Sixth Amendment

Gilberto Garza, Jr. v. Idaho

Issues 

Does an attorney’s failure to file an appeal when instructed to do so by the defendant create a presumption of prejudice even though the defendant previously signed an appeal waiver?

Court below: 

The Supreme Court will decide the scope and validity of appeal waivers balanced against a defendant’s right to file an appeal. Gilberto Garza, Jr. contends that Roe v. Flores-Ortega supports the proposition that there is a presumption of prejudice when an attorney fails to file an appeal when instructed, even if the defendant previously signed an appeal waiver and underlying plea bargain. The State of Idaho counters that Flores-Ortega does not create a blanket rule that an attorney’s failure to file prejudices a defendant because the defendant already waived their right and risks additional criminal charges in breaching their plea bargain agreement. The outcome of this case will affect States that use appeal waivers to prevent frivolous appeals in order to promote judicial efficiency and will determine whether an appeal waiver completely bars a defendant from seeking an appeal.  

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether the “presumption of prejudice” recognized in Roe v. Flores-Ortega applies when a criminal defendant instructs his trial counsel to file a notice of appeal but trial counsel decides not to do so because the defendant’s plea agreement included an appeal waiver.

In 2015, Gilberto Garza, Jr. was charged with aggravated assault and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Garza v. State of Idaho at 1. Garza entered an Alford plea to aggravated assault and pleaded guilty to the other charge.

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Wood v. Allen

Issues 

Whether the scope of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act requires a federal court to conduct its own fact-finding, and to what degree, when determining the reasonableness of state court decisions regarding habeas corpus petitions under the Act.

 

In 1994, Petitioner Holly Wood was convicted of capital murder for sneaking into his ex-girlfriend’s bedroom and shooting her in the head with a shotgun. The judge imposed the death penalty, as recommended by the jury. Wood claims that, during sentencing, he did not receive effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. He argues that defense counsel failed to further investigate or present evidence of his mental disabilities. According to Wood, the state court’s rejection of this argument was an unreasonable application of federal law. He also argues that the Eleventh Circuit’s standard of review in habeas corpus proceedings abdicates the court’s judicial review function under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). The State of Alabama counters that the Eleventh Circuit properly deferred to the reasonable determinations of the state courts as required by the AEDPA. This decision will better define the appropriate level of deference due to state court factual determinations during federal habeas corpus proceedings.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Whether a state court’s decision on post-conviction review is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts when it concludes that, during the sentencing phase of a capital case, the failure of a novice attorney with no criminal law experience to pursue or present evidence of defendant’s severely impaired mental functioning was a strategic decision, while the court ignores evidence in the record before it that demonstrates otherwise?

2. Whether the rule followed by some circuits, including the majority in this case, abdicates the court’s judicial review function under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act by failing to determine whether a state court decision was unreasonable in light of the entire state court record and instead focusing solely on whether there is clear and convincing evidence in that record to rebut certain subsidiary factual findings?

In 1993, while on parole for shooting another former girlfriend, petitioner Holly Wood snuck into the bedroom of his ex-girlfriend while she slept and fatally shot her in the head with a shotgun. See Wood v. Allen, 542 F.3d 1281, 1283–84 (11th Cir.

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Additional Resources 

·          Annotated U.S. Constitution: Sixth Amendment

·          Wex: Law about Criminal Procedure

·          Federation of American Scientists, Charles Doyle: Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty (Jun. 3, 1996)

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Williams v. Illinois

Issues 

Does it violate the Confrontation Clause to allow an expert witness, who did not prepare the forensic DNA report, to give testimony concerning the report?

Court below: 

 

Petitioner, Sandy Williams, was charged with sexual assault on 22-year-old L.J in 2000. At trial, the prosecution called an expert witness to testify about DNA test results that identified Williams as the assailant. He moved to strike the evidence under the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause because the testifying witness had not performed the DNA tests. The court denied his motion and convicted Williams of sexual assault, kidnapping, and robbery. He contends that allowing an expert witness to testify regarding forensic reports when the witness did not prepare the reports violates the Confrontation Clause. Williams insists that he must have the opportunity to cross-examine the analysts that prepared the reports, particularly because DNA test results are prone to error or manipulation. Respondent, the State of Illinois, argues that allowing the expert witness to testify does not violate the Confrontation Clause because the witness was applying her own independent analysis and opinions concerning the report.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether a state rule of evidence allowing an expert witness to testify about the results of DNA testing performed by non-testifying analysts, where the defendant has no opportunity to confront the actual analysts, violates the Confrontation Clause.

On February 10, 2000, 22-year-old L.J. walked home after her shift as a clothing store cashier in Chicago. See People v. Williams, 238 Ill. 2d 125, 129 (Ill. 2010). L.J.

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The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

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Whorton v. Bockting

Issues 

1. Does the new ruling in Crawford v. Washington, that a witness must have been cross–examined in order for their hearsay testimony to be admitted as evidence, “significantly improve the pre-existing fact-finding procedures” and “implicate the fundamental fairness of the trial,” allowing it to apply retroactively?

2. Does 28 U.S.C. § 2254 incorporate the analysis from Teague v. Lane to allow federal courts to review cases decided correctly under then-current law, but rendered incorrect by subsequent Supreme Court decisions?

 

Marvin Bockting, a criminal defendant, was convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison by a Nevada Court. He challenges the constitutionality of the court’s admitting hearsay testimony of his victim without opportunity for cross-examination. While no such requirement was in place at the time of his conviction, the Supreme Court has since decided that such cross-examination is necessary for the admission of hearsay testimony. The Supreme Court is now asked to determine whether this new rule must be retroactively applied. This case will represent another data point in the set defining the scope of retroactivity of criminal procedure rules. Moreover, it will clarify federal courts’ powers to hear cases on writs of habeas corpus when the issue at hand is the retroactive application of a criminal procedure rule.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Whether, in direct conflict with the published opinions of the SecondSixthSeventh, and Tenth circuits, the Ninth Circuit erred in holding that this court's decision in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004) regarding the admissibility of testimonial hearsay evidence under the Sixth Amendment, applies retroactively to cases on collateral review.

2. Whether the Ninth Circuit's ruling that Crawford applies retroactively to cases on collateral review violates this court's ruling in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989).

3. Whether, in direct conflict with the published decisions of the Fourth and Seventh Circuits, the Ninth Circuit erred in holding that 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (d) (1) and (2) adopted the Teague exceptions for private conduct which is beyond criminal proscription and watershed rules.

Autumn, a six year old girl, lived with her mother, Laura, and step-father, Marvin Bockting, in a one room motel room in Las Vegas, Nevada. Bockting v. Bayer, 399 F.3d 1010, 1013 (2005). One evening Autumn awoke upset.

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Washington v. Recuenco

Issues 

Can a judge's imposition of a sentencing enhancement based on a fact not found by the jury be upheld under the harmless error doctrine if it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury would have made the same finding?

Court below: 

 

A jury found that defendant Recuenco assaulted his wife using a “deadly weapon,” but the jury was never asked to find whether he used a “firearm.” Afterwards, the trial judge—independent of the jury—found that Recuenco used a “firearm” and increased his sentence by three years. Where the judge’s failure to instruct the jury about a “firearm” did not influence their verdict, may a reviewing court uphold the resulting sentence if it finds the erroneous instruction was harmless? Or must the court vacate the sentence because the error tainted the entire trial? The State of Washington argues that an incomplete jury instruction qualifies as a harmless error. To the contrary, Recuenco argues that the judge's imposition of an enhanced sentence based on facts not found by the jury violates his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether error as to the definition of a sentencing enhancement should be subject to harmless error analysis where it is shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute to the verdict on the enhancement.

Defendant Arturo Recuenco became enraged at his wife after learning that she did not prepare dinner for his relatives. Brief for Petitioner at 3.

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Vermont v. Brillon

Issues 

Can a defendant have his case dismissed, on the grounds that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial has been violated, when his own public defender has requested or otherwise caused all of the delays?

Court below: 

 

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides defendants with the right to a speedy trial. In July of 2001, Michael Brillon was charged with aggravated domestic violence, and was ultimately sentenced to twelve-to-twenty years confinement. However, due to excessive delays before his trial caused solely by his public defenders, the Supreme Court of Vermont vacated his conviction and dismissed the charges with prejudice. The questions the United States Supreme Court will have to decide is whether delays caused by an indigent's public defenders' lack of preparedness can be the basis for a sixth amendment right to a speedy trial violation, on the theory that the state is responsible for providing adequate public defenders to indigents; and if so, does this give greater rights to indigent defendants than defendants with private attorneys?

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Whether continuances and delays caused solely by an indigent defendant's public defender can arise to a speedy trial right violation, and be charged against the State pursuant to the test in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), on the theory that public defenders are paid by the state.

2. Whether the right to counsel, as established in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), should result in broader speedy trial rights to indigent defendants than defendants who are able to retain private counsel, such that only delays by private counsel get charged against the defendant under the Barker v. Wingo test.

In July of 2001, Michael Brillon was arrested and charged with domestic violence for hitting his girlfriend in the face during an altercation. Vermont v. Brillon, 955 A.2d 1108, 1113 (Sup. Ct.

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Vasquez v. United States

Issues 

Whether a harmless-error analysis that focused on the weight of admissible evidence, rather than on the erroneous evidence’s effect on the jury, constituted a Sixth Amendment violation.

 

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois convicted Alexander Vasquez of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine. However, the district court had erroneously admitted statements made during recorded telephone conversations by Marina Perez into evidence for their truth. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the lower court’s error was harmless because the jury would have come to the same conclusion had there been no error. Vasquez now appeals, arguing that the Seventh Circuit misapplied the harmless-error analysis by ignoring the impact the error had on the jury. The Supreme Court will decide how courts should properly carry out harmless-error tests, as well as examine the possible constitutional questions such an error would create.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Did the Seventh Circuit violate this Court's precedent on harmless error when it focused its harmless error analysis solely on the weight of the untainted evidence without considering the potential effect of the error (the erroneous admission of trial counsel's statements that his client would lose the case and should plead guilty for their truth) on this jury at all?

2. Did the Seventh Circuit violate Mr. Vasquez's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial by determining that Mr. Vasquez should have been convicted without considering the effects of the district court's error on the jury that heard the case?

Carlos Cruz and Joel Perez planned to purchase cocaine from Alejandro Diaz at a gas station. See U.S. v. Vasquez, 635 F.3d 889, 892 (7th Cir.

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United States v. Resendiz-Ponce

Issues 

If the government fails to include an element of a crime in its indictment, can the court consider the omission harmless error or does the omission require automatic reversal on appeal.

 

In 2002, an Immigration Naturalization Service agent discovered that Juan Resendiz-Ponce was in the United States illegally and had him deported. A year later border patrol agents detained Resendiz-Ponce after he presented false documentation and falsely stated his intended destination. The United States brought suit against Resendiz-Ponce for attempting to re-enter the country after having been previously deported, and he was convicted. While the indictment alleged that Resendiz-Ponce had attempted to re-enter the United States illegally, it did not allege that he presented false documents, made false statements, or performed any other act associated with his alleged attempt. Resendiz-Ponce appealed his conviction, claiming that the indictment’s failure to allege an act introduced a fatal flaw into his trial. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with this argument and reversed the conviction. In reviewing the case, the Supreme Court will determine whether the omission of an element from a federal indictment requires automatic reversal on appeal.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether the omission of an element of a criminal offense from a federal indictment can constitute harmless error.

Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona convicted Juan Resendiz-Ponce of kidnapping his common-law wife in August, 2002, and sentenced him to 45 days in county jail. United States v. Resendiz-Ponce, 425 F.3d 729, 729 (9th Cir. 2005).

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United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez

Issues 

Should proving the Sixth Amendment right to proceed with the counsel of choice depend on whether the deprivation of that right also resulted in compromising a defendant’s right to a fair trial?

 

The Sixth Amendment to the United States constitution provides:  “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”  In Cuauhtémoc Gonzalez-Lopez’s criminal trial, the district court refused to allow Gonzalez-Lopez to hire the attorney of his choice.  On review, the Eighth Circuit held that this denial violated Gonzalez-Lopez’s Sixth Amendment right to proceed with the counsel of his choice. Gonzalez-Lopez argues that the Eighth Circuit’s holding that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right should stand. The government argues that the Eighth Circuit’s ruling conflicts with the Supreme Court’s ‘right to counsel’ decisions, which hold that a criminal defendant cannot obtain reversal of his conviction unless he establishes that an alleged error implicating his Sixth Amendment right to counsel compromised his right to a fair trial.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether a district court's denial of a criminal defendant's qualified right to be represented by counsel of choice requires automatic reversal of his conviction?

On January 7, 2003, a grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Missouri charged Gonzalez-Lopez with conspiring to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana. Petition for cert at 3.  Gonzalez-Lopez’s family hired Texas attorney John Fahle to represent Gonzalez-Lopez. Id.

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United States v. Bryant

Issues 

Can the Government constitutionally rely on tribal court convictions that fail to satisfy the Sixth Amendment for purposes of proving the predicate offense requirement under 18 U.S.C. 117(a)?

 

This case provides the Supreme Court with the opportunity to determine whether the United States Government ("Government") can use uncounseled tribal court convictions to satisfy the predicate offense requirement outlined in 18 U.S.C. § 117(a). Section 117(a) is a domestic assault statute under which the Government may prosecute a person who has committed sexual assault within the U.S. or Indian country and who has already been twice convicted in State, Federal, or Indian court, of assault against a spouse or intimate partner. The Government argues that it may use Bryant’s prior convictions in his § 117 prosecution because the convictions did not violate the U.S. Constitution but were instead obtained on tribal lands where the Constitution is inapplicable. The Government further argues that using the convictions would not violate due process because the statute passes the rational-basis standard of review and is consistent with the principles of comity. Bryant counters, arguing that the Court’s precedent establishes a bright-line rule that invalidates convictions obtained in a manner that violates the Constitution, including Bryant’s convictions here, and that the Government’s reading of Court precedent is overly broad. Bryant further contends that allowing these convictions would lead to either admittance of an abundance of suspect convictions or a complex process requiring courts to determine the validity of each conviction. The Supreme Court’s resolution of this case will significantly impact the validity of tribal court judgments for purposes of predicate-offense crimes as well as the ability of prosecutors to prevent domestic abuse crimes in Indian Country.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Section 117(a) of Title 18 of the United States Code makes it a federal crime for any person to “commit[] a domestic assault within the special maritime and terri-torial jurisdiction of the United States or Indian coun-try” if the person “has a final conviction on at least 2 separate prior occasions in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings for” enumerated domestic-violence offenses. 18 U.S.C. 117(a) (Supp. II 2014). The question presented is:

Does the reliance on valid, uncounseled tribal-court misdemeanor convictions to prove Section 117(a)’s predicate-offense element violate the Constitution?

In 2011, Michael Bryant, Jr. was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 117(a), which involves the offense of domestic assault by a habitual offender. See United States v. Bryant, 769 F.3d 671, 673–74 (9th Cir. 2014); 18 U.S.C.

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