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July 1, 2010

A first-cut criminal justice take on the SCOTUS Term that was

Because the just-completed Supreme Court Term was rich with criminal justices cases that were themselves rich with dynamic issues of constitutional and statutory law, it may not be possible to provide a simple criminal justice take on the Justices' work this past Term.  Nevertheless, I wanted here to express my first-cut perspective about the OT 2009 in the hope that readers might confirm or dispute my initial view.

Put most simply, I think the Term had a significant number of little wins for criminal defendants, but the vast majority of cases that could have potentially produced huge wins for defendants ended up being losses (or dismissed cases) or wins via relatively narrow opinions.  My view here may be skewed a bit by end-of-term cases like Barber and Comstock and Dillon and Dolan and HLP which were defendant losses that would have been huge if they came out the other way, and also by rulings like Carr and O'Brien and Skilling which were defense wins on possibly the most narrow of the reasonably available grounds.

That said, it is probably accurate to describe the two potentially biggest and most consequential cases, Graham concerning Eighth Amendment restrictions on extreme prison terms and Padilla concerning Sixth Amendment standards for assessing the effectiveness of an defense attorney's pre-plea advice, as big wins for criminal defendants.  Especially because of the strong defense-side facts/equities in these cases, wins by the state in these cases would have been a huge blow to future defendants hoping to advance a Sixth or Eighth Amendment claim in related settings.  And both Graham and Padilla have dicta that provide significant opportunities for defendants to try to extend these rulings in lower courts.  And yet, if recent history is any guide, prosecutors can reasonably hope (and defense attorneys should fear) that lower state and federal courts will generally be inclined to limit the reach of Graham and Padilla.

This cursory review of the SCOTUS criminal justice work in the past Term leaves out police procedure cases (which were mostly wins for prosecutors) and habeas procedure cases (which were mostly wins for the defense).  And the fact that there are so many cases to discuss reinforces my initial comment that a simple take on OT 2009 just may not possible.

July 1, 2010 at 02:10 PM | Permalink

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Comments

If I had to choose one case for the greatest systemic impact on the criminal justice system, it would be Padilla. As the Court's first real effort to regulate the plea bargaining process, it potentially realigns the relationship betewen government, defenders, and courts.

Posted by: margy | Jul 1, 2010 10:00:54 PM

The U.S Supreme Court lack of interest in Constitutional violations and corrupt officials, is displayed by the one sided justice of U.S District Court judges. A judge will simply ignor evidence and arguments by defendants, ignor corrupt State officals, dishonest prosecutors, without a care that their onesided opinion will reach the circuit court or even the U.S Supreme Court. Its a crying shame the dishonesty of federal judges after there placed in a position of power. If all judges are corrupt and owned like Richard Kopf, there are no rights for the people in any State, just a complete circus. I'm a law student, with second thought.

Posted by: Mary | Jul 2, 2010 1:08:54 AM

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