Category Archives: United States Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Expands Gun Rights

Gun Bans and Regulations: From a Second Amendment Advocate – The Wildezine

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for Self-Defense. Their ruling marks a major expansion of gun rights after a series of mass shootings. It’s also a ruling likely to lead to more people legally armed.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The state of New York passed a law requiring a person to show a special need for self-protection in order to to receive a license to carry a firearm outside their home. Robert Nash and Brandon Koch challenged the law after New York rejected their concealed-carry applications based on failure to show “proper cause.” A federal district court dismissed their claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court took the issue up on appeal.

LEGAL ISSUE

Does New York’s law requiring that applicants for unrestricted concealed-carry licenses demonstrate a special need for self-defense violate the Second Amendment?

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Holding: New York’s proper-cause requirement for obtaining an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm violates the Fourteenth Amendment. It prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion and said the following:

“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees. The exercise of other constitutional rights does not require individuals to demonstrate to government officers some special need. The Second Amendment right to carry arms in public for self- defense is no different. New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.” ~Justice Thomas, United States Supreme Court

With that, the Supreme Court reversed the lower federal court’s holding.

The Court’s split was 6-3 with the court’s conservatives in the majority and liberals in dissent. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion. Justice Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion, in which Chief Justice Roberts joined. Justice Barrett filed a concurring opinion. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Sotomayor and Justice Kagan joined.

In a dissent joined by his liberal colleagues, Justice Stephen Breyer focused on the toll from gun violence. He wrote that since the beginning of this year, there have already been 277 reported mass shootings — an average of more than one per day. He accused his colleagues in the majority of acting “without considering the potentially deadly consequences” of their decision. He said the ruling would “severely” burden states’ efforts to pass laws “that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds.”

Several other conservative justices who joined Thomas’ majority opinion also wrote separately to add their views.

Justice Samuel Alito criticized Breyer’s dissent, questioning the relevance of his discussion of mass shootings and other gun death statistics. Alito wrote that the court had decided “nothing about who may lawfully possess a firearm or the requirements that must be met to buy a gun” and nothing “about the kinds of weapons that people may possess.”

“Today, unfortunately, many Americans have good reason to fear they will be victimized if they are unable to protect themselves.” The Second Amendment, he said, “guarantees their right to do so.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, noted the limits of the decision. States can still require people to get a license to carry a gun, Kavanaugh wrote, and condition that license on “fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force, among other possible requirements.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Firearm Offenses or any other crimes. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

U.S Supreme Court Could Soon Expand the Right to Carry Guns.

Supreme Court to Hear Gun Control Case - The New York Times

Journalist Amber Philips reports that the U.S Supreme Court could soon drastically expand the right to carry guns. New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen will be the court’s first major Second Amendment case in more than a decade. It takes place amid rising national gun violence and an uptick in gun sales in recent years. In short, what the justices decide could unravel laws across the nation restricting who can carry guns in public.

BACKGROUND FACTS

For 108 years, New York State Law law holds that anyone who wants to carry a gun in public must adhere to specific guidelines. They must apply for a license, be at least 21, have no criminal record, and have “good moral character.” This is the part really being challenged — a demonstrated need to carry the gun beyond average public safety fears. This is known as “proper cause.”

Two men from Upstate New York challenged the state’s law when they applied to carry a gun at all times but received allowances only for hunting or going to and from work. They sued, arguing the strict law violated their Second Amendment rights to “keep and bear arms.”

Even though the law has been on the books for so long, it’s at risk of being knocked down now by a newly cemented conservative Supreme Court majority. And depending on how widely the justices rule, they could knock down other state laws like it.

Supporters of New York’s Law

Mostly liberal states such as California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey have similar public carry restrictions, and so do several big cities. Supporters of these laws argue that they’re necessary in high-density areas and that the Constitution allows states to govern themselves. Supporters also argue that such restrictions have been around for centuries. By itself, this shows the value society has placed on public safety over gun rights in public places.

Opponents of New York’s Law

Critics say requiring people to justify why they need to carry a gun in public puts a burden specifically on the Second Amendment’s right to “bear” arms. Challengers to the law told the Supreme Court that a person should not have to show a “special need” to exercise a constitutional right.

According to journalist Amber Philips, this case has mixed up traditional political lines on guns. Several Republican lawyers filed a brief supporting laws like New York’s, arguing that specifically in the District of Columbia, public carry restrictions “may well have prevented a massacre” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Meanwhile, a group of public defenders in New York City argue that the law disproportionately affects the constitutional rights of Black and Latino New Yorkers.

This Case Could Affect Gun Laws Across the Nation

The Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in recently on whether the Second Amendment protects carrying guns outside the home. In 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, the court said the Second Amendment protects the right to own a gun for self-defense in the home, and in McDonald v. Chicago in 2010, it made clear that state and local gun control measures (and not just federal ones) also must respect that right.

New York City officials fear that the Supreme Court could force the state to allow more people to carry more guns in public places. Gun violence there has doubled in recent years, from their historic lows in the years before the pandemic.

“In a densely populated community like New York, this ruling could have a major impact on us.” ~New York Mayor Eric Adams

Washington’s firearms laws are codified in chapter 9.41 RCW. Cities, towns, counties, and other municipalities may also have certain laws and ordinances affecting the use, possession or sale of firearms. You can contact your sheriff’s office or police department through the local city or county government to determine if any local laws have been adopted.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Firearm Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Ketanji Brown Jackson to Serve on the US Supreme Court

Cruz, Cornyn voted against Ketanji Brown Jackson last year for a lower  court | The Texas Tribune

Last week, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She won by a 53-47 vote, with the support of 50 Democratic senators and three Republicans.
This is excellent news. Justice Jackson deepens the Court with her vast experience in criminal law. She is a former federal judge and public defender.

Who Is Ketanji Brown Jackson?

Ketanji Brown Jackson, born Ketanji Onyika Brown in 1970, is a former federal judge and public defender nominated by President Joe Biden to become an associate justice on the Supreme Court. She was the first Black woman to be nominated—and confirmed—for a seat on the high court. Jackson grew up in Miami and shared in her high school yearbook her goal to eventually receive a judicial appointment. She obtained both her undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard and is married to a fellow Harvard alum.

Supreme Court Nomination

On February 25, 2022, President Biden announced he was nominating Jackson to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer. The U.S. Senate voted to confirm her on April 7, 2022.

Once she’s sworn in, Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She will also be the first federal public defender to sit on the court and the first justice since Thurgood Marshall to represent criminal defendants.

Though Jackson worked for several private law firms, she spent most of her legal career as a public servant. After earning her law degree from Harvard in 1996, she clerked for two federal judges. She held a Supreme Court clerkship for Justice Breyer during the 1999-2000 term.

Jackson took a job with the bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2003, the first of her two stints on the commission. From 2005 to 2007, she worked as an assistant federal public defender in Washington, D.C. Her caseload included representing indigent clients and some detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

Jackson returned to private practice before being selected to serve as vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2010. She was seen as a consensus builder in shaping federal sentencing policy at a time when federal prisons were over capacity. The commission came to unanimous agreement to lower federal drug sentences and granted this relief retroactively.

Ascension to the Bench

In 2012, Jackson was nominated by President Barack Obama to join the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The Senate confirmed her by voice vote in March 2013.

On this court, Jackson’s notable cases included a 2019 ruling that President Donald Trump‘s former White House counsel could not use executive privilege to avoid a congressional subpoena. Her decision noted, “Presidents are not kings.”

Exigent Circumstance DUI

William's Wooden Garage (Essex) | Quick-garden.co.uk

In Lange v. California, the United States Supreme Court held that the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor DUI suspect does not always qualify as an Exigent Circumstance justifying a warrantless entry into a person’s garage.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

One night, the Defendant Mr.  Lange drove by a California highway patrol officer while playing loud music. The officer followed Lange and soon after turned on his overhead lights to signal that Lange should pull over. Rather than stopping, Lange drove a short distance to his driveway and entered his attached garage.

The officer followed Lange into the garage. He questioned Lange and, after observing signs of intoxication, put him through field sobriety tests. A later blood test showed that Lange’s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit. The State charged Lange with the misdemeanor of DUI.

Lange moved to suppress the evidence obtained after the officer entered his garage, arguing that the warrantless entry violated the Fourth Amendment. The Superior Court denied Lange’s motion, and its appellate division affirmed. The California Court of Appeal also affirmed. It reasoned that the pursuit of a suspected misdemeanant was always permissible under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. The California Supreme Court denied review. The United States Supreme Court (USSC) granted it.

ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The USSC held that under the Fourth Amendment, pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not always—that is, categorically—justify a warrantless entry into a home.

The Court began by saying the Fourth Amendment ordinarily requires that a law enforcement officer obtain a judicial warrant before entering a home without permission. But an officer may make a warrantless entry when the exigencies of the situation, considered in a case-specific way, create a compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant. The Court has found that such exigent circumstances may exist when an officer must act to prevent imminent injury, the destruction of evidence, or a suspect’s escape.

The Court reasoned that misdemeanors run the gamut of seriousness, and they may be minor. States tend to apply the misdemeanor label to less violent and less dangerous crimes. Furthermore, it reasoned that when a minor offense (and no flight) is involved, police officers do not usually face the kind of emergency that can justify a warrantless home entry.

“Add a suspect’s flight and the calculus changes—but not enough to justify a categorical rule,” said the Court. It further reasoned that in many cases, flight creates a need for police to act swiftly. But no evidence suggests that every case of misdemeanor flight creates such a need.

“When the totality of circumstances shows an emergency—a need to act before it is possible to get a warrant—the police may act without waiting. Those circumstances include the flight itself. But pursuit of a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing a warrantless home entry.” ~United States Supreme Court.

The Court followed up by saying In short, the common law did not have — and does not support — a categorical rule allowing warrantless home entry when a suspected misdemeanant flees.  With that, the Court vacated Mr. Lange’s criminal conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a DUI or any other crime involving search and seizure issues. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Supreme Court Sides with Police Officer who Improperly Searched License Plate Database

CA police officers keep jobs despite criminal convictions | The Sacramento Bee

In Van Buren v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held that defendant Nathan Van Buren, a Georgia police officer Buren, did not violate the nation’s top computer crime law when he searched a license plate database for non-official purposes.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Former Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren used his patrol-car computer to access a law enforcement database to retrieve information about a particular license plate number in exchange for money. Van Buren agreed. The requestor – a third party who offered to pay him to search the database – was an undercover FBI informant. Van Buren used his own valid credentials to perform the search. However, his conduct clearly violated a department policy against obtaining database information for non-law-enforcement purposes.

Again, unbeknownst to Van Buren, his actions were part of a FBI sting operation. Van Buren was charged with a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA), which subjects to criminal liability anyone who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access.” 18 U. S. C. §1030(a)(2). A jury convicted Van Buren, and the lower federal District Court sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

Van Buren appealed his conviction to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the “exceeds authorized access” clause applies only to those who obtain information to which their computer access does not extend, not to those who misuse access that they otherwise have. Consistent with Eleventh Circuit precedent, the panel held that Van Buren had violated the CFAA.

Van Buren appealed again, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court.

COURT’S RATIONALE & CONCLUSIONS

In a 6-3 majority opinion penned by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Court held that Van Buren’s conduct did not violate the CFAA when he searched a license plate database for non-official purposes.

Justice Barrett wrote that Van Buren’s conduct “plainly flouted” his department’s policy, which authorized him to obtain database information only for law enforcement purposes.
“The parties agree that Van Buren accessed a computer with authorization and obtained information in the computer,” wrote Justice Barrett.  “They dispute whether Van Buren was entitled so to obtain that information.”
Regarding that specific issue, Justice Barrett reasoned the provision of the law at issue does not cover those who have improper motives for obtaining information that is otherwise available to them.  And regarding the issue of whether Van Buren violated the CFAA  – the truly important legal issue of the case –  Justice Barrett wrote “he did not.”
“The relevant question, however, is not whether Van Buren exceeded his authorized access but whether he exceeded his authorized access as the CFAA defines that phrase. For reasons given elsewhere, he did not.” ~U.S. Supreme Court Justice Barrett, Majority Opinion

“To top it all off,” she wrote, the government’s expansive interpretation of the law “would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity.” Simply checking personal email or reading the news on a work computer would be considered a crime, Barrett added.

“The Government’s interpretation of the “exceeds authorized access” clause would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity. For instance, employers commonly state that computers and electronic devices can be used only for business purposes. On the Government’s reading, an employee who sends a personal e-mail or reads the news using a work computer has violated the CFAA.” ~U.S. Supreme Court Justice Barrett, Majority Opinion

Finally, Justice Barrett reasoned that the Government’s prosecution would also inject arbitrariness into the assessment of criminal liability, because whether conduct like Van Buren’s violated the CFAA would depend on how an employer phrased the policy violated.

With that, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Van Buren’s criminal conviction.

THE DISSENT

In his dissent, Justice Thomas compared Van Buren’s actions to a valet charged with parking a car, writing that the law should have covered the police officers’ actions. The valet, Thomas wrote, may “take possession of a person’s car to park it, but he cannot take it for a joyride,” Thomas wrote. He noted that Van Buren had permission to retrieve license plate information, but only for “law enforcement purposes.”
“When the police officer accessed the database in exchange for a bribe from an acquaintance, he exceeded authorized access under the law . . . Without valid law enforcement purposes, he was forbidden to use the computer to obtain that information.” ~ U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thomas, Dissenting Opinion.
In another example, Thomas said that an employee may be entitled to pull the alarm in the event of a fire, “but he is not entitled to pull it for some other purpose, such as to delay a meeting for which he is unprepared.”
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

 

Suspended License Pullover

What If I Lose My License But Continue to Drive (Driving with a ...

In  Kansas v. Glover, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the stop of a vehicle is lawful after running the vehicle’s license plate and discovering that the registered owner’s driver’s license was suspended.

BACKGROUND FACTS

A Kansas police officer on traffic patrol performed a computer DOL check and stopped Defendant’s car for the sole reason that the car’s registered owner had a suspended license. The Defendant turned out to be the registered owner, and was arrested.

The Kansas Supreme Court held that the stop violated the Fourth Amendment. It reasoned that without further suspicion that the current driver was, in fact, the registered owner of the car, a stop solely premised on information that the registered owner had a suspended license violated the Fourth Amendment.

Kansas petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review, which was granted. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court in its 8-1 decision.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether the Fourth Amendment allows police to stop a car when the only reason police have for the stop is that the car’s registered owner has a suspended license.

COURT’S ANALYSIS

The U.S. Supreme Court reasoned that an officer may initiate a brief investigative traffic stop when he has “a particularized and objective basis” to suspect legal wrongdoing.

“Here, the deputy’s common-sense inference that the owner of a vehicle was likely the vehicle’s driver provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop,” said the Court. “That inference is not made unreasonable merely because a vehicle’s driver is not always its registered owner or because Glover had a revoked license.”

The Court further reasoned that empirical studies demonstrate that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses frequently continue to drive. Also, the Court reasoned that Officers, like jurors, may rely on probabilities in the reasonable suspicion context.

“Moreover, the deputy here did more than that: He combined facts obtained from a database and commonsense judgments to form a reasonable suspicion that a specific individual was potentially engaged in specific criminal activity.” ~Justice Thomas, U.S. Supreme Court

My opinion?  This decision is consistent with existing Washington precedent.  Under State v. McKinney, a vehicle may be stopped based upon DOL records which indicate that the driver’s license of the  registered owner of the vehicle is suspended.  The officer need not affirmatively verify that the driver’s appearance matches that of the registered owner before making the stop, but the Terry stop must end as soon as the  officer determines that the operator of the vehicle cannot be the registered owner.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member experience a questionable traffic stop from police. Hiring an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Guilty Verdicts Must Be Unanimous

In Louisiana, you can be convicted of a serious crime by a 10-2 ...

In Ramos v. Louisiana, the United States Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that guilty verdicts must be unanimous.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 48 States and federal court, a single juror’s vote to acquit is enough to prevent a conviction. But two States, Louisiana and Oregon, have long punished people based on 10-to-2 verdicts.

In this case, the defendant Mr. Ramos was convicted of second degree murder in a Louisiana court by a 10-to-2 jury verdict. Instead of the mistrial he would have received almost anywhere else, Ramos was sentenced to life without parole. He appealed his conviction by a nonunanimous jury as an unconstitutional denial of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court, which reversed Ramos’s conviction on the basis that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial—as incorporated against the States by way of the Fourteenth Amendment—requires a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense.

First, the Court reasoned that a “trial by an impartial jury” requires that a jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.

“Juror unanimity emerged as a vital common law right in 14th-century England, appeared in the early American state constitutions, and provided the backdrop against which the Sixth Amendment was drafted and ratified . . . Thus, if the jury trial right requires a unanimous verdict in federal court, it requires no less in state court.” ~Justice Gorsuch, United States Supreme Court

Second, the Court reasoned Louisiana’s and Oregon’s unconventional jury trial schemes had a long history of being viewed as unconstitutional. It stated that jury unanimity was essential to the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that a unanimous jury requirement strengthens deliberations, ensures more accurate outcomes, fosters greater consideration of minority viewpoints, and boosts confidence in verdicts and the justice system.

Finally, the Supreme Court overturned its deeply divided decision in Apodaca v. Oregon, which concluded that jury unanimity was required in federal criminal trials but not in state criminal trials. In short, the Court reasoned that modern empirical evidence and subsequent case law have undermined Apodaca’s reasoning and conclusions.

My opinion? The Court’s decision was a major victory for protecting the rights of criminal defendants. The Court recognized that jury unanimity has historically been an essential element of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial trial by jury in criminal cases. Also, the potential impact of Ramos v. Louisiana extends far beyond issues of criminal procedure, as the justices’ spirited debate over when and whether to overturn precedent took center stage and illustrated deep divisions within the Court.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an experienced and competent criminal defense attorney is the best step toward justice.

Investigative Stop

Police are searching far fewer cars in states that have legalized ...

In Kansas v. Glover, the United States Supreme Court held that a police officer’s investigative traffic stop made after running the vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner’s driver’s license has been revoked is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. 

BACKGROUND FACTS

A Kansas deputy sheriff ran a license plate check on a pickup truck, discovering that the truck belonged to respondent Glover and that Glover’s driver’s license had been revoked. The deputy pulled the truck over because he assumed that Glover was driving. Glover was in fact driving and was charged with driving as a habitual violator.

He moved to suppress all evidence from the stop, claiming that the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion. The District Court granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Kansas Supreme Court in turn reversed, holding that the deputy violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping Glover without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Thomas delivered the majority opinion for the Court.

His ruling states that an officer may initiate a brief investigative traffic stop when he has a particularized and objective basis to suspect legal wrongdoing. The Court reasoned that the level of suspicion required is less than that necessary for probable cause and depends on the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.

“Courts must therefore permit officers to make commonsense judgments and inferences about human behavior.” ~Justice Thomas, U.S. Supreme Court

“Here, the deputy’s commonsense inference that the owner of a vehicle was likely the vehicle’s driver provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop,” reasoned Justice Thomas. Though common sense suffices to justify the officer’s inference, empirical studies demonstrate that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses frequently continue to drive. “And Kansas’ license-revocation scheme, which covers drivers who have already demonstrated a disregard for the law or are categorically unfit to drive, reinforces the reasonableness of the inference that an individual with a revoked license will continue to drive,” said Justice Thomas.

The Court said scope of its holding is narrow. “The reasonable suspicion standard takes into account the totality of the circumstances,” said the Court. “The presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion, but here, the deputy possessed no information sufficient to rebut the reasonable inference that Glover was driving his own truck.”

With that, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision that the deputy violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping Glover without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

My opinion? The Supreme Court’s decision is not surprising. And in truth, it’s consistent with existing Washington precedent.  In State v. McKinney, and State v. Phillips, the WA Court of Appeals held that a vehicle may be stopped based upon DOL records which indicate that the driver’s license of the  registered owner of the vehicle is suspended.  The officer need not affirmatively verify that the driver’s appearance matches that of the registered owner before making the stop, but the Terry stop must end as soon as the  officer determines that the operator of the vehicle cannot be the registered owner.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with crimes after a questionable search and seizure. Hiring a competent attorney is the first and best step toward gaining justice.

Federal Government Seeks Death Penalty

The Trump Administration Announced It's Bringing Back the Federal Death  Penalty. Is It That Simple? – Mother Jones

Reporter of the New York Times wrote a compelling article stating the federal government seeks the death penalty of death row inmates after a nearly two-decade hiatus, countering a broad national shift away from the death penalty as public support for capital punishment has dwindled.

Attorney General William P. Barr announced that five men convicted of murdering children will be executed in December and January at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, and additional executions will be scheduled later. The announcement reversed what had been essentially a moratorium on the federal death penalty since 2003.

Prosecutors still seek the death penalty in some federal cases, including for Dylann S. Roof, the avowed white supremacist who gunned down nine African-American churchgoers in 2015, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. Both were convicted and sentenced to death.

President Trump has long supported the death penalty, declaring last year that drug dealers should be executed. By applying it to inmates convicted of murdering children, he may make a more politically powerful argument for it amid diminishing public support.

But public attitudes toward the death penalty have changed in the ensuing decades. Support for it went from nearly 80 percent in 1996 to a two-decade low three years ago, when just under half of Americans polled backed it for people convicted of murder, according to the Pew Research Center. Public backing of capital punishment ticked back up to 54 percent last year, the center found.

Capital punishment fell out of favor as researchers questioned whether it deterred people from committing heinous crimes and as more defense lawyers proved that their clients had been wrongfully convicted. Fewer than two dozen executions have occurred annually in the United States in recent years, down from a high of 98 in 1999, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Civil rights advocates have also noted the racial disparity among inmates on death row and argued that capital punishment was disproportionately applied to black men.

“The death penalty is plagued by racial bias and geographic bias,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Junk science has played an outsized role in who gets the death penalty and who does not,” she added, pointing to instances of experts overstating hair or fingerprint evidence in court testimony.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a capital crime like murder or homicide and the Death Penalty is a possible consequence. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Flowers v. Mississippi: Supreme Court Finds Race-Based Peremptory Strikes Unlawful

Image result for batson peremptory

In Flowers v. Mississippi, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the State’s peremptory strikes in the defendant’s first four trials strongly supported the conclusion that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in the defendant’s sixth trial was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Curtis Flowers was tried six separate times for the murder of four employees of a Mississippi furniture store. Flowers is black. Three of the four victims were white. At the first two trials, the State used its peremptory strikes on all of the qualified black prospective jurors.

In each case, the jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death, but the convictions were later reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court based on prosecutorial misconduct. At the third trial, the State used all of its 15 peremptory strikes against black prospective jurors, and the jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death.

The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed again, this time concluding that the State exercised its peremptory strikes on the basis of race in violation of Batson v. Kentucky. Flowers’ fourth and fifth trials ended in mistrials. At the fourth, the State exercised 11 peremptory strikes—all against black prospective jurors. No available racial information exists about the prospective jurors in the fifth trial.

At the sixth trial, the State exercised six peremptory strikes—five against black prospective jurors, allowing one black juror to be seated. Flowers again raised a Batson challenge, but the trial court concluded that the State had offered race-neutral reasons for each of the five peremptory strikes. The jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. Flowers appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justices Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan joined. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch dissented.

Kavanaugh began by discussing the history behind the landmark Batson v. Kentucky. In his majority opinion he explained that under Batson, once a prima facie case of discrimination has been shown by a defendant, the State must provide race-neutral reasons for its peremptory strikes. The trial judge then must determine whether the prosecutor’s stated reasons were the actual reasons or instead were a pretext for discrimination.

“Four categories of evidence loom large in assessing the Batson issue here, where the State had a persistent pattern of striking black prospective jurors from Flowers’ first through his sixth trial,” said Justice Kavanaugh.

The Court reasoned that here, a review of the history of the State’s peremptory strikes in Flowers’ first four trials strongly supports the conclusion that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent:

“The State tried to strike all 36 black prospective jurors over the course of the first four trials. And the state courts themselves concluded that the State had violated Batson on two separate occasions. The State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury.”

The Court also reasoned that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial followed the same discriminatory pattern as the first four trials.

“Disparate questioning can be probative of discriminatory intent,” said the Court.  “Here, the State spent far more time questioning the black prospective jurors than the accepted white jurors—145 questions asked of 5 black prospective jurors and 12 questions asked of 11 white seated jurors.”

Consequently, along with the historical evidence from the earlier trials, as well as the State’s striking of five of six black prospective jurors at the sixth trial, the dramatically disparate questioning and investigation of black prospective jurors and white prospective jurors at the sixth trial strongly suggest that the State was motivated in substantial part by a discriminatory intent.

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that comparing prospective jurors who were struck and not struck is an important step in determining whether a Batson violation occurred. “Here, Carolyn Wright, a black prospective juror, was struck, the State says, in part because she knew several defense witnesses and had worked at Wal-Mart where Flowers’ father also worked,” said the Court. “But three white prospective jurors also knew many individuals involved in the case, and the State asked them no individual questions about their connections to witnesses. White prospective jurors also had relationships with members of Flowers’ family, but the State did not ask them follow-up questions in order to explore the depth of those relationships.”

Finally, the Court ruled that the State also incorrectly explained that it exercised a peremptory strike against Wright because she had worked with one of Flowers’ sisters and made apparently incorrect statements to justify the strikes of other black prospective jurors. “When considered with other evidence, a series of factually inaccurate explanations for striking black prospective jurors can be another clue showing discriminatory intent,” said the Court. Consequently, the trial court at Flowers’ sixth trial committed clear error in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of black prospective juror Carolyn Wright was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent. Pp. 26–30.

With that, the Supreme Court reversed Flowers’ conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court.

My opinion? Good decision. Although the facts and allegations are terrible for Mr. Flowers, prosecutors simply cannot use exercise race-based peremptory challenges to get justice.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

119 North Commercial St.
Suite #1420
Bellingham, WA 98225

117 North 1st Street
Suite #27
Mount Vernon, WA 98273

Phone: (360) 746-2642
Fax: (360) 746-2949

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