« Telling trio of reasonableness reversals in the circuits | Main | Now that Baze is out, when and where will there be the first "new" execution? »

April 16, 2008

Baze is confused and other SCOTUS news

I had an inkling the Supreme Court might decide the Baze lethal injection case, and SCOTUSblog reports here that my inkling was right:

In a widely splintered decision, the Supreme Court cleared the way for executions to resume across the country, concluding that the most common method of lethal injection does not violate the Constitution. The final vote was 7-2 in Baze v. Rees, although there was no opinion that spoke for five or more Justices. The Court’s plurality adopted as a standard for assessing the validity of an execution method whether it poses a “substantial risk of serious harm.” It rejected the death row inmate’s proposal that the standard be “unnecessary risk.”

In addition, as reported here by SCOTUSblog, the Court also handed down two statutory interpretation sentencing cases, with notable results and votes:

The Supreme Court, in the first of its rulings on Wednesday, decided that druk driving is not a “violent felony,” at least for purposes of an enhanced prison sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act.  The ruling, written by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, came on a 6-3 vote in Begay v. U.S. (06-11543). In a second decision on an enhanced sentencing law, the Court ruled that a drug crime that is punishable by more than one year in prison is a “felony drug offense” even if state law classifies it as a misdemeanor.  The unanimous ruling came in the case of Burgess v. U.S. (06-11429).

In short, there is a lot to talk about in the sentencing world today, and here are links to the raw material I will need to consume before being able to comment intelligently:

Today’s opinion by Justice Breyer in Begay v. United States (06-11543) is now available here. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Souter and Thomas joined.

Today’s unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg in Burgess v. United States (06-11429) is now available here.

Today’s opinion in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) is now available here. The Chief Justice announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which Justices Kennedy and Alito joined. Justice Alito also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Stevens and Breyer each filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Scalia and Thomas each filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which the other joined. Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Souter joined.

April 16, 2008 at 10:22 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Baze is confused and other SCOTUS news:


The below is repeated from a prior post, but it seems appropriate given the repeated complaints about "how long" the Supreme Court had been considering *Baze*. Here are some comparisons to big cases from last term:

Argued: Nov 29, 2006
Decided: May 29, 2007

Mass v EPA (http://www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/05-1120.htm)
Argued: Nov 29, 2006
Decided: April 2, 2007

KSR v Teleflex (http://www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/04-1350.htm)
Argued: Nov 28, 2006
Decided: April 30, 2007

Baze was only argued on Jan. 7, 2008.

And we now know it was decided on April 16, 2008. Pretty speedy. I hope you acknowledge this.

Posted by: Reader | Apr 16, 2008 10:49:15 AM

Here in Colorado, Burgess is likely to have the most impact.

We have just two people on death row, one of whom is a death penalty volunteer, and Baze didn't impact either due to the posture of the litigation.

But, in Colorado, our class 1 misdemeanor statute allows for sentences of up to two years, and all misdemeanor drug offenses in the state are class 1 misdemeanors (except certain minor marijuana offenses).

As a result, everyone in Colorado who has ever been convicted of a non-marijuana drug crime of any kind will now be considered to be a drug felon for federal sentencing purposes. It matters only what the crime was punishable by, without regard to the actual sentence which is often a fine, probation, rehab and community sentence with perhaps only a few days in jail in most cases.

I'm not aware of many cases in Colorado where U.S. Attorneys have attempted to treat DUI convictions as violent felonies. But, there are hundreds if not thousands of cases each year in which people with prior misdemeanor drug convictions in state court are prosecuted in federal court for drug crimes.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Apr 16, 2008 2:57:07 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB