February 21, 2013
Supreme Court Action: Retroactivity, Double Jeopardy, Habeas Corpus, And Jurisdiction
Here are the five opinions released by the Court yesterday. The first case is Chaidez v. United States (11-820). The case concerns retroactive applicability of a “new” rule defining the standard of competence for counsel. Chaidez was subject to deportation proceedings due to the fact that she pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 2004. She filed a writ of coram nobis seeking to overturn her conviction as a means to avoid deportation. At the time the petition was pending, the Court decided Padilla v. Kentucky. That case held that it is a violation of the Sixth Amendment if counsel did not inform a non-citizen of the deportation risks associated with guilty pleas. The District Court held that Padilla did not announce a new rule but simply applied a standard to a new context. The Seventh Circuit reversed holding that Padilla announced a new rule.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit holding that Padilla was not retroactive. As such, its holding does not apply to Chaidez’s case. Many courts had held that advice about deportation was removed from the Sixth Amendment’s requirement for counsel because it was a “collateral consequence” of a conviction. Padilla changed that. Under this analysis, the law that applies to Chaidez is the law that was in effect at the time of her guilty plea. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court, Joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, and Alito. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Ginsburg.
The next case is Evans v. Michigan (11-1327). This is a double jeopardy case. I’ll take the elements of Arson for $300, Alex. Evans received a directed verdict acquitting him of arson due to a misunderstanding of the elements of the crime by the trial judge. The trial court assumed that the State had to prove that the burned building was not a dwelling. That is not part of the State’s burden. The Michigan Appellate Court reversed and the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed holding that a mistake of law which did not resolve a factual element of the offense was not an acquittal for double jeopardy to apply.
The Supreme Court reversed, holding that retrial is barred even if the acquittal is based on an egregiously erroneous foundation. The Court used several examples of its precedent to justify the result, including an erroneous decision to exclude evidence; a mistaken understanding of what evidence would suffice to sustain a conviction; or a misconstruction of a statute defining the requirements to convict. Double jeopardy attached in these circumstances which were distinct from procedural errors. Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion.
The third case is Johnson v. Williams (11-465). It concerns how a federal court considering a habeas corpus petition determines the extent that a state court has considered the merits of issues on direct appeal. The fact that the case is out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals kind of telegraphs the result (reversed!). Respondent Williams was convicted of murder in California. One of William’s issues on direct appeal was that her Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the trial court dismissed a juror during deliberations. The Appellate Court analyzed the circumstances and used Supreme Court precedent to uphold the conviction in light of the issue raised. The California Supreme Court returned the case to the Appellate Court for reconsideration in light of a very recent opinion it released on juror dismissal. The Appellate Court discussed that case and the Supreme Court precedent and again upheld the conviction, though in both instances it never explicitly acknowledged that the issue involved Sixth Amendment rights. The District Court denied habeas relief but the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the California Appellate Court had not considered William’s Sixth Amendment claims. That Court also found that William’s rights were violated.
The Supreme Court reversed. It held that there was a rebuttable presumption that the trial and appellate courts had addressed the constitutional issues on the merits. In this case, the Appellate Court had discussed the California Supreme Court precedent which in turn discussed federal precedent. Though not invoking the Sixth Amendment directly, the Appellate Court effectively considered the constitutional issues in its decision. Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.
The fourth case is Henderson v. United States (11-9703). The trial judge in Henderson’s criminal conviction lengthened his sentence so he could participate in a rehabilitation program. Henderson did not object to the sentence and raised it for the first time on appeal. The Supreme Court decided in another case that it was error for a judge to lengthen a sentence for treatment or rehabilitation purposes while the appeal was pending. The Fifth Circuit concluded that it did not have the authority to correct the “plain error” because the precedent was different at the time of the trial.
The Supreme Court held that the Fifth Circuit could correct the error as long as the error was plain while the appeal was still pending. The Court reviewed its precedent, which was not conclusive, in light of the language of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b) to conclude that even though the law may be unsettled at the time of the error, it can be corrected when the law is settled at the time of appellate review. Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Thomas and Alito joined.
The final case is Gunn v. Minton (11-1118). This is a patent case where a failed party challenges his counsel’s competence. The District Court invalidated Minton’s patent on an interactive securities system under the “on-sale” bar. Minton had leased his system to a brokerage more than one year before he filed for patent protection. Minton argued on a motion for reconsideration that the lease fell within the experiment exception to the on-sale bar. The District Court held that the argument was waived and the Federal Circuit affirmed. Minton filed a malpractice action in state court. His former attorneys argued that the argument would have failed even if raised timely. The trial court agreed. Minton then argued on appeal that his case should have been brought in federal court as the patent laws give exclusive jurisdiction to them for any patent related issue. The Texas Court of Appeals rejected that argument and held that he failed to establish experimental use. The Texas Supreme Court reversed, holding this was a matter for the federal courts.
The Supreme Court reversed. It held that the patent laws do not deprive the state courts from hearing the malpractice claim as it does not arise under the patent laws. The claim is too remote from the substance of the patent laws to trigger exclusive federal jurisdiction. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. [MG]