It’s October, and with that brings the start of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new Term. Supreme Court junkies from South Florida might be interested to know that the Court opened its term by hearing oral argument in two cases. Although neither of the appeals is criminal, both appeals present interesting questions. In Esther Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, No. 10-1491, the Court will be addressing “[w]hether and under what circumstances the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. 1350, allows courts to recognize a cause of action for violations of the law of nations occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States?” The Supreme Court docket can be viewed here. According to a report on CNN, the case will center on whether foreign victims of torture and other crimes against humanity can sue corporations and others in federal courts of the United States.
According to the docket for the other case, Fane Lozman v. The City of Riviera Beach, Florida, No. 11-626, the res in the putative in rem admiralty proceeding was sold at a judicial auction in execution of the district court’s judgment on a maritime lien and a maritime trespass claim, and subsequently destroyed. The Court directed the parties to brief whether “either the judicial auction or the subsequent destruction of the res render this case moot?” According to a news report in the local paper, the Palm Beach Post, the case arose after Lozman was directed to make improvements to and to renew his lease for his houseboat, which he kept at the Riviera Beach Marina. When Lozman refused, the City impounded the houseboat and destroyed it. If the Court decides that the issue is not moot, the Court will likely address whether federal admiralty laws apply, such that the City would have been permitted to impound and destroy the houseboat for Lozman’s failure to make the necessary improvements to the houseboat. Further information on the case can also be found on SCOTUSblog.
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.
You might recall that I previously noted that our own Judge Robin Rosenbaum had been nominated by President Obama to serve as a United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of Florida. Well, I am happy to report that Judge Rosenbaum was overwhelmingly confirmed by the US Senate today. You can read a couple of reports here and here. I am sure that many of my fellow South Florida attorneys, criminal and civil alike, wish her the best of luck. Now we will just have to wait and see who will apply to fill her vacant Magistrate Judge spot.
Since I’ve not had the chance to read through many Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit opinions lately, I thought I’d try to catch up. A word of caution: if you are a South Florida criminal defense or criminal appeals lawyer needing some good news, you won’t find it here.
The Eleventh Circuit has been busy handing down opinions at a pretty good clip. In Booker v. Secretary, Florida Dept. of Corrections, No. 10-14966, the Court affirmed the denial of a 2254 petition for habeas relief. In so doing, the Court held that the state trial court’s refusal to instruct the jury on Booker’s eligibility for parole was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994). In Trepal v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, No. 10-15306, the Court affirmed another denial of a 2254 petition for habeas. Although the opinion is quite long-72 pages-it’s a good one to read if you have some spare time. In addition to the discussion of the standards of Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972) and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the opinion might also make you think twice about what can happen if you’re not nice to your neighbors. In a case that originates from the Southern District of Florida, United States v. Welch, No. 10-14649, the Court examined the voluntariness of a consent to a search, the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, and whether a Florida conviction for robbery is a “violent felony” for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act. (Hint: the consent was voluntarily given, there was no fruit of the poisonous tree, and the Florida conviction for robbery qualifies as a “violent felony.”) My favorite part of the opinion? Footnote 20.
Finally, in Parker v. Matthews, No. 11-845, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion that reads like a smackdown of the 6th Circuit. A mere 13 pages long, the pointed tone with which the opinion is written leaves no doubt about how wrong the Sixth Circuit’s decision was.
For those South Florida criminal defense attorneys who like to follow the oral arguments in the United States Supreme Court, I thought I’d let you know that oral argument occurred in the Supreme Court case of United States v. Jones, no. 10-1259, last week. In a previous post, I mentioned that this is the case where the Supreme Court will be deciding whether the police need a warrant to install a GPS tracking device on a vehicle to monitor the movements of the vehicle over an extended period of time. For a summary of the argument, visit SCOTUSblog. You can also visit the website of the Supreme Court to view a transcript of the argument, or to listen to a real-time or mp3 recording of the argument by clicking here.