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June 22, 2017

Today's SCOTUS CJ scorecard: government wins in two procedural cases, defendant wins in one substantive case

The Supreme Court this morning handed down opinions in three cases, all three of which involve intricate criminal law and procedure issues. I am going to copy and tweak here the summary of all the action from How Appealing for ease of exposition: 

1. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court in Maslenjak v. United States, No. 16-309. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch issued an opinion, in which Justice Clarence Thomas joined, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. And Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. issued an opinion concurring in the judgment. 

2. Justice Stephen G. Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court in Turner v. United States, No. 15-1503. Justice Kagan issued a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined. 

3. And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court in Weaver v. Massachusetts, No. 16-240.  Justice Thomas issued a concurring opinion, in which Justice Gorsuch joined.  Justice Alito issued an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Justice Gorsuch also joined.  And Justice Breyer issued a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Kagan joined. 

As the title of this post indicates, and as the pattern of votes suggests, the defendant prevailed in first of these listed cases, Maslenjak, which concerned the substantive reach of a federal criminal statute.  The government prevailed in the other two cases, one of which concerned the application of Brady (Turner) and the other of which concerned what types of errors can be found harmless in Strickland ineffective assistance analysis (Weaver).

For a variety of reasons, the procedural rulings on behalf of the government in Turner and Weaver seem like a much bigger deal than the Maslenjak ruling, perhaps especially because the government had won below in Turner and Weaver and so it could have been reasonably assumed that the Supreme Court took up the cases in order to reverse the outcome.  Also, of course, issues related to the application of Brady and Strickland impact so many cases, especially on collateral appeal.

Over at Crime & Consequences, Kent Scheidegger has this helpful summary post on all these cases simply and appropriately titled "Materiality."

June 22, 2017 at 10:45 AM | Permalink


Doug, Weaver is puzzling to me. I wonder why everyone assumed that defense counsel was ineffective, when Pressley v Georgia, which found violations of the right to a public trial structural error, was not decided until after Weaver's trial.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Jun 22, 2017 11:18:59 PM

Materiality is lawyer bullshit for the feelings of judges.

Even if not material, inadequacy of counsel should be lawyer malpractice per se, with a determination at the appellate court level. The sole subject of a malpractice tribunal should then by the dollar amount of the value of the damages. I would like to hear from Bruce about this concept, inadequacy = lawyer malpractice per se.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 23, 2017 4:11:07 AM

While I know that the majority in Weaver reserved the Batson issue, it should come out the same way. Like with the right to a public trial, the rights protected by Batson are largely the rights of a third party (the public wishing to view trial proceedings or a venireperson's right not to be discriminated against). As the twelve people who ultimately serve on the jury are -- in theory -- qualified jurors, the replacement of one juror (the erroneously struck juror) with another juror (the juror whom the State would have struck if the first proposed strike was disallowed) does not render the trial fundamentally unfair. Furthermore, allowing an inmate to raise the Batson or public trial issue after trial provides no "benefit" to the person whose rights are being violated. The harm can only be remedied if raised in a timely manner.

Posted by: tmm | Jun 23, 2017 1:58:54 PM

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