Articles Posted in US Supreme Court

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Stokeling pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and ammunition after having been convicted of a felony, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The probation office recommended the mandatory minimum 15-year prison term that the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) provides for 922(g) violators who have three previous convictions “for a violent felony.” Stokeling objected that his prior Florida robbery conviction was not a “violent felony,” which ACCA defines as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” that “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another,” section 924(e)(2)(B)(i). The Eleventh Circuit and Supreme Court held that Stokeling qualified for the enhancement. ACCA’s elements clause encompasses a robbery offense that requires the defendant to overcome the victim’s resistance. The force necessary to overcome resistance by a victim is inherently “violent” in the sense contemplated by precedent and “suggest[s] a degree of power that would not be satisfied by the merest touching.” Stokeling’s suggested definition of “physical force” as force “reasonably expected to cause pain or injury” is inconsistent with the degree of force necessary to commit robbery at common law. The term “physical force” in ACCA encompasses the degree of force necessary to commit common-law robbery. View "Stokeling v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit held that Hill, who was sentenced to death in 1986, was entitled to habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(1) because the decisions of the Ohio courts concluding that he is not intellectually disabled were contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent. The court relied on the 2017 Supreme Court decision, Moore v. Texas. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded so that Hill’s intellectual disability claim can be evaluated based solely on holdings that were clearly established at the relevant time. The Court rejected the Sixth Circuit reasoning “that Moore’s holding regarding adaptive strengths [was] merely an application of what was clearly established by” the Court’s 2002 decision, Atkins v. Virginia. In 2008, when the Ohio Court of Appeals rejected Hill’s claim, Atkins had not provided any comprehensive definition of “mental retardation” for Eighth Amendment purposes. While Atkins noted that standard definitions of mental retardation included as a necessary element “significant limitations in adaptive skills . . . that became manifest before age 18,” Atkins did not definitively resolve how that element was to be evaluated but instead left its application in the first instance to the states. The Moore majority primarily relied on medical literature that postdated the Ohio courts’ decisions. View "Shoop v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Defendants were each convicted of unlawfully possessing a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1); each was sentenced to the mandatory minimum 15-year prison term required by the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) for section 922(g)(1) offenders who have at least three previous convictions for certain “violent” or drug-related felonies. ACCA defines “violent felony” to include “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year . . . that . . . is burglary,” section 924(e)(2)(B). Defendants’ prior convictions were for violations of statutes that prohibit burglary of a structure or vehicle that has been adapted or is customarily used for overnight accommodation. The Courts of Appeals vacated both sentences. A unanimous Supreme Court held that the term “burglary” in ACCA includes burglary of a structure or vehicle that has been adapted or is customarily used for overnight accommodation. Under the categorical approach, courts evaluate a prior state conviction based on the elements of the state offense, not the defendant’s behavior on a particular occasion. A prior state conviction does not qualify as generic burglary where those elements are broader than those of generic burglary: “an unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or other structure, with intent to commit a crime.” The Arkansas and Tennessee statutes satisfy those elements. When ACCA was passed, most state burglary statutes covered vehicles adapted or customarily used for lodging. Congress also viewed burglary as an inherently dangerous crime that “creates the possibility of a violent confrontation.” An offender who breaks into a mobile home, an RV, a camping tent, or another structure or vehicle that is adapted or customarily used for lodging creates a similar risk of violent confrontation. View "United States v. Stitt" on Justia Law

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Beaudreaux shot and killed Drummond in 2006. Esho and Crowder were witnesses. The next day, Crowder told the police that he knew the shooter from school, but did not know his name. Esho described the shooter, but did not know his name. Seventeen months later, Crowder was arrested for an unrelated crime. While Crowder was in custody, police showed him a middle-school yearbook with Beaudreaux’s picture and a photo lineup including Beaudreaux. Crowder identified Beaudreaux. Officers interviewed Esho the next day, showing him a display with a recent picture of Beaudreaux and pictures of five other men. Esho tentatively identified Beaudreaux, saying his picture “was ‘closest’ to the gunman.” Later that day, an officer found another photograph of Beaudreaux that was taken “closer to the date” of the shooting. Beaudreaux looked different in the two photographs. Hours after the first interview, officers showed Esho a second six-man photo lineup, with the older picture of Beaudreaux, in a different position in the lineup. Esho said that the second picture was “very close.” He again declined to positively state that Beaudreaux was the shooter. At a preliminary hearing, Esho identified Beaudreaux as the shooter. At trial, Esho explained that it “clicked” when he saw Beaudreaux in person based on “the way that he walked.” At no time did any investigator or prosecutor suggest to Esho that Beaudreaux was the one who shot Drummond. At trial, Esho and Crowder both identified Beaudreaux as Drummond’s shooter. The jury found Beaudreaux guilty. Beaudreaux’s conviction was affirmed. Beaudreaux's second state habeas petition claimed that his attorney was ineffective for failing to move to suppress Esho’s identification testimony. The California Court of Appeal summarily denied the petition; the California Supreme Court denied review. The Ninth Circuit reversed a denial of federal habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Supreme Court reversed. The Ninth Circuit did not consider reasonable grounds that could have supported the state court’s summary decision, and it analyzed Beaudreaux’s arguments without any meaningful deference to the state court. View "Sexton v. Beaudreaux" on Justia Law

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When a phone connects to a cell site, it generates time-stamped cell-site location information (CSLI) that is stored by wireless carriers for business purposes. The FBI identified the cell phone numbers of robbery suspects. Prosecutors obtained court orders to get the suspects’ CSLI under the Stored Communications Act, which requires “reasonable grounds” for believing that the records were “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation,” 18 U.S.C. 2703(d), rather than a showing of probable cause. With CSLI for Carpenter’s phone, the government cataloged Carpenter’s movements over 127 days, showing that Carpenter’s phone was near four robbery locations at the time those robberies occurred. After denial of his motion to suppress, Carpenter was convicted. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the acquisition of Carpenter’s cell-site records was a Fourth Amendment search. The Fourth Amendment protects expectations of privacy “that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable” so that official intrusion generally qualifies as a search and requires a warrant supported by probable cause. Historical cell-site records give the government near-perfect surveillance, allow it to travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts. Rejecting an argument that the third-party doctrine governed these “business records,” the Court noted the “world of difference between the limited types of personal information” addressed in precedent and the “exhaustive chronicle of location information casually collected by wireless carriers.” CSLI is not truly “shared” because cell phones are an indispensable, pervasive part of daily life and they log CSLI without any affirmative act by the user. The Court noted that its decision is narrow and does not address conventional surveillance tools, such as security cameras, other business records that might reveal location information, or collection techniques involving foreign affairs or national security. View "Carpenter v. United States" on Justia Law

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Currier was indicted for burglary, grand larceny, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Because the prosecution could introduce evidence of his prior burglary and larceny convictions to prove the felon-in-possession charge, which might prejudice the jury’s consideration of the other charges, the parties agreed to a severance and asked the court to try the burglary and larceny charges first, followed by a second trial on the felon-in-possession charge. At the first trial, Currier was acquitted. He then, unsuccessfully, sought to stop the second trial, arguing that it would amount to double jeopardy. The jury convicted him on the felon-in-possession charge. Virginia courts and the Supreme Court affirmed, reasoning that, because Currier consented to a severance, his trial and conviction on the felon-in-possession charge did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, which provides that no person may be tried more than once “for the same offence.” A second trial is not precluded simply because it is very unlikely that the original jury acquitted without finding the fact in question. Currier was not forced to give up one constitutional right to secure another but faced a lawful choice between courses of action that each bore potential costs and benefits. View "Currier v. Virginia" on Justia Law

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Petitioner pleaded guilty to possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The judge determined the Guidelines range to be 135-168 months and imposed a 135-month sentence. The Sentencing Commission later lowered the relevant range to 108-135 months. Petitioner sought a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). The same judge reduced his sentence to 114 months. The order certified that the judge had “tak[en] into account” the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and the Guidelines policy statement. Petitioner argued judge did not adequately explain why he rejected petitioner’s request for a 108-month sentence. The Tenth Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed. Even assuming the court had a duty to explain its reasons when modifying petitioner’s sentence, what the court did was sufficient. The Court rejected an argument that a court must explain its reasoning in greater detail when it imposes a “disproportionate” sentence reduction—when the court reduces the prisoner’s sentence to a different point in the amended Guidelines range than the court previously selected in the original range. Because the record suggests the judge originally believed that 135 months was an appropriately high sentence in light of petitioner’s offense, it is unsurprising that he subsequently imposed a sentence somewhat higher than the bottom of the reduced range. Given the judge’s awareness of the arguments, his consideration of the relevant sentencing factors, and the intuitive reason why he picked a sentence above the very bottom of the new range, his explanation fell within the scope of a sentencing judge's lawful professional judgment. View "Chavez-Meza v. United States" on Justia Law

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Rosales-Mireles pleaded guilty to illegal reentry into the U.S. The presentence report mistakenly counted a misdemeanor conviction twice, yielding a Guidelines range of 77-96 months; the correctly calculated range would have been 70-87 months. Rosales-Mireles did not object and was sentenced to 78 months of imprisonment. On appeal, Rosales-Mireles first challenged the incorrect Guidelines range. The Fifth Circuit applied the "Olano" factors and found that the error was plain and affected Rosales-Mireles’ substantial rights because there was a “reasonable probability that he would have been subject to a different sentence but for the error” but concluded that Rosales-Mireles had not established that the error would seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings because neither the error nor his sentence “would shock the conscience.” The Supreme Court reversed. A miscalculation of a Guidelines sentencing range that has been determined to be plain and to affect a defendant’s substantial rights requires a court of appeals to exercise its discretion under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b) to vacate the sentence in the ordinary case. The Fifth Circuit’s shock-the-conscience standard too narrowly confines judicial discretion. It is not reflected in Rule 52(b), nor in the Supreme Court's application of the plain-error doctrine. An error resulting in a higher sentencing range usually establishes a reasonable probability that a defendant will serve a prison sentence greater than “necessary” to fulfill the purposes of incarceration, 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). That risk of unnecessary deprivation of liberty particularly undermines the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Because any exercise of discretion at the fourth prong of Olano requires “a case-specific and fact-intensive” inquiry, countervailing factors may satisfy a court that the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of the proceedings will be preserved without correction, but there are no such factors here. A court of appeals can consider a sentence’s substantive reasonableness only after finding that the district court committed no significant procedural error. View "Rosales-Mireles v. United States" on Justia Law

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Petitioners pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges. The district court calculated their advisory Guidelines ranges, which fell below the mandatory minimums under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1), and concluded that the mandatory minimums superseded the Guidelines ranges. The court departed downward under 18 U.S.C. 3553(e) to reflect substantial assistance to the government in prosecuting other drug offenders. In determining the final sentences, the court considered the Guidelines “substantial assistance factors” but did not consider the original Guidelines ranges. The Sentencing Commission subsequently amended the Guidelines and reduced the base offense levels for certain drug offenses, including those for which petitioners were convicted. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed the denial of petitioners’ motions for sentence reductions under section 3582(c)(2), which makes defendants eligible if they were sentenced “based on a sentencing range” that was later lowered. Petitioners’ sentences were not “based on” their lowered Guidelines ranges but were “based on” their mandatory minimums and on their substantial assistance to the government. For a sentence to be “based on” a lowered Guidelines range, the range must have at least played “a relevant part [in] the framework the [sentencing] judge used” in imposing the sentence. Just because courts routinely calculate Guidelines ranges does not mean that any sentence subsequently imposed must be regarded as “based on” a Guidelines range. In this case, the district court properly discarded their Guidelines ranges and permissibly considered only factors related to substantial assistance when departing downward. Identically situated defendants sentenced today may receive the same sentences petitioners received. View "Koons v. United States" on Justia Law

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Petitioners pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges. The district court calculated their advisory Guidelines ranges, which fell below the mandatory minimums under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1), and concluded that the mandatory minimums superseded the Guidelines ranges. The court departed downward under 18 U.S.C. 3553(e) to reflect substantial assistance to the government in prosecuting other drug offenders. In determining the final sentences, the court considered the Guidelines “substantial assistance factors” but did not consider the original Guidelines ranges. The Sentencing Commission subsequently amended the Guidelines and reduced the base offense levels for certain drug offenses, including those for which petitioners were convicted. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed the denial of petitioners’ motions for sentence reductions under section 3582(c)(2), which makes defendants eligible if they were sentenced “based on a sentencing range” that was later lowered. Petitioners’ sentences were not “based on” their lowered Guidelines ranges but were “based on” their mandatory minimums and on their substantial assistance to the government. For a sentence to be “based on” a lowered Guidelines range, the range must have at least played “a relevant part [in] the framework the [sentencing] judge used” in imposing the sentence. Just because courts routinely calculate Guidelines ranges does not mean that any sentence subsequently imposed must be regarded as “based on” a Guidelines range. In this case, the district court properly discarded their Guidelines ranges and permissibly considered only factors related to substantial assistance when departing downward. Identically situated defendants sentenced today may receive the same sentences petitioners received. View "Koons v. United States" on Justia Law