Tag Archives: SCOTUS

Supreme Court Hears Cases about Ineffective Counsel

The Supreme Court 2011

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The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on what should happen when defendants pass up favorable plea bargains based on unprofessional work by their lawyers.

Ninety-five percent of criminal convictions are the result of guilty pleas. Last year, the court ruled that “the negotiation of a plea bargain is a critical stage of the litigation for purposes of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.”

Last year’s case involved bad advice that caused a defendant to plead guilty. Monday’s cases, Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye, concerned defendants who, based on incompetent legal work, failed to accept attractive offers.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy appeared reluctant to adopt principles that treated poor legal work differently depending on whether it resulted in the acceptance or the rejection of a plea offer.

Everyone, including lawyers on both sides, agreed it is hard to know how to discuss the problem of ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of a foregone plea offer.

Mr. Frye was charged with driving without a license. A prosecutor offered to let him plead guilty for a ninety-day sentence. Mr. Frye’s lawyer failed to tell his client the offer. Mr. Frye pleaded guilty without a plea bargain, and a judge sentenced him to three years.

An appeals court reversed the conviction but said it was powerless to insist prosecutors revive the old deal. The court said Mr. Frye could again plead guilty or go to trial.

The second case argued Monday concerned Anthony Cooper, whose lawyer advised him not to plead guilty to assault with intent to murder although he had shot a woman four times. The lawyer said conviction was impossible since the bullets struck the victim below her waist, and he persuaded Mr. Cooper to reject an offer of four to seven years.

The advice was incorrect. Mr. Cooper was convicted and is serving fifteen to thirty years.

In both cases argued Monday, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said there might be some circumstances when concerns about fundamental fairness required courts to order that earlier plea offers be reinstituted.

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Discrimination Case against Wal-Mart Refiled in California

A protest in Utah against Wal-Mart

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On Thursday, four months after the Supreme Court tossed out their class-action lawsuit, lawyers representing women claiming that Wal-Mart discriminated against them filed a new lawsuit that narrowed their claims to the California stores of the chain.

The lawyers promised an “armada” of other lawsuits making discrimination claims in other regions of the country. “The case we are starting today is the first of many,” said Brad Seligman, one of the lead plaintiff lawyers.

In rejecting the earlier lawsuit, the Supreme Court found that the plaintiffs, who sought back pay for 1.5 million women nationwide, failed to prove that the legal and factual issues involving those women had enough in common to be examined as a single class.

The new suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, contends that discriminatory practices on pay and promotion affected 90,000 women employed at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in California and neighboring states.

Wal-Mart dismissed the lawsuit as more of the same.

In its June ruling in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the Supreme Court did not decide whether Wal-Mart discriminated against women. Instead, the Court concluded the suit did not satisfy requirements that the people in the class had questions of law or fact in common.

Joseph M. Sellers, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said the new lawsuit was tailored to discuss the Supreme Court’s concerns.

The lawsuit describes Wal-Mart’s California region being governed by a “good old boy philosophy” where job opportunities were passed along word-of-mouth, usually to men. One California regional vice president, for instance, suggested that women did not seek management positions because of their “family commitments,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit suggests that such attitudes were pervasive company wide.

The origins of the suit date to 1999, when Stephanie Odle was fired after complaining that she was discriminated against because of her sex. She discovered that a male employee with the same job and less experience was making $23,000 a year more than she was.


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On This Day…

Polski: Thurgood Marshall

In 1967, Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first black person to serve on the high court.

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Troy Davis Executed

Troy Davis was put to death by injection in Georgia on Wednesday night despite many last-ditch attempts by his lawyers and supporters to stay the execution. His time of death was 11:08 p.m.

Davis was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. for the 1989 killing of Mark MacPhail, but the proceeding was delayed more than three hours as the Justices pondered a plea filed by his attorneys after last-ditch appeals failed throughout the day.

Davis had been scheduled to die three times before, most recently in October 2008. That time, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution two hours before it was scheduled.

The case has drawn international attention, with Pope Benedict XVI, South African anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter saying the execution should be called off. Amnesty International and the NAACP have led efforts to exonerate Davis, and U.N. human rights officials joined those calls Wednesday.

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Court of Appeals Allows Life Sentences for Minors

Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for...

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On Wednesday, a The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals court held that juveniles convicted of murder can be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The United States Supreme Court has already ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to death, nor can they be sentenced to life in prison without parole for non-homicide offenses.

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Ginsburg’s Advocacy for Women Would Mean She Would Not Get Confirmed Today

Official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Rut...
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In a speech late last month, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsurg said she would not likely be confirmed if nominated today. “Today, my ACLU connection would probably disqualify me.”

Ginsburg was confirmed 96-3.

Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress says that when Ginsburg was directing the ACLU Women’s Rights Project

Ginsburg was literally the single most important women’s rights attorney in American history. She authored the brief in Reed v. Reedthat convinced a unanimous Supreme Court to hold for the very first time that the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection applies to women. And her brief in Craig v. Boren convinced the Court to hand down its very first decision holding that gender discrimination laws are subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny. It is possible that modern doctrines preventing gender discrimination would simply not exist if Ruth Bader Ginsburg hadn’t done the work she did for the ACLU.

Ginsburg was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993. At 78, she is the oldest Justice on the court.

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Supreme Court Will Examine Issue of Eyewitness Identification

U.S. Supreme Court

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To a jury, an eyewitness identification is the best possible evidence of a defendant’s guilt. “There is almost nothing more convincing,” Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote in a 1981 dissent, quoting from a leading study, “than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says, ‘That’s the one!’”

Every year, more than 75,000 eyewitnesses identify suspects in criminal investigations. Study after study tells us that those eyewitnesses are wrong about a third of the time.

Mistaken identifications lead to wrongful convictions. Of the first 250 DNA exonerations, 190 involved wrong eyewitness identifications.

Eyewitnesses are almost always certain they have the right person. The more certain the eyewitness, the more likely he is wrong.

In November, the Supreme Court will look at the question of the Constitutionality of eyewitness evidence for the first time since 1977. Since 1977, technology and studies have changed the way we look at evidence and memory.

The current Supreme Court, however, is wary of using due process to correct flaws in the criminal justice system. In 2009, for example, the Court said inmates have no right to test DNA evidence that could prove their innocence.

Via NYT.

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