Recently in Criminal Procedure Category
A quarter-century after a California jury convicted Hector Ayala of triple murder and sentenced him to death, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted Ayala's application for a writ of habeas corpus and ordered the State to retry or release him. The Ninth Circuit's decision was based on the procedure used by the trial judge in ruling on Ayala's objections under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), to some of the prosecution's peremptory challenges of prospective jurors. The trial judge allowed the prosecutor to explain the basis for those strikes outside the presence of the defense so as not to disclose trial strategy. On direct appeal, the California Supreme Court found that if this procedure violated any federal constitutional right, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Ninth Circuit, however, held that the error was harmful.
The Ninth Circuit's decision was based on the misapplication of basic rules regarding harmless error. Assuming without deciding that a federal constitutional error occurred, the error was harmless under Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993), and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U. S. C. §2254(d).
An Ad Hoc Committee to conduct a comprehensive and impartial review of the administration and operation of the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) has begun accepting public comments at the following address: CJAStudy@ao.uscourts.gov. It also is anticipated that in the course of its work the committee will hold public hearings.My own view is that those who undertake CJA defense are, on the whole, quite good, and earn all they get if not more. I also think, however, that if we can afford more for the defense of criminals, we can afford more to keep them, after conviction, incarcerated and away from the public.
The CJA was enacted to create a system for providing defense services to financially eligible federal criminal defendants. It became effective fifty years ago this year. Judicial Conference policy supports a periodic, comprehensive, and impartial review of the CJA program.
The constant refrain that "we just don't have the money for prison" is tripe. The BOP budget, like every aspect of the federal government's budget, is less a description of fiscal reality than of political priorities. If this Administration wanted to shift its priorities toward keeping the crime rate low (rather than, for example, funding its gargantuan clemency initiative), it could easily do so. And should.
Of the criminal charges proposed by Marilyn Mosby, the state's attorney for Baltimore, in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, three are notably missing from the indictments approved by a grand jury today. The Washington Post reports that "charges of false imprisonment against three of the officers are no longer part of the case." That change presumably reflects the dispute over whether the knife Gray was carrying, which was the official justification for his arrest, qualified as an illegal switchblade.
Judging from the way police described Gray's knife ("a spring-assisted, one-hand-operated knife"), it did not fit the state's definition of a switchblade (as Mosby noted) and probably did not fit the city's definition either. But the latter point--which Mosby did not publicly address, even though Gray was charged with violating the city ordinance--is open to debate, which suggests that the officers who arrested him might reasonably have believed the knife was illegal. If so, they could not be convicted of false imprisonment, since to arrest Gray they needed only probable cause to believe he had broken the law.
"The process does not deal with hard certainties, but with probabilities. Long before the law of probabilities was articulated as such, practical people formulated certain common-sense conclusions about human behavior; jurors as factfinders are permitted to do the same - and [462 U.S. 213, 232] so are law enforcement officers. Finally, the evidence thus collected must be seen and weighed not in terms of library analysis by scholars, but as understood by those versed in the field of law enforcement."
Perhaps the central teaching of our decisions bearing on the probable-cause standard is that it is a "practical, nontechnical conception." Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 176 (1949). "In dealing with probable cause, . . . as the very name implies, we deal with probabilities. These are not technical; they are the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.' Id., at 175. Our observation in United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 418 (1981), regarding "particularized suspicion," is also applicable to the probable-cause standard:
So when you are stone cold guilty of a crime for which the death penalty is clearly appropriate, what do your lawyers argue about at the last minute? Drug expiration dates. Really.
Khatallah has been identified by the State Department as a "senior leader" of Ansar al-Sharia, one of the al-Qaeda-tied franchises in Libya. Yet there is no mention of Ansar al-Sharia in the indictment, much less of al-Qaeda or the Islamic-supremacist ideology that ties jihadist affiliates together. In fact, the indictment does not even accuse Khatallah of being a terrorist.******************
Nothing about a long-running, ongoing jihadist war against the United States.
Instead, the indictment is written to portray a sudden, spontaneous eruption of violence, without much planning or warning, in which Khatallah -- who knows . . . perhaps inspired by a video -- abruptly joined a disgruntled group of protesters that turned out to include some shady terrorists motivated by . . . well, who can really say? All we know is the violence started without warning and, before you could scramble a fighter-jet or fuel up Air Force One for a Vegas campaign junket, it was all over.
There are a lot of downsides to giving enemy-combatant terrorists all the majesty of American due process. But at least it used to mean that, by the end, you'd have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Now, it's starting to look like what you get on the Sunday shows.
My own reaction to the critics is one of gratitude for their contributions but dismay that they have allowed the pursuit of perfection in criminal justice to become the enemy of the good. Much about American criminal justice is indeed good. The system provides considerable protections for the accused and sets proper limits on the brutality and deceit that human beings can inflict upon each other.
Simply put, in calling for an overhaul of our criminal law and procedure, the critics have failed to appreciate the careful balance our criminal justice system strikes between competing rights and values. They have failed to respect the benefits of the system's front-end features--namely, early process and early resolution. Moreover, they have sold short the democratic virtues of our system. The sensible tradeoffs reflected in American criminal justice are worthy of respect, and the system's democratic tilt is deserving of praise. The critics have extended neither. Ultimately, the often harsh tone of their indictment has done an injustice to the system of criminal justice itself.