Well, the United States Supreme Court’s 2011 Term has come to an end. South Florida’s criminal defense and criminal appeals attorneys may want to take a few minutes to look at the following opinions.
In Williams v. Illinois, No. 10-8505, the Court considered the admissibility of DNA evidence. Specifically, the Court addressed the issue of “whether Crawford v. Washington, 541 U. S. 36, 50 (2004), precludes an expert witness from . . . expressing an opinion based on facts about a case that have been made known to the expert but about which the expert is not competent to testify.” Slip op., pg. 1. In short, the Court held that, based on the Federal Rules of Evidence, Crawford did not preclude such testimony. Slip op., pgs. 1-3. The Court also observed that if it held otherwise, the use of modern DNA evidence would be hampered, and prosecutors would be forced to instead turn back to older, less reliable forms of evidence, such as eyewitness identification. Slip op., pgs. 3-4. Finally, the Court noted that its holding “will not prejudice any defendant who really wishes to probe the reliability of the DNA testing done in a particular case because those who participated in the testing may always be subpoenaed by the defense and questioned at trial.” Slip op., pg. 4.
In Dorsey v. United States, No. 11-5683, the Court addressed the issue of sentencing disparity in cases involving crack and powder cocaine. The issue as framed by the Court was whether the more lenient penalty provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act “apply to offenders who committed a crack cocaine crime before August 3,2010, but were not sentenced until after August 3.” The Court held “that the new, more lenient mandatory minimum provisions do apply to those pre-Act offenders.” Slip op., pgs. 1-2.
Finally, in Miller v. Alabama, No. 10-9646, the Court, in an extension of the case of Graham v. Florida, 560 U. S. –, (2010), held that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.” Slip op. at pg. 2.