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BOXSCORE
Listing of decisions handed down in which CJLF participated. Decisions favoring CJLF positions are listed as wins, unfavorable rulings are losses, and rulings which have left the issue unsettled are draws.
Case name
Decision date
Outcome
Issue
HCRC v. Dept. of Justice 3/26/16 Win Habeas Corpus: Capital fast track
Montgomery v. Louisiana 1/25/16 Loss Habeas corpus: Retroactivity of Miller
Kansas v. Carr/Gleason 1/20/16 Win Death penalty: Jury instructions
Jones v. Davis 11/12/15 Win Death penalty: Delays
Connecticut v. Santiago 8/25/15 Loss Death penalty: Prospective-only repeal
Glossip v. Gross 6/29/15 Win Death penalty: Lethal injection
Ohio v. Clark 6/18/15 Win Evidence: Child statement
Elonis v. United States 6/1/15 Draw First Amendment: Threats
Jennings v. Stephens 1/14/15 Draw Habeas corpus: Issues on appeal
Hall v. Florida 5/27/14 Loss Death penalty: Retardation
People v. Moffett 5/5/14 Draw Juveniles: LWOP
White v. Woodall 4/23/14 Win Habeas corpus: 2254(d)—No adverse inference
Kansas v. Cheever 12/11/13 Win Self-incrimination: Mental examination
Cook v. FDA 7/23/13 Win Death penalty: Importation of drugs
Salinas v. Texas 6/17/13 Win Self-incrimination: Pre-arrest silence
Trevino v. Thaler 5/28/13 Loss Habeas corpus: Procedural default
Chaidez v. United States 2/23/13 Win Habeas Corpus: Retroactivity
United States v. Alvarez 6/28/12 Loss Fourth Amendment: Stolen Valor Act
Lafler v. Cooper/Missouri v. Frye 3/21/12 Loss Counsel: Plea bargains
Martinez v. Ryan 3/20/12 Draw Habeas corpus: Right to counsel
Maples v. Thomas 1/18/12 Loss Habeas corpus: Ineffective assistance of counsel as cause for default
Perry v. New Hampshire 1/11/12 Win Evidence: Eyewitness notification
Davis v. United States 6/16/11 Win Search and seizure: Reliance of existing law
Brown v. Plata 5/23/11 Loss Jury trial
Cullen v. Pinholster 4/4/11 Win Habeas corpus: New evidence
Tolentino v. New York 3/29/11 Draw Search and seizure: Government records
Walker v. Martin 2/23/11 Win Habeas corpus: Adequate state ground
Harrington v. Richter 1/19/11 Win Habeas corpus: Summary dispositions
Premo v. Moore 1/19/11 Win Habeas corpus: Attack on guilty plea
United States v. Ghailani 7/13/10 Win Speedy trial: Noncriminal custody
Holland v. Florida 6/14/10 Loss Habeas corpus: Tolling limitations
Berghuis v. Thompkins 6/1/10 Win Self-incrimination: Implied waiver
Graham v. Florida
Sullivan v. Florida
5/17/10 Loss Sentencing: Juvenile LWOP
Barnett v. Superior Court 4/8/10 Loss Discovery: Postjudgment in DP cases
Berghuis v. Smith 3/30/10 Win Jury: Cross-section
Valdivia v. Schwarzenegger 3/25/10 Win Parole: Revocation
Maryland v. Shatzer 2/24/10 Win Counsel: Interrogation
Wood v. Allen 1/20/10 Win Habeas corpus: State court findings
McDaniel v. Brown 1/11/10 Win Habeas corpus: New evidence and 2254(d)
Beard v. Kindler 12/8/09 Win Habeas corpus: Procedural default
Kansas v. Ventris 4/29/09 Win Counsel: Jailhouse informant
Cone v. Bell 4/28/09 Loss Habeas corpus: Procedural default
Rivera v. Illinois 3/31/09 Draw Equal protection: Review of Batson claims
Philip Morris v. Williams 3/31/09 Draw Procedural default: Adequate state ground
Arizona v. Johnson 1/26/09 Win Search and seizure: frisk of passengers
Oregon v. Ice 1/14/09 Win Sentencing: Jury for consecutive
Hedgpeth v. Pulido 12/2/08 Win Harmless error: Standard of review
Bell v. Kelly 11/17/08 Win Habeas corpus: Deference standard
People v. Hernandez 8/27/08 Win Jury trial: Sentencing Factors
Indiana v. Edwards 6/19/08 Win Counsel: Competency for self-representation
Boumediene v. Bush / Al Odah 6/12/08 Loss Habeas corpus: Enemy detainees
People v. S.Ct. (Humberto S.) 5/12/08 Win Evidence: District Attorney and victim privacy
Baze v. Rees 4/16/08 Win Death penalty: Lethal injection
Medellin v. Texas 3/25/08 Win International law: Vienna Convention
Allen v. Siebert 11/5/07 Win Habeas corpus: Limitations, tolling
People v. Taylor 10/23/07 Loss Death penalty: New York law
United States v. Lujan 12/2/07 Win DNA Testing: Suspicionless searches
United States v. Meier 9/28/07 Win DNA Testing: Suspicionless searches
Getsy v. Mitchell 7/25/07 Win Habeas Corpus: Clearly established law
People v. Sandoval 7/19/07 Win Jury trial: Sentencing factors
Panetti v. Quarterman 6/28/07 Loss Death penalty: Competency for execution
Fry v. Pliler 6/11/07 Win Habeas corpus: Harmless error
Roper v. Weaver 5/21/07 Draw Due Process: Prosecutor argument
Schriro v. Landrigan 5/14/07 Win Death penalty
Smith v. Texas 4/25/07 Loss Death penalty: Jury instructions
Irons v. Carey 3/06/07 Win Habeas corpus: Constitutionality of 2254(d)(1)
Whorton v. Bockting 2/28/07 Win Habeas corpus: Retro. of Crawford
Burton v. Stewart 1/9/07 Win Habeas corpus: Retro. of Blakely
Carey v. Musladin 12/11/06 Win Habeas corpus: deference
In re Medellin 11/15/06 Win Habeas Corpus: Vienna Convention
Ayers v. Belmontes 11/13/06 Win Death penalty: Catch-all instruction
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld 6/29/06 Loss Habeas corpus: Detainee Treatment Act
Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon 6/28/06 Win Evidence: Vienna Convention
Washington v. Recuenco 6/26/06 Win Jury trial: Blakely and harmless error
Kansas v. Marsh 6/26/06 Win Death penalty: Aggravating=mitigating
Samson v. California 6/19/06 Win Search and seizure: Parol search condition
Hudson v. Michigan 6/15/06 Win Search and seizure: Knock-notice & excl. rule
Hill v. McDonough 6/12/06 Loss Death penalty: Method challenge procedure
Muntaqim v. Coombe 6/1/06 Win Voting: Felon disenfranchisement
Rice v. Collins 1/18/06 Win Jury: Batson review
Brown v. Sanders 1/11/06 Win Death penalty: Invalid aggravator/harmless

Montgomery v. Louisiana
No. 14-280
U. S. Supreme Court
Decided: 1/25/16
Habeas corpus: Retroactivity of Miller
Loss
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling announcing that the Court's 2012 decision in the Miller v. Alabama ruling applies retroactively. The 2012 ruling announced that laws providing a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for juvenile murderers whose crimes would carry a death sentence if they were adults was unconstitutional, but the Court did not apply the law to older cases. CJLF joined the case to argue that the Court's ruling announced a change in procedure rather than substance and that the petitioner received a fair trial and was properly sentenced for his crime in 1963.
HCRC v. Dept. of Justice
No. 14-16928
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
Decided: 3/26/16
Habeas corpus: Capital fast track
Win
A unanimous U. S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning a 2013 order by District Judge Claudia Wilken. That order had blocked the fast-track process for federal appeals of state death penalty cases enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. The judge's ruling was based upon the claim of a group of government-paid defense attorneys that the process would work a hardship on them. Efforts by the states of Texas and Arizona to be approved for the fast-track process were stopped by Judge Wilken's ruling. When the U. S. Justice Department appealed that ruling, CJLF joined the case on behalf of two family members of murder victims, Marc Klaas of California and Edward Hardesty of Arizona. CJLF argued that the defense attorneys did not have a legal right (standing) to challenge the law and that it was not appropriate for the district court to review any challenge at this time. The Ninth Circuit opinion used argument and research introduced by the Foundation to overturn the ruling and dismiss the lawsuit.
Kanasa v. Carr/Gleason
Nos. 14-449, 14-450, 14-452
U. S. Supreme Court
Decided: 1/20/16
Death penalty: Jury instructions
Win
A U.S. Supreme Court case reversing a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court that had thrown out a standard instruction for juries in capital cases. The Carr brothers engaged in a crime spree that started with a carjacking and battery, continued with another robbery and murder, and culminated in a horrible crime of home invasion robbery, sadistic sex crimes, and the cold-blooded murder of five of the victims and attempted murder of the sixth. In the separate Gleason case, Gleason committed a robbery and then murdered an accomplice and her boyfriend to keep them quiet. The juries in both cases were instructed, correctly under Kansas law, that aggravating circumstances had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, but they were not instructed on any burden of proof for mitigating circumstances submitted to them by the defendants. The Kansas Supreme Court, in an exercise in strained logic, decided that the jury might assume that the mitigating circumstances also had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt if not expressly told otherwise. CJLF joined the case to argue that the instructions were proper. The National District Attorneys Association and the California District Attorneys Association joined the brief. The United States Supreme Court agreed by an 8-1 vote and reversed the decision, reinstating the death sentences.
Connecticut v. Santiago
No. SC17413
Connecticut Supreme Court
Decided: 8/25/15
Death penalty: Prospective-only repeal
Loss
Divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruling announcing that an April 2012 law, which prospectively abolished the death penalty but allowed the execution of murderers currently on the state's death row, violates the state constitution. The court's four-judge majority accepted condemned murderer Eduardo Santiago's claim that by abolishing future executions, the Legislature affirmed that capital punishment serves no penological interest and should therefore apply retroactively. CJLF was asked to join the case by Dr. William Petit, who survived a brutal 2007 home invasion robbery that resulted in the sexual assault and murder of his wife and two daughters. The two habitual felons convicted of these crimes were sentenced to death prior to the law's enactment. CJLF argued that applying a law retroactively would violate the Legislature's constitutional authority to determine the scope of the laws it enacts.
Jones v. Davis
No. 14-56373
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
Decided: 11/12/15
Death penalty: Delays
Win
Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning a federal judge's 2014 ruling, which voided the death sentence of rapist/murderer Ernest Dewayne Jones because delays in enforcing the law in California meant that executing murderers "will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary." Jones was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1992 rape and murder of his girlfriend's mother. Substantial evidence, including a DNA match of his sperm in the victim's body, confirmed his guilt. Jones had been convicted of raping another woman six years earlier. CJLF had joined the appeal of the judge's ruling to argue that much of the delay in death penalty cases is the result of repeated and lengthy reviews by the federal courts and cannot be blamed on the state. Also, the judge's ruling created a new rule of law on habeas corpus, which violates U. S. Supreme Court precedent (won by CJLF).
Glossip v. Gross
No. 14-7955
U. S. Supreme Court
Decided: 6/29/2015
Death penalty: Lethal injection
Win
A 5-4 U. S. Supreme Court decision to reject the claim of three condemned murderers that Oklahoma’s execution process is unconstitutional because it might cause pain. One of the murderers in this case hired a contract killer to beat a man to death with a baseball bat. Another bent his 9-month-old daughter backwards, killing her because her crying interrupted his video game. The third stabbed a female food service supervisor to death while he was serving a 130-year prison sentence for multiple armed robberies. CJLF joined the case to argue that the Constitution does not guarantee a pain-free execution, but lethal injection only requires a level of anesthesia to prevent extreme pain. The Foundation also argued that when murderers challenge an execution method as unconstitutional they are required to present an alternative method that does comply with the Constitution. The Court’s decision adopted both of these points.
Ohio v. Clark
No. 13-1352
U. S. Supreme Court
Decided date: 6/18/2015
Evidence: Child statement
Win
Unanimous U. S. Supreme Court decision to reinstate an Ohio child abuser’s conviction. The Ohio Supreme Court had held that allowing the teachers who discovered the victim’s injuries to testify about what the child told them violated the criminal’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him. The case involved the 2010 conviction of Darius Clark for the beating of his girlfriend’s three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. When preschool teachers noticed bruises on the little boy’s face, they asked him who hurt him. When he responded that Clark had hit him, they reported the incident to child protective services who located the boy and his sister and took them to a hospital where other injuries to both children were discovered. On appeal, Clark won a decision announcing that the testimony of the teachers at this trial was unconstitutional. When the state appealed that ruling, CJLF joined the case to argue that a statement made to a first responder, whether a policeman or someone else, is not the same as a statement taken by an investigator building a case against a known suspect. The statement to the investigator is “testimonial” as that term is used by the Supreme Court, and the statement to the first responder, or in this case, a teacher, is not. The Supreme Court’s decision agreed.
Elonis v. United States
No. 13-983
United States Supreme Court Decided date: 6/1/15
First Amendment: Threats
Draw
U. S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who posted threats on Facebook to brutally murder his estranged wife and a female FBI agent. In 2010, after his wife left him, and he was fired from his job for sexually harassing a female employee, Anthony Elonis began posting threats to murder his wife on his Facebook page, including a statement that he would not stop until “your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.” After Elonis refused an interview with a female FBI agent, he posted about slitting her throat. Following his conviction in 2011 for transmitting threats, Elonis appealed, arguing that his conviction was unconstitutional because it was not proven that he specifically intended to threaten his victims. CJLF joined the Supreme Court review of the case to argue that, while there was no high court precedent on this issue, nine of the eleven federal circuit courts have held that the transmission of threats is a general intent crime, requiring only that a reasonable person would recognize his statements as threats. The Court’s ruling held that the criminal transmission of threats requires a state of mind somewhere above negligence. The Court did not address whether recklessness would be sufficient, either under the statute or the First Amendment. If it is, the law would be largely unchanged, as a practical matter. Because the key issues remain undecided, we count this as a draw.
Jennings v. Stephens
No. 13-7211
United States Supreme Court Decided date: 1/14/15
Habeas corpus: Isues on appeal
Draw
U. S. Supreme Court ruling allowing a condemned cop killer to raise on appeal an allegation challenging his conviction on federal habeas corpus even though it had been rejected by a lower court. The case involved the conviction of Robert Lee Jennings for murdering a Houston police officer during a 1988 robbery. After his conviction and sentence had been upheld by the state’s highest court on direct appeal, Jennings raised allegations challenging the competence of his trial attorney before a federal district court on habeas corpus. The court denied one of his allegations, but accepted others. When the federal appeals court refused to hear the denied allegation on appeal, the Supreme Court agreed to review that holding. CJLF joined the case seeking a decision requiring that all allegations included in a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel be considered together as one claim on appeal, even if a lower court denies some of them. A decision requiring this would have simplified and shortened the post-conviction review of death penalty cases. In its ruling, the court chose not to confront the "claim" issue, but allowed the defendant to raise his rejected allegation.
Hall v. Florida
No. 12-10882
U. S. Supreme Court Court
Decision date: 5/27/14
Death penalty: Retardation
Loss
U. S. Supreme Court decision announcing that, when determining the IQ of a murder defendant who claims he is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally retarded, states should not use a rigid cutoff score that does not account for a margin of error. The case involved a murderer’s claim that the IQ requirement for mental retardation should be expanded from a score of below 70 to a range of 67 to 75. In 1981, Freddie Lee Hall, and an accomplice, kidnapped a 21-year-old pregnant woman from a grocery store parking lot and drove her into the woods where she was raped, beaten, and shot to death. After two decades of appeals upholding Hall’s conviction and sentence, the Supreme Court decided in another case that executing the mentally retarded was unconstitutional. At that time, the Florida Legislature had already adopted a nationally accepted standard, which included an IQ below 70 to qualify. Hall, whose lowest admissible IQ score was 71, asked the Supreme Court to broaden the range to include him. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Hall’s appeal, CJLF accepted the Florida Attorney General’s request to join the case. CJLF argued that standards for mental retardation should be left up to the states. Otherwise, well-deserved sentences for clearly guilty murderers will be held up for years as these issues are endlessly reviewed.
People v. Moffett
No. S206771
California Supreme Court
Decision date: 5/5/14
S206771
Draw
California Supreme Court ruling that a California law, which allows murderers between the ages of 16 and 18 years old to be eligible for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), does not violate the U. S. Supreme Court’s June 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama. The case involves a criminal (a few days short of his 18th birthday) who committed an armed robbery along with an accomplice. During their attempted escape, the accomplice shot and killed a police officer. Andrew Moffett was convicted of the murder of Officer Larry Lasater, which is a death penalty offense for murderers over 18. Because of his age, he received a sentence of LWOP. During sentencing, the judge noted that she was exercising her discretion to give this sentence, rather than life with parole, due to the circumstances of the crime. While Moffett’s case was on appeal, the U. S. Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama, abolished mandatory LWOP for murderers under 18. The state Court of Appeal overturned Moffett’s sentence, announcing that it violated the “spirit” of Miller. When the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the state’s appeal, CJLF filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Officer Lasater’s wife, mother, and brother arguing to reinstate Moffett’s sentence. The brief noted that the Miller ruling bars mandatory LWOP for murderers under the age of 18, while California law gives judges sentencing discretion. The state Supreme Court agreed, but due to Miller’s expanded factors that must be considered at sentencing, Moffett’s case was sent back to the original trial judge for resentencing, and the judge resentenced Moffett to LWOP.
White v. Woodall
No. 12-794
U. S. Supreme Court
Decision date: 4/23/14
Win
U.S. Supreme Court decision to reversed a 2012 federal appeals court ruling that had improperly held the murderer's death sentence unconstitutional. Undisputed evidence, including a DNA match, proved that on the evening of January 25, 1997, Woodall kidnpapped high school cheerleader Sarah Hansen from a convenience store and took her to a nearby lake where he raped and beat her before slitting her throat. After Woodall pled guilty to the crimes, the sentencing jury heard testimony from 14 witnesses supporting a life sentence, but Woodall did not take the stand. Following his conviction and sentence, Woodall won a federal court ruling overturning his death sentence, announcing that the judge had violted his rights by failing to tell the jury to ignore his decision not to testify. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, CJLF accepted the Kentucky Attorney General's invitation to file argument. The Foundation argued that there is no Supreme Court precedent requiring a "no adverse inference" instruction at a sentencing hearing and, as such, the claim was properly denied by the state courts. The brief noted that the federal appeals court had exceeded its authority in order to void Woodall's sentence. The Supreme Court's decision overturning the lower court cited CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger for providing the key argument.
Kansas v. Cheever
No. 12-609
U. S. Supreme Court
Decision date: 12/11/13
Win
Unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn a Kansas court ruling, which held that the Constitution prohibited a prosecution expert from testifying in rebuttal to a cop killer's expert on a mental defense claim. In 2005, drug dealer Scott Cheever shot and killed a Kansas county sheriff who was serving an arrest warrant. Cheever shot at several other officers before he surrendreed. At trial, a pharmacist testified that Cheever was too high on drugs to have intended to kill the sheriff. Over Cheever's objection, the prosecution introduced an expert who testified that Cheever knew what he was doing on the day of the murder. The Kansas Supreme Court later overturned Cheever's conviction and death sentence, finding that, with the exception of a claim of mental illness, the Constitution did not allow a compelled examination by a prosecution expert to rebut defense experts on other mental defenses, such as intoxication. CJLF joined the state Attorney Generla's appeal to argue that the Kansas court's holding was not supported by the Constitution or any Supreme Court precedent.
Cook v. FDA
No. 12-5176
U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
Decision date: 7/23/13
Win
Unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which overturned a federal district judge's March 2012 ruling that ordered the FDA to confiscate existing stocks of the execution drug sodium thiopental from state departments of corrections. In a lawsuit brought by 25 condemned murderers facing execution in Arizona, California, and Tennessee, the District Court held that thte drug, which is widely used for executions, was illegally obtained from its foreign manufactuterer and had to be confiscated. On November 12, 2012, the Foundation filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court of Appeals, arguing that the district judge's order, which affects dozens of states who were not parties in the case, violates federal rules and the rights of affected states and ignores a fundamental requirement of due process. The court's opinion cited and thanked the CJLF for providing a key argument used in its decision.
Salinas v. Texas
No. 12-246
United States Supreme Court
Decision date: 6/17/13
Win
U.S. Supreme Court decision utilizing CJLF arguments to reject a Texas murderer's claim that his incriminating behavior during a voluntary interview with police should have been excluded from his trial. The case involved the 1992 shotgun murders of two brothers in Houston. After police learned that Genovevo Salinas may have been involved, they visisted his parents' home, where he also lived. During the visit, Salias's father turned over his shotgun to the police, and his son agreed to go to the police station for a voluntary interview. After an hour of answering questions, when asked if the shells found at the murder scene would match the shotgun, Salinas stared at the floor and would not answer. Testing later revealed that the shells were a match, and a witness came forward telling police that Salinas admitted to the murders. At trial, the jury leanred that Salinas had refused to answer the shotgun question. Following his conviction, Salinas appealed, arguing that informing the jury of his silence violated the Fifth Amendment. CJLF joined the Supreme Court review of this case to argue that a suspect's behavior during a voluntary interview is evidence which should not be kept from the jury. The court's 5-4 decision agreed.
Trevino v. Thaler
No. 11-10189
United States Supreme Court
Decision date: 5/28/13
Loss
Five to Four United States Supreme Court ruling expanding a criminal's ability to extend court review by attacking his state-paid habeas corpus lawyer. In 1997, gang member Carlos Trevino was convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnap, gange rape, and murder of a 15-year-old Texas girl. After years of appeals of his conviction and sentence, including an attack on the competenceof his trial lawyer, Trevino's new lawyer came up with a different claim against the trial lawyer. When the Federal District Court dismissed the claim as defaulted, Trevino argued that a 2012 high court ruling creating a narrow exception tot the rule prohibiting incompetence claims against a defendant's habeas corpus lawyer should be expanded to accommodate his case. At the invitation of the Tecas Solicitor General, CJLF joined this case to argue that the exception Trevino wants would swallow the rule. The Court ruled to create the exception anyway, opening the door to years of unnecessary and expensive review to already lengthy death penalty cases.
United States v. Chaidez 2/23/13 Win Habeas Corpus: Retroactivity
United States v. Chaidez: U.S. Supreme Court case involving the use of a new rule to overturn convictions entered years ago. Roselva Chaidez was convicted of fraud for her part in an insurance scam, claiming injuries in an accident that never happened. Immigration law requires aliens who commit frauds over $10,000 to be deported. Several years later, she falsely claimed on a naturalization petition that she had never been convicted of a crime, and the government began deportation proceedings. She now claims her conviction should be overturned because her criminal defense lawyer did not advise her of the immigration consequences of a plea, even though that was not a ground for overturning a plea at the time and even though she made no claim she did not commit the offense. In 2010, the Supreme Court created a new rule of law allowing guilty pleas to be attacked on this basis. The case threatens the landmark precedent of Teague v. Lane, won by CJLF in 1989. That case held that new rules of procedure cannot be used to go back and overturn convictions that are already final. Without this rule, many thousands of final convictions would be subject to overturning every time the Supreme Court alters the rules of procedure, as it often does. CJLF entered the case to argue that the rule against retroactivity strikes the correct balance and should be preserved. The high court agreed and left the judgment intact. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

United States v. Alvarez 6/28/12 Loss Fourth Amendment: Stolen Valor Act
United States v. Alvarez: U. S. Supreme Court case considering the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act, a law enacted by Congress to prohibit the false claiming of military medals. Xavier Alvarez, a member of a California water district board, made numerous false claims about his military record, including being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In fact, he has never served in the military. He was convicted under the Stolen Valor Act and sentenced to probation, a fine, and community service. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the conviction, finding that the Stolen Valor Act violates the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. In the Supreme Court, CJLF entered the case, filing a brief on behalf of the Legion of Valor of the United States and itself. Our brief argues that the Act only prohibits lies, not mistakes, parodies, or theatrical performances, and that lies are not protected under the First Amendment. In a splintered decision, the Court decided that the Act as presently drafted is not constitutional. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Lafler v. Cooper/Missouri v. Frye 3/21/12 Loss Counsel: Plea bargains
Lafler v. Cooper/Missouri v. Frye: Two U. S. Supreme Court cases involving criminal defendants who claim that their convictions should be overturned because they may have been convicted on lesser charges had their defense attorneys not given them bad advice. In 2003 Anthony Cooper was charged with attempted murder for shooting a woman causing serious injury. A police officer witnessed the shooting. Prior to trial, the state offered Cooper a plea bargain carrying a shorter sentence than if he were convicted on all charges. His attorney advised against the deal. Cooper was later convicted by a jury and received the longer sentence. In 2007, Galin Frye was charged with driving with a suspended license, a felony because of his multiple prior convictions. Prior to trial, the prosecutor offered to allow Frye to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve 90 days in jail. Frye’s attorney did not report this offer to his client. Later, Frye pled guilty to the original felony charge and received 3 years in prison. In Frye, the state appellate court ruled in favor of the defendant. In Cooper, the state courts rejected the claim but a federal appellate court overturned the judgment. CJLF has joined the high court review of these cases to argue that, while a better attorney might have obtained a more favorable deal, neither criminal was unjustly convicted, and neither is entitled to a second chance for a better result. The Supreme Court allowed the claims to proceed but said that the prisoners will not necessarily get their original plea offers back. The high court left the remedy to the trial judge, who might reinstate the original plea offer or reimpose the same sentence the defendants received before. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Martinez v. Ryan 3/20/12 Draw Habeas corpus: Right to counsel
Martinez v. Ryan: U. S. Supreme Court review of a child molester’s claim that his conviction should be overturned because his state-appointed appeals lawyer failed to attack the effectiveness of his trial attorney. Luis Martinez was convicted of two incidents of sexual conduct with his 11-year-old stepdaughter on a July morning in 1999. Evidence at trial included the victim’s videotaped description of the assaults to a social worker and a DNA match of Martinez’s semen on her nightgown. Following his conviction, Martinez’s claims challenging his trial and sentencing were rejected by the state courts on direct appeal, and his appointed lawyer reported that she could find no worthy claims to raise on state collateral review. Later, represented by a different lawyer, Martinez claimed that his appellate lawyer was ineffective because she did not find flaws in the performance of his trial lawyer. This claim was reviewed and rejected by two state courts, the federal district court and the court of appeals. When the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider Martinez’s appeal, CJLF joined the case. CJLF argued there is no constitutional right to a government paid lawyer for collateral review or habeas corpus, and therefore no right to challenge the effectiveness of a lawyer appointed for those types of post-conviction proceedings. The Supreme Court's decision retains the rule we argued for as the general rule. However, it carved out a narrow exception for states such as Arizona that do not allow ineffective assistance claims to be made on direct appeal (the first review of a conviction). For these states, ineffective assistance on the state collateral review will be considered "cause" to raise the ineffectiveness as trial counsel on federal habeas corpus. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Maples v. Thomas 1/18/12 Loss Habeas corpus: Ineffective assistance of counsel as cause for default
Maples v. Thomas: U. S. Supreme Court review of a convicted Alabama murderer’s claim that he is entitled to federal habeas corpus review of his case even though he missed the state deadline for requesting review. Cory Maples was convicted on strong evidence of the 1995 execution-style murders of two acquaintances and the theft of the car of one of the victims. In 1997 he was convicted on all charges and sentenced to death. After his conviction and sentence were upheld by the state court of appeals and supreme court, attorneys from a New York law firm representing Maples pro bono argued on state collateral review that his trial attorney had been ineffective. Prior to the state court’s ruling denying these claims, the attorneys who had appeared in the court quit the firm, and the firm failed to inform the court of the change of attorneys. As a result, Maples did not receive notice of the ruling, and he missed the state deadline for filing an appeal, which also prevented review of his claims on federal habeas corpus. CJLF has joined the case to argue that Supreme Court precedent makes it clear that criminals are not entitled to counsel for state collateral review or federal habeas corpus. While Maples pro bono lawyers certainly failed him, absent compelling evidence that he is innocent, the post-conviction review of his case should be over. The Court issued a narrow opinion holding that on the unusual facts of this case, the failings of the lawyers constitute cause for the default. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Perry v. New Hampshire 1/11/2012 Win Evidence: Eyewitness notification
Perry v. New Hampshire: U. S. Supreme Court review of a habitual thief's claim that his constitutional rights were violated by the admission of eyewitness testimony in his trial for burglarizing a car. On August 15, 2008, at 2:53 a.m., Barion Perry was caught in the parking lot of an apartment building carrying stereo equipment stolen from a nearby car. A woman, whose husband reported the crime, identified Perry as the man she saw break into a car in the well-lit parking lot and steal the equipment. Her husband also identified Perry as the man he had seen wandering around the lot looking into parked cars. At trial, Perry challenged the testimony of the woman arguing her identification of him was unreliable and therefore violated the 14th Amendment (the Due Process Clause) of the Constitution. The judge disagreed, the testimony was admitted, and Perry was convicted. Perry’s claims regarding his identification by the witness were later rejected by the New Hampshire Supreme Court on direct appeal. When the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Perry’s appeal, CJLF joined the case to argue that, except in cases of police misconduct, the Constitution leaves rules governing the introduction of evidence to the states. A decision supporting the thief would have allowed criminals to waste years and millions in tax dollars with federal court challenges to eyewitnesses. The Supreme Court agreed with our position and affirmed the conviction by an 8-1 vote. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Davis v. United States 6/16/11 Win Search and seizure: Reliance of existing law
Davis v. United States: U. S. Supreme Court decision rejecting a criminal’s claim that his conviction as an ex-felon in possession of a firearm was invalid because the police search that uncovered his gun violated the Exclusionary Rule. The gun was found in Willie Gene Davis’s jacket pocket during a search after a traffic stop. Davis had left his jacket in the car when police asked him to step out. While the search was legal at the time, during Davis’s appeal a new Supreme Court decision changed search rules to prohibit searching belongings left in a vehicle during a traffic stop. After the appeals court upheld Davis’s conviction because the police had followed the law at the time of the search, the Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal. CJLF joined the case to encourage a decision finding that searches such as this one should fall under the “good faith” exception established by United States v. Leon, a high court decision CJLF helped win in 1984. The Court’s holding adopted that reasoning. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Brown v. Plata 5/23/11 Loss Jury trial
U. S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the January 2010 order by a panel of three federal judges that requires California to lower its prison population by 27% (currently 33,500 inmates), within two years to remedy overcrowding, which was determined to violate inmates’ constitutional rights. CJLF had joined the case to argue that the release order was invalid because the selection of three notorious pro-defendant judges as panel members by the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit guaranteed the result, and that once on the panel, the judges manipulated the process to prevent any objective review of the inmates’ claims. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Cullen v. Pinholster 4/4/2011 Win Habeas corpus: New evidence
U. S. Supreme Court decision utilizing CJLF arguments to reinstate the death sentence of a habitual criminal who killed a man during a home burglary in Los Angeles. In 1984, Scott Pinholster was convicted on strong evidence, including his own incriminating statements, and sentenced to death. Over the next 25 years, six courts reviewed his claim that his defense attorney had failed to adequately present evidence of his mental health problems. In 2009, after a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit reviewing the case on habeas corpus rejected the claim, a larger en banc panel accepted it and overturned Pinholster’s death sentence. The en banc panel, after reviewing a third psychiatric evaluation not presented in state court, ruled that the California Supreme Court’s denial of Pinholster’s claim was unreasonable. CJLF joined the high court appeal of that ruling to argue that the Ninth Circuit violated federal law, which prohibits federal courts reviewing a state court decision on habeas corpus from considering evidence never presented to the state court. The court’s decision adopted that reasoning. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Tolentino v. New York 3/29/11 Draw Search and seizure: Government records
U. S. Supreme Court announcement that it would not reconsider a New York Court of Appeals decision which denied a defendant’s claim that police access to his criminal record during a traffic stop amounted to an illegal search. Last fall, the high court announced it would hear Jose Tolentino’s claim that because police illegally stopped his car for excessive noise in 2005, they could not introduce his record, which indicated that he was driving on a suspended license and had at least 10 prior suspensions. While the legality of the traffic stop was never determined, the New York court held that the government’s own records do not fall under the protection of the Exclusionary Rule and cannot be excluded from trial. Before the Supreme Court, CJLF argued that the rules governing traffic stops do not prevent police from learning a driver’s identity and checking his or her criminal record. After reviewing briefs and hearing oral argument, the Court determined that it would not disturb the lower court’s holding. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Walker v. Martin 2/23/11 Win Habeas corpus: Adequate state grounds
Unanimous U. S. Supreme Court decision utilizing CJLF arguments to reverse a 2009 Ninth Circuit ruling that had found California’s deadline for filing state habeas corpus petitions inadequate. Charles Martin was convicted on strong evidence and sentenced to life in prison for the 1986 stabbing murder of a Sacramento man. After years of successive attempts to overturn his conviction, Martin’s final petition raising new claims was dismissed by both state and federal courts for violating a state rule which requires claims be filed in a timely manner. In 2009, the Ninth Circuit overturned the lower court’s decisions and granted additional review of Martin’s claims. CJLF joined the appeal of that ruling to argue that federal courts should not be allowed to ignore state procedural rules, so long as a defendant had adequate notice of the rule and a reasonable opportunity to comply with it. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Harrington v. Richter 1/19/11 Win Habeas corpus: Summary dispositions
Unanimous U. S. Supreme Court decision utilizing CJLF arguments to reverse a 2009 Ninth Circuit ruling that overturned the robbery/murder conviction of a Sacramento man. After his conviction on strong evidence, Joshua Richter’s claim, that his attorney had been ineffective, was reviewed and summarily rejected by the California Supreme Court, the Federal District Court, and a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel. An en banc eleven-judge Ninth Circuit panel overturned all three courts, finding California’s high court decision unreasonable. In the U. S. Supreme Court, CJLF argued that the California court’s judgment was reasonable and entitled to deference. The high court ruling noted this, protecting thousands of convictions nationwide. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Premo v. Moore 1/19/11 Win Habeas corpus: Attack on guilty plea
Unanimous U. S. Supreme Court decision reinstating the conviction of an Oregon murderer. The decision utilized CJLF arguments to unanimously overturn a 2009 Ninth Circuit ruling which had announced that the murderer’s lawyer was ineffective. Randy Moore admitted to kidnapping a man and then killing him with a gunshot to the temple, but claimed that the single-action revolver went off accidently. His defense attorney negotiated a plea deal which spared Moore from the possibility of a death sentence. Years later, the Ninth Circuit invalidated the conviction, ruling that the defense attorney should have sought to have the confession excluded. CJLF joined the state’s appeal to argue that the Ninth Circuit ruling ignored key facts and violated limits on its authority. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

United States v. Ghailani 7/13/10 Win Speedy trial: Noncriminal custody
Federal District Court decision rejecting the claim of a suspected terrorist, who President Obama decided to try in civil court, that he detention by the military as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial. Ghailani, who has since been convicted of conspiracy in the 1998 bombings of two U. S. embassies killing 223 people, was joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights in arguing that because his rights were violated, the must be set free. At the invitation of the District Judge in this case, CJLF introduced argument noting that the suspected terrorist was a military prisoner being held for national security reasons before the government decided to give him a trial in civil court. He had no speedy trial right during this period. The federla judge agreed. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Holland v. Florida 6/14/10 Loss Habeas corpus: Tolling limitations
U. S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a Florida murderer's claim that the time limit for filing his petition for a fifth review of his case should be waived. Albert Holland was convicted on overwhelming evidence of murdering a Florida police officer. While Holland's claims of trial error and ineffective assistance of counsel were reviewed four times by state courts, including two reviews in the Florida Supreme Court, his lawyer failed to meet the deadline for filing a petition for re-review of these claims on federal habeas corpus. In the Supreme Court, Holland and the ACLU claimed that the lower federal courts are entitlted to waive the time limit to prevent an injustice. At Florida's invitation, CJLF joined the case to argue that Congress adopted the time limits to prevent unwarranted delay and specified the exceptions that would be allowed. The Court ruled to allow exceptions beyond those specified by Congress. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Berghuis v. Thompkins 6/1/10 Win Self-incrimination: Implied waiver
U. S. Supreme Court review of a lower court ruling overturning the conviction of a Michigan murderer. Habitual criminal Van Thompkins was found guilty of the gang-style shooting of two men, killing one. Following his arrest, Thompkins was read his Miranda rights and was questioned for three hours. While he did not ask for an attorney, he did limit his responses to "yeah," "no," or "I don't know." Finally, the detective asked him if he wanted God to forgive him for the killing. Thompkins answered, "yes." Substantial evidence of guilt, including his admission, resulted in a guilty verdict. Four courts denied Thompkins' claim that his admission of guilt should have been excluded from trial because the questioning violated his right to remain silent. Later, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, announcing that his limited responses to questioning demonstrated that he did not want to talk to the police. CJLF joined the Supreme Court appeal of that ruling to argue that the state court had reasonably applied established Supreme Court precedent when they affirmed Thompkins' conviction, and the Sixth Circuit had erred in reversing it. The Supreme Court held that the interrogation was proper and reinstated the conviction. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Graham v. Florida/Sullivan v. Florida 5/17/10 Loss Sentencing: Juvenile LWOP
U. S. Supreme Court cases challenging state laws which allow states to sentence repeat juvenile offenders who commit violent crimes before their 18th birthday to life without possibility of parole (LWOP). Joe Sullivan had already been convicted of 17 crimes, including several felonies when, at the age of 13, he robbed and brutally raped an elderly woman. One month prior to his 18th birthday, Terrance Graham, who was on parole for robbery and assault, was convicted of an armed home-invasion robbery. Following his arrest, he admitted to four additional robberies. In the Supreme Court, Graham and Sullivan argue that the LWOP sentences they received constitute cruel and unusual punishment. At least 15 organizations, including the NAACP and Amnesty International, have filed briefs asking the Court to prohibit states from allowing an LWOP sentence for their worst juvenile criminals, at least in nonhomicide cases. CJLF joined the case to argue that the Constitution has left decisions regarding the sentencing of criminals to the states and that the public has the right to protect itself from violent, repeat offenders regardless of their age. In the Graham case, a bare majority of five Justices created a new rule exempting anyone under 18 from a life-without-parole sentence for a crime other than homicide. The Court dismissed the Sullivan case without explanation, a disposition possibly based on CJLF's argument that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the case. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Berghuis v. Smith 3/30/10 Win Jury: Cross-section
U. S. Supreme Court decision rejecting a murderer's claim that his conviction was invalid becasue the jury selection process did not maintain a racial quota. Diapolis Smith was convicted of second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of a man during an argument in a bar in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The address his bias claim, a hearing was conducted to review the process for summoning citizens to jury duty. Evidence showed that, while the system was color-blind, the percentageof black excused for childcare and transportation hardship was greater than for whites. Experts testified that more blacks than whites in the county were unemployed, single mothers and that fewer black households owned automobiles. Based upon this, the Michigan Supreme Court held that there was no systematic bias in the process. Later, the Federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Smith's conviction, concluding that there was racial bias. CJLF joined the case to argue that the Federal court ruling was improper because, based upon the evidence, the state court's holding was not unreasonable, and that a requirement for racial quotas would force single mothers and those without transportation to serve. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Barnett v. Superior Court 4/8/10 Loss Discovery: Postjudgment in DP Cases
California Supreme Court case to review a murderer's claim that a state law requires district attorneys to search for and turn over information (discovery) regarding a conviction and death sentence handed down 19 years ago. Max Lee Barnett, a habitual criminal, was convicted on strong evidence of the kidnap, torture, and murder of his one-time mining partner in a remote area of Butte County. In 1998, the state Supreme Court denied his claims of trial and sentencing error, and the U. S. Supreme Court refused his appeal. In 2004, a trial judge granted Barnett's request for discovery even though he did not have a case pending in that court. The judge ruled that he was required to grant the request under a law enacted by a simple majority of state legislators in 2002, which expanded the discovery rights of murderers sentenced to death. The poorly written statute has given condemned murderers a device to further delay the review of their cases. After an appeals court issued a ruling upholding some of Barnett's requests, the California Supreme Court agreed to review it. CJLF joined the case to argue that the law which expanded Barnett's rights violates a ballot initiative adopted by the voters in 1990. Prop. 115, the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act, requires that legislation changing the rules of criminal discovery must be passed by a super majority of the members of the Legislature. The California Supreme Court decided the issue in another case, People v. Superior Court (Pearson), and upheld the statute. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Valdivia v. Schwarzenegger 3/25/10 Win Parole: Revocation procedure
Unanimous Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a key provision of California's Proposition 9, which changed the state process for revoking the parole of criminals who violate parole conditions or commit new crimes. Proposition 9 adopted procedures required by the U. S. Supreme Court and utilized by other states. Since 2004, California's parole revocation process has been governed by a federal injunction to settle a lawsuit by criminals who claimed that their rights had been violated. The injunction had granted more rights to parolees than required by the Supreme Court, added costs to the process, and placed additional burdens on crime victims and law enforcement. In March 2009, the same federal judge who ordered the injunction rule that the parole reforms in Proposition 9 were unconstitutional. CJLF joined the state's appeal of that ruling to argue that the federal judge overstepped his authority and ignored precedent in order to prevent enforcement of a constitutional amendment adopted to balance the rights of criminals with those of crime victims and law-abiding Californians. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Maryland v. Shatzer 2/24/10 Win Counsel: Interrogation
U. S. Supreme Court case involving a habitual sex offender found guilty of molesting his 3-year-old son. In 2003, while Michael Shatzer was in prison for molesting another child, his son told a social worker about an incident involving oral sex with his father. When a police investigator met with Shatzer in prison to question him, Shatzer invoked his Miranda rights and refused to discuss the matter without an attorney present. Because the 3-year-old victim was the only witness, the case was closed. Three years later, when Shatzer's son, then six, was more capable of describing the incident, the case was reopened and another detective visited Shatzer in prison. This time Shatzer waived his Miranda rights and admitted that he had molested his child. Following his failure to suppress the confession, Shatzer was convicted. Maryland's highest court overturned the conviction on appeal, citing a Supreme Court holding in Edwards v. Arizona, which involved a second interrogation of a suspect the day after he had refused to answer questions. When the Supreme Court agreed to review that ruling, CJLF joined the case to argue that the Edwards decision did not apply because Shatzer was already a prison inmate with no expectation of being set free if he cooperated and because 2½ years had lapsed between the two interviews. The high court agreed. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Wood v. Allen 1/20/10 Win Habeas corpus: State court findings
U. S. Supreme Court decision rejecting an Alabama murderer's claim that his three state-appointed defense attorneys failed to properly represent him in his sentencing hearing. In 1993, habitual criminal Holly Wood killed his exgirlfriend with a shotgun. At the time, he was on parole for attempting to murder another former girlfriend. Because there was no question regarding Wood's guilt, his defense attorneys considered a mental defense. The evaluation indicated that Wood was slow but no retarded, and it also revealed his inability to control his temper. Because this information could damage the defense, Wood's counsel asked the court to suppress it. Wood was convicted, and, although his counsel argued for mercy, the jury recommended a death sentence. In his appeal, Wood claimed that the psychiatric evidence might have persuaded the jury to sentence him to life. Accepting Alabama's invitation to join the case, CJLF argued that the state court had already decided the claim and reasonably found that the lawyers made a strategic decision to keep out double-edged evidence. The court agreed. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

McDaniel v. Brown 1/11/10 Win Habeas corpus: New evidence and 2254(d)
U. S. Supreme Court decision in the case of a Nevada child rapist. Troy Brown was convicted and sentenced to prison for the brutal forcible rape of a nine-year-old girl in Carlin, Nevada. Evidence introduced at trial included testimony of witnesses who saw Brown in the vicinity of the victim's home at the time of the rape, the victim's description of her attacker, and two DNA tests on two separate semen samples that matched Brown's DNA and established odds of 3 million to one and 10 thousand to one against the DNA matching at random. Ten years later, a federal district judge conducted his own evidentiary hearing and, after deciding to disregard the DNA evidence, overturned the jury's verdict. Later, the Ninth Circuit upheld that ruling. When the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to consider Nevada's appeal, CJLF joined the case to argue that the lower federal courts ignored precedent and an Act of Congress in order to overturn this child rapist's conviction. The Court's unanimous per curiam opinion agreed, overturning the Ninth Circuit ruling. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Beard v. Kindler 12/8/09 Win Habeas corpus: Procedural default
Unanimous U. S. Supreme Court decision utilizing CJLF arguments to reinstate the death sentence of a brutal Pennsylvania murderer. Joseph Kindler, and accomplices beat, electric shocked, and finally drowned a witness who identified him in a burglary. The jury convicted him on overwhelming evidence and sentenced him to death. When Kindler escaped from jail, the judge dismissed challenges to the verdict, concluding that by escaping Kindler had waived his ability to challenge the verdict. Years later, after Kindler was recaptured, his attorney petitioned to revive these claims. The trial judge denied the motion, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed, citing the state's fugitive forfeiture law. After a federal district judge and appeals court brushed aside the state's forfeiture law and overturned Kindler's death sentence, the Philadelphia District Attorney invited CJLF to join the high court appeal. CJLF argued for a decision reinstating Kindler's sentence and clarifying the standards which state rules must meet to prevent the lower federal courts from ignoring them. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts cited the CJLF brief for providing a key argument in the case. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Kansas v. Ventris 4/298/09 Win Counsel: Jailhouse informant
U. S. Supreme Court decision upholding the use of a cellmate’s testimony to impeach the defendant, even though the cellmate’s testimony may have been obtained in violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. In January 2004, Donnie Ray Ventris and his live-in girlfriend devised a plan to rob an acquaintance. The pair went to Ernest Hicks home, and Hicks was shot and killed. Ventris and his girlfriend left the scene with Hicks’ wallet, approximately $300, his cell phone, and his pickup truck. At trial, both Ventris and his girlfriend accused the other of killing Hicks. In rebuttal to Ventris’s testimony, his cellmate, Johnnie Doser, testified that Ventris told him that he was the triggerman. Doser admitted that he had been placed in Ventris’s cell and was told to keep his ears open. The defense was unable to convince the judge to strike Doser’s testimony, and the jury convicted Ventris of aggravated robbery and burglary. CJLF joined the case to argue that the Kansas Supreme Court had misinterpreted Supreme Court precedent, which allows testimony of a jailhouse informant that does not question the defendant, but only listens. An opinion authored by Justice Scalia held that Doser’s statements could be used to impeach Ventris because “[t]he interests safeguarded by such exclusion are ‘outweighed by the need to prevent perjury and to assure the integrity of the trial process.’ ” [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Cone v. Bell 4/28/09 Loss Habeas corpus: Procedural default
U. S. Supreme Court decision reversing the Sixth Circuit's decision to uphold Cone's conviction and death sentence. Gary Cone was convicted fourteen years ago of beating an elderly Memphis couple to death during a two-day crime spree. Cone's sole defense was that he was temporarily insane at the time of the murders. Although the defense attorney appealed for mercy, the jury sentenced Cone to death. On appeal, Cone alleged his attorney was incompetent. The claim was thoroughly reviewed and denied in the state courts. When Cone appeared before the Sixth Circuit for the third time, he alleged that prosecutors had improperly withheld evidence of his drug use, which he believed would have encouraged sympathy from the jury. The Sixth Circuit rejected his claim as procedurally defaulted and meritless. The Foundation joined the case to argue that Cone's claim had been given more consideration than required by law, and further delay was not warranted. In a 5-1-1-2 decision, with Justice Stevens speaking for the majority, the Court remanded the case to the District Court to decide whether the evidence of Cone's drug use was reasonably likely to have affected the sentence. Under the unusual procedural history of this case, the federal court was required to make this determination itself. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Rivera v. Illinois 3/31/09 Draw Equal protection: Review of Batson claims
Unanimous U. S. Supreme Court decision that a criminal conviction may stand if a juror was wrongly seated after being opposed by a defense lawyer's peremptory challenge. The Court reasoned that because it is within the state's province to grant or withhold peremptory challenges, states are free to decide on their own what remedy should follow such error. Michael Rivera, the "Chief Enforcer" of a Chicago gang, shot and killed Marcus Lee as Lee walked down the street. During jury selection, Rivera tried to strike an African American female from the jury because she worked at a facility that also treated gunshot victims. The trial judge was not satisfied by counsel's explanation and challenged the strike. He overruled use of the peremptory strike. Defense counsel later remarked he was striking the juror because he wanted more men on the jury. The Illinois Supreme Court found the trial judge had erred in overruling the strike without proof of discrimination, but also found the error was harmless. The Foundation joined the case to argue that the trial judge had not erred in finding discrimination. The Supreme Court found that the judge's refusal to excuse the juror did not violate Rivera's right to a fair and impartial jury. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Philip Morris v. Williams 3/31/09 Draw Procedural default: Adequate state ground
U. S. Supreme Court dismissed the case as improvidently granted, leaving undecided the issue of when a state court's holding that a party had failed to properly preserve his federal claim could also preclude federal court review of the question. CJLF filed a brief in Philip Morris because this question often arises in federal court review of state criminal convictions. The Oregon Supreme Court held that Philip Morris lost its federal claim of excessive damages by not using a state procedure required to preserve its claim. Philip Morris claimed the state rule departed from the state's previous rulings on the rule, and could not be used to block a federal claim. The Foundation had asked the Court to define a clear standard to apply in this confused area of law, but the Court did not use this opportunity. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Arizona v. Johnson 1/26/09 Win Search and seizure: Frisk of passengers
U. S. Supreme Court decision upholding the authority of a police officer to pat down a suspicious passenger for weapons during a traffic stop. The search occurred after Tucson police pulled over an uninsured vehicle in a neighborhood frequented by drug gangs. One officer noticed that the backseat passenger was dressed head to toe in local gang colors and had a police scanner sticking out of his pocket. After he told the officer he was recently released from prison, she asked him to step out of the car and frisked him for weapons. The search uncovered a handgun and drugs. Following his conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm and drugs, the defendant won an appeals court ruling that the search was unlawful, because, as the passenger, he was not the subject of the traffic stop. When the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to consider Arizona’s appeal, CJLF joined the case to argue that the appeals court had misinterpreted precedent, which gives police officers the authority to pat down a person confronted in the line of duty if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person might be armed. The Foundation pointed out that an ex-con wearing the colors of a local drug gang, with a police scanner, meets this criterion. The Supreme Court unanimously agreed.[CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Oregon v. Ice 1/14/09 Win Sentencing: Jury for consecutive
U. S. Supreme Court decision upholding a judge’s authority to require a defendant convicted of multiple felonies to serve the sentences for each crime consecutively. Thomas Eugene Ice, an apartment manager, was convicted for twice using his pass key to burglarize a resident’s unit and molest her 11-year-old daughter. Ice was convicted on two counts of first-degree burglary and four counts of first-degree sexual abuse. The defense argued that the jury must make the findings that Oregon law requires before a judge may order that sentences run consecutively. Unconvinced, the judge ordered the consecutive sentences. Oregon’s Court of Appeals affirmed the decision; but the state supreme court later overturned that holding and Ice’s sentence, ruling that earlier U. S. Supreme Court decisions supported the defendant’s claim. CJLF joined the Supreme Court’s review of the case to argue that the Oregon court improperly extended a rule announced to prevent judges from punishing the defendant for a higher offense than the jury found. The court’s 5-4 decision agreed, in a decision that consecutive sentencing remains within the trial judge’s discretion. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Hedgpeth v. Pulido 12/2/08 Win Harmless error: Standard of review
U. S. Supreme Court decision to overturn a 2007 Ninth Circuit ruling, which had voided the conviction of California murderer Michael Pulido. Pulido was convicted on strong evidence of killing a gas station cashier during a 1992 robbery. Because both Pulido and his accomplice blamed each other for the killing, the jury could not agree on who actually fired the gun, but California’s felony-murder rule provides that accomplices to murder during the commission of a felony can both be found guilty of the murder. Fifteen years after his conviction, the Ninth Circuit sidestepped federal rules to invalidate Pulido’s conviction due to a minor jury instruction error previously deemed harmless by the California Supreme Court. CJLF joined the state’s appeal to argue that precedent (won by CJLF) requires that a claim of trial error raised on federal habeas corpus must be supported by substantial evidence that the error prejudiced the defendant’s case. No such evidence was presented to support the Ninth Circuit ruling. The high court agreed.[CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Bell v. Kelly 11/17/08 Win Habeas corpus: Deference standard
U. S. Supreme Court order refusing to reconsider a federal court ruling upholding the death sentence of Virginia cop killer Edward Bell. In 2001, Bell, an illegal immigrant and drug dealer, was convicted on strong evidence of murdering a police sergeant by shooting him in the face. On appeal, Bell claimed that his attorneys did not adequately represent him at his sentencing hearing. After the Virginia Supreme Court rejected this claim, Bell added additional evidence to support his claim to his petition for review on federal habeas corpus. A federal District Court rejected the claim, and later the federal Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment. Earlier this year, the high court agreed to review Bell’s appeal based upon his false claim that the Virginia Supreme Court had refused to consider the evidence he added to his federal petition. CJLF had joined the case to argue that Bell had never presented the new evidence to the Virginia Court and that the federal courts reviewing his new evidence ruled that it did not support his allegation of lawyer incompetence. When the Supreme Court learned the truth, it dropped Bell’s case. Bell was executed on February 19, 2009. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

People v. Hernandez 8/27/08 Win Jury trial: Sentencing Factors
Hernandez was convicted of evading an officer with reckless driving and resisting the officer's performance of duty. He was sentenced to the upper term of three years for evading an officer with reckless driving. At sentencing, the trial court imposed the upper-term sentence based on Hernandez's prior convictions, prior prison term, the fact that he was on parole at the time he committed the charged offenses, and because his past performance on probation and parole had been unsatisfactory. In its brief to the California Supreme Court, CJLF argued Hernandez's sentence was consistent with the U. S. Supreme Court's holding in Cunningham v. California. CJLF argued Hernandez's sentence did not violate the Sixth Amendment protections of Almendarez-Torres, Apprendi, and Cunningham because a prior conviction is still an aggravating factor that can be found by the trial court to impose an upper-term sentence. The California Supreme Court's decision in People v. Towne, S125677 (June 26, 2008), affirmed this reasoning. In People v. Towne, the California Supreme Court ruled the trial court may find the aggravating circumstance that a defendant served a prior prison term, was on parole, or on probation at the time of the crime. Furthermore, a trial judge may find the aggravating factor of unsatisfactory performance on parole or probation if the unsatisfactory performance is established through a record of prior convictions. However, a right to a jury trial will attach if the poor performance on probation or parole can be established only by finding facts other than prior convictions, such as failed drug tests or failure to appear for appointments. The conclusions reached by the California Supreme Court in Towne were consistent with the amicus brief submitted by CJLF. In its brief, CJLF argued that Apprendi v. New Jersey required a jury to find the defendant eligible for an upper-term sentence. However, once a jury found a single fact making the defendant eligible, past convictions and unsatisfactory performance on probation or parole could be found by a trial judge and applied at his discretion to determine whether the defendant actually received the upper-term sentence. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Indiana v. Edwards 6/19/08 Win Counsel: Competency for self-representation
U.S. Supreme Court case on whether the Constitution requires states to allow a mentally ill defendant to act as his own attorney. The case involves the 2005 conviction of Ahmad Edwards, a thief who shot a security guard and a bystander at an Indianapolis department store. Edwards spent several years in state mental institutions until doctors determined that, with the aid of an attorney, he was competent to stand trial. However, the trial judge denied the defendant's request to represent himself. On appeal, the defendant won an Indiana Supreme Court ruling overturning his conviction, announcing that an earlier U. S. Supreme Court decision (Faretta v. California) required the trial judge to grant the defendant's request. When the nation's highest court agreed to hear Indiana's appeal, CJLF joined the case. The Foundation argued that the Faretta decision did not prohibit states from setting limits on the right to self-representation to prevent mentally ill defendants from turning the trial into a mockery of justice. The Supreme Court agreed, enabling trial judges to preserve the fairness and reliability of the trial. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Boumediene v. Bush / Al Odah 6/12/08 Loss Habeas Corpus: Enemy Detainees
In companion cases before the United States Supreme Court, CJLF filed an amicus curiae brief to demonstrate that the writ of habeas corpus was never meant to extend to prisoners of war designated as enemy combatants. CJLF filed its brief in response to the claims of two groups of enemy combatants, as well as 23 groups representing the interests of the combatants. The combatants, and their amicus, challenged their detention at a United States naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The groups claim the United States Constitution requires the government to allow them to file habeas corpus petitions in federal court. The groups also claim Congress does not have the authority to prohibit federal courts from hearing habeas claims, and that Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs), created by an Act of Congress in 2006 to determine the status of the detainees, unconstitutionally denied the petitioners due process rights. CJLF's brief examined the history of habeas corpus going back to the English common law to show that a writ of habeas was never meant to extend to military prisoners with no prior connection to the United States. A narrow majority of the Supreme Court disagreed and extended the protection of the United States Constitution to enemies it was never intended to protect. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

People v. Superior Court (Humberto S.) 5/12/08 Win Evidence: DA and Victim privacy
California Supreme Court case to review lower court rulings that had disqualified a public prosecutor for opposing the disclosure of an 8 year-old sexual abuse victim's confidential psychotherapy records. Both the mother of the victim and the victim's therapist objected to the disclosure of the records. However, the victim's father, who is also the accused molester's brother, consented to the release of the records. The prosecutor believed that the father's consent should not be sufficient for disclosure because of the father's conflict of interest in the case. The prosecutor then objected to the consent and filed a motion to appoint a guardian ad litem for the victim. The court denied the prosecutor's motion, and later granted the defense's motion to disqualify the prosecutor. The court found the prosecutor had incurred a conflict of interest by seeking to represent the victim's interests. The appellate court later agreed with this ruling. CJLF joined the appeal to the California Supreme Court to argue the lower courts had misinterpreted the duties of the prosecutor. The prosecutor had a duty to enforce the law as a representative of a party to the case, and as such, the prosecutor had the right to participate in litigation affecting the proceeding. CJLF argued a prosecutor acts within the lawful range of his or her duties by acting as a zealous advocate for both the victim and the people of California. The lower courts had an obligation to respect the prosecutor's duty, as well as the rights and interests of crime victims. The California Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the prosecutor's actions were proper and not a conflict of interest. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Baze v. Rees 4/16/08 Win Death penalty: Lethal injection
U.S. Supreme Court case to review a legal challenge to Kentucky's lethal injection protocol by two double-murderers facing execution. Ralph Baze shot and killed a county sheriff and his deputy in 1992. Thomas Bowling shot and killed a Lexington couple and wounded their two-year-old son in 1990. In a federal lawsuit, they, along with several anti-death penalty groups, claim that the lethal injection process used in 37 states is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. CJLF joined the case to argue that the Constitution does not guarantee condemned murderers a painless execution and that, properly administered, the lethal injection process is painless. Procedures now in place in Kentucky and elsewhere are sufficient to minimize the chance of error. The Foundation also argues that the delays caused by legal challenges to a method of execution that pro-criminal groups insisted was humane 20 years ago, adds to the pain and suffering of the families of murder victims and denies justice to the law-abiding public. The Supreme Court agreed, and executions should resume shortly in most states. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Medellin v. Texas 3/25/08 Win International law: Vienna Convention
U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the conviction and death sentence of Jose Medellin, a Mexican national convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of two teenaged girls in Houston. The case involved Medellin's claim that when the police failed to notify the Mexican Consulate following his arrest, they violated an international treaty signed in 1963. He also argued that the Texas courts' rejection of his claim violated a 2004 World Court decision and that decision required that the judgment be set aside. CJLF joined the case on behalf of one of the murdered girl's parents to argue that this murderer's international rights claim had already been considered and rejected by the Texas Courts, and that no further delay of his sentence was required. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Texas court. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Allen v. Siebert 11/5/07 Win Habeas corpus: Limitations, tolling
U.S. Supreme Court decision reinstating the death sentence of Alabama serial murderer, Daniel Siebert. Siebert had admitted to, and ultimately been convicted of the murders of Sherri Weathers and her son, as well as the murder of Linda Jarman. Siebert was sentenced to death for both murders in 1987. In 1992, after both convictions had been affirmed by the Alabama Supreme Court, Siebert filed state petitions for habeas relief. He filed his state petitions three months past the state filing deadline, and the circuit county court rejected both petitions. In 2001, Siebert filed federal petitions for habeas corpus review. The petitions were dismissed as they were filed after the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) filing deadline for habeas corpus petitions had lapsed. In 2005, while Siebert’s appeal of the dismissal was pending in the Eleventh Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “time limits, no matter their form, are filing conditions,” and an untimely state petition does not suspend federal time limits. Two years later, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Alabama’s time limits did not prevent federal court review of Siebert’s claims. CJLF argued as an amicus curiae that the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling was “demonstrably erroneous” and summary reversal was appropriate. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, and stated, in a 7-2 decision, “[w]hen a postconviction petition is untimely under state law, that is the end of the matter . . . .” The decision affirmed the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408 (2005). [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

People v. Taylor 10/23/07 Loss Death penalty: NY Law
New York's Court of Appeals upheld its 2004 People v. LaValle decision that a jury instruction that was a part New York's sentencing scheme was invalid because the instruction might influence a jury to recommend the death sentence instead of deadlocking. Under the New York scheme, a deadlocked jury would allow the judge to sentence the defendant to 20 to 25 years with the possibility of parole. Before his trial, Taylor challenged the sentencing scheme. Taylor had been convicted for the robbery of a Wendy's franchise in Flushing, New York and the murder of five Wendy's employees in 2000. Taylor was sentenced to death under the New York death penalty law that required the challenged instruction. On appeal to the New York Court of Appeals the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation argue that New York's entire death penalty scheme should not be overturned because of one jury instruction. CJLF argued the Court of Appeals should give effect to the Legislature's intent, and remove the improper instruction while leaving the other provisions of New York's death penalty statute in place. CJLF argued the New York law contained a severability provision for the purpose of allowing constitutional provisions to remain in effect while striking any unconstitutional provisions. The New York Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court found the jury instruction to be "inextricably interwoven with the sentencing procedure and necessary to effectuate the legislature's intent." The Court held the death penalty sentencing statute to be unconstitutional on its face and vacated Taylor's death sentence. Taylor's case was remitted for resentencing. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

United States v. Lujan
United States v. Meier
10/2/07
9/28/07
Win DNA Testing: Suspicionless searches
In companion cases Lujan and Meier, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected the petitioner’s claims that Oregon’s DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000 (DNA Act) violated Fourth Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit also rejected Lujan’s claims that Oregon’s Act violated the ex post facto clause of the constitution, was an unconstitutional bill of attainder, and that the Act violated the Constitution’s separation of powers principles. Both Lujan and Meier claimed the Oregon Act violated their Fourth Amendment rights because it authorized a probation officer to demand the collection of a blood sample as a condition to a convicted criminal’s supervised release. Petitioners had pled guilty to one count of unarmed bank robbery in May 1999. They were each sentenced to prison time and three years supervised release. Oregon law stated supervised release was subject to standard conditions, including those conditions imposed by the DNA Act. CJLF’s amicus brief argued the DNA Act should survive petitioners’ Fourth Amendment challenges. CJLF argued that as a convicted criminal subject to supervised release, petitioners had a diminished expectation of privacy. The United States Supreme Court had stated a probationer’s diminished privacy was part of society’s special need to supervise probationers. In its brief, CJLF urged that when examining society’s special need, a court should consider circumstances such as: the convicts’ substantially diminished expectation of privacy; the minimal intrusiveness of blood testing; and the enormous benefit to society of maintaining DNA databanks of convicted murderers and sex offenders. The Ninth Circuit agreed and relied on its 2004 decision in United States v. Kincaide, 379 F.3d 813, that a “totality of the circumstances” could justify compulsory DNA collection. [CJLF brief in Lujan.] [CJLF brief in Meier.]

 

Getsy v. Mitchell 7/25/07 Win Habeas corpus: Clearly established law
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit case involving hired hit man Jason Getsy. An Ohio jury found Getsy guilty of the contract killing of Ann Serafino, whose son had a business dispute with John Santine. Getsy was sentenced to death. A separate jury convicted Santine of murder, but Getsy's confession was not admissible in that trial, the jury did not find murder for hire had been proved, and Santine was not sentenced to death. A panel of the Sixth Circuit found that this difference in sentences required that Getsy's death sentence be overturned. CJLF submitted a brief arguing that no current rule of law authorizes a federal court to overturn a state sentence on this basis, and Congress has forbidden lower federal courts from making up new rules in such cases. The full Sixth Circuit agreed. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

People v. Hernandez/Sandoval 7/19/07 Win Jury trial: Sentencing factors
Companion cases before the California Supreme Court involving criminals who received upper-term sentences under the state’s determinant sentencing law.  The law had allowed a trial judge to sentence criminals to one of a range of three terms (such as 2, 4, or 6 years), based upon mitigating or aggravating factors related to the crime or the defendant.  In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Cunningham v. California, that aggravating factors used to make a defendant eligible for the upper term must be found by a jury, rather than the judge.  The state Supreme Court is reviewing these two cases to determine the extent that the Cunningham decision disrupts California sentencing. Joel Hernandez and Aida Sandoval were both convicted of felonies and sentenced to upper terms.  Hernandez had a number of prior felonies, which the judge considered during sentencing for reckless driving and evading a police officer.  Sandoval did not have priors, but the judge gave her an upper term and required her to serve her sentences consecutively, after considering the particularly cold-blooded nature of the circumstances of her crimes of voluntary manslaughter which left two people dead and her attempt to kill a third victim.  CJLF argues that the Cunningham decision does allow judges to base an upper-term sentence upon a defendant’s prior convictions and require that multiple sentences be served consecutively. Further, once a single aggravating factor has been properly found, the judge may find and consider additional factors in deciding whether to impose the upper term. In deciding Sandoval's case and another case, the California Supreme Court agreed with each of the major points of CJLF's brief. Hernandez's case is still pending. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Panetti v. Quarterman 6/28/07 Loss Death penalty: Competency
U.S. Supreme Court case involving a Texas double-murderer’s claim that he cannot be executed because he is mentally ill.  In 1992, the defendant, Scott Panetti, murdered his wife's parents with a sawed-off shotgun in front of his wife and three-year-old daughter, who had moved in with the victims to escape his violent behavior.  Following his arrest, he confessed to the murders.  After being found mentally competent to stand trial, Panetti insisted on representing himself.  He presented an insanity defense, claiming that an alternate personality named “Sarge” committed the murders.  After his conviction, sentence, and multiple appeals, the state court found him competent to be executed.  The federal District Court and Court of Appeals later affirmed his competency and his death sentence.  Panetti, along with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the American Bar Association, and the American Psychological Association, is seeking a decision to broaden the standard for incompetence for execution. The present standard requires that the murderer be able to understand that he committed the murder and will be executed for it, which the federal court found Panetti does. At the request of the Texas Solicitor General, CJLF has joined the case to argue for a decision to maintain the current standard. The Court sent the case back to the lower courts to reconsider, but it did not adopt the sweeping rule proposed by the ABA and others. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Fry v. Pliler 6/11/07 Win Habeas Corpus: Harmless Error
The United States Supreme Court affirmed a murderer's conviction. The defendant, drug dealer John Fry, was convicted on strong evidence of killing a Vacaville couple in 1992. On appeal, he claimed that his conviction was invalid because a witness who claimed that her cousin admitted to killing two people was not allowed to testify. The state court rejected the claim, finding that in light of the weakness of this evidence, excluding it was within the trial judge's discretion. The federal courts reviewed the claim on habeas corpus applying a standard of review announced by the Supreme Court's 1993 decision in Brecht v. Abrahamson (won by CJLF) and also concluded that the exclusion was error, but harmless. Before the Supreme Court, Fry argued that the Brecht standard is too difficult for him to meet and should not apply to his case. CJLF joined the case to argue for a decision reaffirming the existing standard. The Supreme Court, unanimous on this point, agreed. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Roper v. Weaver 5/21/07 Draw Due Process: Prosecutor Argument
United States Supreme Court case to review a federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which overturned the death sentence of William Weaver. A Jackson County, Missouri jury found Weaver guilty on substantial evidence of murdering Charles Taylor, a key witness in a federal drug case in July 1987. Among Weaver's claims on appeal was that in closing argument at his sentencing hearing the prosecutor made allegedly improper statements which invalidated his sentence. Specifically, the prosecutor told the sentencing jury that he supported the death penalty, that it was their duty, like soldiers, to sentence Weaver to death, and that a death sentence would deter others from committing murder. The Missouri Supreme Court denied the claim and upheld Weaver's conviction and sentence. In 2001, a federal district judge accepted the claim and overturned the sentence. That ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals last year. CJLF joined the state's appeal of that ruling to argue that the federal law prohibited the Eighth Circuit court from overturning the Missouri Supreme Court decision unless it misapplied clearly established law or Supreme Court precedent. CJLF pointed out that there is no Supreme Court precedent finding similar statements made in closing argument unconstitutional, and that the Missouri court's review of Weaver's claim was reasonable. The Court decided that, due to some unusual procedural issues in the case, it would not decide the question presented but instead dismiss the case as "improvidently granted." This decision effectively leaves the Eighth Circuit decision requiring a new sentencing hearing in place, but it does not set a Supreme Court precedent either way. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Schriro v. Landrigan 5/14/07 Win Death penalty
The United States Supreme Court reversed a 2006 Ninth Circuit ruling and reinstated the death sentence of a man who brutally murdered an acquaintance in Arizona, after escaping from an Oklahoma prison where he was serving time for an earlier murder. At his sentencing hearing, Jeffrey Landrigan announced in open court that he would not allow his attorney to present evidence mitigating his responsibility for the murder. Over a span of 15 years, three courts and a panel of the Ninth Circuit rejected the claim that his death sentence was unconstitutional because his attorney failed to present the evidence. However, a larger panel of the Ninth Circuit accepted it. Before the Supreme Court, CJLF argued that this violates an Act of Congress which forbids setting aside the facts found by the state courts unless the finality is unreasonable. The Supreme Court agreed in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Smith v. Texas 4/25/07 Loss Death penalty: Jury Instructions
U. S. Supreme Court decision to require the resentencing of LaRoyce Smith for the 1991 murder of a Dallas Taco Bell shift manager during a robbery. At trial, the defense attorney asked the judge to declare the Texas death penalty unconstitutional based upon a recent Supreme Court decision striking down the state's sentencing jury instructions. The judge instead modified the jury instructions to accommodate a recent high court decision and asked the defense attorney if he wanted to suggest any improvements. The defense attorney did not and raised no objection to the new instructions. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later ruled that the modified instructions complied with the recent decision. Later on habeas corpus, the same court denied Smith's claim that the instruction violated a subsequent high court decision on jury instructions. In 2004, the U. S. Supreme Court reversed the Texas court decision and sent the case back for further review of Smith's claim. A year later, the Texas court ruled that the disputed instruction did not require overturning his death sentence. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Smith's challenge to that ruling, CJLF joined the case to argue that the standard for review of trial errors not objected to by the defense has been historically left up to the state courts. The Court's 5 to 4 ruling held that the instruction given in this case did not satisfy its requirements and that the defense lawyer's initial objection was sufficient to preserve the issue. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Irons v. Carey 3/6/07 Win Habeas corpus: Constitutionality of 2254(d)(1)
Federal Ninth Circuit decision overturning a district judge's ruling ordering the parole of San Francisco murderer Carl Irons. In 1984, Irons received a 17-years-to-life prison sentence for shooting and stabbing a neighbor to death then dumping his body in the ocean. In 2001, Irons appealed a decision by the Board of Prison Terms to deny him parole. The state Court of Appeal reviewed the case, deciding that the Board's decision was proper. When he appealed to the federal court, a magistrate was appointed to consider his claim. In 2004, the magistrate recommended that Irons be released based on Ninth Circuit precedent not accepted by the California courts or required by the U.S. Supreme Court. When a federal district judge adopted this recommendation and ordered Iron's release, California appealed. CJLF joined the case to argue that federal rules adopted by Congress prohibit federal courts from overturning a state appeals court decision, unless the state court misapplied United States Supreme Court precedent. Because there was no misapplication of law or binding precedent by the California Court of Appeal, the federal judge had no authority to re-decide Irons' claim. The Ninth Circuit decision agreed. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Whorton v. Bockting 2/28/07 Win Habeas corpus: Retroactivity of Crawford
U. S. Supreme Court decision to reinstate the 1988 conviction of a Nevada child molester. A jury found Marvin Bockting guilty of engaging in various sex acts with his six-year-old stepdaughter. Because the child was too emotionally upset to testify, her tape-recorded description of the incident was introduced at trial in addition to medical evidence and Bockting's incriminating statements. The applicable federal rules at the time allowed the child's taped statement (hearsay) in lieu of her direct testimony. Two years later, the Supreme Court sent Bockting's case back for a determination of the statement's trustworthiness under a new standard. In 1993, the Nevada Court ruled that the statement was trustworthy. In 2003, the Supreme Court's decision in Crawford v. Washington announced a new rule barring "testimonial" hearsay statements from trial. In February 2005, the Ninth Circuit applied the new rule retroactively to overturn Bockting's conviction. Before the Supreme Court, CJLF argued that only rules fundamental to a fair trial can be applied retroactively and that the change in hearsay does not meet that standard. The high court agreed. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Burton v. Stewart 1/9/07 Win Habeas corpus: Retroactivity of Blakely
United States Supreme Court decision utilizing CJLF arguments to reject a Washington sex offender's challenge to his sentence. The case involved a 47-year-sentence given to Lonnie Burton for the rape and robbery of a 15-year-old boy and the burglary of his parents' home. Because of Burton's multiple prior felony convictions, he qualified for an increased sentence under Washington law. While a challenge to his sentence was being reviewed by the state's highest court, Burton launched a separate challenge to his conviction in federal court on habeas corpus. Federal law generally allows only one round of habeas corpus review of a criminal judgment. After his state challenge failed, Burton asked the federal court to consider claims against his sentence on habeas corpus. The federal court agreed to hear the case, but refused to overturn his sentence. In 2004, after the U.S. Supreme Court announced new sentencing rules in Blakely v. Washington, Burton amended his appeal to claim that the Blakely ruling applied retroactively to invalidate his sentence. CJLF joined the high court review of the case to argue that the federal courts do not have jurisdiction to review Burton's second petition. The Court's decision said exactly that. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Carey v. Musladin 12/11/06 Win Habeas corpus: Deference
United States Supreme decision utilizing CJLF arguments to reinstate the murder conviction of an abusive husband who gunned down his estranged wife's fiancé in front of several witnesses. In 2005, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had overturned the murderer's sentence, ruling that it was unconstitutional for members of the victim's family to wear buttons with the deceased's picture on it during the trial. Prior to Mathew Musladin's trial, the judge refused Musladin's request to prevent Studer's family from wearing the photo buttons. Following his conviction, Musladin appealed, claiming that the buttons prejudiced the jury against him. The Court of Appeal denied the claim, as did the federal District Court on habeas corpus. But a divided panel of the federal Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court's decision and announced that the buttons violated Musladin's constitutional rights. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the state's appeal, CJLF joined the case to point out that, once again, the Ninth Circuit's ruling sidestepped Congressional limits on its authority in order to overturn a reasonable state court decision. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Ex parte Medellin 11/15/06 Win Habeas corpus: Vienna Convention
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision to deny further review of a foreign national's claim that the failure to notify the Mexican government of his arrest and trial for murdering two young girls invalidates his conviction and death sentence. In 2005, CJLF won a U.S. Supreme Court decision which rejected the murderer's request for federal court review of this claim. When the case was sent back to the Texas court, CJLF argued that the claim was reviewed and rejected in state court years ago and no further consideration is required. The Texas court rejected Medellin's claim on a different ground, and he has since asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case again. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Ayers v. Belmontes 11/13/06 Win Death penalty: Catch-all instruction
United States Supreme Court decision reinstating the death sentence of a California man who, in 1981, beat a 19-year-old girl to death with a metal bar while burglarizing her home. The Court's decision overturned a 2005 Ninth Circuit ruling which announced that the instructions given to the murderer's sentencing jury 25 years ago were unconstitutional. CJLF joined the review of that ruling to argue that two prior Supreme Court decision (both won by CJLF) held that the jury instructions were proper. The Court held that they were. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld 6/29/06 Loss Habeas corpus: Detainee Treatment Act
The United States Supreme Court reversed a decision of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and held that accused terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay could not be tried by military tribunal under current law. CJLF had argued that Congress had repealed the Court’s jurisdiction to hear this claim in the Detainee Treatment Act. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon 6/28/06 Win Evidence: Vienna Convention
The United States Supreme Court affirmed a decision of the Oregon Supreme Court, upholding the conviction of Moises Sanchez-Llamas for the attempted murder of a police officer. Sanchez-Llamas made incriminating statements shortly after his arrest and before he was informed of his right to have the Mexican Consulate notified of his arrest. CJLF argued and the Court held that suppression of evidence is not an available remedy for enforcement of the Vienna Convention, the treaty that requires consular notification. Suppression of the truth in a criminal trial is a drastic remedy, it is not required by the treaty, and no other country suppresses evidence on this basis. Further, there is no causal connection between the treaty violation and the defendant’s statements, because he had no right to have the consulate notified before the interrogation. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Kansas v. Marsh 6/26/06 Win Death penalty: Aggravating = Mitigating
The United States Supreme Court reversed a decision of the Kansas Supreme Court and reinstated the death penalty in Kansas. In 1995, Marsh murdered a young mother and set the house on fire, burning her 19-month-old daughter to death. The state court had held that the state’s death penalty statute was unconstitutional because it required a verdict of death in the extremely unlikely event that the jury found the aggravating and mitigating factors precisely equal. CJLF argued and the Court held that the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit a capital sentencing statute from operating in this manner. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Washington v. Recuenco 6/26/06 Win Jury trial: Blakely & Harmless error
The United States Supreme Court reinstated the sentence of a Washington man who had threatened his wife with a gun, reversing a decision of the Supreme Court of Washington. Arturo Recuenco was convicted by a jury of assault, and the jury also found he had used a deadly weapon. The judge sentenced him to an additional three years for using a gun, in accordance with Washington law. After the trial, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Blakely v. Washington that sentence enhancement facts such as these must be found by the jury. The Washington Court of Appeals found that the error was harmless, because the jury found he had used a weapon and the gun was the only weapon at issue in the trial. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, holding that “Blakely error” can never be harmless. CJLF argued, and the U.S. Supreme Court held, that errors such as this do not require reversal where it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the result would have been the same in the absence of the error. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Samson v. California 6/19/06 Win Search and Seizure: Parole search condition
California’s policy of requiring parolees to be subject to search at any time was upheld by the United States Supreme Court. The Fourth Amendment forbids unreasonable searches and seizures, and in most cases that means the police must have probable cause before conducting a search. However, there are exceptions, and even law-abiding people are subject to search when entering a courthouse or boarding an airplane. Convicted felons are subject to search at any time while in prison, and the state may reasonably require that prisoners released on parole, but still officially in custody, also be subject to search. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Hudson v. Michigan 6/15/06 Win Search and Seizure: Knock-notice & excl. rule
The United States Supreme Court decided that evidence obtained in a valid search of a house, i.e., made pursuant to a warrant supported by probable cause, need not be suppressed because the police did not wait long enough to enter after announcing their presence. The opinion discussed the high social cost of suppressing the truth in criminal cases and decided that the exclusionary rule should not be extended into new territory. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Hill v. McDonough 6/12/06 Loss Death penalty
In this case, the United States Supreme Court decided that a death row inmate could use a civil suit under the Civil Rights Act to challenge the state’s method of execution and thereby postpone his execution. CJLF had argued that invoking the Civil Rights Act for this purpose was an end-run around the limitations that Congress had placed on habeas corpus for the specific purpose of limiting such last-minute litigation. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Muntaqim v. Coombe 6/1/06 Win Voting: Felon disenfranchisement
Convicted killers in New York prisons claimed that they had the right to vote, despite New York law, under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. CJLF joined an amicus brief to oppose this claim, noting the history of felon disenfranchisement laws nationwide before and after the Voting Rights Act. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Rice v. Collins 1/18/06 Win Jury: Batson review
U. S. Supreme Court decision utilizing CJLF arguments to overturn a Ninth Circuit ruling, which had found racial bias during jury selection in the trial of a habitual criminal. The defendant, who had prior convictions of forcible rape and robbery, received a 25 years to life sentence for his third felony conviction on drug dealing charges. On appeal, he claimed that the prosecutor exercised racial bias in excusing two black jurors, although two other blacks were accepted and served. After the trial judge, the state appellate court and the federal District Court found no bias, the Ninth Circuit discovered it in a 2003 ruling. When the Supreme Court agreed to review the ruling, CJLF joined the case to argue that federal rules and precedent require that the lower courts give great deference to the findings of the trial judge regarding racial bias claims. The high court's precedent-setting decision agreed. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Brown v. Sanders 1/11/06 Win Death penalty: Invalid aggravators
U. S. Supreme Court decision utilizing CJLF arguments to reinstate the death sentence of a man who beat a Bakersfield woman to death in 1981. While California law requires a jury to find at least one special circumstance related to a murder to qualify the killer for a death sentence, the jury in this case found four. On appeal, the state Supreme Court ruled that two of the four special circumstances were invalid, but the death sentence was upheld. In 2004, the Ninth Circuit overturned the death sentence. Before the high court, CJLF argued that the sentence was proper because two special circumstances remained valid, and all of the facts considered by the jury were properly considered under unchallenged circumstances. The invalid circumstances were therefore redundant and made no difference in this case. The Court's decision incorporated this argument. [CJLF brief in PDF.]

 

Maryland v. Blake 11/14/06 Draw Self-incrimination
U. S. Supreme Court dismissal of a case it had accepted for review of a Maryland appeals court ruling suppressing incriminating statements made by a juvenile accomplice to a murder. When the actual murderer (Tolbert) blamed his juvenile accomplice for the killing, the accomplice (Blake), who had previously refused to talk to police, agreed to make a statement "to set the record straight." In his statement, Blake admitted his involvement but identified the older Tolbert as the murderer. Prior to trial, Blake's attorney won a Maryland appeals court ruling that excluded Blake's incriminating statements, concluding that he had been badgered into making them. CJLF joined the high court appeal of that ruling to argue that there was no evidence of badgering by police and that Blake's statements were voluntary. The Supreme Court dismissed the case without deciding the issue. [CJLF brief in PDF.]