Recent SCOTUS Cases

The Federal Docket

Halkbank v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, April 2023)

In a matter of first impression for the Supreme Court, a 7-2 majority of the Court held that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act only applies in the civil context and that there is no statutory immunity for foreign sovereigns in the criminal context. The Court remanded to the Second Circuit, however, to determine whether a bank partially owned by the Republic of Turkey could still claim immunity under common law against claims of violating anti-Iranian sanctions.

Reed v. Goertz (U.S. Supreme Court, April 2023)

In a 6-3 decision, a majority of the Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations began running on a death row inmate’s claim of insufficient procedural due process when his prior “state litigation ended.” In this case, that was not when the trial court denied his motion for DNA testing of the murder weapon, but rather when the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Samia v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2023)

In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court held that a defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights were not violated by the trial court’s admission of his co-defendant’s confession, during which his co-defendant stated that the defendant committed the murder, because the defendant’s name had been redacted from the confession. Even though the defendant was logically the only person the co-defendant’s confession could be referring to, the Supreme Court held it was not “directly accusatory,” or at least not directly enough, to warrant reversal.

Pugin v. Garland (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2023)

In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court held that, for purposes of defining an “aggravated felony” under immigration law, a criminal offense relates to the “obstruction of justice” even if the offense is committed before there is any investigation or formal court proceeding.

Jones v. Hendrix (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2023)

In a 6-3 opinion, the majority reinforced that a petitioner cannot file a second or subsequent motion to vacate a sentence under 28 USC 2255 unless they can show “newly discovered evidence” or a “new rule of constitutional law.” Even though a majority of circuits had held that the “savings clause” under 2255(e) creates an additional exception when the available options are “inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention,” the Court held that this exception did not apply to second or subsequent motions.

United States v. Hansen (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2023)

In a 7-2 opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed a defendant’s conviction for encouraging and/or inducing an alien to come to the U.S. for a criminal purpose. The Court rejected the defendant’s facial overbreadth argument under the First Amendment, holding that “encourage” and “induce” are “terms of art” under 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) and that, as such, the statute criminalizes only the “purposeful solicitation and facilitation of specific acts known to violate federal law.”

Smith v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2023)

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution “permits the retrial of a defendant following a trial in an improper venue conducted before a jury drawn from the wrong district.”

Cruz v. Arizona (U.S. Supreme Court, February 2023)

In a case involving the adequate and independent state grounds doctrine, wherein a federal court will not consider a defendant’s petition for review of a state-court conviction unless state law is inadequate for review, a 5-4 majority held that a capital defendant denial of post-conviction relief under Arizona state law was not foreclosed from federal review. The Court held that the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision that an intervening U.S. Supreme Court opinion was not a “significant change in law” presented an exceptional case because the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision rested “on such a novel and unforeseeable interpretation of a state court procedural rule that the decision is not adequate to foreclose review of the federal claim.” The Court’s decision may broaden federal jurisdiction to consider post-conviction petitions involving questions of state law, which are normally precluded from being raised in federal court.

Dubin v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2023)

In an 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court held that a healthcare fraud defendant’s use of patient information to fraudulently bill Medicaid did not constitute aggravated identity theft under 18 USC 1028A. Under 1028A, which adds a consecutive 2-year sentence when a defendant uses or possesses another person’s means of identification during another offense, the government must show that the defendant’s use or possession of another’s identification “is at the crux” of the underlying offense. The Court concluded that 1028A penalizes “identity theft,” and it is not sufficient that another person’s identifying information was merely involved in or used in an offense without showing more.

Lora v. United States (June 2023)

At issue was whether the sentencing court erred in holding that it 924(c) deprived it of discretion to run Lora’s two sentences concurrently for drug trafficking and violating 924(j). In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that 924(j) and 924(c) set forth different offenses with different sentencing provisions. Since courts otherwise have discretion to run sentences concurrently or consecutively, the sentencing court erred in finding that it was bound by 924(c) in imposing a sentence for a violation of 924(j).

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