On Monday, the Supreme Court issued several opinions of interest to criminal defense practitioners. In Howes v. Fields (No. 10-680), the Court addressed what constitutes "custodial interrogation" under Miranda when a prisoner is questioned about a crime that occurred outside the prison walls. The Court reversed the decision of the Sixth Circuit affirming the district court's grant of habeas relief. In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court stated, "In this case, it is abundantly clear that our precedents do not clearly establish the categorical rule on which the Court of Appeals relied, i.e., that the questioning of a prisoner is always custodial when the prisoner is removed from the general prison population and questioned about events that occurred outside the prison. On the contrary, we have repeatedly declined to adopt any categorical rule with respect to whether the questioning of a prison inmate is custodial."
In Kawashima v. Holder (No. 10-577) the Court affirmed the decision of the Ninth Circuit. It held that violations of 26 U.S.C. §§ 7206(1) and (2), which preclude making (or assisting in the making of) a false tax return, are crimes "involv[ing] fraud or deceit" under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(M)(i) and are therefore aggravated felonies for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq., when the loss to the government exceeds $10,000.
The Court also issued a per curiam opinion in an unargued case, Wetzel v. Lambert (No. 11-38). James Lambert was convicted and sentenced to death in 1984 for murders committed in the course of a robbery. In a habeas petition in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Lambert asserted that the Commonwealth had failed to disclose a police activity sheet in violation of Brady v. Maryland. Lambert argued that the activity sheet was exculpatory because it suggested that one of his accomplices had identified a third person as a "co-defendant." The district court denied the petition, but the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the faiure to disclose the activity sheet was a Brady violation. The Supreme Court vacated the Third Circuit's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings, ruling that the Third Circuit had failed to address the state court's determination that the notations on the activity sheet were entirely ambiguous.