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Case Update

The SCOTUSblog Stat Pack is out for the Court's 2012 term so far, providing a wealth of information, including this tidbit:  despite the picture of the Court as being sharply divided, exactly one of the 25 decisions it has rendered so far this year been decided by a 5-4 vote.  Seventeen have been unanimous, and 84% of the decisions have found two or fewer justices in dissent.  That may reflect selection bias more than a newfound ideological camaraderie; the Court has issued opinions in only one-third of the cases it's to decide this year, and one might expect that decisions would come quicker in the cases where there is no real dispute among the justices.  The last three terms have seen 20% of the cases decided by a 5-4 margin, and one might expect that to hold true this term as well.

The Court resumes oral arguments this week and next, with the same-sex marriage cases taking front and center next Tuesday and Wednesday.  No criminal cases on tap; in fact, there are only four more criminal cases scheduled to be argued before the Court's term ends in June, and only one of wide application (one concerns the Federal rules, and two others are habeas cases).  There are still a number of key cases left to be decided, though, so maybe I'll have something to write about before then.

Criminal cases (including habeas) represent only about a quarter of the Supreme Court's docket, but down in Columbus, five of the eight cases argued last week were criminal, including one on a Pelfrey issue, another on restitution, and a third on whether the trial judge's refusal to instruct on voluntary manslaughter was rendered harmless by the jury's acquittal of the straight murder count and conviction of felony murder.  I'll have more on that later in the week.

Let's take a look at what happened in the courts of appeals last week...

In State v. Patton, the defendant walked into the homeowner's garage and took a lawnmower.  The 2nd District vacates Patton's conviction of burglary (and four-year prison sentence), and remands for correction of the conviction to criminal trespass, a third degree misdemeanor, holding that "a person's mere entry into an open, attached garage, in broad daylight, without evidence of stealthy behavior or deception to gain entry is insufficient to support a conviction for burglary"...  A child endangering conviction is not expungeable, says the 6th District in State v. Ninness, because expungement isn't available if the victim of the offense was under 18... In State v. Gregory, the defendant had been convicted of third degree felony domestic violence, based upon two prior convictions to which he stipulated.  Although the judge instructed the jury that they had to find the two prior convictions, there was no mention of that in the jury verdict form, which asked only whether the jurors found the defendant guilty or not guilty of domestic violence.  Without the specifications of the prior convictions, the 9th District rules, the verdict form constitutes only a conviction a first degree misdemeanor.  Gregory had been sentenced to three years in prison...

Huh?  In State v. Baker, the defendant appeals his four consecutive six-year sentences for 2nd degree felony sex offenses involving a fourteen-year-old girl he'd met on the Internet.  The 7th District carefully reviews the seriousness and recidivism factors, setting them out in detail, and giving them full consideration.  And not once in the opinion is RC 2929.14(C)(4), which governs the judicial findings necessary to impose consecutive sentences, even mentioned...

Yep, that'll do it.  Nobody's ever going to accuse the 1st District judges of writing opinions like they were paid by the word, and State v. Crawford provides further proof of that.  In considering the assignment of error regarding weight and sufficiency of the evidence in an appeal from a burglary conviction, they spend a whole six sentences summarizing the evidence.  The key was blood found on a the house's rear door, which matched Crawford's DNA profile.  Blood was also found on both sides of a broken window used to gain entrance, and so Crawford's lawyer asked that that be tested as well.  That matched Crawford's profile as well, the opinion noting that "when Crawford was presented with the latter results at a court hearing, he fled from the courtroom."

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