May 21, 2013
Supreme Court Grants Cert on Consent to Search Issue; Also Rules on Denial of Defense Claim
Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted cert in Fernandez v. California (No. 12-7822). The issue presented is whether, under Georgia v. Randolph, a defendant must be personally present and objecting when police officers ask a co-tenant for consent to conduct a warrantless search or whether a defendant’s previously stated objection, while physically present, to a warrantless search is a continuing assertion of 4th Amendment rights which cannot be overridden by a co-tenant.
The Court also issued an opinion in Metrish v. Lancaster (No. 12-547), holding that because the Michigan Court of Appeals did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law when it retroactively applied a decision of the Michigan Supreme Court rejecting the diminished-capacity defense to petitioner, he was not entitled to habeas relief. For more on the opinion, see this SCOTUSblog post.
April 29, 2013
Supreme Court to Determine Whether Distribution of Drugs Causing Death Is a Strict Liability Crime
Today, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Burrage v. United States
(No. 12-7515). The questions presented are:
1. Whether the crime of distribution of drugs causing death under 21 U.S.C. § 841 is a strict liability crime, without a foreseeability or proximate cause requirement.
2. Whether a person can be convicted for distribution of heroin causing death utilizing jury instructions which allow a conviction when the heroin that was distributed “contributed to, ” death by “mixed drug intoxication,” but was not the sole cause of death of a person.
The Court also dismissed Boyer v. Louisiana
as improvidently granted. The Court had granted cert on the question whether "a state’s failure to fund counsel for an indigent defendant for five years, particularly where failure was the direct result of the prosecution’s choice to seek the death penalty, should be weighed against the state for speedy trial purposes."
April 23, 2013
Supreme Court Holds That Minor Marijuana Offense Is Not an Aggravated Felony Under INA
In Moncrieffe v. Holder (No. 11-702) the Supreme Court held today that a state conviction for possession with intent to distribute (for no remuneration) a small amount of marijuana does not constitute “illicit trafficking in a controlled substance” under section 1101(a)(43) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and is thus not an aggravated felony subjecting a noncitizen to mandatory deportation and ineligibility for certain forms of discretionary relief.
Adrian Moncrieffe possessed 1.3 grams of marijuana, which was accepted as a "small amount." The Court applied the categorical approach, and concluded:
This is the third time in seven years that we have considered whether the Government has properly characterized a low-level drug offense as "illicit trafficking in a controlled substance," and thus an "aggravated felony." Once again we hold that the Government’s approach defies "the 'commonsense conception' of these terms." Carachuri-Rosendo, 560 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9) (quoting Lopez, 549 U. S., at 53). Sharing a small amount of marijuana for no remuneration, let alone possession with intent to do so, "does not fit easily into the ‘everyday understanding''' of "trafficking," which “‘ordinarily . . . means some sort of commercial dealing.’” Carachuri-Rosendo, 560 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9) (quoting Lopez, 549 U. S., at 53–54). Nor is it sensible that a state statute that criminalizes conduct that the CSA treats as a misdemeanor should be designated an "aggravated felony." We hold that it may not be. If a noncitizen’s conviction for a marijuana distribution offense fails to establish that the offense involved either remuneration or more than a small amount of marijuana, the conviction is not for an aggravated felony under the INA.
April 23, 2013
Sentencing Resource Counsel Rebut Sentencing Commission's Booker Report
In December 2012 the Commission issued its Report on the Continuing Impact of United States v. Booker on Federal Sentencing
. In the following articles and fact sheets, Sentencing Resource Counsel have rebutted various claims made in the Commission's Report:
For more on the Commission's legislative efforts, see our Important Legislative Developments in Sentencing
April 17, 2013
Supreme Court Rejects Blanket Fourth Amendment Exigency Exception for Warrantless DUI Blood Tests
In a decision handed down today in Missouri v. McNeely
(No. 11-1425), the Supreme Court held that the natural metabolization of alcohol in the bloodstream does not present a per se
exigency that justifies an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement for nonconsensual blood testing in all drunk-driving cases. Instead, "exigency in this context must be determined case by case based on the totality of the circumstances." For an analysis of the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
April 12, 2013
Sentencing Commission Votes to Promulgate Amendments to Guidelines
On April 10, 2013, the Sentencing Commission voted to promulgate Amendments to the sentencing guidelines. These Amendments will be submitted to Congress by May 1, 2013. Barring congressional action, they will take effect November 1, 2013. For the full text of the Amendments see the Reader-Friendly Version
. For an explanation of the changes made by the Amendments read this Summary of 2013 Proposed Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines
by the Sentencing Resource Counsel Project, and the Defender Letter to the Sentencing Commission Commenting on the Commission's Proposed Amendments
March 26, 2013
Supreme Court Holds That Using a Drug Sniff Dog at the Front Door of A Home Constitutes a Search
Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Florida v. Jardines
(No. 11-564), holding that "The government's use of trained police dogs to investigate the home and its immediate surroundings is a 'search' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment."
The police had approached Jardines' home with a drug sniffing dog. While the dog was on the porch, its handler informed the accompanying detective that the dog had alerted for narcotics. On the basis of the positive alert, the detective applied for a warrant, searched the home and found the marijuana plants that later became the basis for drug trafficking charges.
Writing for the majority in a 5-4 decision, Justice Scalia based the Court's holding on property rights grounds: "One virtue of the Fourth Amendment’s property-rights baseline is that it keeps easy cases easy. That the officers learned what they learned only by physically intruding on Jardines’ property to gather evidence is enough to establish that a search occurred."
For more on the opinion, see this SCOTUSblog post
February 26, 2013
Supreme Court to Address Duties of Attorneys in Plea Bargaining; Admissibility of Evidence Challenging Mental Incapacity Defense
Yesterday, the Court granted certiorari in Burt v. Titlow
(No. 12-414) and Kansas v. Cheever
The issues presented in Burt v. Titlow are: (1) Whether the Sixth Circuit failed to give appropriate deference to a Michigan state court under Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) in holding that defense counsel was constitutionally ineffective for allowing respondent to maintain his claim of innocence; (2) whether a convicted defendant’s subjective testimony that he would have accepted a plea but for ineffective assistance, is, standing alone, sufficient to demonstrate a reasonable probability that defendant would have accepted the plea; and (3) whether Lafler v. Cooper always requires a state trial court to resentence a defendant who shows a reasonable probability that he would have accepted a plea offer but for ineffective assistance, and to do so in such a way as to “remedy” the violation of the defendant’s constitutional right.
In Cheever, the issues presented are: (1) Whether, when a criminal defendant who affirmatively introduces expert testimony that he lacked the requisite mental state to commit capital murder of a law enforcement officer due to the alleged temporary and long-term effects of the defendant’s methamphetamine use, the state violates the defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by rebutting the defendant’s mental state defense with evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant; and (2) whether, when a criminal defendant testifies in his own defense, the state violates the Fifth Amendment by impeaching such testimony with evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant.
For more on the cases see this SCOTUSblog post
February 22, 2013
Supreme Court Hands Down Opinions in 6 Cases of Interest to Criminal Defense Practitioners
Earlier this week the Supreme Court issued opinions addressing Fourth Amendment challenges to drug sniffing dogs (Florida v. Harris
, No. 11-817) and to the detention of an individual incident to a search warrant (Bailey v. United States
, No. 11-770); the retroactivity of Padilla v. Kentucky
(Chaidez v. United States
, No. 11-820); the definition of plain error under Rule 52(b) (Henderson v. United States
, No. 11-9307); Double Jeopardy (Evans v. Michigan
, No. 11-1327); and when a federal habeas claim has been adjudicated by a state court (Johnson v. Williams
In Florida v. Harris
the Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court's holding that, to demonstrate a drug detection dog's reliability, the state must produce the dog's training and certification records, along with a checklist of evidence relating to the dog's reliability. Instead, in a 9-0 opinion written by Justice Kagan, the Court held "[t]he question—similar to every inquiry into probable cause—is whether all the facts surrounding a dog’s alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a
reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime. A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test." The state can introduce evidence of a dog's reliability and the defendant can challenge that evidence, but the state is not subject to "an inflexible set of evidentiary requirements." For more on the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
In Bailey v. United States
the Court held that Michigan v. Summers
, 452 U.S. 692 (1981), which authorizes law enforcement officers “to detain the occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted" without need for any level of suspicion, does not extend to the detention of a person who is not within the premises being searched or its "immediate vicinity." As a result, the detention of an individual who had left the premises before the search began and was a mile away before police detained him was not lawful. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, added that "[i]n closer cases courts can consider a number of factors to determine whether an occupant was detained within the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched, including the lawful limits of the premises, whether the occupant was within the line of sight of his dwelling, the ease of reentry from the occupant’s location, and other relevant factors." For an analyis of the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
Reversing the judgment of the Fifth Circuit, the Court held in Henderson v. United States
that regardless of whether a legal question was settled or unsettled at the time of trial, an error is “plain” within the meaning of Rule 52(b)so long as the error was plain at the time of appellate review. The district court had increased the length of Henderson's sentence so that he could participate in RDAP. Henderson’s counsel did not object to the sentence, but, on appeal, Henderson claimed that the district court committed plain error by increasing his sentence solely for rehabilitative purposes. While the appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Tapia v. United States
, holding that it is error for a court to "impose or lengthen a prison sentence to enable an offender to complete a treatment program or otherwise to promote rehabilitation." Though the district court had committed legal error, the Fifth Circuit held that the error was not "plain" because, in its view, an error is "plain" under Rule 52(b) only if it was clear under current law at the time of trial, whereas here circuit law was unsettled at the time of trial. For more on the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
In Chaidez v. United States
the Court held that its decision in Padilla v. Kentucky
, holding that the Sixth Amendment requires defense attorneys to inform criminal defendants of the deportation risks of guilty pleas, does not apply retroactively to cases already final on direct review. For more on the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post
Reversing the judgment of the Supreme Court of Michigan in an 8-1 opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor, the Court in Evans v. Michigan
held that the Double Jeopardy Clause bars retrial where the trial court directed a verdict of acquittal based on an error of law regarding the required elements of the offense.
In Johnson v. Williams
the Court held that, for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), when a state court rules against a defendant in an opinion that rejects some of the defendant’s claims but does not expressly address a federal claim, a federal habeas court must presume, subject to rebuttal, that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits. For more on the opinion, see this SCOTUSblog post
January 22, 2013
Supreme Court Grants Cert to Consider State's Retroactive Withdrawal of Diminished Capacity Defense; Application of Chemical Weapons Treaty to Poisoning Prosecution
On Friday, January 18th, the Supreme Court granted certioriari in Bond v. United States
(No. 12-158) and Metrish v. Lancaster
involves the use ofa global chemical weapons treaty as the basis for prosecuting a woman accused of attempting to poison her husband's lover. In the habeas case of Metrish v. Lancaster
, the Court will address whether the Michigan Supreme Court violated the defendant's due process rights when it retroactively withdrew a diminished capacity defense available at the time of the offense.
For more on these cases, see this SCOTUSblog post
January 14, 2013
Supreme Court Takes Cases Addressing 5th Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination, SORNA, and Hobbs Act Interpretation of Property
On Friday, January 11, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in three cases of interest to federal criminal defense practitioners: Salinas v. Texas
(No. 12-246); United States v. Kebodeaux
(No. 12-418); and Sekhar v. United States
the question presented is "Whether or under what circumstances the Fifth Amendment's self-incrimination clause protects a defendant's refusal to answer law enforcement questioning before he has been arrested or read his Miranda rights."
the Court will address two questions: (1) "Whether the court of appeals erred in conducting its constitutional analysis on the premise that respondent was not under a federal registration obligation until SORNA was enacted, when pre-SORNA federal law obligated him to register as a sex offender." (2) "Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that Congress lacks the Article I authority to provide for criminal penalties under 18 U.S.C. 2250(a)(2)(A), as applied to a person who was convicted of a sex offense under federal law and completed his criminal sentence before SORNA was enacted."
The question presented in Sekhar
is: "Whether the 'recommendation' of an attorney, who is a salaried employee of a governmental agency, in a single instance, is intangible property that can be the subject of an extortion attempt under 18 U.S.C. §1951(a)(the Hobbs Act) and 18 U.S.C. §875(d)."
January 11, 2013
Supreme Court Rules Defendant Must Prove Withdrawal from Conspiracy; Federal Habeas Petitioner Has no Right to Halt Proceedings When Incompetent
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Smith v. United States
, holding that the defendant bears the burden of proving his withdrawal from a conspiracy. The Court also issued opinions in the companion cases of Tibbals v. Carter
and Ryan v. Gonzales
(Nos. 10-930, 11-218) holding that state prisoners do not have a right to delay their federal court habeas challenges until they are mentally competent enough to proceed. For more on Smith
see this Federal Evidence Review analysis
. For more on Tibbals v. Carter
and Ryan v. Gonzales
see this SCOTUSblog post
January 07, 2013
Supreme Court to Address Judicial Participation in Plea Discussions
On Friday, January 4, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in United States v. Davila
(No. 12-167), in which it will decide: "Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that any degree of judicial participation in plea negotiations, in violation of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1), automatically requires vacatur of a defendant’s guilty plea, irrespective of whether the error prejudiced the defendant."
According to the opinion of the Eleventh Circuit, during an in camera hearing before a magistrate judge, Davila requested a new attorney because counsel had not discussed defense strategies with him, other than pleading guilty. The magistrate judge responded that "there may not be viable defenses to these charges," and that pleading guilty sometimes was the best advice an attorney could provide his client. The magistrate judge proceeded to inform Davila that "The only thing at your disposal that is entirely up to you is the two or three level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. That means you've got to go to the cross. You've got to tell the probation officer everything you did in this case regardless of how bad it makes you appear to be because that is the way you get that three-level reduction for acceptance, and believe me, Mr. Davila, someone with your criminal history needs a three-level reduction for acceptance."
Davila later pleaded guilty. On appeal he argued that the magistrate judge's comments at the in camera hearing amounted to improper participation in his plea discussions, requiring that his conviction be vacated, despite his failure to object to the magistrate judge's comments, because the comments clearly violated his substantial rights and undermined the integrity of the proceedings.
The Eleventh Circuit held that magistrate judge's comments amounted to judicial participation in plea discussions and that Davila need not show any individualized prejudice.
November 13, 2012
Supreme Court Grants Cert on Police Authority to Take a DNA Sample of an Arrestee; Ex Post Facto Challenge to Retroactive Application of the Sentencing Guidelines
On November 9, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in two criminal cases, Maryland v. King
(No. 12-207), and Peugh v. United States
(No. 12-62). In King
, the Court will decide "whether it violates the Fourth Amendment rights of an individual who is arrested and charged with a serious crime, but not convicted, for police to take an involuntary DNA sample. " Peugh
raises an Ex Post Facto challenge to a trial court's imposition of a criminal sentence based on federal sentencing guidelines in effect at the time of sentencing, where the criminal sentence imposed is longer than the guidelines had specified at the time the crime was committed.
The grant in King
comes after Chief Justice Roberts had earlier blocked the ruling of the Maryland Court of Appeals finding a Fourth Amendment violation when police took a DNA sample of an individual who had not yet been convicted of a crime.
, the case arises from a Circuit split in which, as stated in the cert petition, "Eight courts of appeals have held that the Ex Post Facto Clause is violated where retroactive application of the Sentencing Guidelines creates a significant risk of a higher sentence. In the decision below, however, the Seventh Circuit has held that the Ex Post Facto Clause is never violated by retroactive application of the Sentencing Guidelines because the Guidelines are advisory, not mandatory."
November 01, 2012
New Sentencing Guidelines Take Effect
On April 13, 2012, the United States Sentencing Commission voted to promulgate amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines. These amendments take effect today. View a summary of the amendments
, and the 2012 Guidelines Manual
October 29, 2012
Supreme Court Grants Cert in Two Habeas Cases, Including Follow-Up to Martinez v. Ryan
This morning, the Court granted certiorari in Trevino v. Thaler
(No. 11-10189), and McQuiggin v. Perkins
(No. 12-126). In Trevino
, the Court will decide whether petitioner should be permitted to raise his ineffectiveness of counsel claim for the first time in federal habeas proceedings, under the exception announced in Martinez v. Ryan
, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (March 20, 2012). In Perkins
, the question presented is whether, under AEDPA, there is an actual-innocence exception to the requirement that a petitioner show an extraordinary circumstance that “prevented timely filing” of a habeas petition, and if so, whether there is an additional actual-innocence exception to the requirement that a petitioner demonstrate that “he has been pursuing his rights diligently."
As stated in Mr. Trevino's cert petition:
Undersigned counsel raised for the first time a claim under Wiggins v. Smith
, 539 U.S. 510 (2003), that trial counsel were ineffective for failing to investigate the extraordinary mitigating evidence in Mr. Trevino's life. The federal proceeding was stayed to allow exhaustion, but the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Mr. Trevino's Wiggins claim under state abuse of the writ rules. Thereafter, the federal district court dismissed the claim as procedurally barred, finding no cause for the default. On appeal, Mr. Trevino argued that the Court of Appeals should stay further proceedings until this Court resolved the question then-pending in several cases whether ineffective assistance of state habeas counsel in failing to raise a meritorious claim of ineffective
assistance of trial counsel established cause for the default in state habeas proceedings. The Court of Appeals refused to stay Mr. Trevino's appeal for this purpose. Four months later, this Court decided in Martinez v. Ryan
, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (March 20, 2012), that ineffective assistance of state habeas counsel in the very circumstance presented by Mr. Trevino's case could establish cause for the default of a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. These circumstances present the following question:
Whether the Court should grant certiorari, vacate the Court of Appeals opinion,
and remand to the Court of Appeals for consideration of Mr. Trevino's argument
under Martinez v. Ryan
For more on these cases see this SCOTUSblog post
October 09, 2012
Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Overrule Key Sentencing Precedent of Harris v. U.S.
On Friday, October 5, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Alleyne v. United States
(No. 11-9335) to decide whether the Court’s decision in Harris v. United States
, holding that the Constitution does not require facts which increase a mandatory minimum sentence to be determined by a jury, should be overruled.
Mr. Alleyne was convicted by a jury of one count of robbery affecting interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951(a), 2, and one count of using or carrying a firearm during in or in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). The government additionally charged Mr. Alleyne with brandishing a firearm during the robbery, and included that charge on the verdict form, but the jury found Mr. Alleyne not guilty of brandishing. At sentencing, the district court imposed a 46-month sentence on the robbery charge. Regarding the 924(c) count, the court stated that it was bound by Harris
to determine whether Mr. Alleyne should be subjected to the sentencing enhancement for brandishing a firearm, notwithstanding the jury's determination that he was not guilty of that conduct. The court, over Mr. Alleyne’s objection, imposed a consecutive 84-month sentence for the firearm offense after finding by a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Alleyne reasonably could have foreseen that his accomplice would brandish a gun during the robbery. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, citing Harris
For more on the cert grant see this SCOTUSblog post
September 26, 2012
Supreme Court to Review Warrantless Blood Test of Drunk Driver Arrestee
Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Missouri v. McNeely
(No. 11-1425) to determine whether a law enforcement officer may obtain a nonconsensual and warrantless blood sample from a drunk driver under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement based upon the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream.
According to the opinion of the Missouri Supreme Court, a Missouri state highway patrolman stopped McNeely's truck for speeding at 2:08 a.m. As the patrolman spoke with McNeely he came to the conclusion that McNeely was intoxicated based on McNeely's bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol on his breath. As a result, the patrolman asked McNeely to get out of his car and perform standard field-sobriety tests. Concluding that McNeely failed the sobriety tests, the patrolman arrested McNeely for driving while intoxicated and asked him to consent to a breath test while in the patrol car. When McNeely refused to consent, the patrolman drove McNeely to the local hospital and, directed a phlebotomist to draw McNeely's blood over McNeely's objection. At no point in the process had the patrolman attempted to seek a warrant; according to the patrolman, he thought no warrant was necessary because of a recent article he had read purportedly describing recent changes in Missouri's implied consent law.
McNeely moved to suppress the results of the blood test as a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court sustained the motion, and the issue reached the Missouri Supreme Court on the prosecution's interlocutory appeal. In its opinion affirming the trial court's judgment, the Missouri Supreme Court distinguished the case from Schmerber v. California
, 384 U.S. 757, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908 (1966), stating: "[t]here, the Supreme Court provided a limited exception to the warrant requirement for the taking of a blood sample in alcohol-related arrests. Id.
at 772, 86 S.Ct. 1826. The holding, which was expressly limited to the facts of that case, ultimately rested on certain 'special facts' that might have led the officer to reasonably believe he was faced with an emergency situation in which the delay in obtaining a warrant would threaten the destruction of evidence. Id.
at 770-71, 86 S.Ct. 1826. The threat of evidence destruction was caused by the fact that the percentage of alcohol in a person's blood begins to diminish shortly after drinking stops and because time had to be taken both to investigate the accident scene and transport the defendant to the hospital. Id.
These events left no time for the officer to seek out a judge to secure a search warrant. Id. Schmerber
held that these 'special facts' permitted a warrantless blood draw. Id.
, at 771, 86 S.Ct. 1826."
"The patrolman here, however, was not faced with the 'special facts' of Schmerber
. Because there was no accident to investigate and there was no need to arrange for the medical treatment of any occupants, there was no delay that would threaten the destruction of evidence before a warrant could be obtained. Additionally, there was no evidence here that the patrolman would have been unable to obtain a warrant had he attempted to do so. The sole special fact present in this case, that blood-alcohol levels dissipate after drinking ceases, is not a per se exigency pursuant to Schmerber
justifying an officer to order a blood test without obtaining a warrant from a neutral judge. "
September 04, 2012
Supreme Court to Address Test for Determining Whether a Prior Conviction Can Be Used for Sentencing Enhancement
On Friday, August 31, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Descamps v. United States
(11-9540), to determine whether a state conviction for burglary that is missing an element of the generic crime may be subject to Taylor's
modified categorical approach for the purposes of enhancing a sentence under ACCA.
A summary of the case by SCOTUSblog states:
The case involves a Colville, Wash., man, Matthew Robert Descamps, who was convicted of the federal crime of being a felon who had a gun illegally. He was sentenced under that Act to 262 months in prison, based in part on a 1978 conviction — a guilty plea — for the burglary of a grocery store in California, treating that conviction as one for a “violent felony.”
In his petition, Descamps’s lawyers argued that the burglary conviction should not count in the sentencing calculation, because the California law at issue does not include the element of entering or remaining illegally at the site of the alleged crime. That omission, the petition claimed, means that the crime does not fit the definition of “generic burglary.” The Ninth Circuit, however, supplied that element, finding that burglary under the California law at issue in Descamps’s case is broader than “generic burglary,” and thus counts under the ACCA.
The U.S. Solicitor General had urged the Court not to hear Descamps’s case, even though the government conceded that there is some disagreement among lower courts on when a federal court may supply a missing element of a crime, using what is technically called the “modified categorical approach.” The Solicitor General said that conflict predates a definitive ruling on the issue by the Ninth Circuit, so Supreme Court review at this point would be premature.
June 28, 2012
Supreme Court Rules Stolen Valor Act Unconstitutional
In United States v. Alvarez
(No. 11-210), the Supreme Court today held that the Stolen Valor Act (18 U.S.C. Sections 704 (b), (c)) infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment.
The Court's majority opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, holds under an "exacting scrutiny" test that falsity and nothing more does not fall under recognized exceptions to First Amendment protections and has no clear limiting principle (such as lying for material gain). Justices Breyer and Kagan would hold that the Act works disproportionate constitutional harm to the First Amendment and therefore fails intermediate scrutiny. Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas were in the dissent. The Court's decision leaves open the possibility for the Act to survive review if amended to apply more narrowly.