SCOTUS coverage continues to be focused on its upcoming oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage. On the latter front, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore got spanked with the same Supremacy Clause paddle that was used against some of his brethren who sought to claim that Federal district judge decisions on desegregation had to take a second seat to state laws on the subject; his "order" to state probate court judges to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses was mostly ignored after the Supreme Court denied a stay of the decision, and the Federal judge reinforced it with an order directing the probate court judges to grant the licenses. The challenge to Obamacare is more complex, but recent concerns have emerged that the plaintiffs in the case may lack standing.
During the oral argument a few weeks ago in Rodriguez v. US (discussed here), Chief Justice Roberts said at one point, "Usually, people have told me, when you're stopped, the officer says, 'License and registration.'" Laughter followed, and the attorney played along, saying, "I've had friends that say the same thing, Mr. Chief Justice." An article on Slate suggests that the Roberts may not have been kidding, and that his naivete about what a police stop entails may lead to some sloppy decision-making by the court. An interesting read, although the observation that the justices lack the common touch isn't exactly earth-shattering.
The Supreme Court gets about 10,000 petitions for certiorari a year, and SCOTUSblog has a "petition of the day" feature highlighting what they believe presents an interesting issue. For example, it's relatively common for plea agreements in Federal court to prohibit an appeal by the defendant; the petitioner in Hammond v. US presents the issue of whether that also prohibits an appeal on sentencing by the government. On the other hand, there's the petition in General Cigar Co., Inc. v. Empresa Cubana del Tabaco, dba Cubatabaco, which involves something about cigars and the Cuban Assets Control Regulations. Needless to say, I'll stay on top of that one.
We already talked about the two cases decided by the Supremes last week (here), so let's head on over to the courts of appeals...
In State v. Dawson, two prospective jurors are excused for cause because they have prior felony convictions, a CCW in 1994 and an uttering in 1974. RC 2961.01(A)(1) provides that a person convicted of a felony can't vote, sit on a jury, or hold an office of "honor, trust, or profit," (profit???), unless pardoned by the governor. But a later section, RC 2967.16(C)(1), says all rights are restored when the person completes the prison sentence and any period of post-release control or a period of community control sanctions. The 1st District decides that the second section trumps the first, but nonetheless holds that the judge didn't abuse his discretion by excusing the judges because "because the record fails to demonstrate that either juror had the right to serve as a juror restored" by the latter statute. Really? You think somebody is still doing parole or probation for an uttering conviction forty years earlier?
The defendant in State v. Hendricks, charged with three counts of misdemeanor aggravated menacing, files a written jury demand. He then has a bench trial, to which he raises no objection. The State argues that this constituted a waiver of his right to a jury trial, but the 5th District says no: a jury waiver must be in writing, and it must be made in open court. Acquiescence in a bench trial doesn't cut it.
In State v. Gonzalez, Gonzalez is convicted of possession of more than 100 grams of cocaine and sentenced to 11 years in prison. The BCI analyst couldn't show up at trial, but the panel rejects Gonzalez's claim that only scientific evidence could establish that the drug is in fact cocaine; lay testimony on that is permissible, as long as the lay person has experience with the drug. (In this case, it was narcotics detectives.) But the court does buy his argument that only the actual weight (not the cut weight) of the cocaine should have been considered, and voids the penalty enhancement. This isn't likely to make its way to the Supreme Court -- it's a definite: the 6th certified a conflict with an earlier 2nd District decision.