June 2010 Archives

Somewhat lost among the four opinions issued yesterday was a per curiam decision in Sears v. Upton (scroll down a few pages).  It's a must-read for those handling capital or habeas cases.  The Court finds that the lower courts erred in assessing the prejudice caused by counsel's failure to fully investigate and present mitigating evidence.  The trial court had found that the defendant could not demonstrate prejudice because some mitigating evidence was presented, despite the fact that the mitigation presented at trial was minimal, and the mitigation that was available but not presented was overwhelming.  "Although the [trial] court appears to have stated the proper prejudice standard, it did not correctly conceptualize how that standard applies to the circumstances of this case."  Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito would have not granted certiorari.  Justice Scalia authored a dissenting opinion that is joined by Justice Alito.

Via Scotusblog:

In McDonald v. Chicago, the Court reverses and remands in an opinion by Justice Alito.  The vote is 5-4.  Justice Stevens writes a dissenting opinion, and Justice Breyer writes a separate one, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor.  The opinion finds that the Second Amendment rights recognized in Heller, to keep and bear arms, applies to the states.  Justice Alito finds that the right exists through the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.  Justice Thomas finds that the right exists through the Privileges or Immunities Clause.  The opinion is 204 pages.

In  Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Court affirms and remands, in an opinion by Ginsburg.  The vote is 5-4. Justice Alito dissents, joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia and Thomas.  Justices Stevens and Kennedy each concur.  The Court finds that a policy of Hastings College of Law, which mandates an "all comers" policy for student groups receiving school funding, is constitutionally reasonable and may therefore be enforced.

In  Bilski v. Kappos, the Court affirms, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy.   The opinion for the majority is not supported in all respects by those who join in part.  Justice Breyer concurs in the judgment, joined by Scalia.  Stevens concurs in the judgment, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.  The opinion concerns patent law.

In  Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the Court reverses in part, affirms in part, and remands, in an opinion by the Chief Justice.  The vote is 5-4.  Justice Breyer dissents, joined by Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor.  The Court finds that certain limitations on the power to remove board members is unconstitutional under the separation of powers doctrine.

Live coverage is available on c-span.

I'm back from vacation, and I finished my latest brief, so postings will now resume.  Sorry for the delay.

The Nevada Supreme Court issued a decision today in Buckwalter v. Eighth Juidicial District Court.  In a decision authored by Justice Pickering, and joined by Justice Hardesty and Justice Douglas, the Court denied a petition for a writ in a medical malpractice action. 

The Court holds that the district court did not err in denying a motion to dismiss that was based upon the argument that an expert witness provided a declaration in the face of a statute that required an expert's affidavit.  The Court relies upon NRS 53.045 in fidning that a declaration that is sworn under penalty perjury is sufficient.

The Court finds that consideration of the writ is appropriate because the issue presented is not fact-bound and involves an unsettled and potentially significant, recurring question of law.

It's one of my cases, so I'm not going to say much.  The opinion is Polk v. State.  It addresses the State's failure to address a constitutional issue in its Answering Brief and the admission of expert testimony in violation of Melendez-Diaz and Crawford.

With thanks to Scotusblog:

Carr v. United States - the Court, on a 6-3 vote, reverses and remands in an opinion by Justice Sotomayor. Justice Scalia concurs in part and in the judgment, but joins most of Justice Sotomayor's opinion.  Justice Alito dissents, joined by Justices Thomas and Ginsburg.

  • Holding: The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, a 2007 law that requires sex offenders to register, does not apply to sex offenders whose interstate travel occurred before the Act went into effect.

The Court rejects the Government's argument that a violation of 18 U.S.C. 2250(a), which requires (1) a sex-offense conviction, (2) subsequent interstate travel, and (3) a failure to register, may be violated by a failure to register after the effective date, even if the conviction and interstate travel took place before the effective date.  The Court's ruling deals primarily with statutory interpretation and deals extensively with past tense vs. present tense words.  The Court does not address the ex-post facto clause issues because the case is resolved as a matter of statutory interpretation.

Berghuis v. Thompkins - the Court reverses and remands in an opinion by Justice Kennedy.  The vote is 5-4, with Justice Sotomayor dissenting joined by Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer.

  • Holding: The Court upholds the state court decision rejecting the claim of a violation of Miranda v. Arizona.  The defendant's silence while being questioned by police did not amount to an invocation of his Miranda right to remain silent.

After advising Thompkins of his rights, detectives interrogated him about a shooting.  He did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he wanted an attorney.  He was largely silent during the 3-hour interrogation, but eventually said "yes" when asked if he prayed to God to forgive him for the shooting.  The Sixth Circuit found that Thompkins had not waived his right to remain silent and found that the state court was unreasonable in finding an implied waiver based upon Thompkins' response to the detectives.   The Supreme Court finds that the state court's decision was correct and that silence during an interrogation does not invoke the right to remain silent.  Officers are not required to obtain a waiver before interrogating the accused. As with the right to counsel, the defendant must make an unambiguous invocation of the right to remain silent.  In other words, a defendant is required to speak, by saying that he wants to remain silent or does not want to talk, and may not merely remain silent to invoke his right to remain silent.  Insane.  Here's to hoping that our state constitution provides a more rational result.

Levin v. Commerce Energy - the Court reverses and remands, with Justice Ginsburg writing the opinion for the Court.  The vote is unanimous.  Justice Kennedy concurs and Justice Thomas concurs in the judgment only, joined by Justice Scalia.  Justice Alito concurs separately in the judgment.

  • Holding: Under the doctrine of comity, a tax payer's lawsuit claiming discriminatory state taxation must proceed originally in state court, even when it is a request to increase the tax burden on a competitor.

 

Alabama v. North Carolina -  the Court overrules the exceptions to the Special Master's reports and adopts the Special Master's recommendations.  Justice Scalia writes the opinion for the Court.  The Chief Justice dissents in part and concurs in part, joined by Justice Thomas. 

Samantar v. Yousuf - the Court affirms the lower court's judgment and remands the case, in an opinion by Justice Stevens.  The vote is unanimous.  Justice Alito concurs, Justice Thomas concurs in part and concurs in the judgment, and Justice Scalia separately concurs in the judgment.

  • Holding:  Former Somalian official Mohamed Ali Samantar's claim of immunity to a damages lawsuit for alleged atrocities in Somalia is not governed by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.  But the Court leaves to litigation in the lower court whether Samantar is entitled to common law immunity, or whether he may assert other legal defenses.

 

The Court granted certiorari in Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research v. United States.  The issue presented is whether the Treasury Department can categorically exclude all medical residents and other full-time employees from the definition of "student" in 26 USC 3121(b)(1), which exempts from Social Security taxes "service performed in the employ of a school, college or university" by a "student who is enrolled and regularly attending classes at such school, college or university."  Briefs are available at the link above.