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A Spate of Supreme Court Decisions

The Supreme Court has been busy lately fine-tuning the law on search-and-seizure, assistance of counsel and post-conviction procedures.  Here’s a super-quick rundown of the holdings from the past couple of weeks — and one or two biased comments.

  • Search Warrants: In Michigan v. Summers, a search of an individual during a search warrant was unconstitutional where the defendant was too far from the vicinity of the search.  Seems reasonable.
  • Dog Sniffs: In Floyd v. Harris, the Court upheld a search based on a dog sniff during a routine traffic stop, where the prosecution presented evidence that the police dog had been trained to sniff out drugs, and the defendant failed to rebut that claim. But K-9s signal “drugs” wherever their handlers tell them to — and only the confirmed sniffs make it to the appellate courts.
  • Plain Error: Under Henderson v. United States, an error qualifies as plain (and therefore need not be preserved if it affects substantial rights) if it is plain at the time the appeals court gets the case, even if it was not plain at the time the error was made.  Nice.
  • Habeas Corpus: Under Johnson v. Williams, if a state court does not expressly address a federal claim but turns down the petitioner’s appeal, the federal habeas court must presume the state court considered and rejected the claim. Not so nice.
  • Double Jeopardy: In Evans v. Michigan, the Court held that the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits retrial after a judicial acquittal, even if the judge acquits based on a conceded misreading of the substantive law. Prosecutors get one and only one chance to present their case; nice try though.
  • Assistance of Counsel: Under Chaidez v. United States, the “new rule” that counsel must warn of immigration consequences as part of advice about a plea does not apply to cases already final on direct review at the time the rule was announced in Padilla v. Kentucky. Disappointing limitation on a new source of hope for many defendants who would not have pled guilty if they knew they would be deported.
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