Recent SCOTUS Cases

The Federal Docket

Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez (SCOTUS, May 2022)

In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court held that there is no right to counsel in state post-conviction proceedings and, as such, a petitioner’s ineffective assistance claim must be evident on the face of the state court record, rather than developed through an evidentiary hearing.

Brown v. Davenport (U.S. Supreme Court, April 2022)

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that a federal court reviewing a state court’s denial of a habeas petition must apply the standards set forth under AEDPA and the Supreme Court’s holding in Brecht v. Abrahamson, where the Court held that a state prisoner must show that an error had a “substantial and injurious effect or influence” on his trial. AEDPA, on the other hand, sets forth a standard that is more difficult to meet–the state prisoner must show that the state court’s judgment was “contrary to” or an “unreasonable application” of “clearly established federal law.”

Accordingly, state prisoners challenging their convictions in federal court will not only have to show error or ineffective assistance of counsel at the trial level and error at the appellate level, they will also have to show prejudice under Brecht and that the appellate courts that affirmed the judgment did contrary to, or in an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.

Hemphill v. New York (U.S. Supreme Court, January 2022)

In a 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court reversed Hemphill’s conviction and remanded his case for a new trial. The Court held that the admission of a transcript from another suspect’s plea allocution implicating Hemphill violated Hemphill’s Sixth Amendment confrontation right. The Court rejected its previous “reliability” exception to the confrontation requirement—drawn from Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56 (1980)—clarifying that the only real exception permitted was in the case of an unavailable witness whom the defendant had already had an opportunity to cross-examine on the same matter. The Court also rejected the assertion that the “opening the door rule” applied in the context of the Confrontation Clause.

Wooden v. United States. (U.S. Supreme Court, March 2022)

The Supreme Court issued a significant opinion regarding the applicability of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) to a defendant with multiple convictions that arise from a single criminal episode. William Dale Wooden was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison under the ACCA based on the district court finding that he had several prior convictions for a “violent felony” based on his prior convictions for burglary. Wooden had committed 10 burglaries that were charged as separate counts in an indictment, and he pleaded guilty to all of the counts. The Supreme Court reversed the district court, holding that Wooden’s prior convictions counted as only one prior conviction for the purposes of the ACCA since the burglaries arose out of “a single criminal episode in 1997,” when Wooden broke into a storage facility and then stole items from 10 separate storage units. These successive burglaries occurred on “one occasion” and thus could not be counted as separate convictions.

Justice Gorsuch concurred, emphasizing the importance of the rule of lenity. His concurrence includes a lengthy discussion of the rule, its origins, and its significance.

United States v. Wilson (9th Cir. September 2021)

The Ninth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction for child pornography. The district court should have suppressed evidence where the Government engaged in a warrantless search of the defendant’s email attachments, which had been forwarded to the government by Google’s automated system. Since the government was the first to review these files, the private search exception did not apply.

Lange v. California (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 6-3 opinion with several justices concurring in the judgment, the Supreme Court reversed the denial of a defendant’s suppression motion after an officer entered his garage without a warrant after chasing him for a misdemeanor traffic offense. The Court held that the flight of a person suspected of a misdemeanor does not categorically create exigency sufficient to allow the warrantless entry into a home. Instead, a case-by-case analysis must be performed to see if, under the totality of the circumstances, there is a true emergent need to act before a warrant could be obtained.

Terry v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 9-0 decision (with J. Sotomayor concurring in the judgment), the Supreme Court held that a defendant who had been convicted for a crack-cocaine offense that did not carry a mandatory minimum did not have a conviction for a “covered offense” under the First Step Act and was thus ineligible to move for a sentence reduction. The First Step Act had the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.

Greer v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In an almost unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that defendants in post-conviction proceedings alleging plain error under Rehaif must make a sufficient showing that they could have presented evidence at trial that they did not know they were a felon at the time they possessed the firearm. The Court affirmed the conviction of two defendants, one who pleaded guilty and one who was convicted by a jury, after finding that neither of them had presented any evidence or argument that they were unaware that they were felons and that both had multiple prior convictions.

Borden v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court held that prior convictions for offenses that only require a mens rea of “recklessness” cannot serve as predicate convictions under the “elements clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act. The Court reasoned that the language requiring that an offense involved the use of force “against the person of another,” reflected that the perpetrator must act purposefully and intentionally.

Van Buren v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that a defendant “exceeds authorized access” to a computer under the CFAA if they access information from an area in the computer that they are not authorized to access, and the Court clarified that a defendant does not violate the CFAA simply by using their authorized access for an improper purpose or motive. In doing so, the Court rejected the Government’s broad reading of the law and cautioned it could apply to innocuous conduct such as employees using work computers to send personal emails.

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