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Case Update

Conservatives were diverted from their apoplexy over the increasing possibility taft.jpgthat Donald Trump might be the GOP standard-bearer this fall by Hillary Clinton's statement that she "loves" the idea of appointing Barack Obama to the Supreme Court.  I love the idea of becoming Jennifer Lopez's latest boy-toy, an event I think is equally likely.  That reminds me of the political trivia question, who is the only person to serve in the top position of all three branches of government?  William Howard Taft, of course, whose morbid obesity didn't prevent him from serving as Senator, President, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

People who are actually on the Supreme Court handed down a decision last week in Montgomery v. Louisiana.  Four years ago, the Court held in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional.  Montgomery makes that ruling retroactive to cases before the 2012 Miller decision, and Montgomery actually expands on Miller:  not only is a mandatory sentence of life without parole impermissible, but a discretionary sentence is unconstitutional unless the juvenile is found to be "irreparably corrupt" or "permanently incorrigible."

Montgomery also details how to determine whether a decision is retroactive:  while newly-announced constitutional rules of procedure generally aren't, if the decision announces a new substantive constitutional rule - a rule forbidding punishment of certain conduct, or "a rule prohibiting a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense" - it's applied retroactively.  The Court leaves it up to the states to fashion a remedy:  release the defendant outright, grant him parole, or re-sentence him.

Montgomery, by the way, has been in prison since 1963.  He was convicted of murdering a police officer.  Montgomery turned seventeen two weeks after the shooting.

The Court also handed down Musacchio v. United States, where the issue was whether the statute of limitations is a jurisdictional bar to prosecution.  If it is - if a court is without jurisdiction to hear a case because it's past the statute of limitations - then he's in luck, because his lawyer failed to object to it in the trial court.  He's not in luck; a statute of limitations is a non-jurisdictional bar, and the defendant can't raise it for the first time on appeal; in fact, it can't even be reviewed for plain error.  This isn't a constitutional rule, so Musacchio is not binding on state courts, but you'll have hard time convincing a court to ignore it.

Down in Columbus, his lawyer tried to save Caron Montgomery's life, an uphill climb due to the sheer viciousness of Montgomery's crime:  he not only killed his wife, but slashed the throats of his 10- and 2-year old children.  Montgomery's only real argument was that the judges, when they found out that he was on psychotropic medication, should have summoned expert testimony on the effects of that medication.

And this is where the death penalty distorts the criminal law.  In the normal case, this argument would be laughed out of court.  Just taking psych drugs doesn't make you incompetent; in fact, they frequently stabilize you.  (I'm beginning to realize that second person isn't the way to go here.)

But this is a capital case, and Montgomery waived a jury and pled no contest to the indictment, including the specifications that made him eligible for the death penalty.  There were several judges who expressed some unease over all that.  I doubt that it will be enough to matter, but we'll see. 

In the courts of appeals...

Kelsey Baker proves the truth of a woman scorned; dropping by at her ex-boyfriend's to pick up some things, she finds evidence of a new girlfriend, and promptly trashes the place, putting a golf club to the flatscreen TV, splashing blue paint throughout the house, then ramming her car into the garage for good measure.  This earns her a conviction for vandalism, a $35,000 restitution bill, and sanctions which include quitting her job and getting another therapist.  The 2nd District affirms the conviction, but finds the court should have held a restitution hearing in light of the conflicting claims as to the amount, none of which are supported by documentation.

The court also decides that the community control sanctions must go; a condition must be "1) reasonably related to rehabilitating the offender, (2) have some relationship to the crime of which the offender was convicted, and (3) relate to conduct which is criminal or reasonably related to future criminality and serves the statutory ends of probation."  These don't, the court decides.  The dissent has a different view, chiding the majority for "helicopter sentencing."

Good-time credit for prison sentences was increased somewhat by HB 86:  instead of just one day of credit per month, a prisoner can earn up to five days a month for participating in various programs.  In State v. Brown, the prosecution and defense agree on a 12-year sentence for Brown, with the proviso that he is ineligible for earned days of credit.  No can do, says the 1st District.  While ordinarily an agreed sentence can't be appealed, an agreed sentence which is "not authorized by law" can be appealed, and the panel finds that nothing in the statutes give the court the power to limit the defendant's right to earn credits.

What happens when you enter a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor?  What's supposed to happen is that the judge asks for an explanation of the circumstances.  Yes, a no contest plea admits the allegations of the complaint, but for most traffic tickets, that's just a claim that a defendant violated a particular statute.  The prosecutor still has to set forth some facts. 

What happens if that explanation isn't provided?  Then there's insufficient evidence, says the 6th District in State v. Lloyd.  And it doesn't get sent back down to start up again before the plea was entered.  The Double Jeopardy Claus prevents a retrial of a person whose conviction has been vacated for insufficient evidence, so Lloyd walks.

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