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December 14, 2016

SCOTUS adds a few more criminal cases to its current merits docket

Via this post at SCOTUSblog, I see that the Supreme Court today added a handful of cases to its docket.  Here is the SCOTUSblog description of the criminal cases in the bunch:

Two of the cases that the justices agreed to review today, Turner v. United States and Overton v. United States, arise out of the brutal 1984 murder of Catherine Fuller, a District of Columbia mother.  The petitioners in the case are a group of D.C. men who were convicted of the crime, based in large part on testimony from alleged eyewitnesses. Decades later, a reporter learned that defense attorneys had not received a statement suggesting that someone else had committed the crime; additional discovery then revealed that prosecutors had failed to turn over other evidence that could have aided the defendants.  The men sought to vacate their convictions, but were unsuccessful in the lower courts.

Today the Supreme Court agreed to review both cases.  Overton had asked the court to weigh in on the standard that the lower court used to evaluate his claim that prosecutors had not complied with their obligations under Brady v. Maryland, which requires the government to turn over information that could exonerate the defendant.  Turner and his co-defendants had asked the court to consider whether, when determining the significance of suppressed evidence, courts can consider information that comes to light after trial.  But the court today announced that it would review a more straightforward question in both cases: whether the men’s convictions must be set aside under Brady....

In Lee v. United States, the justices return to a familiar topic: the case of a non-citizen who gets into trouble with the law and then receives poor legal advice, jeopardizing his stay in the United States.  The petitioner in the case, Jae Lee, is a Tennessee man who came to the U.S. from South Korea in 1982 and eventually became a successful restauranteur. In 2009, he was charged with possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute.  After seeing the evidence against Lee, Lee’s attorney recommended that Lee plead guilty, so that he would receive a shorter sentence.  But, and despite Lee’s attorney’s assurances to the contrary, a guilty plea would result in Lee’s permanent and mandatory deportation.

Lee then sought to vacate his conviction, arguing that he had been deprived of his constitutional right to have adequate assistance from his attorney.  The government agreed that Lee could satisfy the first prong of the test to determine whether an attorney’s representation violated the Constitution: The attorney had indeed provided deficient advice when he told Lee that a guilty plea would not expose him to deportation.  But the lower courts ruled that Lee could not show, as required by the second prong of the test, that he was prejudiced by that bad advice, because the evidence of his guilt was so overwhelming that he would have been convicted and deported anyway.  That is the question that the court agreed to review today.

Today’s cases will likely be argued in late winter or early spring. The justices’ next regularly scheduled conference is January 6.

December 14, 2016 at 09:43 PM | Permalink


Given the re-write, I am wondering what is going on with Turner and Overton. The question of the impact of post-trial events on materiality is an interesting twist, but otherwise the issues seem like the unique facts of this case -- the type of thing that would either lead to a deny of cert or a summary reversal (depending upon how the Supreme Court saw things). If all that the opinions are going to do is repeat the formula from Kyles and apply it to the facts, that may be useful for the parties to the case but would not give much guidance to the rest of us.

Lee should give a little better explanation of what a reasonable probability that a defendant would go to trial means. It's possible to read Lockhart v. Hill as a primarily objective test (reasonable probability based on what a reasonable person would do) or a primarily subjective test (in light of the objective circumstance, what does the court believe about what this defendant would do). There is also the direct facts of whether a particular "consequence" of conviction is so bad (or the minimum sentence is so long) that the potential for a longer sentence after trial is insignificant and it is "rational" for the defendant to gamble on the long shot of a favorable verdict. (E.g., could a defendant reject an lwop recommendation and go to trial with death on the table because the defendant does not see any significant difference between lwop and death?)

Posted by: tmm | Dec 15, 2016 10:13:04 AM

Seems to me that the adage that an applicant is not entitled to the mercy of a lawless factfinder is a propos here. Obviously, when faced with the prospect of deporting a long-time resident, many prosecutors and judges will take mercy. But that possibility really shouldn't be part of the analysis.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 15, 2016 12:35:45 PM

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