January 23, 2009 From the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section “> www.abanet.org/crimjust“>
Spears v. US, No. 08–5721
The government appealed a sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine base and powder cocaine in which the District Court reduced the sentencing range for crack cocaine from the 100 to 1 ratio to a 20 to one ratio based on the U. S. Sentencing Commission guidelines and the Smith and Perry cases. The District Court imposed a sentence based on a 20 to 1 ratio which was its interpretation of the mandatory minimum sentence in the case. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district Court’s interpretation of the minimum sentence in the case and imposed a tougher sentence based on the 100 to 1 ratio. The Supreme Court remanded for rehearing by the Eighth Circuit which again imposed the tougher sentence. On rehearing the Supreme Court reversed stating, “we now clarify that district courts are entitled to reject and vary categorically from the crack cocaine Guidelines based on a policy disagreement with those Guidelines.”
Pearson v. Callahan, No. 07-751
In a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 action against state law enforcement officers who conducted a warrantless search of plaintiff’s house incident to his arrest for the sale of methamphetamine to an undercover informant (whom plaintiff had voluntarily allowed into the premises), a court of appeals ruling reversing a ruling that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity is reversed where: 1) the procedure the Supreme Court mandated in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001), should not be regarded as an inflexible requirement; and 2) petitioners were entitled to qualified immunity on the ground that it was not clearly established at the time of the search that their conduct was unconstitutional.
Waddington v. Sarausad, No. 07-772
In a case arising from a fatal drive-by shooting of a group of students standing in front of a Seattle high school, grant of a petition for habeas relief from defendant’s conviction for being an accomplice to second-degree murder, attempted murder, and assault is reversed where: 1) Washington courts reasonably concluded that the trial court’s instruction to the jury regarding accomplice liability was not ambiguous; and 2) even were it ambiguous, the circuit court still erred in finding the instruction so ambiguous as to cause a federal constitutional violation.