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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 No. 11-465).

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.


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