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    January 27, 2016
    Latest Opinions and Cert Grants by the Supreme Court Address Numerous Issues of Interest to Criminal Defense Practitioners

    The Supreme Court on Monday issued two opinions:

    Montgomery v. Louisiana (No. 14-280): holding that the rule prohibiting mandatory life without parole for a juvenile convicted of a homicide offense is a substantive rule to which courts must give retroactive effect on collateral review. See this SCOTUSblog post for opinion analysis.

    Mussachio v. United States (No. 14-1095): holding (1)  When a jury instruction adds an element to the charged crime and the government fails to object, a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence should be assessed against the elements of the charged crime, rather than the elements set forth in the erroneous jury instruction; and (2) a defendant cannot successfully raise a statute-of-limitations bar for the first time on appeal. See this SCOTUSblog post for opinion analysis.

    In addition, the Supreme Court has recently granted cert on a range of issues, including the modified categorical approach under ACCA, recalling jurors after dismissal of the jury from service, the proof necessary to establish insider trading, and the type of "official action" necessary for a felony conviction under the Hobbs Act and honest-service fraud statute. Click on the link below for case names and issues presented.

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    January 08, 2016
    Supreme Court Grants Cert on Johnson Retroactivity; Sentencing Commission Votes to Change Definition of Crimes of Violence and Proposes New Guideline Amendments

    Today, the Supreme Court granted cert in Welch v. United States (No. 15-6418) to determine "whether Johnson v. United States announced a new substantive rule of constitutional law that applies retroactively to cases on collateral review."  While opposing cert in Welch, the Justice Department had previously taken the position in another case, Harrimon v. United States, that the Johnson rule was substantive. For more on Welch see this SCOTUSblog post.

    Also today, the Sentencing Commission adopted an amendment to the "crimes of violence" definition in Guideline 4B1.2.  Among other changes, the amendment strikes burglary of a dwelling from the crimes of violence definition. View all of the changes to 4B1.2 in this Reader Friendly Version of Amendment on Crime of Violence.  The new amendment will take effect August 1, 2016.  For more on the Amendment see the Sentencing Commission's press release

    In addition to the Crimes of Violence amendment, the Sentencing Commission issued its Proposed Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines for the 2015-2016 Amendment Cycle. The proposed amendments include: 2L1.2, alien smuggling, child porn distribution with file sharing programs, age and vulnerable victim enhancements, conditions of probation and supervised release, animal fighting, compassionate release and other miscellaneous amendments. View the Sentencing Commission's press release for more information.

    December 14, 2015
    Supreme Court to Rule on Warrantless Drunk Driving Tests; Use of Uncounseled Tribal Court Misdemeanor Convictions in 18 U.S.C. Section 117(a) Prosecutions

    On Friday, December 11, the Supreme Court granted cert in three state cases to decide whether a blood or breath test for drunk driving can be made without a search warrant and whether, in the absence of a warrant, a state may make it a crime for a person to refuse to take the test.  The three cases, which will be consolidated for argument, are: Birchfield v. North Dakota (No. 14-1468), Bernard v. Minnesota (No. 14-1470), and Beylund v. Levi (14-1507).  For more on the cases see this SCOTUSblog post.

    Today, the Court granted cert in an additional case, United States v. Bryant (No. 15-420)  to decide whether it is constitutional to rely on valid uncounseled tribal-court misdemeanor convictions to prove the predicate-offense element of 18 U.S.C. Section 117(a).  That statute makes it a federal crime for a person to "commit[] a domestic assault within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or Indian country" if the person "has a final conviction on at least 2 separate prior occasions in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings for" enumerated domestic violence offenses.

    The Court also issued a per curiam opinion in the capital case of White v. Wheeler (No. 14-1372), summarily reversing the Sixth Circuit's grant of habeas relief on Roger Wheeler's Witherspoon/Witt juror bias claim.


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