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Supreme Court Begins New Term

Monday, the Supreme Court, with newly appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor, begins its new term. Among the cases of interest:

  • Whether police may reinterrogate a continuously imprisoned suspect about an offense for which he invoked his right to counsel three years earlier
  • The applicability of Second Amendment gun rights to state and local governments
  • Whether the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment bars Florida from imprisoning juveniles for the rest of their lives without any possibility for parole.
  • The validity of a federal law that allows the government to hold alleged sexual predators indefinitely in protective custody once they are deemed to be "sexually dangerous," even after they have served a full criminal sentence.
  • Whether Congress has the power to ban possession and distribution of images of animal cruelty, such as pit bull fights.

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"Millenium Bomber " Sentence Upheld

The Supreme Court today upheld the conviction and sentence of the LAX "Millenium Bomber" in 2000. The issue was the ten year consecutive mandatory minimum sentence if a defendant is found to have carried carries explosives during the commission of a crime. The 8-1 opinion is here(pdf). Via Scotus Blog:

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian national identified by the government as an Al-Qaeda operative, who was foiled in an attempt to detonate explosives in the Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millenium in 2000 — Dec. 31, 1999.

...It was sufficient to violate that law, Stevens wrote, that explosives were found in a car the accused was driving when he committed the crime of making a false statement to a customs official. It was not necessary, the opinion said, that the explosives be directly linked to the specific felony committed.

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Supreme Court Upholds Child P*orn Law

The Supreme Court has upheld a part of the PROTECT Act that provides a five year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of child pornography. The Court found the law was not vague or over-reaching. The case is U.S. v. Williams and the opinion is here (pdf).

The court, in a 7-2 decision, brushed aside concerns that the law could apply to mainstream movies that depict adolescent sex, classic literature or innocent e-mails that describe pictures of grandchildren.

The law sets a five-year mandatory prison term for promoting, or pandering, child p*rn. It does not require that someone actually possess child p*rnography. Opponents have said the law could apply to movies like "Traffic" or "Titanic" that depict adolescent sex.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Anton Scalia. Justices Ginsberg and Souter dissented. More...

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Stakes High in Voter ID Case

By Wendy Weiser

While the country is closely following the presidential primary contests, another contest is being fought that will determine the way many Americans--and even which Americans--will vote in November and in years to come.  The contest is not about candidates but about the voting process itself.  And it won't be decided by voters but by the U.S. Supreme Court.  

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Supreme Court to Hear Drug Sentencing Cases Today

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in two drug cases, Gall v. United States and Kimbrough v. United States.

The Kimbrough case will bring the disparate penalties for crack and powder into full focus. U.S. News today has some numbers on the sentencing disparity. The Gall case will define the circumstances under which a judge can sentence below strict federal sentencing guidelines.

In a nutshell, Gall's guidelines were 30 to 37 months for minor participation of limited duration in an ecstasy conspiracy. The Judge deviated from the Guidelines to a sentence of probation, the Government appealed and the 6th Circuit reversed the trial court.

The question in Gall (pdf):

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Supreme Court Reinstates Death Sentence

I believe that jurors should be life-qualified not death-qualified to serve on a capital jury. But, that's not the law.

The Supreme Court today, in an opinion written Justice Anthony Kennedy, reinstated the death sentence of a Washington man whose sentence was overturned because a juror had said he would consider the death penalty only in limited circumstances.

The court, in a 5-4 decision, said that the Washington state judge who presided over the trial of Cal Coburn Brown properly used his discretion to excuse a potential juror who expressed equivocal views about the death penalty.

The juror in question was challenged by prosecutors because he indicated he would impose the death penalty only if the defendant were in the position to kill again. Jurors' options were limited: they could sentence Brown to death or life in prison with no parole.

The text of the opinion is here (pdf). As the 9th Circuit noted in deciding the case differently, the juror did not unequivocally impose the death penalty.

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Supreme Court Tosses Three Texas Death Sentences

The Supreme Court today threw out three Texas death sentences.

The cases all stem from jury instructions that Texas hasn't used since 1991. Under those rules, courts have found that jurors were not allowed to give sufficient weight to factors that might cause them to impose a life sentence instead of death.

The cases were decided by a 5-4 majority, with Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and John Paul Stevens voting to overturn the sentences.

Via How Appealing:

Lyle Denniston has this post at "SCOTUSblog." You can access the opinion in Smith v. Texas, No. 05-11304, here and the oral argument transcript here. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy issued the majority opinion in a case that divided the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4.

The Court today also issued decisions in two other death penalty cases that were orally argued together (access the transcript here): Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman, No. 05-11284 (opinion here) and Brewer v. Quarterman, No. 05-11287 (opinion here).

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