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Case Update

SCOTUS' term has come to an end, but that doesn't mean we have to stop talking about it.  The Court was much less divided this year; only 14% of the 67 decisions were by 5-4 votes, half of last year's rate, and the lowest since 2005.  A full two-thirds were by unanimous vote, similarly the highest percentage, by a significant margin, in years.

All that, and much more, comes courtesy of SCOTUSblog's annual Stat Pack.  That'll give you the statistical breakdown, but for a review of the Court's criminal decisions in the past year, you've come to the right place:  here.  I'll have my annual review of those decisions in the next week or so.

Down in Columbus, no decisions either; in fact, the last decision in a criminal case was on May 29.  There are a couple of cases on tap for oral argument this week, though.  One is State v. Quarterman, where Quarterman, 16 at the time, pulled a gun on some friends playing cards and stole money and a cell phone.  The only thing keeping Quarterman from being tried and sentenced as an adult was the juvenile court judge's determination of whether there was probable cause to believe he committed a crime, which the judge did.  Quarterman argues that "mandatory" bindover is unconstitutional; the judge has to make an individualized determination of whether the juvenile should be bound over.  Whether the court will even reach the constitutional issue is questionable; the 9th District found that Quarterman had waived the argument by pleading guilty in adult court.

Another constitutional argument comes Wednesday in State v. Mole, a case I predicted would make it to the court the week after the 8th District reversed Mole's conviction for sexual battery.  As I explained then, Mole's sexual liaison with a 14-year-old girl, 21 years his junior, resulted in his conviction for sexual battery.  The statute makes a variety of sexual partnering with minors illegal:  a teacher and student, coach and player, father and stepdaughter, and so on.  Included in the "so-ons" is police officer:  Mole was a cop.  The 8th held that there was no rational basis for including that category.  We'll see if the Supreme Court agrees.

In the courts of appeals...

In State v. Richardson, the 8th District issues an opinion in an Anders brief case, the second time they've done that in the past couple of weeks; before that, they'd always disposed of such briefs in a journal entry.  The 6th District also handles an Anders brief in State v. Hayes, but it ends in unusual fashion:  the court finds that there was error - the judge didn't make the findings for consecutive sentences - and reverses and remands for the judge to do so.  Richardson also serves as a reminder to believe The Man when he tells you that your jailhouse calls are being monitored:  on the second day of Richardson's trial for his part in killing a store clerk, the State reveals that the night before he called his wife from jail and told her to make sure a key witness against him didn't show up.  That led to a plea, and no appealable issues.

Complicity is the big issue in State v. Robinson, where Robinson and his cohort kick a man to death and rob him.  It wasn't clear which of the two did the kicking, and so Robinson argues that the jury should have been instructed that they had to make a unanimous finding either that he was the principal or an aider and abettor.  Doesn't work that way, says the 8th:  "the jury instructions need not require the jury to unanimously agree on one of these alternative theories so long as they unanimously agree beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's actions constituted the offense charged." 

There's a virtue in using a written plea agreement, but not if it's sloppily-written, as the 5th District's decision in State v. Smith shows.  Smith pled to four counts of rape, and the judge informed him that he was facing up to 40 years of mandatory time.  The written agreement, though, specified that only three years of the sentence was mandatory; moreover, while the form in one place advised him that he wasn't eligible for either community control sanctions or judicial release, in another it informed him of the consequences of violating community control sanctions, and in the plea colloquy the judge told Smith what would happen if he was given judicial release and then committed another violation.  All this persuaded the panel to conclude that Smith was unaware that he would be ineligible for the entire period of his sentence - which turned out to be fourteen years - and vacates the plea.

The Denny Ross saga comes to a fitful end.  Ross was tried for murder and rape in the killing of 18-year-old Hanna Hill in 2000.  The judge declared a mistrial for juror misconduct, only to learn that the jury had filled out verdict forms acquitting Ross of those crimes.  That went through the state and local courts, and finally landed back in the trial court 12 years later, with Ross facing the same charges.  He got convicted this time, largely on the basis of 404(B) evidence.  Hill had been strangled, and in 2004 - while he was out on bond from the charges concerning Hill's death - Ross had been convicted of raping and attempting to strangle another woman.  Various other women testified that Ross had a penchant of "choke-fucking," as he delicately put it.  That's about as good a "behavioral fingerprint" as you're going to find, and last week the 9th District affirmed his convictions for murder and rape, and his 19-to-life sentence.   

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