Friday, June 29, 2012

Fixing the Prosecution

Below is an interesting opinion piece titled "Why (and How) We Need to Improve America’s Prosecution System."  The author, James M. Doyle, discusses two cases on prosecutorial misconduct and what needs to be done to level the playing field and establish a more fair criminal justice system.


Supreme Court Activity

The Supreme Court concluded the 2011-2012 term yesterday with two important rulings.

United States v. Alvarez

Judge: Kennedy

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Military Law

The Stolen Valor Act makes it a crime to falsely claim receipt of military decorations or medals and provides an enhanced penalty if the Congressional Medal of Honor is involved, 18 U. S. C. 704 (b),(c). After pleading guilty to falsely claiming that he had received the Medal of Honor, Alvarez challenged the Act as unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit held that the Act is invalid under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed. Characterizing the law as a content-based restriction on protected speech, the Court applied the “most exacting scrutiny.” Falsity alone does not take speech outside the First Amendment. While the government’s interest in protecting the integrity of the Medal of Honor is beyond question, the First Amendment requires a direct causal link between the restriction imposed and the injury to be prevented; that link was not established. The government had no evidence that the public’s general perception of military awards is diluted by false claims or that counter-speech, such as the ridicule Alvarez received online and in the press, would not suffice to achieve its interest. The law does not represent the “least restrictive means among available, effective alternatives.” The government could likely protect the integrity of the military awards system by creating a database of Medal winners accessible and searchable. Dissenting Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas viewed the Act as significantly limited and necessary to the important governmental objective.


Nat'l Fed'n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius

Judge: Breyer
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Health Law, Insurance Law
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has upheld the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. While only four Justices found its requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance (26 U.S.C. 5000A) constitutional under the Commerce Clause, Chief Justice Roberts found it constitutional by reasonably characterizing it as a tax. Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness." The penalty is to be paid to the IRS, along with the individual’s income taxes. In a limited ruling, the Court held that the Act’s “Medicaid expansion” is unconstitutional in threatening states with loss of existing Medicaid funding if they decline to comply, but that the penalty provision is severable (which means that failure of that provision does not cause the entire Act to fail). The Act requires that state programs provide Medicaid coverage by 2014 to adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal pov­erty level, (many states now cover adults with children only if their income is considerably lower, and do not cover childless adults at all) and increases federal funding to cover states’ costs, 42 U.S.C. 1396d(y)(1). The decision leaves intact less controversial provisions, protecting individuals with preexisting conditions, allowing children to be covered by parents’ insurance until age 26, and prohibiting higher costs for insuring women.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Supreme Court Activity

Miller v. Alabama

Opinion Date: June 25, 2012

Judge: Kagan
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

In each of two underlying cases, a 14-year-old was convicted of murder and sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The highest courts of Alabama and Arkansas upheld the sentences. The Supreme Court reversed. The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders. Children are constitutionally different from adults for sentencing purposes. Their lack of maturity and underdeveloped sense of responsibility lead to recklessness, impulsiveness, and heedless risk-taking. They are more vulnerable to negative influences and lack ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings. A child’s actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievable depravity. The mandatory penalty schemes at issue prevent the sentencing court from considering youth and from assessing whether the harshest term of imprisonment proportionately punishes a juvenile offender. Life-without-parole sentences share characteristics with death sentences, demanding individualized sentencing. The Court rejected the states’ argument that courts and prosecutors sufficiently consider a juvenile defendant’s age, background and the circumstances of his crime, when deciding whether to try him as an adult. The argument ignores that many states use mandatory transfer systems or lodge the decision in the hands of the prosecutors, rather than courts.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fair Sentencing Act

The Supreme Court today ruled that The Fair Sentencing Act’s new, lower mandatory minimums apply to the post-Act sentencing of pre-Act offenders.  Follow the link below for the full opinion.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Judge Rules in Favor of Defense Regarding Cristian Fernandez Exam

 The Honorable Judge Mallory Cooper ruled today that questions will be limited during the state psychologist's examination of the 13-year-old.  Fernandez is set for trial August 27 for sexual battery charges and September for charges stemming from the death of his step-brother.

Read the full story at

Supreme Court Decides Confontation Clause Case

Williams v. Illinois

Opinion Date: June 18, 2012

Docket: 10-8505
Judge: Alito
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
In petitioner's bench trial for rape, the prosecution called an expert who testified that a DNA profile produced by an outside lab matched a profile produced by the state police lab using a sample of petitioner's blood. At issue was whether Crawford v. Washington precluded the expert witness from testifying in a manner that had long been allowed under the law of evidence. Specifically, did Crawford bar an expert from expressing an opinion based on facts about a case that have been made known to the expert but about which the expert was not competent to testify. Also at issue was whether Crawford substantially impeded the ability of prosecutors to introduce DNA evidence and thus could effectively relegate the prosecution in some cases to reliance on older, less reliable forms of proof. The Court concluded that this form of expert testimony did not violate the Confrontation Clause because the provision had no application to out-of-court statements that were not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Therefore, the Court concluded that the expert's testimony did not violate the Sixth Amendment. As a second, independent basis for the Court's decision, even if the report produced by the outside lab had been admitted into evidence, there would have been no Confrontation Clause violation.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Eleventh Circuit Activity

United States v. Welch

Opinion Date: June 13, 2012
Docket: 10-14649
Judge: Kleinfeld
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress evidence. The court held that the district court's findings were supported by the evidence and its conclusion that defendant gave legally effacious consent to the search was correct. The court also held that the Florida robbery, both before and after Florida promulgated the "robbery by sudden snatching" statute, qualified as a violent felony under the Act.
View Case on: Justia  Google Scholar

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Interesting Viewpoints

The Crime Report provides a valuable resource for anyone interested in developments in the criminal justice system.  I am posting a few links below to opinion pieces recently published. 

"The ‘Stop and Frisk’ Scandal" - written by Timothy Lynch

"Stop the ‘Plague of Prisons’" - written by Mansfield Frazier

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Thermal Imaging = Probable Cause?

In an interesting case from Georgia, James Brundige's attorney argues to the state's Supreme Court that "thermal imaging is not enough for police to obtain a search warrant." The case is a spin-off of the United States Supreme Court decision in Kyllo v. United States. In Kyllo, the Supreme Court found that "[w]here . . . the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a 'search' and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant."

In the story (link above) "[p]olice contend the grainy video they got shows heat given off by grow lights and energy consumption that was greater than in neighboring homes, providing them with probable cause to get a second search warrant to enter James Brundige’s Athens home."

The case is interesting considering what other uses people may have for heat lamps and other devices that emit an extra amount of heat/energy.

Eleventh Circuit Activity

Diaz v. State of Florida, et al.

Opinion Date: June 11, 2012
Docket: 10-15202
Judge: Wilson
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Petitioner appealed the district court's dismissal of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for failure to meet the "in custody" requirement. The district court found that because petitioner had completely served the sentence imposed by the state court, he was no longer "in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court" as required by section 2254(a). The court affirmed the district court's dismissal because petitioner served his state sentence and was presently in custody of a different sovereign.
View Case on: Justia  Google Scholar

Monday, June 11, 2012

New Duval County Courthouse

After much delay the new Duval County Courthouse will open for business next Monday.  This week, judges and staff will be moving in.  The Florida Times-Union published a comprehensive article this morning highlighting the now infamous struggle to complete the move from the old courthouse. 

Keep up to date with amended court hearing times at the Clerk's website.

Jerry Sandusky Trial

Opening statements began Monday morning in the trial of former Penn State University football assistant Jerry Sandusky.  Interestingly, several members of the jury have what some may call "serious connections" to the University. One juror has been a long time season ticket holder for Penn State football.  Follow the coverage at the links below.

Jerry Sandusky Trial: Jurors Picked For Child Sex Abuse Case: Huffington Post

Testimony Begins in Sandusky Trial: ESPN

Florida Supreme Court

Nordelo v. State

Opinion Date: June 7, 2012
Docket: SC11-23
Judge: LaBarga
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Petitioner was found guilty of armed robbery of a convenience store when he was 19-years-old and was sentenced to life in prison as a habitually violent offender. At issue was the summary denial of an evidentiary hearing in postconviction proceedings under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. The court concluded that the district court misapplied the court's precedent and in so doing erred in affirming the summary denial of petitioner's successive motion for postconviction relief based on newly discovered evidence. Accordingly, the court quashed the decision below and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the newly discovered evidence claim involving only the affidavit of the codefendant.
View Case on: Justia  Google Scholar

Gaffney v. Tucker, etc.

Opinion Date: June 7, 2012
Docket: SC11-2136
Judge: Per curiam
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
Petitioner, an inmate in state custody, filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction and sentence. The court dismissed the petition in this case by way of an unpublished order, determining that the petition was unauthorized pursuant to Baker v. State. In disposing of the petition, the court expressly retained jurisdiction to pursue possible sanctions against petitioner. After considering petitioner's show cause response, the court concluded that it failed to show cause why he should not be sanctioned. Petitioner's unauthorized petition was a frivolous proceeding and petitioner had compiled a history of pro se filings that were devoid of merit or inappropriate for review.
View Case on: Justia  Google Scholar

Inquiry Concerning a Judge,

No. 10-420 Re: William Singbush

Opinion Date: June 7, 2012
Docket: SC11-905
Judge: Per curiam
Areas of Law: Legal Ethics

This action arose when the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) served a Notice of Formal Charges on Judge Singbush for violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Specifically, the charges stated, among other things, multiple allegations of tardiness or actions that caused scheduling inconveniences or inefficiencies, as well as actions in presiding over Jumbolair, Inc. v. Garemore. The court approved the stipulation and the JQC's Findings and Recommendation recommending that Judge Singbush receive a public reprimand, submit written weekly logs to special counsel of the JQC for one year after the publication of the opinion, and submit a signed letter of public apology to the JQC.

View Case on: Justia  Google Scholar

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals

Summaries for May 31, 2012
  • United States v. Cortes-Salazar
    Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
  • Opinion Date: May 30, 2012
  • Docket: 11-11428
    Judge: Marcus
    Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
    Defendant appealed from his sentence of illegal reentry of a deported alien. The district court enhanced his base offense level by sixteen levels because he had previously been convicted of a "crime of violence" under U.S.S.G. 2L1.2(b)(1)(A), and reduced it by three levels under U.S.S.G. 3E1.1 for acceptance of responsibility. The court held that the distinct definition of "crime of violence" provided in the commentary to section 2L1.2 remained "authoritative" and the district court did not err by relying on the commentary in imposing the sixteen-level enhancement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.
  • View Case on: Justia Google Scholar