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November 14, 2008

SCOTUS takes up three new criminal cases

The Supreme Court today, as detailed in this SCOTUSblog post, took up three new federal criminal cases.  Though none of the cases seem to be blockbusters, they all merit watching in 2009.  Here are the basic thanks to Lyle Denniston's great reporting at SCOTUSblog:

[T]he Court will decide whether an individual can be retried on charges on which a jury could not agree in an earlier trial in which the jury acquitted on other charges (Yeager v. U.S., 08-67), whether using a telephone or e-mail to buy drugs for personal use converts that minor possession crime into a felony, with heavier penalties (Abuelhawa v. U.S., 08-192), and whether a federal law imposing an enhanced sentence for firing a gun during a drug crime or other violent crime applies if the gun was fired accidentally or involuntarily (Dean v. U.S., 08-5274).

The cases probably will be argued in the session that begins Feb. 23 and continues through March 4....

The [Yeager] case involving partial convictions and acquittals is a test of the application of a 1970 Supreme Court decision, Ashe v. Swenson, ruling that the Fifth Amendment’s ban on being tried more than once for the same crime includes the doctrine that an issue once raised and litigated cannot be raised in a later case — the doctrine of “collateral estoppel” or “issue-preclusion.”...

In agreeing [in Abuelhawa] to rule on the escalation of a drug-possession misdemeanor crime into a felony, when the purchase of drugs was done by using a cellphone or other communications device, the Court was confronted with another split in the lower courts....

The newly granted firearms case [Dean] involves a federal law that provides for a ten-year minimum sentence if a gun is fired during a crime of violence or a drug-trafficking crime.  The issue is whether the added sentence is to be imposed when a gun went off without the accused having intend to fire it.

I could make an argument that all three cases in essence involve sentencing issues, since there is no dispute that the defendants in all three of these cases committed some federal crime.  But, though I can put a sentencing spin on all federal criminal cases, the Deancase involve the application of a statutory mandatory minimum in a setting that could make it especially noteworthy for various reasons. 

November 14, 2008 at 04:27 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I agree that all three involve sentencing issues. I will be watching the outcome of this closely, especially whether using a telephone or e-mail to buy drugs for personal use converts that minor possession crime into a felony. From my experience with the legal system, I wouldn't be surprised if this wrongly becomes a felony and more people are locked away in this misguided war on drugs. Let's hope that more rational heads prevail.

Posted by: Jonathan Richards | Nov 15, 2008 6:34:02 AM

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