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Supreme Court Recap - 2009 Term

As I've done for the last several years, here's a recap of the major US Supreme Court decisions of the past term, focusing on criminal and civil liberties issues.  I give a brief summary of each decision, plus a link to a post where I discussed the case in more detail, if in fact I did.  You can bookmark this post, or you can find it by typing "recap 2009" in the search box at the upper right corner.

McDonald v. City of Chicago -- Two years ago in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court held that the 2nd Amendment provided an individual, rather than collective, right to bear arms for self-defense.  In McDonald, they hold that the 2nd Amendment applies to the states.  (Discussion of oral argument here; impact of decision here.)

Christian Legal Soc. v. Martinez -- Denial by law school of Registered Student Organization status due to organization's refusal to admit homosexuals, in violation of school's nondiscrimination requirement, didn't violate First Amendment; governmental entity in regulating property it owns may impose restrictions on speech so long as they are reasonable and viewpoint-neutral.

Skilling v. United States -- Federal "honest services" statute limited to cases involving a bribe or a kickback.  Three justices would have declared statute unconstitutionally vague.  Also lengthy discussion of requirements for establishing change of venue.  (Discussion of statute here.)

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project -- Court upholds law prohibiting providing services to terrorist group, even when services are of humanitarian nature (in this case, involving providing training in use of international law for peaceful dispute resolution.)

Ontario v. Quon -- Court upholds search of text messages on police officer's pager, but dodges issue of what reasonable expectation of privacy employee has, says that regardless of Quon's expectatations, fact that the search was "motivated by a legitimate work-related purpose" made it permissible.

Berghuis v. Thompkins -- Court holds that suspect can implicitly waive his Miranda rights, and has to clearly and unambiguously invoke them.  (Discussion here.)

United States v. Marcus -- Discussion of plain error standard; to qualify, defendant must show (1) there is an error; (2) the error is clear or obvious; (3) the error affected the appellant's substantial rights; and (4) the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. 

Graham v. Florida -- Sentence of life imprisonment without parole for juvenile convicted of non-homicide offense violates 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  (Discussion of oral argument here, decision here.) 

United States v. Comstock -- Law allowing Federal sex offenders to be civilly committed after expiration of their sentences upheld; lower courts had held it be unconstitutional in light of fact that issues of civil commitment and mental health were traditionally for states, but Court upholds law as valid under Constitution's Necessary and Proper Clause.

United States v. Stevens -- Court strikes down federal statute banning sale or creation of depictions of animal cruelty as violation of First Amendment.  (Brief discussion of decision here.)

Padilla v. Kentucky -- Defendant, who was a resident alien, was provided ineffective assistance by counsel's incorrectly telling him that his guilty plea would have no effect on his immigration status.  (Discussion of decision here.)

 Johnson v. US --  Court holds that the Florida battery statute which required mere offensive touching of another person did not have "physical force" as an element, and thus didn't constitute a "violent felony" for purposes of the Federal Armed Career Criminal Act; ACCA status adds a 15-year mandatory minimum to a prison sentence.

Florida v. Powell -- Court holds that Tampa Police use of warning cautioning suspects that they had a right "to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions" was a sufficient advisement of Miranda rights; Florida Supreme Court had held that it may have led suspects to believe that they couldn't talk to a lawyer once questioning begins, or that they couldn't have the lawyer present during questioning. 

Maryland v. Schatzer -- While Court had ruled in 1981 in Edwards v. Arizona that once suspect invokes his Miranda rights, police can't question him unless he initiates further contact, courts have subsequently held that a substantial break in custody ends Edwards requirement.  In Schatzer, Court holds that any break of 14 days or more ends requirement.  (Discussion of Schatzer and Powell here.) 

Thaler v. Haynes -- Three years ago in Snyder v. Louisiana, the Court had seemed to suggest that a judge, in ruling on a Batson challenge, had to reject a demeanor-based challenge (e.g., juror wasn't paying attention, etc.) unless the judge had personally observed and recalled the alleged demeanor.  In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court in Thaler rejects the argument that either Batson or Snyder require the judge to make a finding as to a prosecutor's assertion about a prospective juror's demeanor.

Briscoe v. Virginia -- Much ado about nothing.  Briscoe involved a question left open by Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts:  is a "notice and demand statute" -- a statute giving notice to a drug defendant of a chemist's analysis of the drug, with an advisement that the analyst's report will be admissible unless the defendant demands live testimony -- consistent with the Confrontation Clause as defined by Crawford v. Washington?  After oral argument and the discovery that the statute had been substantially modified, the Court simply vacated the lower court ruling and remanded the case for consideration in light of Melendez-Diaz.  (Discussion of issue here; discussion of oral argument in Briscoe here.) 

Smith v. Spisak -- Court reverses 6th Circuit, reinstates Spisak's death sentence.  Spisak, a neo-Nazi, killed three people in Cleveland, and the 6th Circuit had vacated the death sentence, finding that his attorney's closing argument constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.  The Court decided it didn't.  (Oral argument discussed here; opinion briefly discussed here.) 

Michigan v. Fisher -- In per curiam opinion, Court reverses Michigan court determination that entry of police officers into house did not meet emergency exception of 4th Amendment.  Court holds that police need not believe that someone is seriously injured, but only that police have "an objectively reasonable basis for believing"that medical assistance was needed, or persons were in danger."

Porter v. McCollum and Bobby v. Van Hook -- In separate decisions, Court examines ineffective assistance claims in mitigation of death penalty.  In McCollum, Court reverses 11th District determination that evidence of defendant's military service wouldn't have changed jury's verdict if it had been introduced.  In Van Hook, Court reverses 6th District's decision which had relied on ABA Guidelines for Death Penalty representation.   Court holds that 131-page Guidelines are not "inexorable commands," but only "guides to what reasonableness means, not its definition."  (Both decisions discussed here.)


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