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Supreme Court Recap - 2013 Term

Every year I do a recap of the US Supreme Court's decisions in criminal cases over the past term.  This is the one for 2013-2014.  You can find these by typing "supreme court review," followed by the year of the term, in the search box on the right.  The list below gives the decision (with a link to the opinion), and a brief summary of the case.  If I've done posts on oral argument or the decision itself, there will be links to those as well.

Abramski v. US - Abramski bought a gun for his uncle, but claimed on the form that it was for himself.  The Court by a 5-4 vote held that this was a "material misrepresentation" with regard to the sale.  The dissenters argued that the law wasn't meant to apply to a situation where both the purchaser and the actual would-be owner were legally eligible to own a gun. 

Bond v. US - Distressed by her neighbor's affair with her husband, Bond put some chemicals on the neighbor's doorknob which gave the neighbor a minor rash.  For that, Bond was federally prosecuted for violating a Federal statute which implemented a UN chemical weapons ban.  The Court reversed, 9-0.  The Court could have used the occasion to address the growing federalization of criminal law, but instead decided the case on narrow statutory grounds.  (Brief discussion here.)

Burrage v. US - Burrage was a heroin dealer, and after a customer died he was convicted under a 1986 law that adds imprisonment of life if the drug deal "results in death."  The coroner couldn't determine whether the heroin alone caused the death (the toxicology screen found the presence of several other drugs), but the judge instructed the jury that it could find Burrage guilty if the heroin contributed to the death.  The Court reversed 9-0, with a lengthy discussion of the concept of causation in criminal law.  It's a statutory interpretation, though, and has limited applicability beyond that.  In Ohio, for example, courts have consistently held that a person can be convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide as long as intoxication was a contributing factor to the accident.

Burt v. Titlow - Titlow worked out a deal to testify against her aunt in a murder case in exchange for a 7-15 year sentence, then hired a new attorney who got the plea vacated, then went to trial and was convicted and sentenced to 20-40 years, and then filed an action asserting her attorney was ineffective for getting her to vacate her plea.  The case gave the Court an opportunity to expand upon its decisions in Lafler v. Cooper on the role of counsel in plea-bargaining, but the facts of the case were a mess, and it came up on habeas review, with the normal complications that involves.  The 6th Circuit granted relief, but the Court reversed 9-0.  (Oral argument here; discussion here and here.)

US v. Castleman - Another 9-0 decision; the Court holds that a state conviction of "misdemeanor domestic assault" qualifies as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence," barring a person from owning a gun. 

Fernandez v. California - Fernandez was arrested at his apartment for a gang-related robbery, and refused the police consent to search the apartment.  They took him to the stationhouse, then went back and got consent from his girlfriend, who also lived there.  Back in 2006, in Georgia v. Randolph, the Court had held that a co-occupant's refusal to permit entry renders a warrantless search invalid, but in Fernandez the Court upholds the search, limiting Randolph to situations where the co-tenant is physically present, and giving the police a tactic to make sure he isn't. 

Hall v. Florida - In response to the Supreme Court's decision barring the execution of mentally retarded defendants, Florida imposed a bright-line rule:  a defendant had to show an IQ of 70 or below before being allowed to submit additional evidence of retardation.  The Court reversed 5-4, holding that this created an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disabilities would be executed. 

Kaley v. US - When challenging a pre-trial asset forfeiture under the Federal statute, a defendant cannot introduce evidence challenging the grand jury's probable cause finding.  This has an impact on selection of counsel, since pre-trial forfeiture can hinder a defendant's ability to retain counsel.

Kansas v. Cheever - The defense introduced an expert who testified that the defendant lacked the requisite mental state to commit the crime; the Court held 9-0 that under those circumstances, the prosecution could introduce evidence from a court-ordered psychological examination to counter that.

Martinez v.Illinois - After the state spent several years trying to locate the "victims" of Martinez's crime, the judge finally ordered the trial to proceed.  The prosecution announced they would refuse to participate, and after the jury was sworn the judge dismissed the case.  The Illinois courts held that a retrial wasn't barred, finding that Martinez had never been "at risk" of conviction.  The Supreme Court unanimously and summarily reversed, noting that "there are few if any rules of criminal procedure clearer than the rule that jeopardy attaches when the jury is empaneled and sworn."

Navarette v. California - In a 5-4 vote, Court upholds conviction after traffic stop based on anonymous tip.  Substantially expands the use of anonymous tips, at least in drunk driving cases.  (Argument here, discussion here.)

Paroline v. US - "Amy," the subject of numerous child porn films made by her uncle when she was between 8 and 10, has made claims in each prosecution in which her pictures were found for compensation of $3.4 million under a Federal law which requires courts to award victims of child sexual abuse "the full amount of the victim's losses."  In a 5-4 decision, the Court rejected Amy's claim that each defendant is fully liable for the whole amount of the loss, and held that the trial court must determine the proper amount a defendant should be required to pay.  (Discussion here and here.)

Riley v. California - Court holds 9-0 that police must obtain a warrant before searching the cellphone of someone they arrest.  The opinion goes beyond that and is basically a sweeping manifesto for individual liberty in the digital age.  (Oral argument here, discussion here.)

Rosemond v. US - Court holds that to convict defendant of complicity under a Federal statute prohibiting using or carrying a gun during a drug trafficking crime, the government has to prove that defendant was aware that confederate had a gun.  The opinion goes beyond statutory language, and looks at concept of mens rea.  (Discussion here; possible application to Ohio cases here.)


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