ABA: US Supreme Court Update. 2009-01-15.

Supreme Court Update: A Service from the ABA Criminal Justice Section www.abanet.org/crimjust

CHAMBERS V. UNITED SATES The Court ruled in Chambers v. United Sates (No. 06-11206) that a failure to report for prison does not count as a violent crime under a federal law intended to keep repeat criminals in prison longer.

A unanimous court on Tuesday threw out a mandatory 15-year prison term given to Deondery Chambers, who pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a gun. Chambers had three prior convictions, which prosecutors argued and lower courts agreed brought him under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act.

But one of Chambers’ convictions was for his “failure to report” for weekend jail stays. The government contended that not showing up for the weekend confinement was akin to an escape and should be treated as a violent crime.

Justice Stephen Breyer rejected that argument in his opinion for the court. Breyer said a report that examined failures to report to prison found no evidence that defendants were more likely to resist arrest and potentially injure law enforcement officers or others.

In a separate opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the court is called on too often to interpret the career criminal law and suggested that Congress come up with a list of specific crimes that should trigger application of the law.

JIMINEZ V. QUARTERMAN In a second criminal case, the court unanimously ruled for a Texas prison inmate seeking federal review of his 43-year prison term. The court interpreted a dead line determining when a judgment is final for purposes of section 28 U.S.C. 2244 (d)(1)(A). The USSC held that a federal appeals court in New Orleans was wrong to find that Carlos Jiminez had missed a deadline for filing his paperwork in federal court. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion, holding that where a state court grants a criminal defendant the right to file an out-of-time direct appeal during state collateral review, but before the defendant has first sought federal habeas relief, his judgment is not “final” for purposes of section .2244 (d)(1)(A) until the conclusion of the out-of-time direct appeal, or the expiration of the time for seeking certiorari review of the appeal.

The Chambers v. U.S., 06-11206, and Jiminez v. Quarterman, 07-6984 cases are available at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08slipopinion.html.


The Court ruled in HERRING v. United Sates (No. 07-513) today.

David G. Savage of the LA times reporting: The Supreme Court limited the use of the so-called “exclusionary rule” today and said that evidence seized by the police need not be thrown out if officers later learn their search warrant was faulty because of a computer mistake.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the exclusionary rule was intended to deter the police from conducting illegal searches of homes and cars. It was not intended to give criminals a free pass if officers search the wrong house or car because of a computer error at police headquarters, he said.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court upheld the drug and gun charges against an Alabama man who was stopped on a highway by an officer who had been told there was an outstanding arrest warrant for his arrest. It turns out that was a mistake.

The officer, Mark Anderson, had called and been told by a clerk in a neighboring county that Bennie Dean Herring had failed to appear on a felony charge. But minutes after Officer Anderson stopped Herring and found methamphetamine and a pistol in his car, the clerk called back to say the arrest warrant had been withdrawn. This fact had not entered into the department’s computer.

At issue for the court was whether the exclusionary rule required the evidence to be thrown out.

Roberts said the mistake here was a “negligent bookkeeping error.” It did not reflect an officer’s deliberate decision to violate the rights of the motorist.

“We conclude that when police mistakes are the result of negligence such as that described here, rather than a systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements,” the evidence need not be thrown out, Roberts said. He also quoted the famous line from Judge Benjamin Cardozo who in 1926 said that the criminal should not “go free because the constable has blundered.”

Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito joined the chief justice.

The dissenters said the court should not retreat from enforcing the exclusionary rule. “The most serious impact of the court’s holding will be on innocent persons wrongfully arrested based on erroneous information carefully maintained in a computer data base,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Supreme Court also ruled in Oregon v. Ice (07-901) today.

AP reporting: The courts ruling allowed for judges discretion in sentencing criminal defendants convicted of multiple crimes.

In a case from Oregon, the court says in a 5-4 ruling that a judge may order a defendant convicted of multiple crimes to serve sentences one after the other, rather than at the same time.

The case is the latest in a nearly decade-old effort by the court to define where the Sixth Amendment’s right to a jury trial limits judicial discretion in sentencing.

An Oregon jury convicted Thomas Eugene Ice of twice breaking into an apartment and sexually abusing an 11-year-old girl.

A judge sentenced Ice to 80 months for each burglary count and 90 months for each sexual abuse count and ordered that Ice serve all the time in prison. The Oregon Supreme Court, however, ruled that the judge lacked the authority to impose consecutive sentences without specific jury findings.

The Herring v. U.S. (No. 07-513), and Oregon v. Ice (No. 07-901) cases are available at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08slipopinion.html

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