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» SCOTUS Cases

Then Versus Now

My post this morning at Fault Lines is about cops speeding. Someone who goes by LawDog put up this quote as a comment: “Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself. Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 485 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). Like a lot of snippets from old Supreme Court cases, it’s … Read entire article »

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A Small Step

For any lawyer who practices a lot in federal court, the recent Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. United States is a pretty big deal. It involves the “Armed Career Criminal Act,” a part of 18 U.S.C. § 924 that has an enormous impact at sentencing for certain defendants convicted under the federal prohibited possessor law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). What the act does is increase the penalty from a ten-year maximum to a fifteen-year mandatory minimum and a maximum of life in prison for people who have three or more convictions for a “serious drug offense” or a “violent felony.” The issue in Johnson was the definition of “violent felony,” specifically what courts call the “residual clause” of the definition. Although the definition includes some more clearly … Read entire article »

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Two Different Systems

The recent opinion from the Supreme Court of the United States in San Francisco v. Sheehan hits awfully close to home for me. Just a few days ago, I dismissed a civil suit against a police officer who created a situation where the only possible outcome was to murder someone he never would have “had” to have murdered in any other situation except for the one he created by violating policy. The doctrine of qualified immunity, the same thing at issue in Sheehan, gave my clients no choice but to let that murderous cop completely dodge any sort of consequences for his actions. I am not writing about my case, though, so I will stick with the facts of Sheehan, which are pretty simple. Ms. Sheehan was a … Read entire article »

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Going Back to Square One

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor thinks “that being a lawyer is one of the best jobs in the whole wide world.” After first seeing a snippet about the interview where she said that, this is what I took from her reasoning: Because every lawyer, no matter whom they represent, is trying to help someone … lawyering is the height of service — and being involved in this profession is a gift. Any lawyer who is unhappy should go back to square one and start again. I was impressed. This is a person who holds a spot on the highest court in the land? A member of that esteemed panel of men and women who are typically unconcerned with the little guy while they make law from the shiniest ivory … Read entire article »

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An Unintended Consequence of S.B. 1070?

Paul B. Kennedy at The Defense Rests put up a post on Tuesday about how the Supreme Court of the United States struck down portions of Arizona’s anti-immigrant statute while letting others stand. He concluded, “[t]he Court’s decision on Monday will open the door for the police in Arizona to profile motorists based on skin color and appearance.” As the article he cited explains, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the statute’s requirement that police officers check the immigration status of people they stop. That provision, which the article calls the law’s “most controversial aspect,” is found in A.R.S. 11-1051 and provides as follows in relevant part: For any lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official . . . where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is … Read entire article »

Filed under: Arizona Statutes, SCOTUS Cases

Scalia and Analogies

Other bloggers have covered Michigan v. Bryant at length. I have no intention of discussing how the United States Supreme Court eviscerated the confrontation clause or even getting to the substance of the opinion itself. Instead, I’d rather think back to Crawford v. Washington after reading this little gem from Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, which Jeff Gamso cited here in a post after Michigan v. Bryant: Dispensing with confrontation because testimony is obviously reliable is akin to dispensing with jury trial because a defendant is obviously guilty. This is not what the Sixth Amendment prescribes. Love him or hate him, you have to admit Scalia is one hell of a writer. I think he really shines when it comes to analogies, with the above analogy definitely counting as one … Read entire article »

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Double Jeopardy Is Okay…If You Are a Native American

If you are Native American and commit a criminal offense on an Indian reservation, it can be a crime in both the Indian community and the federal system. As a result of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions on the matter, the Indian Civil Rights Act, and subsequent legislation, Indians can go to jail (technically, there are no prisons on Indian reservations) and federal prison for the same crime. They can also be fined twice for the same criminal act. The Supreme Court’s rationale is based on their interpretation of the source of Indian governments’ powers and how they interact with the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court was also understandably concerned that an Indian could quickly plead out in an Indian jurisdiction to avoid federal prosecution. This often leads … Read entire article »

Filed under: Indian Law, SCOTUS Cases

Jury Trial Shenanigans

The US Constitution says you get an impartial jury “[i]n all criminal prosecutions.” The Arizona Constitution says you get an impartial jury “in criminal prosecutions.” A misdemeanor is a criminal prosecution, so you get a jury trial, right? If you agree, it probably means you haven’t had the good fortune of spending three years in law school. Those three years are essential if you want to learn the super-important lawyer skill of looking at something really clear and interpreting it to mean something different from what it obviously means. The most important lesson lawyers-to-be learn in law school is that constitutions, statutes, and rules don’t always mean what they say. Sometimes, they don’t even mean what they mean. Nowhere are those important law school lessons more impressively … Read entire article »

Filed under: Arizona Cases, SCOTUS Cases, US Constitution

Politics and the Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States just decided District of Columbia v. Heller, holding that a District of Columbia prohibition on the possession of usable handguns in the home violated the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion, and Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito joined him. Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer were the dissenting Justices. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Boumediene v. Bush, where it held that aliens designated as enemy combatants and detained at Guantanamo Bay have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion, in which Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer joined. The dissenting Justices were Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Alito. My understanding of these two cases is limited to … Read entire article »

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