Supreme Court Recap - 2010 Term
I've done a recap of the Supreme Court decisions at the end of term for the past several years, and here's the one for the 2010 term, focusing on criminal and civil liberties issues, and giving a brief summary of each decision. I'm also doing something different this time; instead of the link to the case taking you to the opinion, it will take you to the SCOTUSBLOG web page for the case, where you can access briefs, lower court opinions, and commentary about the case. You can also access the actual opinion through the web page. I'll also include a link to anything I wrote about the case, either the oral argument or when the decision was handed down.
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Abbott v. US - Deals with the minimum mandatory 5-year sentence under 18 USC 924(c) for possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking or violent crime (longer if the firearm is brandished or discharged). The statute provides certain exceptions to that penalty, but the Court unanimously reads the statute narrowly: the sentence must be imposed unless there is a longer mandatory sentence imposed for a violation of a 924(c) offense. For example, the 15-year minimum for violation of the Armed Career Criminal Act can be imposed in addition to the 5-year penalty, even if the ACCA offense arises from the exact same conduct as the 924(c) violation. (Brief comment on decision here.)
Bond v. US - A criminal defendant has standing to challenge the validity of a Federal indictment on the grounds that the Federal statute impinges on the powers reserved to the states by the 10th Amendment. (Oral argument here; brief comment on decision here.)
Brown v. Plata - Court upholds Federal court order finding constitutional violations in California's prison overcrowding, and requiring the state to reduce its prison population. (Comment on decision here.)
Bullcoming v. New Mexico - Introduction of a lab report through the in-court testimony of an analyst who didn't personally observe or perform the test is a "testimonial statement," and is barred unless the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the analyst who actually performed the test. (Oral argument here; decision here; further ruminations here.)
Connick v. Thompson - Court reverses $14 million judgment against district attorney's office for violation of Brady obligation to turn over exculpatory material, on claim that office failed to adequately train attorneys in Brady requirements. Court's holding was based upon determination that there had been only a single violation. (Argument here; decision here.)
Davis v. US - After Davis lost his motion to suppress and was convicted, and while his case was on appeal, the Supreme Court handed down Arizona v. Gant. Under that decision, the search in Davis' case would have been clearly illegal. The Court nonetheless affirms Davis' conviction, holding that since the search was objectively reasonable at the time it was made, it was not subject to the exclusionary rule. Essentially means that any future court decisions which modify 4th Amendment law will apply only to that particular defendant and any searches performed after that date. (Brief summary of decision here.)
J.D.B. v. North Carolina - In determining whether a child is "in custody" for Miranda purposes, requiring that he be advised of his rights, his age is a relevant factor. (Oral argument here; brief summary of decision here.)
Kentucky v. King - Police had banged on door of apartment, believing that person they were following was in there; when they heard people moving around and the sound of what they believed was evidence being destroyed, they broke in the doors. The person they were following wasn't there, but drugs were. The rule is that exigent circumstances are an exception to the warrant requirement, but that the police can't create exigent circumstances by their own conduct. Court, by 8-1 vote, upholds search, saying that police conduct -- banging on door -- was perfectly legal, and thus did not violate 4th Amendment. (Argument here; decision here.)
McNeill v. US - The Armed Career Criminal Act imposes a 15-year mandatory sentence for someone in possession of a firearm who's had three prior convictions for a "violent felony" or a "serious drug offense"; the latter is defined as one which permits a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more. In determining whether a State offense is a "serious drug offense," a Federal court should use the penalty in effect at the time of the past conviction, not at the time of the Federal sentencing.
Michigan v. Bryant - Court further refines the "primary purpose" test in determining whether a statement is testimonial, and thus barred by Crawford v. Washington. (Oral argument here; decision here; ruminations here.)
Pepper v. US - A sentencing court can take into consideration the defendant's post-sentence rehabilitation when initial sentence had been set aside on appeal, and case was remanded for resentencing. (Brief discussion here.)
Sykes v. US - Another ACCA case, this one involving the "violent felony" provision. While the ACCA defines a variety of crimes that qualify as "violent felonies," it also contains a residual clause: a crime qualifies if it "otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another" and is "purposeful, violent, and aggressive." The Court follows its "categorical approach" to resolving this question, which looks at the nature and risk of the crime generally, rather than the specifics of the crime that the defendant actually committed.
US v. Tinklenberg - Under Federal Speedy Trial Act, filing of a motion by defendant stops trial clock from running, regardless of whether filing of motion actually causes a delay in the trial.