States, No. 05-9264, the Supreme Court ruled that a prior conviction for an attempt crime may count as a predicate "violent felony" for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act if it qualifies under the ACCA's "residual" clause by virtue of the fact that it "otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." More. . . [Mark Godsey]

April 18, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS Decides Gonzales v Carhart

Supreme_court_20From U.S. Supreme Court recently decided Gonzales v. Carhart, No. 05-380, a 5-4 majority of the court rejected facial constitutional challenges to the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 , which authorizes criminal penalties for performing so-called "partial birth" second-trimester abortions.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that opponents of the Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003 "have not demonstrated that the Act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases." "Today's decision is alarming,"

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent with justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens. She said the ruling "refuses to take ... seriously" previous Supreme Court decisions on abortion. But the American Center for Law and Justice, which litigates pro-life issues, called the ruling "an important shift in the ongoing battle to protect human life." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

April 18, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 16, 2007

SCOTUS Rejects Inmate Letter Publication Case

Supreme_court_20_2 From The Supreme Court declined Monday to review a jury verdict against a newspaper for publishing a prison inmate's letter without verifying allegations it contained about a prosecutor.

The owners of the Buzz newspaper of Martinsville, Va., wanted the court to take their case to clarify whether media outlets have a duty to investigate claims made in letters to the editor or risk defamation lawsuits. The justices rejected the appeal without comment.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

April 16, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 9, 2007

SCOTUS Rejects Inmate Letter Publication Case

Supreme_court_20From The Supreme Court declined Monday to review a jury verdict against a newspaper for publishing a prison inmate's letter without verifying allegations it contained about a prosecutor.

The owners of the Buzz newspaper of Martinsville, Va., wanted the court to take their case to clarify whether media outlets have a duty to investigate claims made in letters to the editor or risk defamation lawsuits. The justices rejected the appeal without comment.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

April 9, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)