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United States Supreme Court: Criminal Law Cases in the October 2015 Term

CRS – United States Supreme Court: Criminal Law Cases in the October 2015 Term. Sarah S. Herman, Legislative Attorney; Charles Doyle, Senior Specialist in American Public Law. April 6, 2016.

“The white collar crimes on the Supreme Court’s 2015 docket consist of three Hobbs Act cases, one on insider trading (Salman v. United States), and the final on computer fraud (Musacchio v. United States). The Hobbs Act outlaws robbery and extortion when committed in a manner which “in any way or degree” obstructs interstate commerce. One of the Hobbs Act cases before the Court (Taylor v. United States) involves the robbery of suspected drug dealers. The second (Ocasio v. United States) consists of a kickback conspiracy between traffic cops and body shop owners. The third (McDonnell v. United States) involves a local drug manufacturer who showered a state governor and his wife with gifts in an apparent attempt to use the governor’s office as a bully pulpit for one of his products. The sex offense entries involve the sex offender registration obligations of an overseas resident (Nichols v. United States) and construction of the recidivist mandatory minimum sentencing provisions of federal law (Lockhart v. United States). Perhaps spurred on by the result below, the Supreme Court held that stun guns used for self-defense are not necessarily beyond the guarantees of the Second Amendment right to bear arms (Caetano v. Massachusetts). The other firearms cases on the Court’s docket raise interpretative issues under the Armed Career Criminal Act (Welch v. United States and Mathis v. United States)and the firearm possession disqualification triggered by a domestic violence misdemeanor (Voisine v. United States). The trio of Fourth Amendment cases present questions on the exclusionary rule (Utah v. Strieff), the warrant requirement for sobriety tests (Birchfield v. North Dakota), and qualified official immunity in the face of use of excessive force allegations ( Mullenix v. Luna). The Court’s Sixth Amendment cases this term offer a variety of issues ranging from speedy trial (Betterman v. Montana) to forfeiture and the right to counsel of choice (Luis v. United States) to the use of uncounseled convictions as predicate offenses (United States v. Bryant). Capital punishment cases represent the lion’s share of the Court’s sentencing cases this term. However, the class also includes the matter of the retroactive application of the Miller v. Alabama prohibition on a life without parole sentence for murder by a juvenile (Montgomery v. Louisiana) and the harmless error standard in sentencing cases ( United States v. Molina-Martinez). The menu of the Court’s capital punishment cases offers cases concerning jury instructions (Carr v. Kansas); jury selection (Foster v. Chatman); exclusive jury sentencing prerogatives ( Hurst v. Florida); Brady violations (Wearry v. Cain); appellate court judge recusals (Williams v. Pennsylvania); and the application of habeas corpus standards (White v. Wheeler). The Prisoner Reform Litigation Act, designed to curb frivolous inmate suits, generated two of the cases on the Court’s 2015 docket—one on the act’s installment payment feature (Bruce v. Samuels) and the other on the required exhaustion of administrative remedies (Ross v. Blake). As noted through out the course of this report, its text draws heavily from previously prepared, individual legal sidebars, published and yet to published.”

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