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December 2, 2019

Intriguing (mostly procedural) criminal justice issues up for SCOTUS arguments as 2019 winds down

The US Supreme Court begins its December sitting on Monday morning, and a handful of cases scheduled for oral arguments over the next two weeks ought to be of interest to criminal justice fans.  Here are the ones that I will be watching (with links and descriptions via SCOTUSblog):

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, New YorkNo. 18-280 [Arg: 12.2.2019]

Issue(s): Whether New York City’s ban on transporting a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits is consistent with the Second Amendment, the commerce clause and the constitutional right to travel.

Banister v. DavisNo. 18-6943 [Arg: 12.4.2019]

Issue(s): Whether and under what circumstances a timely Rule 59(e) motion should be recharacterized as a second or successive habeas petition under Gonzalez v. Crosby.

Guerrero-Lasprilla v. BarrNo. 18-776 [Arg: 12.9.2019]

Issue(s): Whether a request for equitable tolling, as it applies to statutory motions to reopen, is judicially reviewable as a “question of law.”

Holguin-Hernandez v. U.S.No. 18-7739 [Arg: 12.10.2019]

Issue(s): Whether a formal objection after pronouncement of sentence is necessary to invoke appellate reasonableness review of the length of a defendant’s sentence.

McKinney v. ArizonaNo. 18-1109 [Arg: 12.11.2019]

Issue(s): (1) Whether the Arizona Supreme Court was required to apply current law when weighing mitigating and aggravating evidence to determine whether a death sentence is warranted; and (2) whether the correction of error under Eddings v. Oklahoma requires resentencing.

For the usual reasons, the Second Amendment/gun control case out of New York and the Eighth Amendment/death penalty case out of Arizona seem likely to get the most attention among this bunch.  But, ever the federal sentencing nerd, I am especially interested to see if the Holguin-Hernandez argument might hint at the case being a possible sleeper.  Remarkably, the Justices have not said much of anything about reasonableness review of sentences in over eight years(!) since its March 2011 ruling in Pepper v. US.  And the Justices have not really said anything really important about reasonableness review in a dozen years since the 2007 trio of opinions in Rita, Gall and Kimbrough.  I am not really expecting much from Holguin-Hernandez, but even a the prospect of a thimble of jurisprudential water can be exciting in a reasonableness desert.

December 2, 2019 at 12:00 AM | Permalink


No amount of nutritional water will improve the American Jurisprudence desert. The #Ruleoflaw has never set foot on these shores.

Posted by: Melanie L Lopez | Dec 2, 2019 12:10:23 PM

As a state prosecutor, Banister is the case that interests me. I am not sure what a proper Rule 59 motion would look like under the Fifth Circuit's interpretation. It seems to me that, if the Supreme Court were to accept that view, then the better practice for those representing inmates would be to not file a motion for new trial after the initial judgment in the habeas and to present any problems with the district court's findings to the appellate court. While in most cases that would not matter, in the rare case in which there is something that merits reconsideration (the impact of a recent appellate decision or some glaring factual or legal flaw in the judgment), I would rather have the district court get a shot at addressing the issue up front than have the appellate court speculate on the way that the district court would respond to the issue. I just don't see how 2244 and Crosby compel the conclusion reached by the Fifth Circuit that a timely motion for a new trial that should extend the time for appeal is actually a successive petition that does not extend the time for appealing.

Posted by: tmm | Dec 2, 2019 12:49:46 PM

Even though I agree that error was committed in Holguin-Hernandez I would argue that the case should be dismissed as not actually presenting a live controversy in that even a favorable ruling would not provide relief. I have a very hard time seeing any court of appeals, let alone the Supreme Court saying that an extra 12 months is substantively unreasonable given the facts in this case (an alien already remove once returning to commit additional offenses while still under the supervision period for the original conviction).

A ruling that this outcome is substantively unreasonable would gut the wide discretion that SCOTUS has stated should be afforded district court judges and instead turn it into a ratchet. I know there are plenty who would prefer the ratchet but that is not what SCOTUS has said, so far at least.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 4, 2019 2:43:15 PM

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