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Supreme Court Recap - 2011

For the past four years, I've done a recap of the US Supreme Court's decisions over the previous term.  Here's the one for the 2011 term.   You can find this one, or the ones for the previous four terms, by putting "supreme court recap" (in quotes) and the year in the box under "Search Posts" on the right.

Arizona v. United States (5-3; Kagan recused):  Court struck down most of the provisions of Arizona's new immigration law.  The one portion it did uphold, for now at least, was the one allowing police officers to check the immigration status of people they've detained.  The Court left open the possibility of further review of that provision to determine whether it results in racial profiling.

Blueford v. Arkansas (6-3):  In Blueford's trial for first-degree murder, the jury announced that it had unanimously voted against that charge, but was deadlocked on manslaughter.  It failed to reach a verdict.  Blueford claimed that double jeopardy barred his retrial on the murder charge, but the Court disagreed in a 6-3 vote.  The result largely tracked state law, which gave no legal effect to the announcement of the jury verdict, since no verdict was returned.  (Discussion here.)

Dorsey v. United States (5-4):  The reduction in crack sentencing resulting from the Fair Sentencing Act applies to defendants who committed their offenses prior to the passage of the act, but were sentenced after its effective date.  (Brief discussion here; recap of oral argument here.)

Florence v. Bd. of Freeholders (5-4):  Fourth Amendment doesn't require reasonable suspicion for a jailer to conduct a strip search of an incoming inmate, so long as the inmate will be placed in the general population.  (Discussion here.)

Howes v. Fields (6-3):  In a habeas case, 6th Circuit had applied a rule that any interrogation of a prisoner about matters occurring outside the prison is custodial, and requires Miranda warnings.  The Court unanimously held that this rule was not "clearly established by Supreme Court precedent" for habeas purposes, and by 6-3 vote declares that the 6th Circuit rule is also wrong.

Lafler v. Cooper (5-4) and Missouri v. Frye (5-4):  Court holds that right to counsel extends to "effective plea bargaining."  In Frye, the Court vacated the defendant's conviction and sentence because his attorney had failed to communicate a plea offer to him.  In Cooper, the Court vacated the conviction and sentence because the attorney had made a critical error about the law in advising the defendant to reject the plea offer and go to trial, resulting in a sentence that was longer than he would have gotten on a plea.  I've discussed these cases extensively; generally, and how the decision affects the defense attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge, the defense attorney's relationship with his client.

Miller v. Alabama (5-4) and Jackson v. Hobbs (5-4) (joint opinion):  Eighth Amendment prohibits a legislature from making life without parole the mandatory sentence for a juvenile homicide offender.  (Oral argument discussed here; discussion of decision here.)

Messerschmidt v. Millender (6-3):  Suit on whether police officers were entitled to qualified immunity for a search conducted by a warrant.  Court decides they were, and opinion suggests that unless warrant is obviously and exceedingly deficient, officers will be given qualified immunity anytime they obtain a warrant.

Perry v. New Hampshire (8-1):  Perry had argued that the identification of him by an eyewitness was unreliable, although the police had not used any improper procedures in obtaining the identification.  The Court rejects his argument that the Due Process clause requires that the identification be suppressed; in fact, the Court holds, no pretrial inquiry need be made into the reliability of the identification, so long as it was not procured through unnecessarily suggestive procedures by law enforcement officers.  Reliability is up to the jury to determine.  (Preview of case here; discussion of decision here.)

Rehberg v. Paulk (9-0):  A witness in a grand jury proceeding is entitled to absolute immunity from a §1983 suit; this protection had already been extended to a witness at trial.

Setser v. United States (6-3):  A Federal district court may order a criminal sentence to run consecutively to a state criminal sentence that has not yet been imposed.

Smith v. Cain (8-1):  Smith's murder conviction and death sentence are vacated because of the failure of the prosecution to turn over Brady materials, specifically information indicating that only eyewitness at trial had consistently indicated that he couldn't identify any of the perpetrators.  (Discussion of oral argument here; discussion of opinion here.)

Southern Union Co. v. United States (6-3):  Apprendi/Blakely rule -- 6th Amendment jury trial guarantee requires that any fact other than a prior conviction which increases the maximum punishment for a particular crime has to be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt or admitted by the defendant -- applies to the imposition of fines.  Southern Union had violated an environmental regulation which provided for a penalty of $50,000 per day, but it was the judge, not the jury, which determined that the violation lasted 742 days.  Court says that's a determination which should have been made by the jury.  (Discussion of decision, and how it might impact restitution, here.)

United States v. Jones (9-0):  Defendant's conviction was vacated because a GPS device was attached to his car and used to monitor his movements.  Decision is pretty much of a mess, which is why press coverage of it was so bad.  Four justices agreed with Scalia that placement of the device on a car was a "seizure" under the 4th Amendment; they do not reach the issue of whether the search was reasonable.  Alito writes an opinion for three other justices criticizing this conclusion, but they concur on the grounds that use of the GPS device to monitor the defendant's movements for a lengthy time constituted a search, and thus required a warrant.  (Preview of case here; discussion of oral argument here; discussion of decision here.)

Williams v. Illinois (5-4):  Admission of expert testimony about the results of DNA testing performed by someone who didn't testify did not violate the Confrontation Clause as explained in Crawford v. Washington.  Decision is also a mess.  Thomas concurred only in judgment, and explicitly rejected the rationale advanced by Alito's plurality opinion, as did the four dissenters.  Thomas' reason for upholding admission, that the expert's testimony and the outside lab report didn't constitute a "certification" of the report and therefore didn't fall within Crawford, found no support among any of the other justices.  (Discussion of oral argument here; discussion of decision here, and possible impact here.)


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