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May 22, 2006

Justice Stevens asking all the right questions

Today the Supreme Court issued only one opinion in Brigham City v. Stuart, No. 05-502 (S. Ct. May 22, 2006) (available here), a little criminal case involving police entering a home without a warrant to break up a fight.  And I am pleased to see, from this report by Marty Lederman at SCOTUSblog, that Justice Stevens in a concurrence is asking all the right questions about the expenditure of time and energy in this case:

This is an odd flyspeck of a case. The charges that have been pending against respondents for the past six years are minor offenses — intoxication, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and disorderly conduct — two of which could have been proved by evidence that was gathered by the responding officers before they entered the home.  The maximum punishment for these crimes ranges between 90 days and 6 months in jail.  And the Court's unanimous opinion restating well-settled rules of federal law is so clearly persuasive that it is hard to imagine the outcome was ever in doubt.

Under these circumstances, the only difficult question is which of the following is the most peculiar: (1) that the Utah trial judge, the intermediate state appellate court, and the Utah Supreme Court all found a Fourth Amendment violation on these facts; (2) that the prosecution chose to pursue this matter all the way to the United States Supreme Court; or (3) that this Court voted to grant the petition for a writ of certiorari.

Some related posts about the Supreme Court's curious cert choices:

UPDATE: Justice Stevens' brief concurrence (available here) is a great read which makes a pitch for the development of state constitutional law.  Here's a key quote, follwed by links to posts in which I've championed the development of state constitutional law:

Federal interests are not offended when a single State elects to provide greater protection for its citizens than the Federal Constitution requires. Indeed, I continue to believe that a policy of judicial restraint — one that allows other decisional bodies to have the last word in legal interpretation until it is truly necessary for this Court to intervene — enables this Court to make its most effective contribution to our federal system of government.

Some related posts about state constitutional law:

May 22, 2006 at 10:31 AM | Permalink


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I understand the general concern with the Court hearing cases involving minor crimes, but I do think this case was legitimately important enough for the Court to here. The Utah Supreme Court had made a huge blunder in constitutional law. The SCOTUS had every reason to set them straight. Granted, the guy was only facing small time, but this did tie the hands of law enforcement in more important cases as well.

If there's anything involving this weird case and the SCOTUS that we should be asking it is, "Why no summary reversal?"

Posted by: anonymousconservative | May 22, 2006 11:08:37 AM

Err... hear=here. And I probably made several other typos in my pre-coffee fog. Many apologies

Posted by: anonymousconservative | May 22, 2006 11:10:31 AM

Actually, many SCOTUS criminal law decisions involve underlying offenses that are comparatively minor. I tend to agree that the surprising thing here is that they didn't just reverse summarily.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 23, 2006 9:40:25 AM

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