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Prosecutors Can Renege on Plea Deal, Supreme Court Rules

Criminal law is not a shell game, but it sure must look like it to Michael Daniel Cuero.

He pleaded guilty to two felonies and was sentenced to 14 years and four months in state prison. However, the prosecutor missed a prior offense in the deal and amended the complaint.

As a result, Cuero got 25 years to life in Kernan v. Cuero. A federal appeals court said he was entitled to the 14-year deal, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded. By the time his sentence is straightened out, Cuero should ask for time served.

Inmate Can't Remember Crime, but Can Be Executed

It was the end of a long road for Vernon Madison.

Convicted of murdering a police officer more than 30 years ago, Madison had avoided his death sentence year after year. He was tried three times and appealed more, including a reversal this year when an appeals court said he was incompetent to be executed because he couldn't remember his crime.

But the U.S. Supreme Court drew the final curtain on Madison's journey through the courts, saying "nothwithstanding his memory loss -- he recognizes that he will be put to death as punishment for the murder he was found to have committed."

Justices Debate Semantics in Death Penalty Case

If your life were in the balance, it could be disconcerting to hear a debate over semantics.

Like doctors arguing in surgery about whether robots will take their place in the operating room, the debate might be interesting, but not when you're bleeding out.

So it was interesting to court watchers that U.S. Supreme Court Justices were arguing about whether two phrases meant the same thing. It was a death penalty case.

A pair of closely watched tech cases which were expected to be taken up by SCOTUS have been denied certiorari. Both Facebook v. Powers and U.S. v. Nosal were expected to be taken up in order for the High Court to settle, once and for all, the question that has been killing legal scholars ever so softly: Is it a federal crime to share your Netflix password?

The actual question that needs to be answered definitively is who has the authority to grant third party access to a user's online service account: the user or the service provider? Or, in more modern terms that any millennial would understand: Does a Netflix user have the authority to share their password with another person, or is doing so a federal crime (thanks to the Netflix Terms of Service)?

Supreme Court Won't Hear Handgun Case

Continuing a guarded approach to the Second Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away a case that said people need "good cause" for a permit to carry a concealed weapon in public.

The Court left intact Peruta v. County of San Diego, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said "there is no Second Amendment right for members of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public." As a result, most Californians will have a hard time getting concealed weapons permits.

Gun advocates promptly decried the High Court's action, just as they did when the Ninth Circuit ruled on the case. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined in dissent by Justice Neil Gorsuch, said the Supreme Court should have taken up the appeal.

Texas's standards for evaluating mentally disabled death row inmates are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

Until Tuesday, when asked to determine if an inmate was too mentally disabled to execute, Texas relied on a medical definition from 1992, since superseded, and a set of nonclinical factors known as the "Lennie standard." That's Lennie as in Lennie Small, the sweet-natured but simple-minded character from Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."

Jae Lee immigrated to the United States from South Korea when he was just a teenager. Decades later, he was accused of dealing ecstasy in Memphis, Tennessee. At the urging of his attorney, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year and one day in jail.

Here's the rub. Unlike his parents, Lee had never become an American citizen. And despite his concerns, his attorney assured him that a guilty plea would not result in his deportation, an assurance that turned out to be dead wrong. Now Lee will go before the Supreme Court tomorrow, arguing that his conviction should be overturned due to ineffective assistance of counsel. But will the fact that Lee was almost guaranteed to lose at trial keep him from prevailing?

Courts must be allowed to consider evidence that jurors relied on racial bias or animus in convicting a defendant, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The ruling creates an important exception to the so-called "no-impeachment rule," a rule of evidence that bars post-verdict testimony about juror deliberations. When those deliberations, due to juror bias, may have violated a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury, courts must be allowed to consider such evidence, the Court explained in a 5-3 decision written by Justice Kennedy.

Juan Esquivel-Quintana was 20 years old when he pleaded no contest to having sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend. Though the relationship would not have been a crime in 43 states or under federal law, it was one in California, where the state prohibits an adult to have sex with a minor three or more years younger. And because Esquivel-Quintana was a legal immigrant, not a citizen, his conviction led the U.S. government to begin deportation proceedings.

Esquivel-Quintana's case came before the Court earlier this week, as the Justices heard arguments over whether his crime qualifies as an "aggravated felony" mandating his deportation.

After years of fruitless appeals, Duane Buck won a decisive victory in the Supreme Court this morning. The Texas inmate had been sentenced to death in part due to expert testimony, presented by his own defense, that Buck posed a greater risk of violence simply because of his race. For almost two decades, Buck challenged that death sentence, most recently by arguing that his counsel was ineffective and that his case merited relief due to the extraordinary circumstances. Today, the Supreme Court agreed, 6-2.

Buck's death sentence, tinged as it was by racism, was "a disturbing departure from a basic premise of our criminal justice system," Chief Justice Roberts wrote from the majority. "Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are."