Supreme Court Opinions

The Federal Docket

Torres v. Madrid (U.S. Supreme Court, March 2021)

In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that officers who shot at a woman who was driving away had committed a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment. The Court held that an officer’s conduct can constitute a seizure even if their use of force is from a distance, as long as the conduct involves a use of force and “objectively manifests an intent to restrain.”

SCOTUS Declines to Determine Fourth Amendment Standard For Border Searches, Leaving Circuit Split Intact

The U.S. Supreme Court denied ceriorari to a petitioner seeking the Court’s determination as to what standard applies to Fourth Amendment searches at the U.S. border. The Court’s decision not to step in leaves in place a circuit split between courts that hold no probable cause or reasonable suspicion is required for law enforcement to conduct searches and those that hold there must at least be some degree of reasonable suspicion.

Andrus v. Texas (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2020)

In a per curiam opinion, a majority on the Supreme Court vacated a defendant’s death sentence and held that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective based on his failure to perform mitigation investigation, putting up mitigating evidence that backfired by bolstering the state’s case, failing to investigate the state’s aggravating evidence, and failing to present significant mitigating evidence that he could have discovered.

Ramos v. Louisiana (U.S. Supreme Court, April 2020)

In a patchwork opinion involving a lengthy discussion of stare decisis, a majority of the Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous verdict in a criminal prosecution applies to the states through the Fourteenth amendment.

Kelly v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, May 2020)

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the convictions of the Port Authority officials involved in the infamous “Bridgegate scandal,” holding that their convictions for wire fraud on a federally funded program, predicated on their blocking off certain lanes as political retribution against an opposition mayor, were not supported by sufficient evidence because they did not involve a scheme “to obtain money or property.”

Kansas v. Charles Glover, Jr. (U.S. Supreme Court, April 6, 2020)

In an 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court held that an officer has reasonable suspicion justifying a traffic stop when he runs a vehicle’s license plate and learns that the registered owner’s license has been revoked or suspended. The Court held that it is reasonable for an officer to assume that the vehicle’s driver is the registered owner, even where the registered owner’s license has been suspended, because the data shows that many individuals who have suspended licenses continue to drive anyway.

Kahler v. Kansas (U.S. Supreme Court, March 2020)

The Supreme Court held that Kansas’s insanity defense, which turns on whether the defendant was capable of understanding his conduct as opposed to understanding whether his conduct was morally wrong, did not offend due process. The Court stressed that the insanity defense changes in response to developments in mental health science and that state governments are better equipped to design the defense.

Shular v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, February 2020)

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held a defendant’s prior conviction under state law qualifies as a “serious drug offense” under the ACCA if the defendant’s conduct involves “manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance” as spelled out under the statute. In doing so, the Court rejected a categorical approach that would require courts to match the defendant’s state offenses to a “generic offense.”

McKinney v. Arizona (U.S. Supreme Court, February 2020)

The Supreme Court held that allowing a state appellate court to reweigh the aggravating and mitigating factors in a capital case under Clemons v. Mississippi is a permissible remedy after a finding on collateral review that the sentence court failed to consider mitigating factors in violation of Eddings v. Oklahoma.

Holguin-Hernandez v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, February 2020)

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that a defendant has preserved his ability to appeal a sentence as substantively unreasonable as long as the sentence ultimately imposed was longer than the sentence he requested.

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