Recently in U.S. Supreme Court Category
The Supreme Court's jurisprudence on retroactivity of court decisions (as opposed to statutes), is less than crystal clear, and one might make a reasonable argument on the merits that this retroactive application crosses the fuzzy line. Under Congress's 1996 reform of federal habeas corpus (AEDPA), though, that is not the question for the federal court. The Michigan state courts decided the merits question, adversely to Lancaster. "To obtain habeas corpus relief from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the challenged state-court ruling rested on 'an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair minded disagreement.' Harrington v. Richter, 562 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 12-13)."
Where the merits question is close, the AEDPA question is easy. The state court decision was well within the bounds of "fair minded disagreement." The Sixth Circuit decision to the contrary was beyond wrong. It was lawless.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday followed through with his vow to turn to the U.S. Supreme Court in a bid to end years of judicial control over California's overcrowded prison system.Unlike most cases, where parties must ask the Supreme Court to take the case (a petition for writ of certiorari), Congress has placed prisoner release orders into that select group of cases where a party can appeal to the Supreme Court as a matter of right. If the jurisdictional prerequisites are met, the high court has to take it.
In a three-page filing, the governor and his top prison officials notified a three-judge panel the state is appealing an April order requiring California to shed at least 10,000 more inmates by the end of December. The attorney general's office now has 60 days to file its full legal arguments with the Supreme Court.
The special three-judge panel has threatened the governor with contempt if his administration does not comply with a 2009 order requiring California to reduce its inmate population to about 110,000 inmates to satisfy concerns that prisons are so overcrowded they fail to provide adequate medical and mental health care.
Brown, however, said in Monday's filing that the court "did not fully or fairly consider the evidence showing that the state's prison health care now exceeds constitutional standards."
The SCOTUS denial is not on the high court's website as of this writing.
HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- A Texas death row inmate convicted of killing a fellow drug dealer while robbing him outside of a Waco convenience store 10 years ago has been executed.
Carroll Joe Parr received a lethal injection Tuesday evening. Appeals to block the punishment were rejected last week in the state and federal courts. And last-day appeals filed by Parr himself were denied at the U.S. Supreme Court and his trial court.
Update: Ed Marshall informs us in the comments that Justice Scalia denied the application on his own, so there will not be an order of the Court.
Congress vested the stay power in individual justices (see 28 U.S.C. §2101(f)), so the procedure is to apply to the justice assigned to the circuit from which the case comes. For Texas (Fifth Circuit), that is Justice Scalia. However, the Court established long ago (in a case related to the Aaron Burr conspiracy) that a power vested in individual justices may be exercised by the full court. For stays of execution in capital cases, the usual practice is for the individual justice to refer the stay application to the court for decision.
Why wasn't that done in this case? Probably the time crunch. It is also possible that Justice Scalia conferred with his colleagues informally and determined the full court would deny it before issuing the denial individually.
Update 2: The docket is now available here.
1. Whether the crime of distribution of drugs causing death under 21 U.S.C. § 841 is a strict liability crime, without a foreseeability or proximate cause requirement.The question they didn't want to hear was:
2. Whether a person can be convicted for distribution of heroin causing death utilizing jury instructions which allow a conviction when the heroin that was distributed "contributed to," death by "mixed drug intoxication," but was not the sole cause of death of [the] person.
3. Whether an officer can testify that the defendant is a "known" heroin dealer because the officer couched it as necessary to explain why he put the defendant's picture in a photo lineup.
113602P.pdf 08/06/2012 United States v. Marcus Burrage U.S. Court of Appeals Case No: 11-3602 U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Des Moines [PUBLISHED] [Benton, Author, with Bye and Beam, Circuit Judges]
Criminal case - Criminal law. District court did not err in rejecting defendant's proximate cause instructions as this court has held that a showing of proximate cause is not required in a prosecution under 21 U.S.C. Sec. 841(b)(1) for distributing heroin resulting in death; use of "contributing cause" language was appropriate under this court's case law; prosecutor's cross-examination of defendant and his closing comments as to whether the voice on a tape sounded like defendant were not improper; evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction; even if a police officer's testimony regarding defendant's status as a drug dealer was hearsay, its admission was harmless in light of the other evidence in the case.
The Supreme Court limited its review to "questions 1 and 2 presented by the petition." These are apparently the causation issues, not the evidence issues.
The Court dumped Boyer v. Louisiana, a speedy trial case. As is normal for dismissals "as improvidently granted," the opinion of the Court is a one-liner. Justice Alito, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas, explains why they concur in the dumping. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, dissents.
The cross-petitions in the Phillips case, previously noted in this post, have been denied without comment, after six relists. Wonder what went on behind the scenes.
The case arises from President Obama's unprecedented assertion of the authority to make "recess appointments" when he decides the Senate is actually in recess, even though the Senate itself conducts "pro forma" sessions so as not to be in recess.
The petition assails the Court of Appeals decision on its overbroad holding but curiously omits any significant defense of the President's remarkable assertion at the root of the case. The three subheads of Reasons for Granting the Petition are:
A. The President's Recess-appointment Authority Is Not Confined to Inter-session Recesses
B. The President May Fill a Vacancy That Exists During a Recess of the Senate, Even If the Vacancy Did Not First Arise During That Recess
C. The Court of Appeals' Decision Would Have Serious and Far-reaching Consequences
All of those things could be true and yet the judgment below, even if not the opinion in its entirety, would still be obviously correct.
As discussed in my previous post, I think this is one of those rare circumstances where a summary affirmance is in order.
The state of Texas has set an execution date for an East Texas man. Richard Cobb of Rusk was convicted of kidnapping and murder in 2002. KTRE spoke to one of the victims who escaped the tragedy he caused.
Nikki Daniels escaped abduction, sexual assault, and death. She was and still is a brave woman who will be present for the execution of Cobb Thursday.
"I feel that I was put in a victims place that night but I came out a survivor," Nikki Daniels said.
She's a survivor who will never be the same emotionally or physically.
How about when a state supreme court corrects a misinterpretation of the law by lower courts, an error that had favored defendants? Does the defendant have a vested right to the case law as it existed at the time of the crime?
The Ex Post Facto Clause prohibits legislatures from enlarging the definitions of crimes or eliminating defenses retroactively. For case law, the picture is more muddled. The case of Bouie v. City of Columbia, during the civil rights struggle, involved a sit-in demonstration that was not a criminal offense at the time of the demonstration, but the state courts expanded the definition of the relevant offense to include it. The Supreme Court said that violates due process of law. More recently, in Rogers v. Tennessee, the high court allowed retroactive application of a decision dumping the old rule that a crime is not murder unless the victim dies within a year and a day.
Metrich v. Lancaster, argued today in the high court, involves the Michigan law of diminished capacity.
On April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Salinas v. Texas. This case considers whether, when a suspect is silent in response to a single question during a voluntary interview with police before he has been arrested or read his Miranda rights, use of that silence at trial violates the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
We granted certiorari to resolve a split of authority on the question whether the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream establishes a per se exigency that suffices on its own to justify an exception to the warrant requirement for nonconsensual blood testing in drunk-driving investigations.The answer is no, they need a warrant, but the Court is surprisingly fractured in this case.
On the narrow question stated above, the Court ruled 8-1 that the dissipation of alcohol alone does not amount to an exigent circumstance. The opinion by Justice Sotomayor (the opinion of the Court at this point) distinguishes Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966), a rare case where Justice Brennan cast the deciding vote in favor of the prosecution and wrote the opinion. Schmerber involved additional facts supporting exigency beyond dissipation alone. Also, advances in technology make quick issuance of a warrant much easier now than it was then.
So what else is needed? Justice Sotomayor's opinion provides little guidance, and this is where four Justices split off. Chief Justice Roberts writes for himself and Justices Breyer and Alito:
A police officer reading this Court's opinion would have no idea--no idea--what the Fourth Amendment requires of him, once he decides to obtain a blood sample from a drunk driving suspect who has refused a breathalyzer test. I have no quarrel with the Court's "totality of the circumstances" approach as a general matter; that is what our cases require. But the circumstances in drunk driving cases are often typical, and the Court should be able to offer guidance on how police should handle cases like the one before us.Justice Kennedy seems sympathetic to this view, but he would wait for another case to provide that guidance.
In Carter v. Kentucky, 450 U.S. 288 (1981), the Supreme Court decided that, in the guilt phase of a trial, the defendant is entitled to such an instruction on request. Not all defendants request the instruction, though, because it highlights the fact that the defendant has not testified. Telling people "don't pay attention to this" is a pretty good way of getting them to pay attention to something.
Does the Carter rule apply to a case where the defendant pleads guilty to the crime and admits the eligibility circumstance, so the jury is impaneled only to decide whether an admittedly death-eligible murderer should be sentenced to death? The trial judge in the case of Robert Woodall did not think so, and neither did the Kentucky Supreme Court. The federal district judge did, though, and a majority of a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit decided that the state court's contrary decision was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent, the standard established by Congress for a lower federal court to overturn a state court decision on habeas corpus. Judge Cook did not agree: