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August 7, 2006

The crew down on Lakeside has been churning out some decisions, so I thought I'd play catch-up and check some of them out.

If you've been thinking of making an argument on appeal that the failure to advise a defendant that he was going to be classified as a sexually-oriented offender made his plea involuntary, don't bother.  The court rejected that argument in State v. Tackett, holding that since that raised a non-constitutional issue, only substantial compliance with the statute was required, and the plea satisfied that test despite the court not informing him that designation as a sexual offender was mandatory. 

Another stop-and-frisk ruling in a drug case appropriately named State v. Scales, where the court reversed a denial of a motion to suppress.  The police approached the defendant after they spotted him waving down a car, and a frisk revealed marijuana and cocaine.  The court said that the defendant's waving down a car wasn't sufficient to warrant the stop.  The problem with search cases, though, is that they're so fact-dependent the outcome hinges almost entirely on what panel you wind up with, and this one's no different.  Then again, that's the general problem with Fourth Amendment law. The former is so complex and multivariate that it's virtually impossible to draw any definitive bright lines.  And as far as what panel you wind up with is concerned, the same thing applies in the lower court; any good defense lawyer can predict the outcome of a search motion in the trial court with 90% confidence as soon as he hears what judge is assigned to the case out of the arraignment room.  Anyway, if you're a defense attorney, Scales is definitely a keeper.

I've talked about arbitration cases in the past -- here and here -- and this court's welcome trend of subjecting them to exacting scrutiny.  The court goes in an opposite direction, though, in Bell v. Hollywood Entertainment, upholding an arbitration agreement which compelled an employee to arbitrate any employment disputes, including discrimination complaints.  What's dismaying is that the court didn't go beyond the fact that the employee signed the agreement -- actually, signing it was a condition of her employment -- never even considering questions of substantive or procedural unconscionability, as it had in the previous cases involving consumer arbitration clauses.  There doesn't seem to be much reason for this:  yes, a prospective employee can choose to go to work instead for another company which doesn't have such a clause, but a consumer can choose to do business with a company which doesn't, too, and that hasn't prevented the courts in the latter cases for making a more thorough analysis.

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