Archive for the ‘Criminal Procedure’ Category

Turner v. U.S.

Posted: February 3, 2017 by beguide in case summaries, Criminal Procedure, White Skull

a_002WHAT HAPPENED:  Defendant was convicted of robbery, kidnapping and murder in 1984.  Defendant is appealing his conviction on grounds that the prosecutors failed to disclose material impeachment and exculpatory evidence during the original trial.  The evidence included eye-witness testimony and witness recantations that were more relevant to the case as time passed.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  In Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that the prosecutor must disclose material information that could lead to an acquittal to the defendant prior to trial.  This responsibility is founded in the Due Process Clause of the Constitution and is rooted in fairness, since the State often receives more information than the Defendant and has a duty to society to share information that may indicate that the charges are unfounded.  In order to satisfy that burden, the defendant must show that the evidence was material, in that it the evidence would have changed the outcome had it been shared.  The nuance in this case is that evidence Defendant argues should have been shared (i.e. witness recantations, eye witness testimony, impeachment evidence) only became material after the trial was concluded.  In other words, the evidence would not have met the standard when the trial was held, but twenty years later, the evidence looks like it may have changed things.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS – Brady material is strikes a weird balance because on one hand you can certainly argue that the State should just give over the whole file and not be bothered with these kinds of motions twenty years later.  On the other hand, Judges don’t like to re-visit murder convictions unless there is a compelling reason to do so, and evidence that could have influenced things would more likely than not open up too many cases that should remain closed.  In this case, the evidence reads a lot like the SERIAL podcast, where the evidence is arguable at best and your view of how it would affect the trial depends on your biases in the criminal justice system.  While this certainly could exonerate an innocent person, creating a higher burden on the State to second guess the release of Brady material based on things that happen in the future is an impossible standard to meet in the present scope of a murder trial.

ROOT FOR TURNER IF:  you think Adnan is innocent and are still following his appeal.

ROOT FOR U.S. IF:  you think that the SERIAL podcast jumped the shark somewhere around episode 5, and you’ve moved on to bigger and better podcasts.

PREDICTION:  U.S. wins 7-1


WHAT HAPPENED:  Defendant (Buck) was in the sentencing phase of his trial and his attorney presented an expert told the jury that Defendant was more prone to violence because of his race.  Defendant argues that this mistake prejudiced his death penalty sentencing and he should receive a new sentencing based on an Ineffective Assistance of Counsel claim.  The State’s objections to Defendant’s claim are somewhat strange, since this expert had been used by the State in the past, and the State voluntarily commuted the death penalty sentences for those defendants.  The State did not commute this death penalty sentence because Defendant put on the expert and not the State.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  Ineffective Assistance of Counsel is a claim rooted in the 5th and 6th Amendments which grants a Defendant a new trial when it is proven that the attorney who represented the defendant did an objectively bad job, and that the attorney’s job affected the outcome.  In this case, I think we can all agree presenting an expert who has a history of making racist claims, and then having that expert shares those claims with the jury  is not something you learn in law school.  The issue here is whether or not this expert sufficiently affected the sentencing phase, or if the evidence presented by the State satisfied the burden of proving the death penalty regardless of that witness’ testimony.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS –  Every year there are cases before the Supreme Court that can have long-lasting effects on future cases, but more often than not the Court is faced with weird fact patterns that exist only within themselves.  It is hard to see how this case will have any long lasting effect on IAC claims, since it is unlikely that this kind of expert is still being used, or if there is anything comparable to this kind of conduct.  At oral argument, the Court used some fairly strong language condemning the expert and the attorney, so on those grounds alone, it looks like the implications of upholding the sentence are weighing heavier than the implications of removing the death penalty.

ROOT FOR BUCK IF:  even the hint of racism is repugnant to your sense of justice.

ROOT FOR DAVIS IF:  an efficient system takes precedence over a corrupt one.

PREDICTION:  Buck 8-0.


WHAT HAPPENED:  North Carolina passed a law that made it a felony for sex offenders to access a banned list of websites.  Those websites included social media sites like Facebook and Youtube, but also news media sites like the New York Times.  The purpose behind the law was to prevent sex offenders from gaining access to minors through the internet via social media or comment sections.  The defendant, who was on the sex offender registry, was arrested after posting a celebratory message on Facebook following a victory in traffic court, which makes this a wild case of government revenge when you think very deeply about it.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  As you are likely aware, the government is not permitted to prevent your access to news or your ability to speak unless there are very compelling reasons to do so.  While protecting children from sex offenders is obviously a compelling reason, there is also the question of whether or not this law is properly tailored to that concern, meaning whether the law unduly harms or burdens speech outside of the stated goals.  In other words, whether it makes sense to ban access to the Wall Street Journal because you are concerned that sex offenders are going to access children in the comment section of an article about federal interest rates.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS – While this case likely operates in its own little bubble (in that it really only affects the viability of sex offenders on the internet and government officials who want to police sex offenders on the internet), it poses an interesting question about free speech and government regulation.  The lower decision compared this case to U.S. v. O’Brien, in which the Supreme Court said that the government could punish you for burning your draft card because there were compelling reasons supporting the government’s action outside of preventing speech.  While this law doesn’t feel totally on point with that case, it also doesn’t fit squarely in any of the other exceptions to the First Amendment either, making this a case where the Court could either try to jam this into existing precedent or create something new altogether.

ROOT FOR PACKINGHAM IF:  you are a staunch opponent of government infringement on speech, OR a sex offender who likes looking at “damn Daniel” videos on YouTube.

ROOT FOR NORTH CAROLINA IF:  you are so terrified of sex offenders that you are willing to allow the government to make unilateral bans on news, speech and communication.

PREDICTION:  Packingham 6-2 on grounds that the registry of websites is too broad.



WHAT HAPPENED:  Shaw was charged with allegedly attempting to defraud the following people: his roommate’s father, Wells Fargo, and Paypal.  Out of those three, only the father and Paypal lost anything out of pocket, as Wells Fargo was made whole by Paypal and the father did not qualify for reimbursement.  The specific charge in question for this case required that the Government prove that Shaw must have “intended to defraud a bank or financial institution”.  Shaw was found guilty and this is the appeal of the jury instructions used during his trial.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  Shaw argues that the Government has to prove that he intended to defraud Wells Fargo specifically, and Government argues that they only had to prove that Shaw intended to defraud someone.  Although the statute requires that the government prove that Shaw “intended to defraud a bank”, the question is how much is the jury allowed to infer regarding Shaw’s intent, since one could generally assume that Shaw knew Wells Fargo would be affected, but in the same token, Wells Fargo was not harmed nor specifically targeted.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS – Literally, the only thing at issue here the interpretation of the bank fraud statute.  On one hand, looser standards for the Government gives the government more power to prevent bank fraud, but on the other hand, Shaw’s attorneys argued that the Government may have charged the Shaw with the wrong statute; and therefore, this is just a big clean-up mission on behalf of the government.  This is not to say that Shaw didn’t do anything illegal, just that he can’t be found guilty of this specific statute.  Either way, YOU are probably not affected by this case.

ROOT FOR SHAW IF:  You are fan of the little guy (who embezzles money from loved ones).

ROOT FOR U.S. IF:  You are a fan of effective justice (that maybe screwed up on this one).

PREDICTION:  6-2 for U.S.


WHAT HAPPENED:  Salman was convicted of insider trading based on stock tips he received from someone in a close familial relationship.   Salman was not the person who was providing the information but was instead the receiver of information, affectionately known as a “tippee”.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT: Presently, the standard for being a “tippee” is very low, as the State only has to prove a relationship between the parties, as opposed to an actual tangible benefit to the insider. Salman argues that the standard should be higher, in that the State should be required to prove an objective, pecuniary benefit to the insider to warrant charges to the receiver of the information.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS: This is me being cynical, but hear me out. Every now and again, lawyers like to take shots at changing the law in the favor of the industry they represent.  Criminal law has certain areas where the law is constantly challenged and developed because the people who get charged with those crimes have the money to hire lawyers who can make esoteric arguments that may help their clients and others similarly situated.  It is for this reason that DUI law has a ton of nuance, whereas sex crimes do not.  My guess is that Salman is a test case for criminal lawyers who represent white collar criminals to help shape the law more in their favor.  Broadly speaking, raising the standard for classifying someone as a “tippee” would prevent the government from over-charging people for white collar crime, absent more direct evidence of fraud.  Not totally sure that’s a place where the government or the Court needs to be scaling back the law, but what do I know.

ROOT FOR SALMAN IF:  You want to make it harder for rich people who manipulate the system to go to jail.

ROOT FOR U.S.  IF:  You want it to be easy for rich people who manipulate the system to go to jail.  In other words, who did you root for in the primaries?

PREDICTION:  8-0 in favor of U.S.

For every case on the podcast and in the Fantasy League, we will provide a brief summary of what to know and what to worry about.
WHAT HAPPENED: When you are a criminal defendant facing drug charges, your defenses to those charges often rank:
(1) contesting a search under the 4th Amendment
(2) disproving possession with factual evidence
(3) hoping for a mistake in the crime lab.
(Whatever last place is) alleging the police framed you and planted drugs on you.

This is not to say this never happens, but the defense itself is a Hail Mary before the Court and the Jury, as it is hard to prove and harder to believe. Within that context, consider the plight of Mr. Manuel, the plaintiff in this action. Manuel successfully alleged and proved that police officers arrested him for drugs, even though they knew he was only in possession of health supplements. Accordingly, Manuel is suing the City of Joliet for damages stemming from that arrest.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  This gets a little technical, but the basis of Manuel’s civil claim is a tort known as Malicious Prosecution.  Because of the nuances of Manuel’s criminal case, Manuel was barred from bringing the most common form of a Malicious Prosecution claim due to the Statute of Limitations. Instead, Manuel wants to bring a rarer Malicious Prosecution action which is pursuant to the 4th Amendment, because that claim has a longer Statute of Limitations.  Although many jurisdictions allow this type of claim, Manuel’s does not.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS: Let’s cover the more specific one first. While Manuel’s jurisdiction does not recognize this claim, all other jurisdictions do; so this is not out in left field. Plus, allowing this claim would presumably only extend then Statute of Limitations in a reasonable way, so it’s hard to see harm if SCOTUS wants to make a uniform rule for all federal jurisdictions. That being said, there’s also no harm in allowing different jurisdictions to set their own rules, and it’s hard to see a legal basis for the Court to decide that this issue warrants uniformity.  On a broader end, the entire judicial branch’s inability to ensure that police are held civilly and/or criminally liable for both willful and negligent actions has been a running subplot of 2016. This case won’t change any of those previous cases and nor will it open the door for immediate police accountability, but it’s a small step in the right direction.

ROOT FOR Manuel if you believe the facts of this case warrant the Court taking action away from individual jurisdictions.

ROOT FOR City of Joliet if you believe that jurisdictional sovereignty is worth letting cases like this pass without remedy.

PREDICTION – 6-2 in favor of the City.

When Minors are Adults

Posted: September 15, 2016 by Nazim in Criminal Procedure, Punishment

Get it? Minor miners? Get it?

In NC, if you are a charged with a crime while over 16, you’re an adult. But if you’re the victim of a crime and under 18, you’re a minor. So, two 17-year-old teenagers sexting each other were both, due to NC child pornography laws.

Yeah, it’s weird. More at WNYC’s Note to Self.


A judge noted her impressions of criminal court in what might be the wealthiest, best known city in the world: New York City. Spoiler: they aren’t good. Noteworthy: racism seems to be intrinsic to the system.


The logic in the opinion below appears to be that criminals who invade people’s computers exist, and therefore computer users should have no expectation of privacy. This makes sense: burglars exist, so I shouldn’t have any expectation of privacy in my home.

I don’t want to trivialize the good the FBI managed to do here: it’s tough to put child pornographers behind bars. The real problem here is that these issues need new laws, and we need a Congress that can pass laws. Luckily, elections are around the corner.

via FBI didn’t need warrant to use malware to find visitors to child-porn website, judge rules

WHAT HAPPENED:  Defendant was convicted of skipping a sentencing hearing, but sentencing was deferred to a later date.  That “later date” was 14 months after his initial guilty plea.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  Good question!!  Although the system tries to get your sentencing together sooner rather than later, the classic “speedy trial” rights that you hear about in the Constitution don’t apply to the time period between conviction and sentencing.  This case asks whether the Court is going to apply Speedy Trial principles to sentencing (probably not), or create a Due Process requirement that requires a time limit between conviction and sentencing (also unlikely).

WHAT IS THE RULING:  This case is not yet decided.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS:  This brings up an interesting issue of what the harm is in this matter.  For one, unlike your right to speedy trial, there is far less prejudice in a delay before sentencing, so the ramifications in either direction seem fairly irrelevant.  This also ignores the fact that most people want as much time before sentencing as possible so they can get their affairs in order before going to prison, so this defendant looking for quicker sentencing could be the legal equivalent of reminding the teacher to give you homework.

ROOT FOR BETTERMAN IF:  You don’t like waiting for things, even long, indeterminate stretches of incarceration.

ROOT FOR MONTANA IF:  Good things come to those who wait.  Except for defendant’s who await sentencing, who are going to prison.