Tuesday, February 25, 2020

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in First Amendment Challenge to Crime of Encouraging or Inducing Immigration Violation

The Court heard oral argument in United States v. Sineneng-Smith involving the constitutionality of 8 U.S.C.§ 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv). The statute makes it a crime for any person who

encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law.

The Ninth Circuit held that this subsection "criminalizes a substantial amount of protected expression in relation to the statute’s narrow legitimate sweep; thus, we hold that it is unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First Amendment."

The oral argument before the Supreme Court on certiorari was a criss-crossing of the lines between conduct and speech, between criminal law and the First Amendment, and between constitutional avoidance and judicial ability to redraft a statute.  The Deputy Solicitor General argued that the statutory provision was not aimed at speech and did not encompass "substantial amounts of it," and if it did, courts could remedy those situations with as-applied challenges rather than the "last resort remedy of overbreadth invalidation." Arguing for the Respondent, who had been convicted of two counts of the crime, Mark Fleming contended that the words of the statute — "encourages or induces" — are much broader than usual criminal words such as "solicitation" or "aiding and abetting." Fleming emphasized that the "even accurate advice" encouraging someone to stay in the United States is criminalized, including a teacher who says to an undocumented student that she should stay and pursue her education.

The argument returned several times to an amicus brief filed by Professor Eugene Volokh in support of neither party. Volokh contended that the Court should recognize that the line between protected abstract advocacy and unprotected solicitation must turn on specificity, and that

because the premise of the solicitation exception is that solicitation is conduct integral to the commission of a crime, only solicitation of criminal conduct can be made criminal consistently with the First Amendment. Solicitation of merely civilly punishable conduct cannot be made criminal, though it can be punished civilly.

(emphasis in original). It was this issue — that the undocumented person could be merely civilly liable while the person who "encourages or induces" the action of staying would be criminally prosecuted — that seemed to cause some consternation amongst the Justices. Justice Alito raised the encouraging suicide hypothetical:

There's a teenager who's -- who has been very seriously bullied and is very depressed and is thinking of committing suicide. The teenager has a gun in his hand. He calls up the one person he thinks is his friend and he says, I'm thinking of killing myself. And the person on the other end of the line says, you've said this before, I'm tired of hearing this from you, you never follow through, you're a coward, why don't you just do it, I encourage you to pull the trigger.

Alito asked:

Now is that protected by the First Amendment? Is that speech protected by the First Amendment? Attempting to commit suicide is not a crime.

Page1-926px-Welcome_to_the_United_States_-_A_Guide_for_New_immigrants.pdfNevertheless, whether or not the statute would be used that way, or to prosecute people based only on their speech, Fleming pointed to United States v. Stevens, involving the "crush-porn" statute which the Court found unconstitutional, noting that the "first Amendment does not require us to rely on the grace of the executive branch." Interestingly, after Stevens, Congress did pass a more narrow statute which has been upheld.  That experience would surely be on some of the Justices' minds as they consider Chief Justice Roberts's comments about whether the extent to which the statute might be rewritten would need to be "passed by the Senate and House" and "signed by the President," garnering laughter in the courtroom.

Yet Fleming also noted that the government has recently made a "focus" of the enforcement of immigration laws and should the Court uphold the statute, more robust enforcement would likely follow. Given the current controversies around immigration, that would surely also be on the minds of the Justices.

February 25, 2020 in Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Interpretation, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Eleventh Circuit: Florida Law Mandating Indigent Voters Pay Fines and Fees Violates Equal Protection Clause

In an extensive opinion in Jones v. Governor of Florida, the Eleventh Circuit found that the Florida legislature's imposition of payment of all fines, fees, and restitution connected with a felony conviction as a necessary precondition for re-enfranchisement violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Recall that Florida law disenfranchising persons convicted of felonies, held unconstitutional in 2018, was changed by a voter referendum to amend the Florida Constitution. Amendment 4.  Amendment 4 changed the Florida Constitution to provide:

any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

Fla. Const. Art. VI §4.  After the amendment was passed, the Florida legislature passed SB7066, codified as Fla. Stat. §98.071 (5) which defined "completion of all terms of sentence" to include "full payment of any restitution ordered by the court, as well as "Full payment of fines or fees ordered by the court as a part of the sentence or that are ordered by the court as a condition of any form of supervision, including, but not limited to, probation, community control, or parole." 

Recall that in October 2019, United States District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida held that the Florida statute requiring payment of fines, fees, and costs in order for a person convicted of a felony to have their voting rights restored is unconstitutional and should be enjoined, providing that persons affected should have the opportunity to prove their inability to pay.

The Eleventh's Circuit per curiam opinion of 78 pages concluded that the statute's requirement of payment of "legal financial obligations" (known as LFO) could not be sustained under heightened scrutiny.  While wealth classifications in equal protection do not generally merit heightened scrutiny, the Eleventh Circuit noted that

But the Supreme Court has told us that wealth classifications require more searching review in at least two discrete areas: the administration of criminal justice and access to the franchise. M.L.B. [ v. S.L.J.], 519 U.S. at 123  [1996] (“[O]ur cases solidly establish two exceptions to that general rule [of rational basis for wealth classifications]. The basic right to participate in political processes as voters and candidates cannot be limited to those who can pay for a license. Nor may access to judicial processes in cases criminal or ‘quasi criminal in nature’ turn on ability to pay.” (citations omitted)). Because Florida’s re-enfranchisement scheme directly implicates wealth discrimination both in the administration of criminal justice and in access to the franchise, we are obliged to apply some form of heightened scrutiny. Florida has implemented a wealth classification that punishes those genuinely unable to pay fees, fines, and restitution more harshly than those able to pay—that is, it punishes more harshly solely on account of wealth—and it does so by withholding access to the franchise. The observation that Florida may strip the right to vote from all felons forever does not dictate that rational basis review is proper in this case. To the contrary, settled Supreme Court precedent instructs us to employ heightened scrutiny where the State has chosen to “open the door” to alleviate punishment for some, but mandates that punishment continue for others, solely on account of wealth.

Further,

The Supreme Court has also determined that a state may not extend punishment on account of inability to pay fines or fees. See Bearden, 461 U.S. at 672–73 (holding that a state may not revoke probation—thereby extending a prison term—based on the failure to pay a fine the defendant is unable, through no fault of his own, to pay); Tate, 401 U.S. at 399 (holding that a state cannot imprison under a fine-only statute on the basis that an indigent defendant cannot pay a fine); Williams, 399 U.S. at 240–41 (holding that a period of imprisonment cannot be extended beyond the statutory maximum on the basis that an indigent cannot pay a fine).

1024px-2018_Florida_Amendment_4.svgFor the Eleventh Circuit, disenfranchisement is clearly punishment, and also clearly a "continuing form of punishment." (emphasis in original). The Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that while felon disenfranchisment schemes are generally only subject to rational basis review, here, the long and short of it is that:

 once a state provides an avenue to ending the punishment of disenfranchisement—as the voters of Florida plainly did—it must do so consonant with the principles of equal protection and it may not erect a wealth barrier absent a justification sufficient to overcome heightened scrutiny.

The court then applied the form heightened scrutiny from Bearden v. Georgia (1983) including its four considerations: (1) “the nature of the individual interest affected”; (2) “the extent to which it is affected”; (3) “the rationality of the connection between legislative means and purpose”; and (4) “the existence of alternative means for effectuating the purpose.” The court rather expeditiously analyzed the individual's interests as great, the state's interests as minor, and noted the lack of realistic alternatives.

Further, the court rejected Florida's argument that the plaintiffs must demonstrate discriminatory intent:

This is a wealth discrimination case. And the Supreme Court has squarely held that [Washington v.] Davis’s intent requirement is not applicable in wealth discrimination cases. See M.L.B., 519 U.S. at 126–27 (rejecting, in the context of a wealth discrimination claim, the argument that Washington v. Davis requires proof of discriminatory intent).

The Eleventh Circuit opinion concluded that although to the "extent a felon can pay LFOs, he or she must," but clearly affirmed the district court's order enjoining the state "from preventing the plaintiffs from voting based solely on their genuine inability to pay legal financial obligations."

[image: Florida vote on Amendment 4 via]

February 19, 2020 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 7, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Unanimous Jury Case

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Ramos v. Louisiana involving whether the Sixth Amendment confers a right to a unanimous jury verdict and whether that right is incorporated against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Thomas was not on the bench for the argument.

Recall that the issue of which rights in the Bill of Rights are incorporated to the states has received recent attention: in McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010),  a 5-4 Court held that the Second Amendment is incorporated as against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (with four Justices finding this occurred through the Due Process Clause and Justice Thomas stating the proper vehicle was the Privileges or Immunities Clause).  And just last Term, in Timbs v. Indiana, the United States Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. 

But embedded in Timbs was a dispute about whether the "right" and the "substance of the right" must be similar, a question that the Court did not address.  That dispute is at the heart of the incorporation doctrine surrounding the right to have a unanimous jury verdict.  Justice Alito explained the problem in footnote 14 of McDonald, after stating in the text that the general rule is that rights "are all to be enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment according to the same standards that protect those personal rights against federal encroachment.”

There is one exception to this general rule. The Court has held that although the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury requires a unanimous jury verdict in federal criminal trials, it does not require a unanimous jury verdict in state criminal trials. See Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U. S. 404 (1972).

Webster_County _Nebraska_courthouse_courtroom_3The precedential value of Apodaca, a case in which the Justices split 4-1-4, was at the center of the oral argument, although at times not as central as might be predicted.  The reliance of Louisiana on Apodaca in stare decisis considerations was certainly discussed at length,including the issue of how many inmates would be effected by the Court's ruling.  It was unclear how many persons were currently serving sentences under less than unanimous jury verdicts, although petitioner's counsel stated there were currently 36 cases on direct appeal.

However the Solicitor General of Louisiana largely advanced a different argument. She vigorously argued that the Sixth Amendment should not be read to require unanimous jury verdicts at all — whether or not in the context of incorporation. She stated that "nothing in the text, structure, or history of the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous jury verdicts." There seemed to be little support for this construction, although the Justices and opposing counsel did discuss the differences between unanimity and the "12" requirement which the Court has held is not constitutionally required.

There was little indication the Court was likely to revise its Sixth Amendment jurisprudence. And more indication that the Court would continue its trend of incorporating rights in the Bill of Rights as against the states, which would mean overruling Apodaca.

October 7, 2019 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Oral Argument Analysis, Seventh Amendment, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Fourth Circuit: Non-Disparagement Clause in Police Misconduct Settlement Violates First Amendment

In its opinion in Overbey v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, the Fourth Circuit held that non-disparagement clauses in settlement of police misconduct claims violates the First Amendment.

Writing for the majority, Judge Henry Floyd, described the non-disparagement clauses that the Baltimore Police Department inserted in 95% of its settlement agreements. Here, Ashley Overbey sued the city for being arrested in her home when she called 911 to report a burglary, resulting in a settlement of $63,000, complete with the usual non-disparagement provision. The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported on the settlement as it went before a city agency for approval, including a negative comment about Overbey from the City Solicitor, and the reporting prompted some anonymous on-line comments, to which Overbey responded online. The City decided that Overbey's online comments violated the non-disparagement clause and thus remitted only half of the settlement amount, retaining $31,500 as "liquidated damages."

The court found that the settlement agreement included a waiver of Overbey's First Amendment rights (rejecting the City's argument that the First Amendment was not implicated by refraining from speaking), and further held that the waiver was "outweighed by a relevant public policy that would be harmed by enforcement." The court rejected the city's arguments, including a fairness argument that the court should enforce Overbey's sale of her speech rights:

Essentially, the City argues that half of Overbey’s settlement sum was earmarked for her silence, and that it would be unfair for Overbey to collect that half of her money when she was not, in fact, silent. When the second half of Overbey’s settlement sum is viewed in this light, it is difficult to see what distinguishes it from hush money. Needless to say, this does not work in the City’s favor. We have never ratified the government’s purchase of a potential critic’s silence merely because it would be unfair to deprive the government of the full value of its hush money. We are not eager to get into that business now.

The court thus reversed the district judge's grant of summary judgment to the city. It's opinion clearly held that "the non-disparagement clause in Overbey's settlement agreement amounts to a waiver of her First Amendment rights and that strong public interests rooted in the First Amendment make it unenforceable and void."

The court also considered the First Amendment claim of the other plaintiff, Baltimore Brew, a local news website, which the district judge had dismissed for lack of standing. The court held that Brew had standing based on its complaint's allegations regarding the City's pervasive use of non-disparagement clauses in settlements with police brutality claimants as it "impedes the ability of the press generally and Baltimore Brew specifically, to fully carry out the important role the press plays in informing the public about government actions." The court stressed that its conclusion was based on the allegations in the complaint and that the evidentiary record should be developed by the district judge.

Hush_money-or_money_for_the_sewer_-_Frank_Beard._LCCN96514370_(cropped)
Dissenting, recent appointee to the bench Judge Marvin Quattlebaum stated that since Overbey entered into the settlement agreement voluntarily — a question the majority stated it need not resolve given its conclusion regarding public interest — the courts should enforce it. The defendants, the dissenting judge argued, have an interest in finality, the certainty of their contract, and gave up their "opportunity for vindication by a judge or jury" and are thus entitled to have the non-
disparagement clause enforced.  In a footnote, the dissenting judge found the "hush money" by the majority as "harsh words," suggesting that a better view is that the plaintiff "cannot have her cake and eat it too."

[image: "hush money" circa 1883 via]

 

July 12, 2019 in Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 21, 2019

SCOTUS Finds Batson Equal Protection Violation in Flowers v. Mississippi

In its opinion in Flowers v. Mississippi, the Court reversed the decision of a divided Mississippi Supreme Court that there was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the selection of jurors under Batson v. Kentucky (1986).

The Court's opinion by Justice Kavanaugh, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan, stressed the "extraordinary facts" of Flowers and stated the decision sought to simply "enforce and reinforce Batson by applying it" here. Indeed, the jury selection at issue was in the sixth trial of Flowers all prosecuted by the same lead prosecutor.  The Mississippi Supreme Court had reversed one conviction for prosecutorial misconduct, had reversed two other convictions for Batson violations, and two other trials had resulted in "hung juries."  The Court concluded that four "critical facts, taken together" led to the conclusion:

  • First, in the six trials combined, the State employed its peremptory challenges to strike 41 of the 42 black prospective jurors that it could have struck—a statistic that the State acknowledged at oral argument in this Court. 
  • Second, in the most recent trial, the sixth trial, the State exercised peremptory strikes against five of the six black prospective jurors.
  • Third, at the sixth trial, in an apparent effort to find pretextual reasons to strike black prospective jurors, the State engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors.
  • Fourth, the State then struck at least one black prospective juror, Carolyn Wright, who was similarly situated to white prospective jurors who were not struck by the State.

The Court's opinion rehearsed the Equal Protection Clause doctrine that led to Batson, starting as far back as Strauder v. West Virginia (1880).  The Court relied on its most recent Batson case, also a capital case, Foster v. Chatman (2016), and outlined the types of evidence relevant in a Batson challenge. It then discussed the evidence in detail as guided by the "critical facts" above. While the Court's opinion repeated that the case was "extraordinary" and that it was the combination of facts, Justice Alito wrote separately to stress the "unique combinations of circumstances present" as his reason for joining the Court's opinion.

Jury_box_croppedJustice Thomas dissented in an opinion joined in large part by Justice Gorsuch. In Parts I-III of Thomas's dissenting opinion, joined by Gorsuch, Thomas starts by recounting the crime alleged and then argues that there was "no evidence whatsoever of purposeful race discrimination by the State in selecting the jury during the trial below."  Further: "Each of the five challenged strikes was amply justified on race- neutral grounds timely offered by the State at the Batson hearing. None of the struck black jurors was remotely comparable to the seated white jurors. And nothing else about the State’s conduct at jury selection—whether trivial mistakes of fact or supposed disparate questioning— provides any evidence of purposeful discrimination based on race."  As in the Court's opinion, the dissenting opinion then discusses the facts, drawing different conclusion. Yet these conclusions exist in the shade of Part IV of Thomas's dissenting opinion — the portion Gorusch did not join — criticizing Batson as disregarding limitations on standing and "giving a windfall to a convicted criminal" who "suffered no injury."  Thomas concludes by stating that the "State is perfectly free to convict Curtis Flowers again" and that while the "Court's  opinion might boost its self-esteem, it also needlessly prolongs the suffering of four victims’ families." As the only Black Justice on the Court, Thomas's rejection of Batson is sure to prompt discussion.

 

June 21, 2019 in Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 18, 2019

SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Unanimous Jury Incorporation Challenge

The United States Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in Ramos v. Louisiana posing the question whether the right to a unanimous jury verdict is incorporated as against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Recall that in McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), in which a 5-4 Court held that the Second Amendment is incorporated as against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (with four Justices finding this occurred through the Due Process Clause and Justice Thomas stating the proper vehicle was the Privileges or Immunities Clause), Justice Alito writing for the plurality discussed the state of incorporation doctrine in some detail.  In footnote 12, Alito's opinion discussed the provisions of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that had been incorporated, providing citations, and in footnote 13, the opinion discussed the provisions that had not yet been incorporated, other than the Second Amendment then under consideration:

  • the Third Amendment’s protection against quartering of soldiers;
  • the Fifth Amendment’s grand jury indictment requirement;
  • the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases; and
  • the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines.

Just this term in February, the Court whittled this small list down to three, deciding unanimously in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on excessive fines is incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment, following an oral argument in which some Justices expressed wonderment that the issue of incorporation was even arguable in 2018.

But embedded in Timbs was a dispute about whether the "right" and the "substance of the right" must be similar, a question that the Court did not address.  That dispute is at the heart of the incorporation doctrine surrounding the right to have a unanimous jury verdict.  Justice Alito explained the problem in footnote 14 of McDonald, after stating in the text that the general rule is that rights "are all to be enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment according to the same standards that protect those personal rights against federal encroachment.”

There is one exception to this general rule. The Court has held that although the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury requires a unanimous jury verdict in federal criminal trials, it does not require a unanimous jury verdict in state criminal trials. See Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U. S. 404 (1972); see also Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U. S. 356 (1972) (holding that the Due Process Clause does not require unanimous jury verdicts in state criminal trials). But that ruling was the result of an unusual division among the Justices, not an endorsement of the two-track approach to incorporation. In Apodaca, eight Justices agreed that the Sixth Amendment applies identically to both theFederal Government and the States. See Johnson, supra, at 395 (Brennan, J., dissenting). Nonetheless, among those eight, four Justices took the view that the Sixth Amendment does not require unanimous jury verdicts in either federal or state criminal trials, Apodaca, 406 U. S., at 406 (plurality opinion), and four other Justices took the view that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous jury verdicts in federal and state criminal trials, id., at 414–415 (Stewart, J., dissenting); Johnson, supra, at 381–382 (Douglas, J., dissenting). Justice Powell’s concurrence in the judgment broke the tie, and he concluded that the Sixth Amendment requires juror unanimity in federal, but not state, cases. Apodaca, therefore, does not undermine the well-established rule that incorporated Bill of Rights protections apply identically to the States and the Federal Government. See Johnson, supra, at 395–396 (Brennan, J., dissenting) (footnote omitted) (“In any event, the affirmance must not obscure that the majority of the Court remains of the view that, as in the case of every specific of the Bill of Rights that extends to the States, the Sixth Amendment’s jury trialguarantee, however it is to be construed, has identical application against both State and Federal governments.")

Thus, in Ramos v. Louisiana, the Court is set to address this "exception to the general rule" and decide whether jury unanimity is required in a criminal case in state court to the same extent as in federal court pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.

Lady-justice-jury[image via]

March 18, 2019 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Third Circuit Upholds New Jersey's Large Capacity Magazine Prohibition

In its opinion in Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs v. Attorney General of New Jersey, a divided panel of the Third Circuit rejected a challenge to New Jersey's prohibition of large capacity magazines (LCM), defined as magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:39-1(y), 2C:39-3(j).  The challengers sought a preliminary injunction based on violations of the Second Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Fifth Amendment's Taking Clause; after an evidentiary hearing the district judge denied the injunction.

On the Second Amendment claim, the Third Circuit majority agreed with the general analysis laid out by the Second Circuit in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Cuomo (2015). Judge Patty Shwartz, writing for the majority, first determined that a "magazine" is an arm regulated under the Second Amendment. Judge Shwartz then considered whether the regulation of a specific type of magazine, namely an LCM, “imposes a burden on conduct falling within the scope of the Second Amendment’s guarantee," by inquiring whether the type of arm at issue is commonly owned, and “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes." The court noted that the record showed there were "millions" of such magazines and then assumed "without deciding that LCMs are typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes and that they are entitled to Second Amendment protection." The court then turned to the level of scrutiny to be applied — a question left open by the Court in Heller v. D.C. — by inquiring how severely the challenged regulation "burdens the core Second Amendment right."

440px-Double_drum_magazine_filled.svgHere, the court held that the New Jersey law did not severely burden the core Second Amendment right to self-defense in the home for five reasons and thus determined that intermediate scrutiny should apply. The court then held that the State of New Jersey has, undoubtedly, a significant, substantial and important interest in protecting its citizens’ safety," including reducing the lethality of active shooter and mass shooting incidents. The court rejected the challengers' argument that the rarity of such incidents should negate the state's interest, finding instead that the "evidence adduced before the District Court shows that this statement downplays the significant increase in the frequency and lethality of these incidents."  The court further found that the LCM ban was a sufficiently close fit to the state's interest in promoting safety.

It was on the Second Amendment issue that Judge Stephanos Bibas dissenting, arguing that strict scrutiny should apply and that even if it does not, the New Jersey statute fails intermediate scrutiny. For Judge Bibas, although the majority stands in good company: five other circuits have upheld limits on magazine sizes," the courts err "in subjecting the Second Amendment to different, watered-down rules and demanding little if any proof."

While the Second Amendment challenge was at the heart of the case, the majority also rejected the challengers' claims under the Takings Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. On the Takings Clause, the majority held that there is not actual taking, and no "regulatory taking because it does not deprive the gun owners of all economically beneficial or productive uses of their magazines." On the Equal Protection Clause, the challengers faulted the Act because it allows retired law enforcement officers to possess LCMs while prohibiting retired military members and ordinary citizens from doing so.The majority did not engage in a robust analysis, but held that "retired law enforcement officers are not similarly situated to retired military personnel and ordinary citizens, and therefore their exemption from the LCM ban does not violate the Equal Protection Clause."

In short, the Third Circuit's opinion is part of a trend of determining that intermediate scrutiny applies to various regulations of high capacity firearms or magazines and upholding state regulation. Most likely a petition for certiorari will follow this opinion and it will be interesting to see whether the United States Supreme Court continues its own trend of denying such petitions.

[image: double-drum magazine, which holds 100 rounds, via]

December 5, 2018 in Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Federal Judge Declares Cash Bail Practice in New Orleans Unconstitutional

 In his opinion in Caliste v. Cantrell, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana Eldon Fallon declared the bail practices of Judge Cantrell, an Orleans Parish Criminal District Magistrate Judge, unconstitutional as violative of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

After disposing of questions of justiciability and absention, Judge Fallon considered the cash bail practices in which the parish judge would never inquire regarding defendants' ability to post bail or provide reasoning for a rejection of alternative conditions of release, and would tell "public defenders that he would hold them in contempt when they have attempted to argue for lower bond amounts or RORs for their clients.” 

Judge Fallon found that the practices violated procedural due process, applying the well-settled balancing test of Matthews v. Eldridge (1976).  Judge Fallon concluded "that in the context of hearings to determine pretrial detention Due Process requires:

1) an inquiry into the arrestee’s ability to pay, including notice of the importance of this issue and the ability to be heard on this issue;
2) consideration of alternative conditions of release, including findings on the record applying the clear and convincing standard and explaining why an arrestee does not qualify for alternative conditions of release; and
3) representative counsel.

Judge Fallon also found there was a substantive due process violation, analyzing it in a section entitled "conflict of interest." Judge Fallon relied in part on Caperton v. Massey (2009), noting that there need not be proof of "actual bias," but there should be an inquiry “whether, ‘under a realistic appraisal of psychological tendencies and human weakness,’ the interest ‘poses such a risk of actual bias or prejudgment that the practice must be forbidden if the guarantee of due process is to be adequately implemented.’”  In the Orleans parish, the problem was that the Orleans judge not only set bail but also managed "the Judicial Expense Fund, a portion of which comes from fees levied on commercial surety bonds." Judge Fallon found this was a conflict of interest rising to a due process violation: "Judge Cantrell’s institutional incentives create a substantial and unconstitutional conflict of interest when he determines their ability to pay bail and sets the amount of that bail."

Thus, the federal court entered summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring the cash bail practices of  the Orleans parish judge unconstitutional.

Edward-reginald-frampton_stone_walls

[image via]

 

 

August 6, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Seventh Circuit Rejects Speech and Debate Clause Appeal by Former Congressman Schock

In its opinion in United States v. Schock, a panel of the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss a criminal indictment by former Illinois Congressperson Aaron Schock (pictured below). Schock was charged with crimes committed as a Congressperson including "filing false or otherwise improper claims for reimbursement for his travel and furnishings, and with failing to report correctly (and pay tax on) those receipts that count as personal income." 

Schock moved the dismiss the indictment as impermissible under the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause, Art. I §6 cl. 1, which provides that members of Congress “for any Speech or Debate in either House, shall not be questioned in any other Place.” The district judge denied the motion and the Seventh Circuit panel, in its opinion by Judge Easterbrook, allowed an interlocutory appeal. The panel held, however, that "on the merits" the Speech or Debate Clause "does not help Schock, for a simple reason: the indictment arises out of applications for reimbursements, which are not speeches, debates, or any other part of the legislative process." In short, submitting a false claim under established rules differs from the formulation of those rules.

Aaron_Schock_113th_CongressHowever, the court noted that Schock’s principal argument rests on the Rulemaking Clause, Art. I §5 cl. 2, which provides “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”  As the court stated, "the rules about reimbursable expenses were adopted under this clause and, Schock insists, because only the House may adopt or amend its rules, only the House may interpret them. Ambiguity in any rule (or in how a rule applies to a given claim for reimbursement) makes a prosecution impossible, Schock concludes, because that would require a judge to interpret the rules."

The court was not sympathetic to this argument:

Judges regularly interpret, apply, and occasionally nullify rules promulgated by the President or another part of the Executive Branch, as well as statutes enacted by the Legislative Branch; why would reimbursement rules be different?

However, Judge Easterbrook's opinion stated that the court "need not come to closure" on the issue of whether there is something "special" about legislative rules, acknowledging contrary precedent, because an interlocutory appeal on that ground is not available.

Neither the separation of powers generally, nor the Rulemaking Clause in particular, establishes a personal immunity from prosecution or trial. The separation of powers is about the allocation of authority among the branches of the federal government. It is an institutional doctrine rather than a personal one. The Speech or Debate Clause, by contrast, sets up a personal immunity for each legislator. The Supreme Court limits interlocutory appeals to litigants who have a personal immunity—a “right not to be tried.” No personal immunity, no interlocutory appeal.

Thus, Schock can appeal on this basis only after judgment. Judge Easterbrook's opinion foreclosed the possibility of success on this issue by the en banc Seventh Circuit: the opinion was "was circulated before release to all judges in active service;" and "None favored a hearing en banc."

[image of Aaron Schock via]

May 30, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SCOTUS Finds INA Deportation Provision for "Crime of Violence" Unconstitutionally Vague

In its opinion in Sessions v. Dimaya, the United States Supreme Court held that a portion of the definition of "crime of violence" in 18 U.S.C. §1, as applied in the deportation scheme of the Immigration and Nationality Act,  see 8 U. S. C. §§1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), 1229b(a)(3), (b)(1)(C), is unconstitutionally vague.

The Court's somewhat fractured opinion concluded that the residual clause, §16(b), which defines a “crime of violence” as “any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense" is unconstitutionally vague.

Justice Kagan's opinion was joined in its entirety by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Gorsuch joined only Parts I, III, IV–B, and V, thus making these sections the opinion of the Court.

The Court's opinion relied on Johnson v. United States (2015), authored by Justice Scalia, in which the Court found a similar residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), defining “violent felony” as any felony that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another,” 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(2)(B) unconstitutionally “void for vagueness” under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

The Court in Dimaya ruled that

§16(b) has the same “[t]wo features” that “conspire[d] to make [ACCA’s residual clause] unconstitutionally vague" {in Johnson}.  It too “requires a court to picture the kind of conduct that the crime involves in ‘the ordinary case,’ and to judge whether that abstraction presents” some not-well-specified-yet-sufficiently- large degree of risk. The result is that §16(b) produces, just as ACCA’s residual clause did, “more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates.”

The United States and the dissenting opinions attempted to distinguish the INA provision from the ACCA provision in several ways. Kagan, writing for the Court in Part IV that "each turns out to be the proverbial distinction without a difference." 

34033716420_bd72e5fd56_zGiven Gorsuch's joining with the perceived more liberal-leaning Justices on the Court, his concurring opinion is sure to attract attention.  Gorsuch's substantial opinion (18 textual pages to Kagan's 25 page opinion for the Court and plurality), leans heavily on the foundations of due process, beginning

Vague laws invite arbitrary power. Before the Revolu­tion, the crime of treason in English law was so capa­ciously construed that the mere expression of disfavored opinions could invite transportation or death.

More importantly, Gorsuch disavows any notion that the context of immigration deportation merits any special consideration and that the Court's holding is narrow, stressing that the problem with the statute is the procedural one of failing to provide notice (and standards for judges) rather than the substantive choice by Congress.

Taken together with Johnson, the holding in Dimaya means that statutes must be much more precise when defining a "crime of violence" or risk being held unconstitutionally vague.

[image: caricature of Justice Neil Gorsuch by Donkey Hotey via]

April 17, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Daily Read: Special Counsel's Opposition to Manafort's Motion to Dismiss

The Government's 53 page Memorandum (with an additional 230 pages of exhibits), Response in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss, in United States v. Manafort provides another window into the prosecution of Paul Manafort. In his motion to dismiss, Manafort challenges the validity of the Acting Attorney General’s order appointing the Special Counsel and defining the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction (Office of the Deputy Att’y Gen., Order No. 3915-2017, Appointment of Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters, May 17, 2017), available here.

36663915162_3525aebc5a_oAccording to the Government, any constitutional claims underlying Manafort's arguments regarding the current Special Counsel Appointment Order result from a "fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which this regime differs from the former Independent Counsel Act." In Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654 (1988), while the Court sustained the constitutionality of the Independent Counsel Act in which independent counsel was appointed by the judicial branch, the Court held that the power of the judicial branch to determine that independent counsel's own powers (and jurisdiction) was valid only to the extent of the appointment power. Thus, as the Government's memo phrases it, to "ensure that the court’s jurisdiction-defining power remained “truly ‘incidental’” to its constitutional justification," the Court in Morrison held that “the jurisdiction that the court decides upon must be demonstrably related to the factual circumstances that gave rise to the Attorney General’s investigation and request for the appointment of the independent counsel in the particular case.”

But the Independent Counsel Act is expired. And the Special Counsel was not appointed by a court, but by the Justice Department. Thus, according to the Government's Memorandum, "Unlike the former statutory scheme that authorized court-appointed independent counsels, the definition of the Special Counsel’s authority remains within the Executive Branch and is subject to ongoing dialogue based on sensitive prosecutorial considerations" In other words, there are no constitutional considerations - - - and certainly no separations of powers issues - - - in "the wholly Executive-Branch regime created by the Special Counsel regulations" under which Special Counsel was appointed and directed.

For LawProfs looking for a relatively succinct discussion of the Special Counsel, this Government memo is a good example, especially given its clear and crisp writing style.

[image: Caricature of Paul Manafort by Donkey Hotey via]

April 4, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ninth Circuit on the Territory of Guam's Criminal Jurisdiction and Constitutional Status

In its opinion in United v. Obak, the Ninth Circuit rejected a criminal defendant's argument that Article III §2 cl. 3 and the Sixth Amendment negated the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Guam over his trial.

In the panel opinion by Judge M. Margaret McKeown, the court "quickly dispense[d]" with the challenge to the district court's subject matter jurisdiction, noting that under the Organic Act of Guam, the District Court of Guam has the same jurisdiction as a district court of the United States.

However, the Ninth Circuit construed the jurisdictional challenge as also a constitutional venue challenge, which relied on two constitutional provisions:

Under Article III, Section 2, clause 3, “Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.” U.S. Const. Art. III § 2, cl. 3. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a jury trial in “the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law.” U.S. Const. amend. VI.

783px-Coat_of_arms_of_Guam.svgThe issue, however, is whether such constitutional rights extend to the residents of Guam, an "unincorporated territory," because apart from "certain 'fundamental rights,' constitutional rights do not automatically apply to unincorporated territories such as Guam" and Congress must extend other constitutional rights by statute.

The court held that under the Organic Act of Guam Congress had not extended Article III §2 to persons residing in Guam, citing a 1954 Ninth Circuit case which the court stated "still stands." 

The court, however, noted that Sixth Amendment protections were extended to Guam in 1968, under the Mink Amendment revising the Guam Organic Act. Nevertheless, this very extension abrogated the challenge:

To give effect to the congressional extension of the Sixth Amendment to Guam, it makes no common sense to claim that Guam is not a state or a district such that venue cannot be laid in Guam. Otherwise, having the same “force and effect” in Guam as “in any State of the United States” would strip away part of the amendment as extended to Guam.

Thus, the court concluded that

To hold differently would require us to ignore the constitutional and statutory framework established for Guam, overturn established precedent, and effectively strip federal district courts located in unincorporated territories of the ability to hear certain cases.

Yet while the court's conclusion seems correct, it does illustrate the continuing diminished constitutional status of United States citizens residing in United States territories.

March 14, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sixth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Daily Read: Marijuana, Federalism, and Preemption

In a Memorandum on January 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded previous Department of Justice instructions to United States Attorneys relating to enforcement of federal laws criminalizing marijuana as "unnecessary" in favor of a well-established rule of general guided discretion.  The DOJ press release describes it as a "return to the rule of law," but it arguably makes the legal rules more subject to discretion and even more unclear.  The legalization of marijuana by states while the federal government maintains marijuana on its schedule of controlled substances pertinent to criminal laws presents complicated problems of federalism and preemption. 

An excellent primer on these issues is Lea Brilmayer's article A General Theory of Preemption: With Comments on State Decriminalization of Marijuana, appearing in a recent symposium on Marijuana and Federalism in Boston College Law Review.

Marijuana_plantBrilmayer does provide some background on the marijuana controversies, including a discussion of the Supreme Court's failure to provide clear answers on the state-federal conflicts regarding marijuana.  But, as her title indicates, marijuana is an example rather than a primary focus.  She explains the principles and open questions in the doctrines of vertical and horizontal preemption, then uses concrete examples involving marijuana.  Her ultimate conclusion is that there is a weak case for preemption in the marijuana decriminalization context.

 This is a terrific introduction for understanding the issues surrounding the issues raised by the Sessions memo regarding state marijuana decriminalization.  At 35 pages, with accessible hypotheticals, this could be a great assignment for Constitutional Law classes this semester.

 

January 5, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Federalism, Preemption, Scholarship, Supremacy Clause, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 8, 2017

New Hampshire Federal Judge Finds Panhandling Laws Violate First Amendment

 In a lengthy opinion in Petrello v. City of Manchester, United States District Judge Landya McCafferty found the City's efforts to control "panhandling" through its enforcement of a disorderly conduct statute and through an ordinance directed at panhandling both violated the First Amendment.

 Ms. Petrello was arrested under the disorderly conduct statute although her panhandling was "passive" and she was not in the roadway.  Any "disorder" was actually caused by a third party driving a Cadillac who stopped the car to hand something to Petrello, who did not step into the road.

The Cadillac then drove through the intersection, but the light turned red and the Jeep was unable to make it through the intersection. If the Cadillac had not stopped at the green light, then the Jeep would have made it through the intersection while the light was still green and would not have had to wait for the next green light.

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_Petites_Mendiantes_(1880)Judge McCafferty found that the Manchester Police Department (MPD) policy was a sufficient basis for  liability. The policy was clearly directed at enforcing the statute against even passive panhandling and under the First Amendment, she stated that the policy was content-neutral, because the discussions of the anti-handling policies were "not in terms of any message the panhandler is conveying, such as requests for donations." Nevertheless, she reasoned  that "in the end," she "need not resolve the question of whether the MPD Policy is content based, because it does not survive scrutiny as a content-neutral regulation."  Applying the doctrine of Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989), Judge McCafferty found that while public safety and free flow of traffic are significant government interests, the policy burdens more speech than necessary.  Essential to this conclusion was the fact that the statute was applied to Ms. Petrello who did not step into the street, and that her speech should not be curtailed by third party driving a Cadillac or traffic lights that turned red too quickly. Judge McCafferty issued an injunction and ruled this could proceed to trial on damages.

In its other attempt to curtail panhandling. the City of Manchester passed an ordinance providing:

“No person shall knowingly distribute any item to, receive any item from, or exchange any item with the occupant of any motor vehicle when the vehicle is located in the roadway."

Again, Judge McCafferty found the ordinance content-neutral and again that the ordinance violated the First Amendment. Again, Judge McCaffery found that while the government interests were valid, the Ordinance was not sufficiently tailored to those interests for four main reasons: (1) the Ordinance bans roadside exchanges that do not obstruct traffic or pose safety risks; (2) the Ordinance is geographically overinclusive because it applies citywide; (3) the Ordinance is underinclusive because it penalizes only pedestrians, not motorists; and (4) the City has less speech- restrictive means available to address its concerns. In reaching these conclusions, Judge McCafferty relied in part on the Ninth Circuit en banc decision in Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach v. City of Redondo Beach (2011) regarding day labor solicitation.

The opinion also addresses Petrello's standing to challenge the ordinance since she was not charged under it, but only the disorderly conduct statute, finding that she satisfied Article III standing although the City argued she had no imminent injury.  The opinion rejects Petrello's Fourth Amendment claim based on her original arrest and an equal protection challenge to the implementation of the statute.

The City could certainly appeal to the First Circuit, but it probably has little chance of success.

[image: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Petites Mendiantes (1880) via]

 

 

September 8, 2017 in Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Third Circuit: First Amendment Right to Record Police

 In its opinion in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit concluded that "Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public."  As the panel majority opinion by Judge Thomas Ambro noted, "Every Circuit Court of Appeals to address this issue (First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh) has held that there is a First Amendment right to record police activity in public"; the Third Circuit joined "this growing consensus."

The court noted that police recording has become "ubiquitous" and that such documentation has "both exposed police misconduct and exonerated officers from errant charges."  In considering whether the recording was First Amendment expressive activity, the court noted that the case was "not about people attempting to create art with police as their subjects. It is about recording police officers performing their official duties." Thus, at stake is the First Amendment protection of the "public's right to know": "Access to information regarding public police activity is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse on public issues, “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.”

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While the right is not absolute, the court noted that there was nothing in the situation before it to warrant a discussion of the limits to this constitutional right:

Defendants offer nothing to justify their actions. Fields took a photograph across the street from where the police were breaking up a party. *** If a person’s recording interferes with police activity, that activity might not be protected. For instance, recording a police conversation with a confidential informant may interfere with an investigation and put a life at stake. But here there are no countervailing concerns.

Fields, using his iPhone, was noticed by an officer who then asked him whether he “like[d] taking pictures of grown men” and ordered him to leave. Fields refused, so the officer arrested him, confiscated his phone, and detained him. The officer searched Fields’ phone and opened several videos and other photos. The officer then released Fields and issued him a citation for “Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages.” These charges were withdrawn when the officer did not appear at the court hearing.

Fields, along with Amanda Geraci who had been involved in a separate incident involving recording, brought 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights.  Thus, the court confronted the question of qualified immunity. The court held that at the time of the incident - - - 2013 for Fields - - - it was not sufficiently "clearly established" so that the law "gave fair warning so that every reasonable officer knew that, absent some sort of expressive intent, recording public police activity was constitutionally protected."

Dissenting in part, Judge Nygaard concluded that the right was clearly established.  In addition to the "robust consensus" before the conduct at issue, the Philadelphia Police Department's own "official policies explicitly recognized this First Amendment right well before the incidents under review here took place." For Judge Nygaard, "no reasonable officer could have denied at the time of the incidents underlying these cases that efforts to prevent people from recording their activities infringed rights guaranteed by the First Amendment."

Certainly, after Fields v. City of Philadelphia, no reasonable officer could now successfully argue that there is not a First Amendment right to record police activity. 

[image via]

July 7, 2017 in Criminal Procedure, Film, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SCOTUS Finds Colorado Criminal Fee Refund Scheme Violates Due Process

The United States Supreme Court's opinion in Nelson v. Colorado opened with this seemingly simple question:

When a criminal conviction is invalidated by a reviewing court and no retrial will occur, is the State obliged to refund fees, court costs, and restitution exacted from the defendant upon, and as a consequence of, the conviction?

Writing for the six Justice majority, Justice Ginsburg provided an equally simple response: "Our answer is yes."

The statutory scheme, Colorado's Compensation for Certain Exonerated Persons, provided the "exclusive process" for seeking a refund of costs, fees, and restitution according to the Colorado Supreme Court.  However, recovery under this Exoneration Act applied "only to a defendant who has served all or part of a term of incarceration pursuant to a felony conviction, and whose conviction has been overturned for reasons other than insufficiency of evidence or legal error unrelated to actual innocence."  The petitioners in the case were not within this category: one was convicted, had her conviction reversed, and was acquitted on retrial; the other was convicted, had one conviction reversed on appeal and another conviction vacated on postconviction review, and the state elected not to retry.  The first petitioner was assessed more than $8,000 in costs, fees, and restitution and had $702.10 deducted from her inmate account while she was in jail; the second petitioner was assessed more than $4,000 in costs, fees, and restitution and paid the state $1977.75.

Justice Ginsburg's concise opinion articulates and applies the well-established balancing test for procedural due process from Matthews v. Eldridge (1976), under which a court evaluates a court evaluates (A) the private interest affected; (B) the risk of erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used; and (C) the governmental interest at stake. 

A_debtor_in_Fleet_Street_Prison_THSThe Court rejected Colorado's claim that the petitioners' had no private interest in regaining the money given that the convictions were "in place" when the funds were taken. Justice Ginsburg concluded that it makes no difference whether the initial court or a reviewing court adjudged the petitioners not guilty.  To rule otherwise would be inconsistent with the presumption of innocence notion fundamental to "our criminal law."  As to the risk of erroneous deprivation, Justice Ginsburg made clear that the risk was high and stressed that the petitioners were seeking refund rather than "compensation for temporary deprivation" of those funds such as interest.  Finally, Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court found that Colorado has "no interest in withholding" the money "to which the State currently has zero claim of right."

Justice Alito, writing in a concurring opinion only for himself, contended that the correct standard was not Matthews v. Eldridge, but Medina v. California (1992) as Colorado had argued.  For Alito, Medina was the correct standard because the refund obligation was part of the criminal process, especially pertinent with reference to restitution. Nevertheless, Alito concluded that even under Medina, stressing an historical inquiry, the Colorado statute failed due process: placing a heavy burden on criminal defendants, providing no opportunity for misdemeanor convictions, and excluding all but claims for actual innocence.  

Justice Thomas, also writing only for himself, issued a dissenting opinion, arguing that the issue is whether the petitioners can show a "substantive" entitlement to a return of the money they paid.  He concludes that they have no "substantive" right because once the petitioners paid the money - - - however wrongly - - - it became public funds to which they had no entitlement. Thus, because the "Due Process Clause confers no substantive rights," the petitioners have no right to a refund, despite the "intuitive and rhetorical appeal" of such a claim.

While the statute was amended to include vacated convictions effective September 2017, such an amendment may not be comprehensive enough to save the statutory scheme.  While the Court does not discuss the widespread problem of carceral debt, there is a burgeoning scholarship on this issue.

[image: "A debtor in Fleet Street Prison, London" by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, circa first half of the 19th century, via].

April 19, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Federal Judge Enjoins Arkansas' Eight Scheduled Executions

In an opinion in excess of 100 pages in McGehee v. Hutchinson, United States District Judge Kristine Baker enjoined the scheduled execution of McGehee and eight other plaintiffs based on their likelihood to succeed on their Eighth Amendment and First Amendment claims.

The case arises from a highly unusual compressed execution schedule: "Governor Hutchinson set eight of their execution dates for an 11-day period in April 2017, with two executions to occur back-to-back on four separate nights."  Judge Baker rejected the claim that the schedule alone violated any "evolving standards of decency" under the Eighth Amendment.

However, this unusual schedule did play some part in Judge Baker's conclusion that there was a likelihood of success on the merits of the plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment challenge to the use of midazolam as cruel and unusual punishment.

Le-Boureau-GillrayIn a detailed recitation of the facts, including expert testimony rendered by both the plaintiffs and the State, Judge Baker noted that she "received much evidence in the last four days " and "filtered that evidence, considerable amounts of which involved scientific principles," and converted it into lay terms in the opinion.  At times, Judge Baker's assessment of the expert testimony is quite precise: "Defendants’ witness Dr. Antognini’s reliance on animal studies while defense counsel simultaneously challenged plaintiffs’ witness Dr. Steven’s reliance on animal and in vitro studies seems inconsistent. This inconsistency went largely unexplained."

This factual record is important for applying the test for a challenge to a method of execution as the United States Supreme Court articulated in Glossip v. Gross (2015). As Judge Baker explained, plaintiffs have the burden of proving that “the State's lethal injection protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain” and “the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.”  On the first prong, Judge Baker concluded there is a "significant possibility" that plaintiffs will succeed in showing that the use of midazolam in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) "current lethal injection protocol qualifies as an objectively intolerable risk that plaintiffs will suffer severe pain."  She continued that the

risk is exacerbated when considering the fact that the state has scheduled eight executions over 11 days, despite the fact that the state has not executed an inmate since 2005. Furthermore, the ADC’s execution protocol and policies fail to contain adequate safeguards that mitigate some of the risk presented by using midazolam and trying to execute that many inmates in such a short period of time.

The second prong under Glossip requires plaintiffs to show that “the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.”  Judge Baker stated that the "Supreme Court has provided little guidance as to the meaning of 'availability' in this context, other than by stating that the alternative method must be 'feasible, readily implemented, and in fact significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain.’"  She then discussed the conflicting standards in the Circuits, concluding that the "approach taken by the Sixth Circuit provides a better test for 'availability' under Glossip," because the "Eleventh Circuit’s understanding of “availability” places an almost impossible burden on plaintiffs challenging their method of execution, particularly at the preliminary injunction stage."  In deciding that there were alternatives available, Judge Baker found that "there is a significant possibility that pentobarbital is available for use in executions."  The opinion noted that other states have carried out executions with this drug.  The opinion also noted that "plaintiffs have demonstrated a significant possibility that the firing squad is a reasonable alternative."

Thus, Judge Baker found that both prongs of Glossip were likely to be satisfied under the Eighth Amendment claim.

On the First Amendment claim, the essence was that the limitations placed on counsel viewing the execution would deprive plaintiffs of their access to the courts during that time.  Judge Baker noted there was some confusion regarding the actual viewing policy that would be operative, with the Director having "taken three or four different positions regarding viewing policies" during litigation.  But, the "key aspect" of any policy "would force plaintiffs’ counsel to choose between witnessing the execution and contacting the Court in case anything should arise during the course of the execution itself."

In analyzing the First Amendment claim, Judge Baker used the highly deferential standard of Turner v. Safely (1987), with its four factors:

  • First, “there must be a ‘valid, rational connection’ between the prison regulation and the legitimate government interest put forward to justify it.”
  • Second, courts must consider “whether there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates.” 
  • “A third consideration is the impact accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally.”
  • Finally, “the absence of ready alternatives is evidence of the reasonableness of a prison regulation.”

Judge Baker held that while there was a valid rational connection, there were alternative means and no impact on other prisoners.  Thus, Judge Baker enjoined the Director "from implementing the viewing policies insofar as they infringe plaintiffs’ right to counsel and right of access to the courts," and charged the Director "with the task of devising a viewing policy that assures plaintiffs’ right to counsel and access to the courts for the entire duration of all executions."

Judge Baker issued her Preliminary Injunction on Saturday, April 15.  Reportedly, there is already an emergency appeal to the Eighth Circuit, as well as an appeal of a stay by a state court judge to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

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April 16, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Daily Read: Theorizing Protest on MLK Day

While we often think of protest and civil disobedience under the First Amendment, in her article Protest is Different in Richmond Law Review, Professor Jesssica West of University of Washington essentially argues that the First Amendment has not been a sufficiently robust defense criminal prosecutions.  Instead, she contends that we should reconceptualize protest relying upon evolving concepts of capital jurisprudence flowing from the Eighth Amendment contention that "death is different." She argues that similar to the complexity of the moral determination inherent in a sentence of death requiring a judgment of community condemnation, a criminal conviction resulting from acts of protest likewise involves deep and complex values of individualization and community conscience.

It's a worthwhile read on this Martin Luther King Day: "One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Apr. 16, 1963.

 

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Meeting Between Civil Rights Leaders and JFK after March on Washington;
pictured includes JFK, VP LBJ, MLK, and John Lewis via

 

 

 

January 16, 2017 in Association, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Race, Scholarship, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Daily Reminder: Of Flag Burning and Loss of Citizenship for Criminal Conviction

The United States Supreme Court has held that flag burning as expressive speech is protected by the First Amendment and that loss of citizenship is not a constitutional punishment for a crime.

In Texas v. Johnson (1989), the Court declared:

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. . . . In short, nothing in our precedents suggests that a State may foster its own view of the flag by prohibiting expressive conduct relating to it.. . . There is, moreover, no indication -- either in the text of the Constitution or in our cases interpreting it -- that a separate juridical category exists for the American flag alone. Indeed, we would not be surprised to learn that the persons who framed our Constitution and wrote the Amendment that we now construe were not known for their reverence for the Union Jack. The First Amendment does not guarantee that other concepts virtually sacred to our Nation as a whole -- such as the principle that discrimination on the basis of race is odious and destructive -- will go unquestioned in the marketplace of ideas. . . .

We are tempted to say, in fact, that the flag's deservedly cherished place in our community will be strengthened, not weakened, by our holding today. Our decision is a reaffirmation of the principles of freedom and inclusiveness that the flag best reflects, and of the conviction that our toleration of criticism such as Johnson's is a sign and source of our strength. Indeed, one of the proudest images of our flag, the one immortalized in our own national anthem, is of the bombardment it survived at Fort McHenry. It is the Nation's resilience, not its rigidity, that Texas sees reflected in the flag -- and it is that resilience that we reassert today.
The way to preserve the flag's special role is not to punish those who feel differently about these matters. It is to persuade them that they are wrong.

To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to bee applied is more speech, not enforced silence.


Whitney v. California(1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring). And, precisely because it is our flag that is involved, one's response to the flag-burner may exploit the uniquely persuasive power of the flag itself. We can imagine no more appropriate response to burning a flag than waving one's own, no better way to counter a flag burner's message than by saluting the flag that burns, no surer means of preserving the dignity even of the flag that burned than by -- as one witness here did -- according its remains a respectful burial. We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.

During the oral argument in Texas v. Johnson, the late Justice Scalia, who joined the Court's opinion, expressed scorn for the notion that the flag should be insulated from the First Amendment protections of speech. In a colloquy with the attorney for the State of Texas, Justice Scalia wondered if Texas could similarly criminalize desecration of the state flower, the blue bonnet.  Scalia then remarked:

Well, how do you pick out what to protect?

I mean, you know, if I had to pick between the Constitution and the flag, I might well go with the Constitution.

As for the constitutionality of  "loss of citizenship" as punishment for a criminal violation, the United States Supreme Court, in Trop v. Dulles (1958), declared that "Citizenship is not a license that expires upon misbehavior."  In considering a statute that revoked citizenship for desertion by a member of the armed forces, the Court stated that the

use of denationalization as a punishment is barred by the Eighth Amendment. There may be involved no physical mistreatment, no primitive torture. There is instead the total destruction of the individual's status in organized society. It is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development. The punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself. While any one country may accord him some rights, and presumably as long as he remained in this country he would enjoy the limited rights of an alien, no country need do so because he is stateless. Furthermore, his enjoyment of even the limited rights of an alien might be subject to termination at any time by reason of deportation. In short, the expatriate has lost the right to have rights.

This punishment is offensive to cardinal principles for which the Constitution stands. It subjects the individual to a fate of ever-increasing fear and distress. He knows not what discriminations may be established against him, what proscriptions may be directed against him, and when and for what cause his existence in his native land may be terminated. He may be subject to banishment, a fate universally decried by civilized people. He is stateless, a condition deplored in the international community of democracies. It is no answer to suggest that all the disastrous consequences of this fate may not be brought to bear on a stateless person. The threat makes the punishment obnoxious. 

The civilized nations of the world are in virtual unanimity that statelessness is not to be imposed as punishment for crime.

[footnotes omitted].

Thus it seems that the president-elect's sentiment is at odds with our constitutional precedent.



November 29, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

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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)