The Defender Services Office Training Division furthers the right to effective assistance of counsel by providing training and other resources to attorneys appointed under the Criminal Justice Act.

    June 28, 2016
    Supreme Court Grants Cert in Johnson Guidelines Case; Issues Opinion Holding Reckless Use of Force Constitutes a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9); Vacates McDonnell Public Corruption Convictions

    Yesterday, the Supreme Court Granted Cert in Beckles v. United States (No. 15-8544), to decide the following issues:

    (1) Whether Johnson v. United States applies retroactively to collateral cases challenging federal sentences enhanced under the residual clause in United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.) § 4B1.2(a)(2) (defining “crime of violence”);

    (2) whether Johnson's constitutional holding applies to the residual clause in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2), thereby rendering challenges to sentences enhanced under it cognizable on collateral review; and

    (3) whether mere possession of a sawed-off shotgun, an offense listed as a “crime of violence” only in commentary to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2, remains a “crime of violence” after Johnson.

    CJA panel attorneys are advised to reach out to the defender in their district or National Sentencing Resource Counsel if in doubt on how to proceed in a pending case in light of the cert grant.

    The Court also issued a decision in  Voisine v. United States (No. 14-10154), holding in a 6-2 opinion that misdemeanor  assault  convictions  for  reckless  conduct are misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence that trigger the ban on possession of firearms under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9).  For more on the opinion see these posts on the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog and  SCOTUSblog.

    Additionally, the Court scaled back what is considered an "official act" for the purposes of a federal bribery conviction in the unanimously decided McDonnell v. United States (15-474).  For more on the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post.

    June 24, 2016
    Implications of Yesterday's Supreme Court Immigration Ruling

    In addition to the decisions in Mathis and Birchfield (discussed in the post below), the Supreme Court's action in United States v. Texas also has implications for criminal defense practitioners.  The Court issued a one-sentence, evenly split (4-4) ruling that essentially leaves intact a nationwide injunction on the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and the expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+) programs, which promised temporary relief from the fear of deportation for four million immigrants and families. As a result of the Supreme Court's decision, DAPA and DACA+ will continue to be stalled. Nonetheless, DACA I, the original administrative relief program for certain individuals who arrived in the United States as minors, continues to exist. The National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) encourages defense attorneys representing noncitizens who may qualify for DACA I to continue to assess for potential relief in those cases, as well as other forms of immigration relief for which individuals may qualify.  Criminal Defense attorneys should contact the NIJC's Defenders Initiative via email at or via phone at (312) 660-1610 for any questions relating to the Supreme Court's decision or other questions on the immigration consequences for noncitizen defendants facing criminal charges.

    June 23, 2016
    Defense Win in Supreme Court ACCA Case; Court Also Rules on Fourth Amendment Challenge to DUI Implied Consent Laws

    In Mathis v. United States (No. 15-6092), decided today, the Supreme Court rejected the use of the modified categorical approach to determine whether a past conviction triggers ACCA's 15-year mandatory minimum sentence when the defendant is convicted under a statute that lists multiple, alternative means of satisfying one (or more) of its elements.  Instead, the categorical approach must be used if it is clear under authoritative state law that the statute lists alternative means, and not alternative elements.

    The Court also issued an opinion in Birchfield v. North Dakota (No. 14-1468), holding that the Fourth Amendment permits the government to require breath alcohol tests in DUI arrests, but it does not permit warrantless blood tests.

    Full story

    June 21, 2016
    Supreme Court Further Limits Exclusionary Rule, Permits Hobbs Act Prosecution for Robbery of Drug Dealer without Proof of Interstate Effects; Grants Cert on Foreign Nationals' Right to Bond Hearings in Immigration Detention

    Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued opinions in Utah v. Strieff (14-1373) and Taylor v. United States (14-6166). 

    The Court dealt another blow to the exclusionary rule in Strieff, holding in a 5-3 opinion delivered by Justice Thomas that the prosecution could use evidence seized incident to a lawful arrest on an outstanding warrant even though the warrant was discovered during an investigatory stop later found unlawful.  According to the majority opinion (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Breyer and Alito), "the evidence the officer seized as part of the search incident to arrest is admissible because the officer's discovery of the arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized incident to arrest."  For an opinion analysis see this SCOTUSblog post.

    In Taylor, the Court held in a 7-1 opinion (Justice Thomas dissenting) that the Government need not separately prove the "affects commerce element"  in a Hobbs Act prosecution for robbery or attempted robbery of a drug dealer's stash.  The Court reasoned that "a robber who affects or attempts to affect even the intrastate sale of marijuana grown within the State affects or attempts to affect commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction."  For more on the opinion see this SCOTUSblog post.

    The Court also granted cert in Jennings v. Rodriguez (15-1204), an immigration case raising the following questions:
    1) Whether aliens seeking admission to the United States who are subject to mandatory
    detention under 8 U.S.C. Section 1225(b) must be afforded bond hearings, with the possibility of release into the United States, if detention lasts six months; 2) Whether criminal or terrorist aliens who are subject to mandatory detention under 8 U.S.C. Section 1226(c) must be afforded bond hearings, with the possibility of release, if detention lasts six months; (3) Whether, in bond hearings for aliens detained for six months under 8 U.S.C. Sections 1225(b), 1226 (c), or 1226(a), the alien is entitled to release unless the government demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the alien is a flight risk or a danger to the community; whether the length of the alien's detention must be weighed in favor of release; and whether new bond hearings must be afforded automatically every six months.


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