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September 24, 2012

Of sentencing interest among SCOTUSblog's "Petitions to Watch"

Today the Supreme Court justices return from summer vacations and get back to work with the (famous?) long Conference during which they select some magical cert petitions to add to their "let's decide this one" to-do list for the coming Term.   SCOTUSblog has its always helpful “Petitions to watch” list in three installments here, here, and here, and here are some petitions being watched that ought to be of extra interest to sentencing fans as listed by the folks at SCOTUSblog:

Rubashkin v. United States: (1) Whether Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 requires a criminal defendant with newly discovered evidence that goes not to guilt or innocence but to the fundamental fairness of his criminal trial –- here, that the trial judge should have been recused under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) -– to show nonetheless that the new evidence would probably lead to his acquittal; and (2) whether a sentence is unreasonable when a district court fails to consider and explain on the record, as required by this Court’s precedents, its basis for rejecting a defendant’s nonfrivolous argument for a below-Guidelines sentence –- resulting in, here, a twenty-seven-year sentence for a first-time, nonviolent offender that is significantly greater than sentences for similarly situated individuals.

Carter v. Louisiana: Whether the Court should reexamine its “death qualification” framework articulated in Witherspoon v. Illinois and Wainwright v. Witt because the Court announced that framework decades ago without any consideration of, or foundation in, the Framers' intent in protecting a defendant’s right to an “impartial jury” in the Sixth Amendment.

Missouri v. McNeely: Whether a law enforcement officer may obtain a nonconsensual and warrantless blood sample from a drunk driver under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement based upon the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream.

Strutton v. Meade: Whether an individual, civilly committed for being a “sex offender,” or for otherwise exhibiting a mental abnormality posing a danger to others, has a substantive due process right to treatment that may ameliorate the danger posed by his abnormality, particularly where -- as here -- the withheld treatment was designed with the intention of providing a path to at least a conditional release from custody.

Martel v. Tuite: Whether a federal court may grant habeas corpus relief to a state prisoner without determining that the state court’s “harmless beyond a reasonable doubt” ruling was objectively unreasonable.

Ever eager to encourage betting on the SCOTUS cert pool, I will put the over/under on cert grants from this list at 1.5.  (Interestingly, prop bets on cert grants need to get in earlier this year: SCOTUS has announced it will now start releasing order lists at 9:30am instead of 10am as it had in the past.) 

I feel pretty confident that SCOTUS will be adding at least a few criminal justice cases to its docket, and I feel even more confident that the folks at SCOTUSblog are real good at spotting "top prospects" for a cert grant.  That said, I am not confident SCOTUS will be eager to take up more than one of the cases/issues listed above, and I have a suspicion there might be one or more IFP cases (which SCOTUSblog does not typically review) that get the Justices attention as their summer tans begin to fade.

September 24, 2012 at 03:45 PM | Permalink


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