Articles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court

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Petitioner, a Mexican citizen and lawful permanent resident of the U.S., pleaded no contest in a California court under a statute criminalizing “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator,” defining “minor” as “a person under the age of 18.” He was ordered removed under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(3), as an “alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony,” including “sexual abuse of a minor.” The Supreme Court reversed. Under the categorical approach employed to determine whether an alien’s conviction qualifies as an aggravated felony, the court asks whether the state statute defining the crime of conviction categorically fits within the "generic" federal definition of a corresponding aggravated felony. Petitioner’s state conviction would be an “aggravated felony” only if the least of the acts criminalized by the state statute falls within the generic federal definition of sexual abuse of a minor, regardless of the actual facts of the case. The least of the acts criminalized by the California law would be consensual sexual intercourse between a victim who is almost 18 and a perpetrator who just turned 21. The generic federal definition of “sexual abuse of a minor” requires that the victim be younger than 16 and a significant majority of state criminal codes set the age of consent at 16 for statutory rape offenses predicated exclusively on the age of the participants. View "Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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After agents found child pornography on petitioner’s computer, he pleaded guilty to possessing a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct (18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B) and (b)(2)), an offense requiring restitution to the victim. The district court imposed a prison sentence and acknowledged that restitution was mandatory but deferred determination of the amount. Petitioner filed a notice of appeal. Months later, the court entered an amended judgment, ordering petitioner to pay restitution to one victim. Petitioner did not file a second notice of appeal, but challenged the restitution amount before the Eleventh Circuit, which held that he had forfeited any such challenge. The Supreme Court affirmed. A defendant wishing to appeal an order imposing restitution in a deferred restitution case must file a notice of appeal from that order. If he fails to do so and the government objects, he may not challenge the restitution order on appeal. Both 18 U.S.C. 3742(a), governing criminal appeals, and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(a)(1) contemplate that a defendant will file a notice of appeal after the court has decided the issue sought to be appealed. The requirement is a mandatory claim-processing rule, which is “unalterable” if raised properly by the party asserting its violation. Deferred restitution cases involve two appealable judgments, not one; the notice of appeal did not “spring forward” to become effective on the date the court entered its amended restitution judgment. Even if the court’s acknowledgment in the initial judgment that restitution was mandatory could qualify as a “sentence” that the court “announced” under Rule 4(b)(2), petitioner has never disputed that restitution is mandatory. A court of appeals may not overlook the failure to file a notice of appeal. View "Manrique v. United States" on Justia Law

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Nelson, convicted of felonies and misdemeanors arising from the alleged abuse of her children, was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay $8,192.50 in court costs, fees, and restitution. Nelson’s conviction was reversed; on retrial, she was acquitted. Madden was also convicted by a Colorado jury. The court imposed a prison sentence and ordered him to pay $4,413.00 in costs, fees, and restitution. Madden’s convictions were reversed and vacated; the state did not appeal or retry the case. The Colorado Department of Corrections withheld $702.10 from Nelson’s inmate account between her conviction and acquittal. Madden paid the state $1,977.75 after his conviction. Once their convictions were invalidated, they sought refunds. The Colorado Supreme Court reasoned that Colorado’s Exoneration Act provided the exclusive authority for refunds and that neither petitioner had filed a claim under that Act; the court also upheld the constitutionality of the Act, which permits Colorado to retain conviction-related assessments until the prevailing defendant institutes a discrete civil proceeding and proves her innocence by clear and convincing evidence. The Supreme Court reversed. The Act’s scheme violates the guarantee of due process. Petitioners have an obvious interest in regaining the money. The state may not retain these funds simply because their convictions were in place when the funds were taken; once the convictions were erased, the presumption of innocence was restored. Colorado may not presume a person, adjudged guilty of no crime, guilty enough for monetary exactions. Colorado’s scheme creates an unacceptable risk of the erroneous deprivation of defendants’ property, conditioning refunds on proof of innocence by clear and convincing evidence, while defendants in petitioners’ position are presumed innocent. When the amount sought is not large, the cost of pursuing a claim under the Act would be prohibitive. Colorado has no equitable interest in withholding petitioners’ money. View "Nelson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Dean and his brother committed two robberies; Dean’s brother threatened and assaulted the victim with a gun, while Dean searched for valuables. Dean was convicted of multiple robbery and firearms counts, and two counts under 18 U.S.C. 924(c), which criminalizes using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, or possessing a firearm in furtherance of such an underlying crime. The section mandates a penalty “in addition to the punishment provided for [the predicate] crime,” to run consecutively to any sentence for the predicate crime. A first 924(c) conviction carries a five-year minimum penalty; a second conviction carries an additional 25-year mandatory minimum. For Dean, that meant 30 years, to be served after his sentence for other counts of conviction. The court concluded that it could not vary from the Guidelines range based on the sentences imposed under section 924(c). The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. Section 924(c) does not prevent a sentencing court from considering a mandatory minimum imposed under that provision when calculating an appropriate sentence for the predicate offense. Guidelines section 3553(a) specifies the factors courts are to consider when imposing a sentence. The sentencing provisions permit a court imposing a sentence on one count to consider sentences imposed on other counts. The 3553(a) factors may be considered when determining a prison sentence for each individual offense in a multicount case. Section 924(c) says nothing about the length of a non-924(c) sentence, nor about what information a court may consider in determining that sentence. Nothing in the requirement of consecutive sentences prevents a court from imposing a 30-year sentence under section 924(c) and a one-day sentence for the predicate crime, provided those terms run consecutively. View "Dean v. United States" on Justia Law

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Moore was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for shooting a clerk during a robbery that occurred when Moore was 20 years old. A state habeas court determined that, under Supreme Court precedent, Moore was intellectually disabled and that his death sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. The court consulted the 11th edition of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities clinical manual (AAIDD–11) and the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and followed the generally accepted intellectual-disability definition, considering: intellectual-functioning deficits, adaptive deficits, and the onset of these deficits while a minor. The court credited six IQ scores, the average of which (70.66) indicated mild intellectual disability. Based on testimony from mental-health professionals, the court found significant adaptive deficits in all three skill sets (conceptual, social, and practical). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) declined the recommendation, concluding that the habeas court should have used standards for assessing intellectual disability contained in AAMR–9 and its requirement that adaptive deficits be “related” to intellectual-functioning deficits. The Supreme Court vacated. While precedent leaves to the states “the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce” the restriction on executing the intellectually disabled, that discretion is not “unfettered,” and must be “informed by the medical community’s diagnostic framework.” When an IQ score is close to, but above, 70, courts must account for the “standard error of measurement.” The CCA overemphasized Moore’s perceived adaptive strengths—living on the streets, mowing lawns, and playing pool for money—when the medical community focuses on adaptive deficits. The CCA stressed Moore’s improved behavior in prison; clinicians caution against reliance on adaptive strengths developed in controlled settings. The CCA concluded that Moore’s record of academic failure, with a history of childhood abuse and suffering, detracted from a determination that his intellectual and adaptive deficits were related; the medical community counts traumatic experiences as risk factors for intellectual disability. The CCA also departed from clinical practice by requiring Moore to show that his adaptive deficits were not related to “a personality disorder.” View "Moore v. Texas" on Justia Law

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During a traffic stop, officers searched Manuel and found a vitamin bottle containing pills. Suspecting the pills were illegal drugs, officers conducted a field test, which came back negative for any controlled substance. They arrested Manuel. At the police station, an evidence technician tested the pills and got a negative result, but claimed that one pill tested “positive for the probable presence of ecstasy.” An arresting officer reported that, based on his “training and experience,” he “knew the pills to be ecstasy.” Another officer charged Manuel with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Relying exclusively on that complaint, a judge found probable cause to detain Manuel pending trial. The Illinois police laboratory tested the pills and reported that they contained no controlled substances. Manuel spent 48 days in pretrial detention. More than two years after his arrest, but less than two years after his case was dismissed, Manuel filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit against Joliet and the officers. The district court dismissed, holding that the two-year statute of limitations barred his unlawful arrest claim and that pretrial detention following the start of legal process could not give rise to a Fourth Amendment claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. Pretrial detention can violate the Fourth Amendment when it precedes or when it follows, the start of the legal process. The Fourth Amendment prohibits government officials from detaining a person absent probable cause. Where legal process has begun but has done nothing to satisfy the probable-cause requirement, it cannot extinguish a detainee’s Fourth Amendment claim. Because the judge’s determination of probable cause was based solely on fabricated evidence, it did not expunge Manuel’s Fourth Amendment claim. On remand, the Seventh Circuit should determine the claim’s accrual date, unless it finds that the city waived its timeliness argument. View "Manuel v. Joliet" on Justia Law

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A Colorado jury convicted Peña-Rodriguez of harassment and unlawful sexual contact. Following the jury’s discharge, two jurors told defense counsel that, during deliberations, Juror H.C. had expressed anti-Hispanic bias toward Peña-Rodriguez and his alibi witness. Counsel, with court supervision, obtained affidavits from the two jurors describing H.C.'s biased statements. The court acknowledged H.C.’s apparent bias but denied a motion for a new trial, stating that Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b) generally prohibits a juror from testifying as to statements made during deliberations during an inquiry into the validity of the verdict. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed, citing Supreme Court precedent rejecting constitutional challenges to the federal no-impeachment. The Supreme Court reversed. Where a juror makes a clear statement indicating that he relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way. The Court noted that it has previously indicated that the rule may have exceptions for “juror bias so extreme that, almost by definition, the jury trial right has been abridged” and that racial bias, unlike the behavior in previous cases, implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns that, unaddressed, threaten systemic injury to the administration of justice. Before the no-impeachment bar can be set aside, there must be a threshold showing that a juror made statements exhibiting overt racial bias that cast serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of deliberations and verdict. The statement must tend to show that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in the juror’s vote to convict. The Court did not address what procedures a court must follow when deciding a motion for a new trial based on juror testimony of racial bias or the appropriate standard for determining when such evidence is sufficient to require that the verdict be set aside. View "Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Beckles was convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The court imposed a “career offender” sentencing enhancement under U.S.S.G. 4B1.1(a), finding that his offense qualified as a “crime of violence” under the residual clause. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed his sentence and the denial of post-conviction relief. In the meantime, the Supreme Court held (Johnson v. United States) that the identically worded residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), section 924(e)(2)(b), was unconstitutionally vague. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed again. The Supreme Court affirmed. The Sentencing Guidelines, including section 4B1.2(a)’s residual clause, are not subject to vagueness challenges under the Due Process Clause. Johnson held that the ACCA’s residual clause fixed, in an impermissibly vague way, a higher range of sentences for certain defendants; the advisory Guidelines do not fix the permissible range of sentences. They merely guide the exercise of a court’s discretion in choosing an appropriate sentence within the statutory range. Congress has long permitted a “wide discretion to decide whether the offender should be incarcerated and for how long.” The Guidelines have been rendered “effectively advisory” by the Supreme Court. The Guidelines do not implicate the concerns underlying vagueness doctrine: providing notice and preventing arbitrary enforcement. The statutory range, which establishes the permissible bounds of the court’s sentencing discretion, provides the required notice. The Guidelines do not invite arbitrary enforcement because they do not permit a court to prohibit behavior or to prescribe the sentencing ranges available. View "Beckles v. United States" on Justia Law

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A Nevada jury convicted Rippo of first-degree murder and other offenses and sentenced him to death. During his trial, Rippo received information that the judge was the target of a federal bribery probe, and he surmised that the Clark County District Attorney’s Office, which was prosecuting him, was playing a role in that investigation. Rippo unsuccessfully moved for the judge’s disqualification. After that judge’s indictment on federal charges a different judge denied Rippo’s motion for a new trial. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed, reasoning that Rippo had not introduced evidence that state authorities were involved in the federal investigation. State courts denied post-conviction relief, reasoning that Rippo was not entitled to discovery or an evidentiary hearing because his allegations “d[id] not support the assertion that the trial judge was actually biased.” The Supreme Court vacated the Nevada Supreme Court’s judgment, stating that due process may sometimes demand recusal even when a judge “ ‘ha[s] no actual bias.’ Recusal is required when, objectively speaking, “the probability of actual bias on the part of the judge or decision-maker is too high to be constitutionally tolerable.” View "Rippo v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Buck was convicted of murder; under Texas law, the jury could impose a death sentence only if it found unanimously, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Buck was likely to commit future acts of violence. Buck’s attorney called a psychologist, Dr. Quijano, who had been appointed to evaluate Buck. While concluding that Buck was unlikely to be a future danger, Quijano stated, in his report and testimony, that Buck was statistically more likely to act violently because he is black. The jury returned a sentence of death. In his first post-conviction proceeding, Buck did not argue ineffective assistance of counsel. In the meantime, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment in a case in which Quijano had testified that Hispanic heritage weighed in favor of a finding of future dangerousness. The Texas Attorney General then identified six cases in which Quijano had testified and, in five cases, consented to resentencing. Buck’s second state habeas petition, alleging ineffective assistance, was dismissed for failure to raise the claim in his first petition. Buck sought federal habeas relief (28 U.S.C. 2254). His claim was held procedurally defaulted. The Supreme Court subsequently issued holdings (Martinez and Trevino) under which Buck’s claim could have been heard, had he demonstrated that state post-conviction counsel was constitutionally ineffective in failing to raise a claim that had some merit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed rejection of Buck’s motion to reopen, finding that Buck had not established extraordinary circumstances or ineffective assistance. The Supreme Court reversed. The question was not whether Buck had shown that his case is extraordinary; it was whether jurists of reason could debate that issue. No competent defense attorney would introduce evidence that his client is liable to be a future danger because of his race. There is a reasonable probability that Buck was sentenced to death in part because of his race, a concern that supports Rule 60(b)(6) relief. The Court rejected, as waived, the state’s argument that Martinez and Trevino did not apply. View "Buck v. Davis" on Justia Law