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January 26, 2009

Lots more notable criminal justice action from the Supreme Court, including another summary reversal

The Supreme Court issued a whole bunch of opinions and granted cert on three new cases today, and there is lots of criminal action in this flurry of activity.  To get effective summaries and links of all the action, readers should go SCOTUSblog, of course.  I hope to get a chance to blog about some of these developments later today.

But sentencing fans will want to start by checking out another notable summary reversal on a Booker-based sentencing appeal, this time in Nelson v. US, No. 08-5657 (S. Ct. Jan. 26, 2009) (available here).  Nelson is not quite as big a deal as last week's Spears decision because in Nelson the Solicitor General's office admitted error.  Nevertheless, as I will highlight in a subsequent post, there is still some useful language in Nelson for other appealing within-guideline sentences.

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January 26, 2009 at 11:06 AM | Permalink


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Van de Kamp v. Goldstein: ""The court ordered the State either to grant Goldstein a new trial or to release him. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s determination. And the State decided that, rather than retry Goldstein (who had already served 24 years of his sentence), it would release him."

Translation: The bastard was guilty so who cares?

But wait. The L.A. Times has a little more. "In a unanimous ruling, the nation's high court throws out a lawsuit from a Los Angeles man who spent 24 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit."

No mention of grand jury findings in the opinion. "In the intervening years, a grand jury in Los Angeles had issued a devastating report on the misuse of jailhouse informants by the Los Angeles County district attorneys office, the nation's largest."

"The justices said prosecutors should not have to work in fear that resentful crime suspects may sue them later."

Yeah, and someone who did 25 years for a murder he didn't commit might be a little resentful too.

But the bastard was guilty and the only reason the DA didn't retry him is because he already did 25 years and the DA, out of the kindness of his heart, decided that was enough justice.

"However, it leaves wrongfully convicted persons with little remedy for their ordeal."

Anyone else suspect the SCOTUS sees a tidal wave of Innocence Project successes coming down the pike?

Anyone else feel manipulated? Immunity is one thing, but to base it on the premise that the guy was guilty anyway, so no harm, no foul, is misleading (edited to a more PC term).

I don't think Van de Kamp should have to pay out of his personal pocket, but all England needed was immunity from its acts and we would all be spelling and talking weird. What colour is justice at university?

Posted by: George | Jan 26, 2009 3:08:43 PM

It's utterly disgraceful that prosecutors have absolute immunity to violate the constitution. So much for government accountability. From the opinion: "'[I]t has been thought in the end better,' he said, 'to leave unredressed the wrongs done by dishonest officers than to subject those who try to do their duty to the constant dread of retaliation.'"

Really? It's odd because the Court's 1983 jurisprudence does not allow a convicted defendant to sue civilly pursuant to the civil rights statute on a suppression claim until his conviction has been overturned, i.e., until a Court has already determined--in habeas corpus proceedings--that his constitutional rights were violated. Since any civil rights action filed before that point will be dismissed by any court--and any action filed after it will be accompanied by a prior judicial determination that a constitutional violation occurred--I fail to see where room exists for harassment of or retaliation against prosecutors. Pure rubbish. (And, even if it weren't rubbish, the Court clearly made the wrong decision when it sided with government servants over the citizens they are meant to serve. But par for the course.)

Posted by: DK | Jan 26, 2009 11:04:23 PM

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