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April 21, 2014

SCOTUS takes up two criminal cases, including yet another ACCA application question

As reported here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court this morning granted cert on three new cases, two of which involve criminal justice matters:

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to rule on whether the president has the sole power to decide on the nature of the U.S. government’s formal relations with Israel.  That issue arises out of a dispute between the White House and Congress over whether Israel should be noted as the place of birth of a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem....

The Court granted two other cases, the first dealing with the constitutional implications of a police traffic stop that turned out to be based upon a mistake by the officers (Heien v. North Carolina), and the second focusing on whether possession of a shotgun should be treated as a violent felony for purposes of federal criminal sentencing (Johnson v. United States).

Since I was lamenting earlier this month in this post that the Justices seem to have little interesting in criminal justice issues of late, I suppose I should be excited by these two new grants.  But my excitement is surely tempered by the fact that the new sentencing issue in Johnson is just yet another variation on the statutory questions surrounding the reach and application of the Armed Career Criminal Act.  That said, because even a ACCA sip of sentencing water is refreshing in a SCOTUS desert of a docket, I am still intrigued and grateful there iare some new SCOTUS cases for criminal justice and sentencing fans to now follow closely.

April 21, 2014 at 12:11 PM | Permalink


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For those interested in criminal justice issues, there is the lingering case of Ryan v. Hurles -- now held over for a 20th conference -- that may or may not resolve the unclear issue of factual deference in a federal habeas petition, especially in cases in which the state courts decide that the allegations in a state petition are insufficient in light of the existing record to require an evidentiary hearing.

Posted by: tmm | Apr 21, 2014 6:43:45 PM

Yeah, I have no idea what's up with Ryan v. Hurles. I've exhausted all theories and none quite explain 20 relists. I agree with Prof. Berman about Johnson. It's likely to be a narrow issue without many repercussions for criminal law as a whole and certainly won't have any Second Amendment repercussions.

Heien interests me. To me, the answer is obvious. Either this can't be reasonable or the Supreme Court should just switch to a simple negligence standard for the exclusionary rule. I don't want to turn the adage Ignorance of the law is no excuse into a cliche, but that strikes me as the sensible option. The police are presumed to know the law and their subjective belief is irrelevant. Otherwise, I'm not sure why mistaken belief about a statute is any more forgivable than mistaken belief that it's simply supported by case law. At least a statute is written down and easy to find. I don't know why failing to read it is more excusable than failure to be aware of every court precedent in the jurisdiction. And, if we excuse failure to be aware of case law, then we are in a negligence standard where the officer didn't clearly violate the Constitution so no exclusionary rule.

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 21, 2014 8:49:23 PM

Whats up with Ryan v. Hurles is the Court is preparing a per curiam opinion where Hurles loses.

Posted by: ? | Apr 21, 2014 11:09:49 PM

The Johnson case provides an opportunity to remember Judge Kagan's prediction in her separate opinion in Sykes v US that Begay's "purposeful, violent, and aggressive" analysis would return in the future, despite the weird detour Justice Alito took away from that analysis on the specious basis that Begay merely addressed strict liability laws. Alito's application of the "ordinary risk analysis" the Court employed for "attempted" enumerated felonies in the residual clause (James v US) sent federal courts into confusion that could have been avoided by staying true to the "purposeful, violent, and aggressive" analysis used in Begay, AND in the non-strict liability context of failure to report to prison statutes in Chambers.

It's also worth noting that the Eighth Circuit's judgment is also squarely challenged in the Heien case. Heien's cert petition noted that Eighth Circuit led the minority view of mistaken traffic stops by focusing on the "reasonableness" of a police officer's misunderstanding of the law he/she enforces every day. For all the bad press people give the Ninth Circuit as an aberrational bench, it's remarkable how frequently a Supreme Court as conservative as the current one must step in so frequently to correct the Eighth Circuit and its mass-incarceration fixation.

Posted by: DCH | Apr 22, 2014 9:58:43 AM

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