Recently in U.S. Supreme Court Category

Remember Edward Dorsey?  He was the defendant in Dorsey v. United States, in which the Supreme Court, 5-4, walked past the federal Savings Statute, 1 USC 109, to find that the Crack Pushers Bonanza Bill Fair Sentencing Act applied retroactively for the benefit of those convicted on or after the day it was signed into law, regardless of its effective date.

What happens when we make lighter drug sentencing retroactive?  Easy  --  the druggie gets out earlier.  And what happens then? Easy again  --  he gets back in business.  Why would he do anything else when he sees that we've lost our nerve?

The Sentencing Commission, in its rush to give breaks to drug dealers, has danced and pranced around their actual recidivism rate.  In fact, although the Commission understandably seems a bit reluctant to say so out loud, the drug recidivism rate is a staggering 77%.

With that in mind, I bring you today's news in the form of a press release from the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois, home of our friend, Mr. "We Know He'll Go Straight From Now On" Edward Dorsey (emphasis added):
Earlier this morning, Bill noted that the U.S. Supreme Court decided Heien v. North Carolina, No. 13-604, and copied an accurate summary of the decision from the Heritage Foundation. I want to explore a little further the important distinction between the substantive scope of the Fourth Amendment and the judge-made rule of exclusion of evidence found to have been obtained in violation of that amendment.

Today's decision answers a question that does not arise that often.  Is a search "unreasonable" within the substantive scope of the Fourth Amendment if the police officer acts on an interpretation of the law that is reasonable (and not contrary to any precedent existing at the time) but that a court subsequently finds to be incorrect?  The Supreme Court says no, 8-1, but both the majority and the concurrence note that this is a more demanding standard than the generous one provided for qualified immunity for civil liability.  As Justice Kagan puts it in the concurring opinion,

If the statute is genuinely ambiguous, such that overturning the officer's judgment requires hard interpretive work, then the officer has made a reasonable mistake. But if not, not. As the Solicitor General made the point at oral argument, the statute must pose a "really difficult" or "very hard question of statutory interpretation." 
I look forward to citing the "really difficult standard" in a brief.  Justice Kagan goes on to say these cases will be "exceedingly rare."  That is perhaps a tad of an overstatement, but I do not expect them to be common.

This case got to the Supreme Court with this question because, as Justice Sotomayor notes in the dissent, "unlike most States, North Carolina does not provide a good-faith exception as a matter of state law."  An exception, that is, to the rule that once a Fourth Amendment violation is found the evidence must be suppressed.  States can, if they wish, have broader exclusionary rules than federal law requires, so they do not have to follow the various good-faith exceptions that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized.    This is why CJLF passed on the case and did not file an amicus brief.  Our interest is in the broader exclusionary rule question, not the interesting but rarely occurring substantive Fourth Amendment issue decided today.

So here is the bombshell question not answered today but reserved for a future case:  Should the U.S. Supreme Court stop carving out individual good-faith "exceptions" to an overall rule of suppression of evidence and instead make "bad faith" a required element of a defendant's motion to suppress evidence?
The Supreme Court today decided Heien v. North Carolina, No. 13-604, involving the propriety under the Fourth Amendment of a police search.  The Heritage Foundation aptly describes the decision this way:

The Fourth Amendment prohibits (inter alia) "unreasonable" searches and seizures.  For the past 50 years, the Supreme Court has crafted rules for law enforcement officers to follow, in order to make it easier for the police to know what is and is not reasonable.  Additionally, the Court has construed that term to allow the police to make reasonable mistakes of fact, reasoning that the "probable cause" necessary to effect a search or seizure does not require an officer to be absolutely right, just "reasonable."

Today, Roberts, writing for an 8-1 Court, ruled that the term "reasonable" includes reasonable mistakes of fact and law.  An officer, who mistakenly but reasonably believed that the driver of a vehicle had violated a state traffic law by having only one working brake light, stopped the vehicle and ultimately found cocaine, which was used to convict the driver and passenger.  Because the officer's interpretation of the traffic law was reasonable, Roberts concluded, there was no Fourth Amendment violation.  Kagan wrote a separate opinion, joined by Ginsburg, to emphasize the narrowness of the Court's opinion.  Sotomayor dissented on the ground that, regardless of how the exclusionary rule should be applied, there is no "mistake of law" exception to the Fourth Amendment.
In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court announced a new constitutional rule that murderers who are 17 years, 364 days old or less at the time of the crime cannot be sentenced to life without parole under a mandatory sentencing system, but they can receive such a sentence if the judge has discretion to consider mitigating circumstances and decides that LWOP is warranted.

Does that decision apply retroactively to require new sentencing proceedings for the under-18 murderers sentenced under mandatory statutes and whose convictions were affirmed in final judgments before the Miller decision?  The Supreme Court of Louisiana said no last year in State v. Tate, 130 So.3d 829.  Applying Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), the court said this is a procedural change, not a substantive one, and it does not qualify as a "watershed" ruling on the scale of Gideon v. Wainwright.

Last June, that court applied the Tate precedent to summarily reverse a grant of collateral relief to George Toca.  Today the U.S. Supreme Court took up Toca's case.  Unsatisfied with the way Toca's lawyer wrote the question presented, the Court rewrote them as:

1) Does the rule announced in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. ____ (2012), apply retroactively to this case?
2) Is a federal question raised by a claim that a state collateral review court erroneously failed to find a Teague exception?
Usually, the way to have a lower court's decision reviewed by a higher court is to appeal.  In the U.S. Supreme Court, an actual "appeal" in the technical sense is usually not available, and a petition for writ of certiorari is used instead.

Sometimes, though, neither of these procedures is available, and the aggrieved party must resort to an "extraordinary writ," a petition for a writ of prohibition or mandate.  In form, this is a new suit by the petitioner against the lower court itself, designated the "respondent."  In practice, the opposing party in the lower court is designated the "real party in interest," and that party defends the lower court's action.  That avoids the need for a court to appear as a party, generally regarded as unseemly.

And now, for something completely different....

In re Ryan, U.S. Supreme Court No. 14-375, is a petition by Arizona's prison chief against the Ninth Circuit for sitting on a case after it should be over.  As usual, the opposing party in the court below, the Arizona Federal Defender on behalf of murderer Graham Henry, filed an opposition.  But yesterday, the Supreme Court asked the Ninth Circuit itself to file a response.
The Supreme Court of Georgia denied a stay of execution to Robert Wayne Holsey, who shot and killed Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff Will Robinson in December 1995.  A press release is here.  Holsey wanted the determination that he is not intellectually disabled reconsidered after Hall v. Florida.

The US Supreme Court subsequently denied a stay 7-2.  Justices Breyer and Sotomayor would have granted the stay.
The Claremont Institute's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence will sponsor a teleforum on Friday at 1:00 p.m. EST on three cases argued before the Supreme Court this month.  The criminal case in the group is Elonis v. United States, the Facebook threats case, to be discussed by yours truly.

Also on the case will be Prof. Anthony Caso of Chapman University (formerly with Pacific Legal Foundation) discussing the Amtrak regulatory delegation case, and Karen Harned of the National Federation of Independent Business, discussing the notice and comment requirements for an administrative agency to change its interpretative regulations.  Because of these two cases, the forum is titled, "Will The Court Rein In The Out Of Control Bureaucracy?"  Dr. John Eastman will lead the discussion.

You can register your phone number here, and they will call you, or you can point your browser here, and listen via webcast.
The U.S. Supreme Court today decided Warger v. Shauers, No. 13-517:

Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) provides that certain juror testimony regarding what occurred in a jury room is inadmissible "[d]uring an inquiry into the validity of a verdict." The question presented in this case is whether Rule 606(b) precludes a party seeking a new trial from using one juror's affidavit of what another juror said in deliberations to demonstrate the other juror's dishonesty during voir dire. We hold that it does.
This is a civil case, but the interpretation of FRE 606(b) will control in federal criminal cases as well and will be persuasive authority in states with similar rules.  The Court rejects the claim that the rule amounts to an unconstitutional denial of the right to an impartial jury but notes in one of those infamous, hedging footnotes:

3 There may be cases of juror bias so extreme that, almost by definition, the jury trial right has been abridged. If and when such a case arises, the Court can consider whether the usual safeguards are or are not sufficient to protect the integrity of the process. We need not consider the question, however, for those facts are not presented here.
The opinion is by Justice Sotomayor, unanimous.
Kevan Brumfield murdered Police Corporal Betty Smothers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1993.  He went on trial in 1995.  Six years earlier the Supreme Court decided in Penry v. Lynaugh that mental retardation (now called intellectual disability) is a mitigating factor that the jury must be allowed to consider but not a categorical exclusion.  Brumfield's lawyers put on no evidence of retardation, instead arguing other factors as mitigation, and he was sentenced to death.

Seven years after the trial, the Supreme Court decided in Atkins v. Virginia that retardation would be a categorical exclusion after all.  The high court did not apologize for its flip-flop.  On state collateral review, the trial judge denied the petition on the basis of the trial record.

What to do on federal habeas?  The deference standard of 28 U.S.C. ยง2254(d) allows a federal court to grant relief despite a state court's denial on the merits if the state court's "adjudication of the claim ... (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 

But what if the argument is that the state court's unreasonableness was in not allowing evidence, rather than assessment of evidence?  Can a rule to deal with that issue be crafted without opening the door to federal micromanagement of state collateral review or the wholesale relitigation that the AEDPA reforms were enacted to prevent?

Elonis Teleforum Podcast

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My FedSoc Teleforum on the Elonis Facebook threats case argument yesterday is now available as a podcast.

Facebook Threats Argument

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Robert Barnes has this report in the WaPo on the oral argument in the Facebook threats case, Elonis v. United States.

As Bill noted earlier, I did a teleforum for the Federalist Society on the case.  It should be available as a podcast tomorrow.  We will post a link here then.

One thing that is clear from the argument is that counsel for Elonis abandoned the position that a subjective purpose to intimidate is constitutionally required.  The mental state argument is about what kind of knowledge is required -- knowledge that the statement would be perceived as a threat, knowledge of a grave risk it would be so perceived (i.e., recklessness), or just knowledge of what the statement said, combined with an objective determination that a reasonable person would see it as a threat.
Kent wrote about the Facebook threat case, Elonis v. United States, in this post. The case was argued before the Supreme Court this morning, and Kent will describe and analyse the argument in a Federalist Society teleforum broadcast this afternoon at 4 pm Eastern Time.  The call-in number is 888-752-3232.

Facebook Threats Argument Next Week

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Elonis v. United States, the Facebook threats case, will be argued next week.  We filed our brief last October, and I wrote this post the same day.

Amy Howe has this "plain English" post on the case at SCOTUSblog.  She noted it is unlikely that the Justices are much familiar with Facebook and wonders if that will affect the case.  It shouldn't, in my opinion.  The definition of a prohibited threat should not vary with the medium.  The fact that people rant all the time on the internet does not warrant extending First Amendment protection when rant crosses the line to threats. 

A couple of amicus briefs supporting Elonis take the position, in essence, that the routine debasement of speech in our society in media such as online posting and gangsta rap are a reason to take a more expansive view of First Amendment protection of threats.  If this downward spiral of our society has any effect at all on the decision, it should be in the other direction, in my opinion.  We have gone way too far in letting it all hang out and need to tuck some of it back in.

A good example of the ill effects of extreme disinhibition is SCOTUSblog itself.  That blog used to have comments, and I enjoyed commenting there, exchanging views with thoughtful, intelligent, informed people, many of whom disagreed with me.  But the comment section turned into a cesspool, as the comments of so many blogs do.  They tried requiring people to use their real names, and that helped but not enough.  Finally they axed the comments altogether because they dragged down the quality of the blog.  The rudeness of a few ruined the medium for those of us who wanted to exchange views at a refined level.

Continuing with the theme of Bill's post, the State of Texas has scheduled the execution next week of Scott Panetti for the 1995 murder of his wife's parents.  The editorial board of the New York Times can't help themselves.  Even when their position is basically a reasonable one, they still have to make absurd statements in the process.

During his capital murder trial, at which he was inexplicably allowed to represent himself, Mr. Panetti dressed in a cowboy suit and attempted to subpoena, among others, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ. A standby lawyer said his behavior was "scary" and "trance-like," and called the trial "a judicial farce."
The word "inexplicably" is just plain ignorant.  There is no mystery at all as to why Panetti was allowed to represent himself or who was to blame.  The blame lies squarely with the United States Supreme Court in the 1970s and its propensity at that time to make up rights that are not really in the Constitution.

In Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), the Supreme Court said that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to reject counsel and conduct their own defense.  Justice Blackmun noted in dissent, "If there is any truth to the old proverb that 'one who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,' the Court by its opinion today now bestows a constitutional right on one to make a fool of himself."  In Panetti's case, make that a crazy fool.

The Faretta rule was long understood to be absolute in most jurisdictions, including Texas and the Fifth Circuit.  As long as the defendant was competent to stand trial, a very minimal standard, he had the constitutional right to represent himself, no matter how much of a farce he made of the trial.  If the trial court denied him that dubious right, the judgment would be reversed on appeal or overturned on habeas corpus.  The Texas trial judge was therefore correct, in the sense of following the precedents of both the state and federal courts, in allowing Panetti to represent himself.  In Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008), we finally got the Court to modify Faretta and recognize that some people are competent to stand trial and assist counsel but not to be their own counsel, see CJLF brief, but 33 years had elapsed and a lot of water had passed under the bridge.

The issue in the courts now, though, is not Panetti's representation at trial but rather whether he is presently too crazy to execute. 

Confrontation, Hearsay, and Child Abuse

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"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him ...."  So says the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as do the bills of rights of many state constitutions.  But what does that mean?

From at least 1980, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Ohio v. Roberts, until 2004, when it decided Crawford v. Washington, the Confrontation Clause was pretty much a constitutionalization of the hearsay rule.  If the prosecution wanted A to testify as to what B said, the defendant had a right to confront and cross-examine B, subject to all the "firmly rooted hearsay exception[s]," and there are a lot of them.  The main consideration was deciding whether the particular form of hearsay was reliable.

In Crawford, the Supreme Court tossed the Roberts rule and its reliability focus overboard and went with a historical analysis instead.  The purpose of the Confrontation Clause is to prevent abuses of the kind that happened in the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh (the founder of Anglo-America) and other old English cases where testimony is introduced in the form of affidavits or examinations of a witness conducted ex parte, i.e., when the defendant is not present and can't cross-examine.  In circumstances like these, the examinee is the "witness" and the statement is "testimonial."  The Confrontation Clause forbids introduction, and there are no exceptions.  In other cases of garden-variety hearsay, A is the "witness," and admissibility of B's statement is a matter for state hearsay rules, not the U.S. Constitution.  In a state case, reliability of the hearsay is an issue for state rulemakers and courts to ponder, not the federal courts.

Okay, but what statements are sufficiently like the forbidden historical practices to make B's statement "testimonial" and make B and not A the "witness" for this purpose.  The Crawford Court left that largely for future decisions, a recipe for chaos.

How about an injured preschooler's response to a teacher's question, "Who did this? What happened to you?"  That is the question before the Supreme Court in Ohio v. Clark, No. 13-1352.

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