Recently in Criminal Procedure Category
The chief legal counsel to the Massachusetts Bar Association tells the Boston Globe that Aaron Hernandez's murder conviction over the 2014 shooting death of Odin Lloyd will be voided after the former New England Patriots star was found dead in his prison cell early Wednesday morning.Appeal is not a constitutionally required part of the criminal process. There generally were no appeals in criminal cases at the time this country was formed. In the original Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress provided that important criminal cases would be tried before three-judge circuit courts, and their judgment was final. There was no appeal to the Supreme Court, and habeas corpus was not available to collaterally attack the judgment of a court of general jurisdiction.
Hernandez was in the process of appealing his conviction at the time of his death. Because of a long-standing legal principle called "abatement ab initio" -- meaning "from the beginning" -- a person's case reverts to its status at the beginning if they die before their legal appeals are exhausted.
Today, all states provide appeals, and for good reason. But if the appeal is dismissed because the defendant dies, it should be dismissed leaving the trial court judgment intact, as most dismissals of appeals do, without this special rule for dead defendants. After all, the vast majority of convictions are valid and are affirmed if the appeal runs its course. Our law recognizes that it is better that ten guilty go free than one innocent be punished, but after trial the ratio is a lot higher than 10/1, closer to 100/1, and there is no issue of unjust punishment remaining anyway.
"Today, I'm announcing that in my first 30 days as President, I will propose a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and give the American people--all of us--the chance to reclaim our democracy," Mrs. Clinton said in a taped speech to the Netroots Nation conference of progressives. First 30 days? Who knew the 225-year-old First Amendment was in need of such urgent revision?Is amending the Bill of Rights fair game? How about getting rid of the defendant's privilege not to testify in a criminal case? Can we give it the heave-ho? Probably not.
But those who agree with Mrs. Clinton would say her amendment does not change the real First Amendment, just a misinterpretation of it by the Supreme Court. Fair enough. Let's have an amendment to scrape off all the barnacles attached to the criminal law and procedure provisions of the Bill of Rights that were not included in those amendments as originally understood.
First over the side is the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule. Miranda is next.
Dump that stupid rule that the prosecutor cannot comment on the defendant's failure to testify. Have you seen the prosecutor's closing argument in the BBC series Broadchurch? Great fun. Don't try this at home. Almost makes you want to move to England. Except for the wigs.
Thirteen states gave some teeth to their implied consent laws and made it a crime to refuse testing.
In Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, No. 15-108, the Court decided that the "dual sovereignty" exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause does not apply to Puerto Rico. That is, a person who has already been prosecuted for a crime by the United States (in this case, ending in a guilty plea) cannot be prosecuted by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for the same crime. The Commonwealth, unlike like a State, is a creature of the federal government, not a separate sovereign. As decided, the case is more about Puerto Rico's status than it is about the Double Jeopardy Clause. Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Thomas, concurs but would undertake a broader reexamination of dual sovereignty, another blow to the simplistic, one-dimensional model of categorizing Justices.
Williams v. Pennsylvania, No. 15-5040, involves Ronald Castille, the District Attorney of Philadelphia who became the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. As DA, he signed off on his office seeking the death penalty against murderer Terrance Williams. The Court holds that his failure to recuse himself from the case as Chief Justice when it reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court violated the Due Process Clause. Opinion by Justice Kennedy. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito dissent.
Court watchers will remember that in the first few years after Justice Kagan moved to the Court from the Solicitor General's office she recused in every federal case where her office had been involved, a large number of cases.
In Dietz v. Bouldin, No. 15-458, the court holds that a "federal district court has a limited inherent power to rescind a jury discharge order and recall a jury in a civil case for further deliberations after identifying an error in the jury's verdict." Probably limited impact on criminal cases, but I thought it was worth noting here.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a speedy trial. Does that guarantee apply after trial, or after a person has waived trial by pleading guilty? Of course not. "We hold that the guarantee protects the accused from arrest or indictment through trial, but does not apply once a defendant has been found guilty at trial or has pleaded guilty to criminal charges," Justice Ginsburg wrote for a unanimous court in Betterman v. Montana, No. 14-1457, announced this morning.
The opinion notes that other provisions of the Constitution may provide protection from inordinate delay between conviction and sentence. It certainly is unjust to hold a person longer pending sentencing than his sentence is likely to be. But Betterman's lawyer did not bring the claim under the Due Process Clause or anything other than the Speedy Trial Clause, so that issue is not in the case.
Monday, the Court decided Welch v. United States, No. 15-6418:
Last Term, this Court decided Johnson v. United States, 576 U. S. ___ (2015). Johnson considered the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984, 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(2)(B)(ii). The Court held that provision void for vagueness. The present case asks whether Johnson is a substantive decision that is retroactive in cases on collateral review.Answer: Yes.
Today, the Court decided Molina-Martinez v. United States, No. 14-8913, regarding what to do on appeal when the trial court messes up on the often complex Federal Sentencing Guidelines and nobody notices until the appeal. The Court disapproved the Fifth Circuit's requirement that the defendant "must identify 'additional evidence' to show that the use of the incorrect Guidelines range did in fact affect his sentence."
A conviction can be reversed on appeal if the evidence at trial is clearly not sufficient to establish the elements of the crime. In Jackson v. Virginia (1979), the Supreme Court made this a federal constitutional rule. Suppose (1) the elements of a crime are A, B, and C; (2) the judge erroneously instructs the jury they must find A, B, C, and D; (3) on appeal the appellate court finds plenty of evidence to support elements A, B, and C but none on D. Is that reversible Jackson error? No. Jackson concerns only what the elements the jury should have been instructed on, not what they were instructed on.
If the defendant didn't raise a statute of limitations defense at trial, can he raise it on appeal? Not unless Congress has made the time limit jurisdictional, which it rarely does and did not do for the crime involved in this case. How about the plain error rule? No. If the defendant does not bring it up, the failure of the trial court judge to do so sua sponte is not error, plain or otherwise.
That's the short version. For a longer version, see Rory Little's post at SCOTUSblog.
McCarthy's article is a goldmine about how the federal criminal justice system works on the inside, and well worth your read. Sentencing reform is getting as far as it is only because the public has no idea about how many breaks for criminals are already built into the system, though hidden from view.
Mandatory minimum sentences and strict sentencing guidelines for serious offenses were enacted precisely because judges, often in collusion with prosecutors [Ed. note: and virtually always at the urging of defense counsel], were systematically releasing serious offenders, allowing them to continue preying on society. While the "man-mins" and guidelines helped dramatically reduce crime, the left-leaning legal profession agitated against them. One result is "fact" pleading -- the sort of shenanigans that we see in the Hastert case: a willfully false rendition of the facts in order to sidestep sentencing enhancements required by law.
That is what sentencing "reform" has in store for us. The proposals may call for careful judicial fact finding before a felon is released. But the law already calls for careful judicial fact finding when the felon is sentenced. What we frequently get, instead, is careful judicial evasion -- often aided and abetted, it must be noted, by the Justice Department. It may be that careful fact finding would result in the release of some prisoners who should be released; but the breed of "fact" finding we are apt to get from sentencing "reform" will result in the mass release of incorrigible, violent criminals.
Judge Michael P. Donnelly had seen enough by the time his spreadsheet of plea deals in sexual-assault cases reached nearly 200. In each case, the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser crime that bore no factual resemblance to what occurred, allowing many to avoid sex-offender registration requirements.
Many rape cases involved pleas to aggravated assault, a crime involving serious bodily harm in which the defendant was provoked by the victim -- a scenario common in a drunken bar fight but wildly inconsistent with rape. "It's sidestepping the truth. It's legal fiction, nothing more than a lie," said Donnelly, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge. "No one can defend this process. There is no ethical defense."
I regret to report that fictionalized and sanitized accounts of the defendant's behavior are hardly limited to sex cases. They are epidemic. Indeed they have a name: "swallowing the gun." At the urging of defense counsel, prosecutors routinely agree to a dumbed-down -- and, let's face it -- largely whited-out account of the defendant's behavior in order to move the case and get to the next in a very long line.
Something needs to get done to change this.
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.