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June 5, 2006

Justice Alito's second opinion is another unanimous defense win

200pxspeedyBecause I know more about Speedy Gonzales than I know about the federal Speedy Trial Act, I cannot readily comment on the merits of the Supreme Court's one major criminal justice decision today in Zedner v. US, No. 05-5992 (S. Ct. June 5, 2006)(available here).  For the record, Zedner is another unanimous ruling that addresses the waiver of rights and the application of harmless error doctrines under the Speedy Trial Act.  It appears that the opinion is driven by statutory interpretation principles (which prompts this notably solo separate opinion by Justice Scalia to lament the Court's reliance on legislative history.)

Particulars aside, Zedner grabs my attention because it is the second opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito.  Notably, both opinions authored to date by Justice Alito (the Court's only former federal prosecutor) have been in criminal cases and have been unanimous victories for the defendant. The other such ruling, as detailed here, came last month in Holmes v. South Carolina.

Though I have not been keeping a close count, my anecdotal impression is that criminal defendants are doing pretty well this year with the addition of the two new Justices (although the really tough criminal cases are still to be decided).  Perhaps criminal defendants will start smiling like Speedy Gonzales if the Roberts Court proves over time to be more pro-defendant than was the Rehnquist Court.

June 5, 2006 at 12:10 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Prof. Berman --
Another interesting case. Two points:
(1) Although my judge did not handle Speedy Trial waivers, I seem to recall that there were plenty our court. I don't know if they were waivers "for all time," but I thought they were. I wonder how this case will affect the practicalities of prosecution when both the defendant and the prosecutor agree to an extension--it seems to make a lot more work for a very limited benefit (judicial oversight of the small number of cases where waivers are effected and cases are wrongly continued).
How many other courts, I wonder, used some sort of prospective waiver system that they'll have to rethink. (And how many dismissal motions will be filed by defendants who have executed prospective waivers?)

(2) Did you notice Footnote 2??? Alito says: The Court of Appeals ultimately remanded the case for resentencing in light of United States v. Booker, 543 U. S. 220 (2005) . That issue is not before us, though we note that the District Court has indicated it would impose the same 63-month sentence if the defendant is produced for resentencing. No. 96–CR–285 (TCP) (EDNY, Oct. 27, 2005).

Is this an implicit acknowledgment by the Court that a remand is unnecessary when the district court entered a sentence pursuant to the Guidelines and pursuant to Booker/Blakely???

Posted by: (Formerly) District Clerk Battling Blakely (Now Bottom-level Associate Battling Briefs) | Jun 5, 2006 2:04:12 PM

But surely it's not the *unanimous* cases that had Alito's opponents worried?

I find it interesting that the new guy on the Court is getting these assigned to him.

(Civil lawyer, & sometimes a lawyer who's civil.)

Posted by: Anderson | Jun 5, 2006 3:03:24 PM

It could just mean that prosecution wins are buried in cert denials.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jun 5, 2006 3:17:52 PM

A new junior justice is commonly assigned unanimous cases to get his feet wet. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that Alito happened to have gotten started with a couple of crim. law cases that went the defendants' way. Or maybe Roberts is consciously steering these types of cases towards the former prosecutor.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Jun 5, 2006 4:25:42 PM

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