Articles Posted in US Supreme Court

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A judge normally may issue a wiretap order permitting the interception of communications only “within the territorial jurisdiction of the court in which the judge is sitting,” 18 U.S.C. 2518(3). A District of Kansas judge authorized nine wiretap orders during the investigation of a suspected drug distribution ring. The government primarily intercepted communications from a Kansas listening post but each order contained a sentence purporting to authorize interception outside of Kansas and the government intercepted additional communications from a listening post in Missouri. Defendants moved to suppress the evidence. The government agreed not to introduce any evidence arising from its Missouri listening post. The court denied the motion. The Tenth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. Because the orders were not lacking any information that the statute required them to include and would have been sufficient absent the challenged language authorizing interception outside the court’s territorial jurisdiction, the orders were not "facially insufficient" under 2518(10)(a)(ii). While that subparagraph covers at least an order’s failure to include information required by 2518(4)(a)–(e), not every defect that may appear in an order results in an insufficiency. The sentence authorizing interception outside Kansas is surplus; absent the challenged language, every wiretap that produced evidence introduced at trial was properly authorized. The orders set forth the authorizing judge’s territorial jurisdiction and the statute presumptively limits every order’s scope to the issuing court’s territorial jurisdiction. View "Dahda v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Southern District of California adopted a districtwide policy permitting the use of full restraints—handcuffs connected to a waist chain, with legs shackled—on most in-custody defendants produced in court for non-jury proceedings by the U.S. Marshals Service. Before the Ninth Circuit could issue a decision on a challenge to the policy, the underlying criminal cases ended. That court—viewing the case as a “functional class action” seeking “class-like relief,” held that the case was not moot and the policy was unconstitutional. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated, finding the case moot. The federal judiciary may adjudicate only “actual and concrete disputes, the resolutions of which have direct consequences on the parties involved.”. Such a dispute “must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.” Precedent does not support a freestanding exception to mootness outside the Rule 23 class action context. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure establish for criminal cases no vehicle comparable to the civil class action, and the Supreme Court has never permitted criminal defendants to band together to seek prospective relief in their individual cases on behalf of a class. The “exception to the mootness doctrine for a controversy that is capable of repetition, yet evading review” does not apply, based only the possibility that some of the parties again will be prosecuted for violating valid criminal laws. View "United States v. Sanchez-Gomez" on Justia Law

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McCoy, charged with murdering his estranged wife’s family, pleaded not guilty, insisting that he was out of state at the time of the killings and that corrupt police killed the victims. Although he adamantly objected to any admission of guilt, the court permitted his counsel, English, to tell the jury that McCoy “committed [the] three murders” and to argue that McCoy’s mental state prevented him from forming the specific intent necessary for first-degree murder. McCoy testified in his own defense, maintaining his innocence and pressing an alibi. At the penalty phase, English again conceded McCoy’s guilt, urging mercy because of McCoy’s mental issues. The jury returned three death verdicts. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to choose the objective of his defense and to insist that counsel refrain from admitting guilt, even when counsel’s experienced-based view is that confessing offers the best chance to avoid the death penalty. Some decisions are reserved for the client—including whether to plead guilty, waive a jury trial, testify in one’s own behalf, and forgo an appeal. Rejecting the Louisiana Supreme Court’s conclusion that English’s refusal to maintain McCoy’s innocence was necessitated by a Rule of Professional Conduct that prohibits counsel from suborning perjury, the Court noted that there was no avowed perjury. English harbored no doubt that McCoy believed what he was saying. Ineffective-assistance-of-counsel jurisprudence does not apply where the client’s autonomy, not counsel’s competence, is at issue. The violation of McCoy’s protected autonomy right was structural in kind. McCoy must be accorded a new trial without any need to show prejudice. View "McCoy v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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Reed rented a car in New Jersey while Byrd waited outside. Reed’s signed agreement warned that permitting an unauthorized driver to drive the car would violate the agreement. Reed listed no additional drivers but gave the keys to Byrd. He stored personal belongings in the trunk and then left alone for Pittsburgh. After stopping Byrd for a traffic infraction, Pennsylvania State Troopers learned that the car was rented, that Byrd was not listed as an authorized driver, and that Byrd had prior drug and weapons convictions. Byrd stated he had a marijuana cigarette in the car. The troopers searched the car, discovering body armor and 49 bricks of heroin in the trunk. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of Byrd’s motion to suppress. The Supreme Court vacated. The mere fact that a driver in lawful possession or control of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy. Expectations of privacy must have a source outside of the Fourth Amendment, either by reference to concepts of property law or to understandings that are permitted by society. One who owns or lawfully possesses or controls property will likely have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of the right to exclude others. That expectation of privacy should not differ if a car is rented or owned by another. Breach of the rental contract, alone, has no impact on expectations of privacy. A thief would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a stolen car and, on remand, the court must consider whether one who intentionally uses a third party to procure a car by a fraudulent scheme in order to commit a crime is like a car thief and whether probable cause justified the search in any event. View "Byrd v. United States" on Justia Law

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Wilson was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He unsuccessfully sought habeas relief in Georgia courts, claiming ineffectiveness of counsel during sentencing. The Georgia Supreme Court summarily denied relief. Wilson filed a federal habeas petition, raising the same ineffective-assistance claim. The district court assumed that his counsel was deficient but deferred to the state court’s conclusion that any deficiencies did not prejudice Wilson. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, rejecting the Eleventh Circuit's methodology. A federal habeas court reviewing an unexplained state-court decision on the merits should “look through” that decision to the last related state-court decision that provides a relevant rationale and presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning. The state may rebut the presumption by showing that the unexplained decision most likely relied on different grounds. The presumption is often realistic; state higher courts often issue summary decisions when they have examined the lower court’s reasoning and found nothing significant with which they disagree. The presumption also is often more efficient than requiring a federal court to imagine what might have been the state court’s supportive reasoning. The “look through” presumption is not an absolute rule and does not show disrespect for the states but seeks to replicate the grounds for the higher state court’s decision. View "Wilson v. Sellers" on Justia Law

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Kisela, a Tucson police officer, shot Hughes less than a minute after arriving, with other officers, at the scene where a woman had been reported to 911 as hacking a tree with a knife and acting erratically. When Kisela fired, Hughes was holding a large kitchen knife, had taken steps toward nearby woman (her roommate), and had refused to drop the knife after at least two commands to do so. Hughes matched the description given by the 911 caller. Her injuries were not life-threatening. All of the officers later said that they subjectively believed Hughes was a threat to her roommate. Hughes had a history of mental illness. Her roommate said that she did not feel endangered. Hughes sued Kisela, alleging excessive force, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the officer, reversing the Ninth Circuit. Even assuming a Fourth Amendment violation occurred, which “is not at all evident,” Kisela was entitled to qualified immunity. Although the officers were in no apparent danger, Kisela believed Hughes was a threat to her roommate. Kisela had mere seconds to assess the potential danger and was separated from the women by a chain-link fence. This is "far from an obvious case" in which any competent officer would have known that shooting Hughes would violate the Fourth Amendment; the most analogous Ninth Circuit precedent favors Kisela. A reasonable officer is not required to foresee judicial decisions that do not yet exist in instances where the requirements of the Fourth Amendment are far from obvious. View "Kisela v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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Kisela, a Tucson police officer, shot Hughes less than a minute after arriving, with other officers, at the scene where a woman had been reported to 911 as hacking a tree with a knife and acting erratically. When Kisela fired, Hughes was holding a large kitchen knife, had taken steps toward nearby woman (her roommate), and had refused to drop the knife after at least two commands to do so. Hughes matched the description given by the 911 caller. Her injuries were not life-threatening. All of the officers later said that they subjectively believed Hughes was a threat to her roommate. Hughes had a history of mental illness. Her roommate said that she did not feel endangered. Hughes sued Kisela, alleging excessive force, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the officer, reversing the Ninth Circuit. Even assuming a Fourth Amendment violation occurred, which “is not at all evident,” Kisela was entitled to qualified immunity. Although the officers were in no apparent danger, Kisela believed Hughes was a threat to her roommate. Kisela had mere seconds to assess the potential danger and was separated from the women by a chain-link fence. This is "far from an obvious case" in which any competent officer would have known that shooting Hughes would violate the Fourth Amendment; the most analogous Ninth Circuit precedent favors Kisela. A reasonable officer is not required to foresee judicial decisions that do not yet exist in instances where the requirements of the Fourth Amendment are far from obvious. View "Kisela v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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Ayestas was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a Texas state court. He secured new counsel; his conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. A third legal team sought, unsuccessfully, state habeas relief, claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel but not counsel’s failure to investigate petitioner’s mental health and substance abuse. His fourth legal team raised that failure in a federal habeas petition. The court found the claim procedurally defaulted because it had never been raised in state court. The case was remanded for reconsideration in light of Martinez, in which the Supreme Court held that a prisoner seeking federal habeas relief could overcome the procedural default of a trial-level ineffective-assistance claim by showing that the claim is substantial and that state habeas counsel was ineffective in failing to raise it, and Trevino's extension of that holding to Texas prisoners. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion for funding to develop his claim (18 U.S.C. 3599(f)). A unanimous Supreme Court vacated, first holding that the denial was a judicial decision, requiring the application of a legal standard and subject to appellate review, rather than an administrative decision. The Fifth Circuit did not apply the correct legal standard in requiring that applicants show a “substantial need” for the services. Section 3599 authorizes funding for the “reasonably necessary” services of experts, investigators, and the like; it requires the court to determine, in its discretion, whether a reasonable attorney would regard the services as sufficiently important. The court also required “a viable constitutional claim that is not procedurally barred,” which is too restrictive after Trevino. An argument that funding is never “reasonably necessary” where a habeas petitioner seeks to present a procedurally defaulted ineffective-assistance claim that depends on facts outside the state-court record may be considered on remand. View "Ayestas v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Murphy was awarded a judgment in his federal civil rights suit against two prison guards, including an award of attorney’s fees; 42 U.S.C. 1997e(d)(2) provides that in such cases “a portion of the [prisoner’s] judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded against the defendant.” The district court ordered Murphy to pay 10% of his judgment toward the fee award, leaving defendants responsible for the remainder. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that section 1997e(d)(2) required the district court to exhaust 25% of the prisoner’s judgment before demanding payment from the defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed. The mandatory phrase “shall be applied” suggests that the district court has some nondiscretionary duty to perform. The infinitival phrase “to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded” specifies the purpose of the preceding verb’s nondiscretionary duty and “to satisfy” an obligation, especially a financial obligation, usually means to discharge the obligation in full. The district court does not have wide discretion to pick any “portion” that does not exceed the 25% cap. This conclusion is reinforced by section 1997e(d)’s surrounding provisions, which also limit the district court’s pre-existing discretion under section 1988(b). View "Murphy v. Smith" on Justia Law

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District of Columbia police officers responded to a complaint about loud music and illegal activities in a vacant house and found the house in disarray. They smelled marijuana and saw liquor. They found a makeshift strip club in the living room, and a naked woman and several men in a bedroom. The partygoers gave inconsistent stories. Two identified “Peaches” as the tenant and said that she had given permission for the party. When the officers spoke by phone to Peaches, she was agitated and evasive, eventually admitting that she did not have permission to use the house. The owner confirmed that he had not given anyone permission to be there. The officers arrested the partygoers for unlawful entry. Several partygoers sued for false arrest. The Supreme Court held that the officers had probable cause to arrest the partygoers. Considering the totality of the circumstances, the officers made an “entirely reasonable inference” that the partygoers knew they did not have permission to be in the house, The condition of the house and the conduct of the partygoers allowed the officers to make common-sense conclusions about human behavior and infer that the partygoers, who scattered and hid, knew the party was not authorized. The partygoers’ implausible answers gave the officers reason to infer that they were lying. The officers are entitled to qualified immunity under 42 U.S.C. 1983 even if they lacked actual probable cause because a reasonable officer could have interpreted the law as permitting the arrests. View "District of Columbia v. Wesby" on Justia Law