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SCOTUS Takes Beltway Sniper, 3 Other Criminal Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court has been largely marking time for a while in criminal law, taking up mostly relatively minor cases. Today the Court took four cases involving constitutional or federalism questions.

After many relistings, the Court has taken up the case of the younger of the notorious Beltway Sniper duo, Lee Boyd Malvo. The case is Mathena v. Malvo, No. 18-217. The case involves the tangled mess that the Supreme Court made of life-without-parole sentences for killers who are as little as one day short of their 18th birthdays in Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana.

The high court also took up the case of Kansas v. Garcia, No. 17-834. The Question Presented is "Whether the Immigration Reform and Control Act impliedly preempts Kansas's prosecution of respondents."

In Ramos v. Louisiana, No. 18-5924, the Court will consider, again, whether the Constitution requires unanimous juries in state criminal cases. If you seem to remember that the Supreme Court already fully considered and decided that question, you would be right. See Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404 (1972). If you think the Supreme Court often waxes eloquent about the importance of precedent and protecting people's reasonable reliance on its decisions, you would be right again. Remember Justice Ginsburg's extensive discussion of the reliance interest in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002)? No? That's because it isn't there. It's okay to brush precedent and massive reliance aside without explanation to save a murderer from his just deserts.

In Kahler v. Kansas, No. 18-6135, the Court takes up the question of "Whether the Eighth and 14th Amendments permit a state to abolish the insanity defense." If you think that the Eighth Amendment, as adopted in 1791, dealt solely with what punishments can be imposed and has nothing to do with guilt-defining rules such as the insanity defense, you are right again.

Note that Malvo and Ramos both involve dubious precedents, an old one with a strong reliance factor in Ramos and more recent ones with no reliance factor in Malvo.

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