Recently in U.S. Supreme Court Category

Ryan v. Hurles Returns to SCOTUS

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Arizona's attempt to reinstate the death sentence of murderer Richard Hurles is back in the U.S. Supreme Court.  The prior petition was "relisted" an astonishing 22 times before the Ninth Circuit withdrew its opinion and issued a new one, causing the state to withdraw its petition.  The case was noted many times on this blog, including this post and this post, and it was a "regular" in John Elwood's "Relist Watch" at SCOTUSblog.

The new petition is number 14-191.

SCOTUS Clerk's Office Restructuring

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Chris Vasil is retiring as Chief Deputy Clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court on September 1.  He will be missed.  The Court has announced a restructuring, described in this announcement and copied after the break.

Woodall Bearing Fruit

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In the U.S. Supreme Court's last term, CJLF accomplished one of its long-standing objectives regarding Congress's landmark 1996 reform of federal habeas corpus.  On questions of law, including "mixed questions" of law and fact, a lower federal court can effectively overturn a decision of a state court only if the state court decision is either (1) contrary to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, or (2) an "unreasonable application" of U.S. Supreme Court precedent.  That second phrase is supposed to refer to application of existing rules to the particular facts of the case, not making up new rules by plowing new legal ground.  We got the Supreme Court to clarify that, and put the brakes on lower federal courts, last April in White v. Woodall, discussed in this post.

Friday we saw the effect of Woodall in keeping a Nevada murderer in prison where he belongs.  The opinion comes from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, not friendly territory for law enforcement, written by Judge A. Wallace Tashima, not one of our best friends.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued one of its midsummer orders lists.  These are usually just routine administrative orders, but occasionally you get something interesting. 

In today's orders list, we find this gem from Ballard v. Pennsylvania, No. 13-9364:  "The letters of June 2, July 8, July 14, and July 16, 2014, received in this case, are referred to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for any investigation or action it finds appropriate."  Hmmm.  What's that about?

This is a capital case.  Ballard is a so-called "volunteer," a death-sentenced inmate who doesn't want his sentenced reversed or even delayed.  Marc Bookman of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, claiming to be Ballard's lawyer, filed a certiorari petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirming the judgment.  Ballard himself had a thing or two to say about that.

SCOTUS Denies Stay to Worthington

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The US Supreme Court has denied stays of execution for Missouri murderer Michael Worthington.  In one case he was seeking review of the Missouri Supreme Court decision.  In the other, he asked for a stay pending a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.   Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented from the denial of stay in the latter case.

Update:  Missourinet reports, "5 grams of pentobarbital were administered at 12:01 a.m.  He appeared to quit talking to his family by 12:02 and appeared to quit breathing at 12:03.  The Department of Corrections places the time of death at 12:11."

That's how it's done.  Pentobarbital is quick, effective, and painless.  Congress should outlaw the manufacturer's restrictions on resale as a restraint of trade.
Ryan v. Wood, 14A82 (today):

The application to vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granting a conditional preliminary injunction, presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court, is granted. The district judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Wood's motion for a preliminary injunction. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversing the district court and granting a conditional preliminary injunction is vacated.
No dissent is noted.  That does not necessarily mean the decision is unanimous, but any Justice voting against the order, if any, did not feel strongly enough about it to have it noted.

The Court denied Wood's motion for stay and petition for certiorari in the parallel case seeking review of the Arizona Supreme Court's decision.

Wood's execution is set for 10:00 a.m. Mountain Standard Time tomorrow.  Arizona doesn't go in for that biannual clock-fiddling nonsense.  That's 10:00 a.m. PDT and 1:00 p.m. EDT.

Update (Wednesday, 7/23):  Yesterday the Ninth Circuit rejected an attempt by Wood to reopen his case via Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b).  This morning the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution and writ of certiorari in that case.  No dissent is noted.

Update 2:  Now the Arizona Supreme Court has issued a stay, according to this AP story 1:41 p.m. EDT 7/23.

Update 3:  The 2:48 EDT update of the AP story (same link) says Arizona Supreme lifted the stay an hour later.  "The appeal focused on arguments that Wood received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing, along with a challenge about the secrecy of the lethal injection drugs."

Arizona Moves to Vacate Wood Stay

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The State of Arizona has filed in the U.S. Supreme Court an application to vacate the stay of execution of murderer Joseph Wood, noted yesterday.  The case is Ryan v. Wood, 14A82.

The Ninth Circuit has a very helpful collection of the pleadings in this case.  The Supreme Court papers are in green.  The administrative folks at the Ninth really do an excellent job.  Now if we could only do something about the substance of the opinions . . .

Lest we forget what this case is about:
From the Federalist Society:

The Supreme Court issued a number of notable opinions in the area of criminal law during the recently concluded term. Members of the Federalist Society's Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Executive Committee offered their analysis on recent developments in the Supreme Court's criminal law jurisprudence and fielded questions from a call-in audience.

    • Dean Mazzone, Chief of the Enterprise and Major Crimes Division, Massachusetts Attorney General's Office

    • Kent S. Scheidegger, Legal Director and General Counsel, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation
Today's News Scan notes the stay of execution granted by a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit to Arizona murderer Joseph Wood so he can litigate his supposed First Amendment right to information about the source of Arizona's execution drugs.  The Ninth swiftly denied rehearing en banc with a dissent joined by 11 of the courts active judges.  The split was largely but not entirely on party-of-appointment lines, with Clinton appointee Richard Tallman and Obama appointee John Owens joining the dissent and Bush appointee Richard Clifton not joining it.

I have no doubt this case is headed for the Supreme Court.  It might be there already.

Podcast on Hall v. Florida

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The Federalist Society has a podcast on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hall v. Florida, regarding definition of intellectual disability for the purpose of exemption from capital punishment, by CJLF's Legal Director Kent Scheidegger.

Oh, Never Mind

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I spoke a bit too soon yesterday in saying the U.S. Supreme Court had wrapped up its term.  Today we have an odd little one-paragraph per curiam disposition in Willams v. Johnson, 13-9085, a sequel to last year's Johnson v. Williams, 11-465.

The underlying issue has to do with a trial judge's dismissal of a juror.  As with a great many issues in criminal procedure, there are state law requirements overlaid with federal constitutional case law.  The state appellate court, in its decision rejecting the claim, did not separately discuss the federal question.  In the Ninth Circuit, the notorious Judge Stephen Reinhardt engaged in his favorite pastime of evading the habeas corpus reforms enacted by Congress in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.  Declaring that the state court had ignored the federal claim and therefore not ruled on the merits, he found himself freed from the deference shackles imposed by Congress and proceeded to decide the claim de novo, a bit of legal Latin which, in this context, means "we don't give a damn what the state court decided."  The mercurial Chief Judge Alex Kozinski went along with this, as did a district judge sitting by designation.

SCOTUS was not amused and slapped down the Ninth in yet another unanimous AEDPA reversal last year.  However, the Supreme Court committed its own error in the process.  Along with saying that the Ninth should have applied the deference standard, for reasons well explained and quite correct, the opinion contains an otherwise unexplained line that "under that standard respondent is not entitled to habeas relief."  The Court also denied a petition for rehearing.

On remand, the Ninth thought it was bound by this statement.  Today, the Supreme Court said no, go ahead and decide the case under the deference standard.  No explanation; no apology.

The Court also issued a short orders list vacating and remanding some cases in light of recent decisions and granting certiorari in some civil cases.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court wraps up its October 2013 Term.  Technically, the term continues until the beginning of the next term on the First Monday in October, but today is the last session day, and we can expect little but routine administrative orders and emergency action on stays until just before the next term begins.

Most of the talk will be about religion/contraception/Obamacare case.  Off topic for this blog, so no comment here.  Also chatworthy is the involuntary payments to the government employees' union case.  Again, not here, despite my personal interest in the matter.

The Court took up five cases, all civil.  The one criminal-related matter is Mellouli v. Holder, a deportation for drug-dealing case.  SCOTUSblog's case page has more info.

Th-th-th-th-that's all folks.
As Bill noted Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court in Riley v. California declined to extend to contemporary phones the doctrine that when a person is arrested everything on him can be searched without a warrant.

This case involves applying a two-century-old constitutional provision to technology that was nearly unimaginable even twenty years ago, much less two hundred.  The approach used in Chief Justice Roberts' unanimous opinion for the Court is to assess the degree of intrusion and balance that against government interests.  I think we should also look at the Fourth Amendment itself and see if anything is closely analogous.  The First Congress's handiwork, ratified by the requisite number of states, goes out of its way to protect "papers."  The emails stored on a modern smart phone have the same informational content as the "papers" of 1791.  It is the message, not the medium, that matters here, Marshall McLuhan notwithstanding.

The asserted justifications for searching the phone immediately without a warrant are weak.  The police can seize the phone, remove the battery, and put it in the evidence locker.  It's not going anywhere, and neither is the data, while they explain to a magistrate why they need to search it.  I have no problem with the substantive Fourth Amendment holding in this case.

But the police were not, or should not have been, the ones on trial in the case of the People of the State of California v. David Riley.  The questions to be decided in that case were whether Riley carried concealed and loaded weapons and whether he did so to benefit a criminal street gang.  Should the contents of the phone, surely admissible if the police had gotten a warrant, be excluded from evidence on the gang question simply because they did not know they needed to get one?

The Supreme Court did not say, and it was not asked to say.  But I think the question is important.
Continuing its mediocre record in the Supreme Court, this Administration's SG's Office lost in the Riley and Wurie cases today, failing to get a single vote.

The cases concerned, as I noted before, a complicated and important Fourth Amendment question, and I did not attempt an answer, not least because, unlike the rest of the world, I don't even carry a cell phone.  I did predict that the Court would not simply walk away from the search-incident-to-arrest rule of Robinson, and it didn't.  The Court declined to extend that rule, however, to cell phones.  It's hard to argue with the result, given, as the Chief Justice points out, that cell phones can and often do contain the owner's entire life, and that they do not present the sort of immediate physical danger to officers that the search-incident-to-arrest rule was created to contain.

The Court's opinion in the two cases is here.
The Heritage Foundation summarizes today's unanimous (as to result) victory for the prosecution over a defendant who wanted to cheat his way to a little more dough. This is the gist of Loughrin v. United States:


The federal bank fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1344(2), makes it a crime to knowingly execute a scheme to obtain property owned or possessed by a bank "by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises." Writing for a Court that was unanimous as to the result but disagreed slightly as to the reasoning, Kagan ruled that the statute does not require the Government to prove that a defendant intended to defraud a financial institution, only that the defendant intended to ob­tain bank property "by means of" a false statement. The Court affirmed Loughrin's conviction for submitting forged stolen checks to a retail establishment, rather than directly to a bank. Scalia, joined by Thomas, wrote a separate concurring opinion questioning how the majority's interpretation of the term "by means of" would apply in future cases. Alito wrote a concurring opinion arguing that the statute requires the government to prove only that the defendant knowingly sought to obtain money by means of a falsehood and not for any specific purpose.


As I said in my entry last week on the defendant's loss in United States v. Abramski, offenses like this are really easy to avoid. Don't cheat.  If you want money, work for it like everybody else.

Yes, there are legitimate questions about federal overreach.  Yes, the country should do a good deal of thinking about the seemingly limitless growth of criminal jurisdiction.  Yes, the government should be held to the letter of the law. But in any individual case, there is almost always an easy way to moot these questions: Be honest.
 

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