criminal law

Hall v. Florida

Issues: 

Does Florida’s use of a cutoff IQ to establish mental retardation violate Atkins v. Virginia’s ruling that executing mentally retarded criminals violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual” punishment?

Court below: 

The state of Florida sentenced Freddie Lee Hall to death on September 9, 1982 for murdering Karol Hurst. Hall challenged his sentence multiple times, and the Florida state courts vacated and reinstated the sentence each time. During one resentencing trial, the court found Hall to be mentally retarded. At an evidentiary hearing to determine his mental competence, the court found that Hall’s IQ exceeded the minimum cut-off for mental retardation in Florida. Hall’s most recent challenge therefore involves the 2002 Supreme Court decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which held that executing mentally retarded criminals violates their Eighth Amendment right against “cruel and unusual punishment.” Hall argues that Florida’s measure of mental retardation, which uses an IQ score cutoff, violates Atkins, and that Atkins prohibits Florida from executing him. Florida argues that the state’s definition of mental retardation complies with Atkins. In turn, the state asserts that under its definition of mental retardation, Hall can be executed. This case could determine whether Florida can execute Hall and, more broadly, states’ ability to establish standards for mental retardation based on IQ testing.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether the Florida scheme for identifying mentally retarded defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia.

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Facts

On September 9, 1982, the governor of Florida signed Freddie Lee Hall's death warrant for the murder of Karol Hurst, after Hall was tried and convicted in Putnam County and the Florida Supreme Court upheld the conviction. See Hall v. State,  109 So. 3d 704, 705–706 (Fla. 2012). After his appeals to the Florida state courts failed, Hall filed an appeal in federal court. See id.

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Paroline v. United States

Issues: 

What causal relationship must exist between a defendant's conduct and a victim's harm for the victim to recover restitution in a child pornography case under 18 U.S.C § 2259?

Doyle Paroline was convicted of possessing 150 to 300 images of minors being sexually abused, including two images of Respondent “Amy” being abused by her uncle at the age of eight or nine years old. The Supreme Court will settle a circuit split over the required causal relationship between a defendant’s possession and a victim’s harm in order for the victim to recover full restitution under 18 U.S.C § 2259. Paroline argues that a victim’s damages must be proximately caused by the defendant’s conduct because any other result would turn child exploitation restitution proceedings into a procedural nightmare. Amy argues that § 2259 does not require proximate causation for a victim to be entitled to full damages; otherwise, the victims of child abuse would bear the burden of collecting tiny shares of restitution from several defendants and might never receive full recovery. The Court’s ruling will impact the rights of exploited children and the procedural rights afforded to those charged with possessing child pornography.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

The Fifth Circuit held, contrary to the holdings of every other circuit considering the question, that there was no requirement that restitution be limited to losses proximately caused by the defendant's criminal acts and that the defendant is responsible for restitution for all losses suffered by the victim regardless of whether the defendant's criminal acts proximately caused the loss and the victim's losses occurred prior to the defendant's indictment and arrest. 

  1. In determining restitution in child pornography cases pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2259(b)(3), is the award of restitution limited to losses proximately caused by the defendant's criminal actions or may a defendant be required to pay restitution for all losses, regardless of whether his criminal acts proximately caused the loss?
  2. Whether the Government is correct in its argument that authorizing $3.4 million in restitution against a defendant to a victim of child pornography who has never had contact with the defendant may violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines in the absence of a proximate cause requirement in the setting of the amount of restitution assessed against that defendant.

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Facts

Respondent, a young adult under the pseudonym “Amy,” was sexually abused by her uncle when she was eight or nine years old. See In re Amy, 591 F.3d 792, 794 (5th Cir. 2009). Amy’s uncle took a number of photographs depicting her in sexually abusive poses, captured his acts on film, and distributed the materials over the Internet.

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United States v. Castleman

Issues: 
  1. Does the criminal statute 18 U.S.C § 922(g), which requires a conviction for a predicate domestic violence crime involving the “use or attempted use of physical force” require violent contact?
  2. Does a state misdemeanor for domestic violence, which requires proof of “bodily injury,” qualify for an 18 U.S.C § 922(g) conviction?

In 1996, Congress passed what is now Section 922(g)(9) of Title 18, which criminalizes the possession of firearms by certain individuals. Section 922(g)(9) makes it a federal crime for a person convicted in state court of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to possess a firearm if the misdemeanor involved the use or attempted use of physical force. In 2001, James Alvin Castleman was convicted in Tennessee of misdemeanor domestic assault, which requires proof of causing bodily injury to another. Seven years later, Castleman was indicted for possessing a firearm in violation of Section 922(g)(9). The Supreme Court will address whether Castleman’s conviction qualifies as a predicate offense for Section 922(g)(9) and whether the language “physical force” in Section 922(g)(9) requires violent contact. The Court’s ruling will affect the scope of limitations on domestic violence offenders’ possession of firearms, and may serve as precedent for other misdemeanor offenses which contain the language “physical force.”  

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Section 922(g)(9) of Title 18, United States Code, makes it a crime for any person convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to possess a firearm. The phrase “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” is defined to include any federal, state, or tribal misdemeanor offense, committed by a person with a specified domestic relationship to the victim, that “has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon.” 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(33)(A). The question presented is:

 

Whether respondent’s Tennessee conviction for misdemeanor domestic assault by intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury to the mother of his child qualifies as a conviction for a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”

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Facts

In 2001, Respondent James Alvin Castleman pled guilty, in Tennessee state court, to one count of misdemeanor domestic assault in violation of Tennessee Code § 39-13-111(b).

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Burrage v. United States

Issues: 

Can a defendant who sells drugs to someone who dies of an overdose be held criminally liable for that person’s death if the drug contributed to the victim’s death but was not the sole cause?

On April 14, 2010, Marcus Burrage sold heroin to Joshua Banka, who used the heroin and a cocktail of other drugs, and was found dead the next day. Medical and toxicology reports indicated that the heroin contributed to Banka’s death, but neither report said that Banka would have lived if he had not taken the heroin. Burrage was convicted of distribution of heroin causing death under 21 U.S.C. § 841, andhe appealed arguing that the jury instructions were erroneous. In particular, Burrage challenged the causation instruction under § 841, arguing that the statute required the government to prove that the heroin was the proximate cause of death, and not just a contributing factor. The district court concluded, and the court of appeals affirmed, that the “contributed to” instructions were consistent with Eighth Circuit precedent. The Supreme Court will now clarify the causation standard for the federal crime of distribution of drugs causing death. This standard will determine when a person who distributes drugs can be held criminally responsible for the death of the drug user, and what the government must prove in such cases. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 
  1. Whether a person can be convicted for distribution of heroin causing death utilizing jury instructions, which allow a conviction when the heroin that was distributed "contributed to," death by "mixed drug intoxication," but was not the sole cause of death of person. 
  2. Whether the crime of distribution of drugs causing death under 21 U.S.C. § 841 is a strict liability crime, without a foreseeability or proximate cause requirement. 

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Facts

On November 17, 2009, Breanna Brown, a confidential informant cooperating with the Central Iowa Drug Task Force, conducted a controlled buy of heroin from suspected drug dealer “Lil C.” See United States v. Burrage, 687 F.3d 1015, 1018 (8th Cir. 2012). Various officers later identified Lil C as Petitioner Marcus Burrage, but at trial Burrage denied ever selling drugs to Brown.

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Kansas v. Cheever

Issues: 

When a defendant presents expert testimony that he was not in the required mental-state to commit a capital offense because of methamphetamine use, does the State violate the defendant’s right against self-incrimination by presenting rebuttal testimony based on a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant?

Court below: 

After he shot and killed Sheriff Matthew Samuels, Scott Cheever argued that his habitual use of methamphetamines prevented him from forming the necessary mental intent to commit capital murder. The State initially filed its case in federal court after Kansas temporarily abolished the death penalty. In federal court Cheever presented the defense of voluntary intoxication, which is not recognized as a mental disease or defect defense in Kansas, and used expert testimony to support his defense. The federal court ordered Cheever to undergo a mental evaluation. Later, Kansas reinstated the death penalty and the State asked the federal court to send the case to state court. In state court, Kansas used the results of Cheever's mental evaluation to rebut his voluntary intoxication defense. Cheever argues that this evidence should not have been presented because he did not intend to waive his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he presented his mental status defense in state court. Kansas argues that by presenting mental health testimony, Cheever voluntarily opened the door to rebuttal testimony based on the court-ordered mental health exam. This case will address the role of state law in a defendant’s waiver of the federal constitutional right against self-incrimination. It will also impact prosecutors’ ability to rebut a defendant’s testimony in light of the Fifth Amendment. The issues in this case implicate questions of federalism and constitutional rights.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 
  1. When a criminal defendant affirmatively introduces expert testimony that he lacked the requisite mental state to commit capital murder of a law enforcement officer due to the alleged temporary and long-term effects of the defendant’s methamphetamine use, does the State violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by rebutting the defendant’s mental state defense with evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant?
  2. When a criminal defendant testifies in his own defense, does the State violate the Fifth Amendment by impeaching such testimony with evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant?

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Facts

On January 19, 2005, Scott D. Cheever shot and killed Greenwood County Sheriff Matthew Samuels near Hilltop, Kansas. See Kansas v. Cheever,284 P.3d 1007, 1014 (Kan. 2012). Cheever and four others were cooking and using methamphetamine in the early morning before the police arrived at the home.

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Sekhar v. United States

Petitioner Giridhar C. Sekhar was convicted of extortion under federal law for threatening to expose an extramarital affair unless the General Counsel for the State Comptroller recommended that the state pension fund invest in a fund managed by Sekhar’s company. The Court will determine the limits of the meaning of the word “property” under federal extortion law, and whether the General Counsel's recommendation was "property" that could be subject to extortion. The Court’s decision will have implications for the scope of federal extortion law and, more generally, for the balance between enforcement of federal and state criminal law when the two overlap. Petitioner argues for a narrow definition of property, limited to something of value that is transferable. Respondent calls for a broader view of property to include the legal advice given by lawyers.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether the “recommendation” of an attorney, who is a salaried employee of a governmental agency, in a single instance, is intangible property that can be the subject of an extortion attempt under 18 U.S.C. §1951(a)(the Hobbs Act) and 18 U.S.C. §875(d).

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Issue

Is the recommendation of an attorney considered "property" which can be extorted for purposes of federal anti-extortion law?

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Alleyne v. United States

A jury found Allen Alleyne guilty of robbery under a federal statue, but the jury did not find him guilty of brandishing a weapon during the robbery. A federal criminal statute provides that a judge can raise the mandatory minimum sentence for robbery with a finding that it was more likely than not that the defendant brandished a firearm. Thus, a judge’s finding can raise the mandatory minimum prison sentence even when a jury was unable to come to that same conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court allowed such findings from judges in Harris v. United States. Now, the court will reconsider that position or have the opportunity to further clarify how much sentencing discretion can be given to judges under federal statutes.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether this Court’s decision in Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 (2002), should be overruled.

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Issue(s)

Should the Supreme Court overrule Harris v. United States and require that a jury find facts beyond a reasonable doubt in order to enhance a sentence beyond the ordinarily prescribed statutory maximum?

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Descamps v. United States (11-9540)

Matthew Descamps was sentenced to 262 months in prison after the Ninth Circuit found that he had committed his third violent felony, in violation of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The contested violent felony was a 1978 conviction for burglary of a California grocery store. Under the California burglary statute, one can be convicted of burglary without an explicit finding that entry into the burgled premises was itself unlawful.  The element of unlawful entry is required under the generic burglary statute described in the ACCA. The Ninth Circuit found the “unlawful entry” element to be necessarily satisfied by the plea bargain agreed to by Descamps, thus subjecting him to the mandatory fifteen-year minimum prison sentence required under the ACCA. How the Supreme Court decides this case will determine how sentencing courts use factual assertions surrounding a prior conviction in situations where a violent crime as defined under the ACCA contains elements absent from the crime for which the defendant was convicted.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

1. Whether the Ninth Circuit's ruling in United States v. Aguila-Montes De Oca, 655 F.3d 915 (9th Cir. 2011), (En Banc) that a state conviction for burglary where the statute is missing an element of the generic crime, may be subject to the modified categorical approach, even though most other Circuit Courts of Appeal would not allow it.

2. Whether is it time for this Court to overrule Almandez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224 (1998), apply Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 224 (2000), and require an Indictment and trial on the issue of application of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

3. Whether the Ninth Circuit's ruling in the instant case was in derogation of the requirements in Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990) and Shepard v. United States, 544 U.S. 13 (2005).

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Issue(s) 

1. Whether the Ninth Circuit can find a missing element to be satisfied by using a modified categorical approach.
2. Whether imposition of the Armed Career Criminal Act should require a separate indictment and trial.

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Smith, et al., v. United States

Petitioner Calvin Smith was involved in a criminal drug distribution organization and imprisoned for a related murder in 1994. In 2000, a grand jury brought indictments against him. Smith defended his two conspiracy charges on the grounds that the statute of limitations barred his conviction because he had withdrawn from the conspiracy more than five years ago. The trial court directed the jury that the burden of proof was on Smith as defendant to prove withdrawal by a preponderance of the evidence. Smith claims his participation in the conspiracy during the statutory period is a necessary element of his crime that the government must prove. Additionally, since withdrawal and participation are mutually exclusive, his withdrawal would negate an essential element of the government's case against him. The United States argues that withdrawal is an affirmative defense, and the burden of proof lies with the defendant. This case will define the boundaries of Due Process Protection in conspiracy cases and similar cases involving amorphous and on-going criminal activity.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether withdrawing from a conspiracy prior to the statute of limitations period negates an element of a conspiracy charge such that, once a defendant meets his burden of production that he did so withdraw, the burden of persuasion rests with the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was a member of the conspiracy during the relevant period -- a fundamental due process question that is the subject of a well-developed circuit split.

Issue(s)

Whether requiring the defendant to bear the burden of proving withdrawal from a conspiracy as an affirmative defense violates Due Process.

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Johnson v. Williams (11-465)

Tara Williams was on trial in California state court for special circumstances murder and firearm enhancement. During the trial, over Williams’s objections, the court dismissed a juror on the grounds that he was biased against the prosecution. After an alternate replaced the dismissed juror, the jury convicted Williams on both counts. Williams appealed, claiming that the juror’s dismissal had violated California state law as well as her Sixth Amendment rights. The California Court of Appeals affirmed Williams’ conviction, but only did so by addressing her state law claims, ultimately failing to explicitly discuss the Sixth Amendment issues raised. Williams then filed a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 alleging a violation of her Sixth Amendment rights. Though the federal district court denied her petition, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that Williams’ Sixth Amendment claim had not yet been “adjudicated on the merits” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Warden Deborah K. Johnson appealed, claiming that the California Court of Appeals’ prior ruling was an adjudication on the merits and therefore precluded the subsequent habeas petition.  How the Supreme Court decides the case will determine the degree of deference a federal court hearing a petition for habeas corpus will give a state court decision that does not explicitly address the federal grounds for relief.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether a habeas petitioner's claim has been “adjudicated on the merits” for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) where the state court denied relief in an explained decision but did not expressly acknowledge a federal-law basis for the claim.

Issue

Whether an issue not addressed in a state court opinion has been “adjudicated on the merits” for the purposes of federal habeas corpus review when the state court gave a detailed opinion mentioning other claims but apparently ignored the constitutional grounds for relief.

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Michael O'Hear, A Test for Richter’s Reach (Jan. 31, 2012)

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