Muslim Man Executed in Alabama after Supreme Court Decision

Attorneys for Domineque Ray, 42, had argued that Alabama’s execution policy favored Christian inmates because a chaplain is allowed in the room.

A Muslim man was executed in Alabama on Thursday, as originally scheduled, after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow the execution, denying his request for an imam’s presence in the execution chamber, Reuters reports. Attorneys for Domineque Ray, 42, had argued that Alabama’s execution policy favored Christian inmates because a chaplain is allowed in the room, often kneeling next to the death row prisoner, and praying with the inmate if requested. Ray’s imam, Yusef Maisonet, watched the execution from an adjoining witness room, multiple media reports said, including the Birmingham News.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Purse Snatching Can Be Violent, High Court Rules

Purse snatching and pickpocketing can amount to violent felonies for purposes of the federal Armed Career Criminal Act, which requires mandatory 15-year sentences for people convicted of possessing firearms if they have been found guilty of three violent felonies or serious drug charges. The justices divided 5-4 on the issue.

Purse snatching and pickpocketing can amount to violent felonies for purposes of a federal law, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision featuring unusual alliances, reports the New York Times. The case concerned the Armed Career Criminal Act, a federal law requiring mandatory 15-year sentences for people convicted of possessing firearms if they have been found guilty of three violent felonies or serious drug charges. Determining what qualifies as one of those earlier offenses is not always easy. Tuesday’s decision considered a part of the law that defined violent felonies to include offenses involving the use or threat of physical force. The question was whether minimal force, as in a purse snatching, is enough.

In analyzing whether given crimes qualify as violent felonies under the federal law, the Supreme Court does not look to what the defendant actually did. Oit considers whether the crime — in this case, robbery under Florida law — covers conduct that does not qualify as a violent felony. The case involved Denard Stokeling, who pleaded guilty to possessing a gun after burglarizing a restaurant in Miami Beach where he worked. After he was identified based on surveillance video and witness statements, police found a gun in his backpack. He was prosecuted on federal gun charges. Stokeling contended that one of his earlier convictions for robbery arising from a snatched necklace was not a violent felony. Justice Clarence Thomas, for the majority, said Stokeling’s robbery conviction counted as a violent felony for purposes of the federal law. The Florida law required proof the victim resisted, he wrote, and that was enough. Justice Stephen Breyer, who generally votes with the court’s liberal wing, joined the majority. Justice Sonia Sotomayor led the dissenters, saying that, “under Florida law, ‘robbers’ can be glorified pickpockets, shoplifters and purse snatchers,”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Three Justices Back Juries’ Deciding on Restitution

The Supreme Court refused to consider whether juries should decide on whether defendants should be required to pay restitution. Three justices dissented.

Three Supreme Court justices balked Monday at the court’s refusal to take up a case involving whether a judgment of restitution should be decided by a jury, Courthouse News Service reports. While it is understood that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to a jury trial covers both judgments of imprisonment and fines, in the case of Joshua Hester and Marco Luis, a federal judge ordered them to pay $329,767 in criminal restitution to CitiGroup after they pleaded guilty to various charges. Hester lied on mortgage applications while trying to buy homes where he and a co-defendant planned to grow marijuana, and Luis, the mortgage broker, aided and abetted the conspiracy.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in dissent that the case was worthy of review because of the increasing role restitution plays in federal criminal sentencing today. “From 2014 to 2016 alone, federal courts sentenced 33,158 defendants to pay $33.9 billion in restitution,” said Gorsuch, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “And between 1996 and 2016, the amount of unpaid federal criminal restitution rose from less than $6 billion to more than $110 billion. The effects of restitution orders, too, can be profound. Failure or inability to pay restitution can result in suspension of the right to vote, continued court supervision, or even reincarceration.” He added, “Just as a jury must find any facts necessary to authorize a steeper prison sentence or fine, it would seem to follow that a jury must find any facts necessary to support a (nonzero) restitution order.” Justice Samuel Alito also dissented.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Federal Judges Dismiss 83 Kavanaugh Complaints

A Colorado-based judicial council said it could not entertain complaints that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had made false statements during his confirmation hearings because the Senate had approved Kavanaugh. The council has no jurisdiction over the high court.

A federal judicial council dismissed 83 ethics complaints against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, asserting that because Kavanaugh is now on the high court the council has no jurisdiction to pass judgment on his behavior, reports the National Law Journal. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts asked judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to examine the complaints. They asserted that Kavanaugh made false and improper statements during his confirmation hearings, including his politically charged assertion that a Democratic conspiracy was behind efforts to thwart his nomination. The Judicial Conduct and Disability Act limits the power to discipline federal judges to circuit court and lower court judges, not the Supreme Court. That results from the fact that the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court, while the lower courts are established by Congress. Reformers have called for legislation imposing ethics rules on the Supreme Court.

At Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, where he was accused of sexually assaulting a high school classmate years ago, Kavanaugh railed against what he described as a liberal conspiracy to keep him from the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh denied the claims from his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. “The allegations contained in the complaints are serious, but the Judicial Council is obligated to adhere to the act,” said Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Tim Tymkovich. Judicial ethics rules require that judges “maintain and enforce high standards of conduct and should personally observe those standards” and that judges “should refrain from political activity.” Kavanaugh walked back his partisan tirade, writing in the Wall Street Journal that he “said a few things I should not have said.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

High Court Likely to Allow Dual State, Federal Charges

A majority of Supreme Court justices sounded unlikely to overturn more than a century of doctrine that allows states and the federal government to prosecute someone for the same criminal conduct. The case has implications for any pardons that President Trump might issue for those prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

A majority of Supreme Court justices sounded unlikely Thursday to overturn more than a century of doctrine that allows states and the federal government to prosecute someone for the same criminal conduct, reports the Washington Post. While it went unmentioned during oral arguments, the case has implications for any pardons that President Trump might issue for those prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller and convicted in federal court. Under the status quo, states might still be able to prosecute under their own laws those who receive a presidential pardon, which applies only to federal charges.

Usual ideological pairings were scrambled as the court discussed the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which says no one shall be “subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” The doctrine allowing dual prosecutions in state and federal courts is an exception to the prohibition, recognized by the Supreme Court since the 19th century. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had called for a fresh look at the “separate sovereigns” doctrine and described it Thursday as a “double-whammy” for criminal defendants. The colleague most outspoken in apparent agreement with her was conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch. Most adamant on the other side of the issue were conservative Justice Samuel Alito Jr. and liberal Justice Elena Kagan. Kagan demanded that Louis Chaiten, a lawyer representing an Alabama felon, explain why the court should not apply its usual standard of letting decided issues stand. New Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who during his confirmation hearings was repeatedly questioned about whether he would abide by the court’s established decisions, joined Kagan. Chaiten  said,“This rule is egregiously wrong.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

High Court Case This Week Could Affect Manafort

The Supreme Court on Thursday will take up the case of a small-time Alabama felon, Terance Gamble, who complains that his convictions by state and federal prosecutors for the same gun possession crime violate constitutional protections against double jeopardy. The issue could affect state plans to prosecute Paul Manafort if he is pardoned by President Trump.

The Supreme Court on Thursday will take up the case of a small-time Alabama felon, Terance Gamble, who complains that his convictions by state and federal prosecutors for the same gun possession crime violate constitutional protections against double jeopardy, the Washington Post reports. Likely to be watching closely will be those concerned about a big-time felon, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller for tax fraud. With President Trump keeping alive prospects that he might pardon Manafort, Gamble v. United States might be redubbed Manafort v. Mueller, joked Thomas Goldstein, an attorney who regularly argues before the Supreme Court.

The outcome in the case could affect nascent plans by states to prosecute Manafort under their own tax evasion laws. New York in particular has expressed interest, should Trump pardon Manafort on his federal convictions. The double jeopardy clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibits more than one prosecution or punishment for the same offense. The Supreme Court since the 1850s has made an exception, allowing successive prosecutions and punishments if one is brought by state prosecutors and the other by the federal government. In Gamble, the court is reconsidering these precedents. Almost none of the briefs in the case speculate on how a presidential pardon of a federal conviction would affect prosecutors at the state level should the so-called separate sovereigns doctrine be renounced. While Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was pending, a theory emerged that the Trump administration was in a hurry to get him on the Supreme Court in time to have him participate in the case. Trump’s Justice Department urged the Supreme Court not to take the case. It says the status quo, allowing state and federal prosecutions, should remain in place.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Expected High Court Ruling on ‘Excessive’ Fines Boosts Nationwide Movement

As the Supreme Court signals it may rule in favor of a defendant who claims civil forfeiture violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “excessive fines,” a coalition of progressives, conservatives and libertarians is preparing to celebrate. But local governments could lose a major revenue source. 

A growing national campaign to reduce the high court fees and fines that land many poor defendants in jail because of failure to pay is poised to received a major boost from the Supreme Court.

In a case watched closely by both the left and right, the Supreme Court appears ready to rule in favor of a defendant who claims the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “excessive fines” should require Indiana authorities to return the Land Rover they seized in a drug case.

Tyson Timbs

Convicted drug dealer Tyson Timbs was at the Supreme Court this week arguing he should get back his impounded Land Rover. Photo courtesy ScotusBlog.

The justices’ questions during oral arguments this week suggested a majority agree the federal ban applies to states—signaling a consensus that could affect civil forfeiture cases as well as the escalating court fines and costs that often land poor defendants in jail because they can’t afford them, according to SCOTUSblog.

State and local governments are also paying close attention, “because fines and forfeitures have become a key source of revenue – bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” wrote SCOTUSBlog correspondent Amy Howe.

“By the time oral argument ended [Wednesday] morning, the justices seemed ready to say that the excessive fines clause does apply to the states, even if they don’t say much more than that.”

The case has attracted amicus briefs from groups across the political spectrum, including the Cato Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, the Constitutional Accountability Center, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and the Juvenile Justice Law Center.

“Across the country, youth are pushed into the justice system and even into correctional settings because they can’t afford fines and fees,” said Jessica Feierman, senior managing director of the Juvenile Law Center, according to a report in the Los Alamos Daily Post.

“Our brief urged the Court to recognize that the Constitution protects against these harmful and excessive sanctions.”

The case, Timbs v Indiana, was brought by Tyson Timbs, an Indiana resident whose 2012 Land Rover was impounded after he pleaded guilty to drug charges. Timbs claimed that the value of the car—$42,000—was nearly four times the maximum fine that could have been imposed on him by the state under drug sentencing guidelines.

But the state countered that it was justified in seizing the vehicle since it had been used to transport drugs.

“Tyson has paid his debt to society,” said Sam Gedge, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents Timbs. “He’s taken responsibility for what he’s done. He’s paid fees. He’s in drug treatment.

“He’s holding down a job, and he’s staying clean. But the State of Indiana wants to take his vehicle, too, and give the proceeds to private lawyers and to the officers who seized it. The Excessive Fines Clause exists to combat precisely these types of abuses.”

Chief Justice John Roberts had countered that the state had a right to seize the car since it was an “instrumentality” of Timbs’ crime.  “This is how he got to the deal place and how he carried the drugs,” said Roberts.

Nevertheless, the justices appeared to agree that there was a long-established legal precedent holding that amendments to the Constitution applied to the states—which had been the question that brought the case to the High Court—even if they were at odds over the question of whether seizing the Land Rover was “excessive” under the terms of the Eighth Amendment.

Two lower courts had already agreed that the forfeiture of the Land Rover was excessive, so a ruling in favor of Timbs would likely enable him to get his car back.

Such a ruling, however, could also put wind in the sails of a growing national movement to reign in the fines and fees that effectively hold poor defendants hostage to the justice system.

That’s one reason progressives have made common cause with conservatives and libertarians in opposing civil forfeitures.

“[Many of] these forfeitures that are occurring today seem grossly disproportionate to the crimes being charged,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

See also: “Small Heroin Sale Tees Up High Court Test of Forfeiture Laws

from https://thecrimereport.org

Indiana Man Seems a Winner in Excessive Fines Case

Based on Wednesday’s oral arguments, it could be a unanimous vote for Tyson Timbs, who says police shouldn’t have seized his $42,000 Land Rover in a small drug case.

Many Americans are surprised to learn that not all provisions of the Bill of Rights are applied against states, as they are to the federal government. It took the 14th Amendment in 1868, and work still underway, to apply or “incorporate” the Bill of Rights, one by one, to the states. In an argument Wednesday, the two newest Supreme Court justices seemed incredulous and impatient about the slowness of the process, reports the National Law Journal. “Here we are in 2018 still litigating incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Really?” said Justice Neil Gorsuch. He was addressing Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, who was arguing against a broad incorporation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines, citing the long history of government seizure of personal property.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh added, “Isn’t it just too late in the day to argue that any of the Bill of Rights is not incorporated?” Some scholars including Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese in the 1980s said the incorporation doctrine was “constitutionally suspect” and based on “intellectually shaky foundation.” Only a handful of Bill of Rights provisions remain unincorporated, including the right to be indicted by a grand jury, the right to have jurors from the defendant’s state, and the right to a trial in civil cases. The Gorsuch and Kavanaugh comments made it likely that the court will incorporate the excessive fines clause, which has been a cause celebre for libertarian groups like the Institute for Justice. The institute represents Tyson Timbs, an Indiana man whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized by police after he was arrested for trafficking a small amount of illegal drugs. The vote for Timbs might be unanimous, though Chief Justice John Roberts asserted that seizing property that was an “instrumentality that was part of the crime” is a longstanding practice.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Justices Consider Indiana ‘Excessive Fines’ Case

The justices hear arguments Wednesday on whether the Constitution’s prohibition of “excessive fines” applies to the states. Conservative and liberal groups both are protesting the trend of more fines and forfeitures.

Tyson Timbs sold heroin worth less than $400 to undercover police officers in 2013, a crime for which he lost a Land Rover that cost him 100 times that amount. The disparity is at the heart of a Supreme Court case being argued Wednesday on whether the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “excessive fines” applies to the states. If the justices rule that it does, hefty fees, fines and forfeitures imposed by state and local governments may be in jeopardy, reports USA Today. Indiana’s seizure of Timbs’ $42,058 Land Rover has united conservative and liberal interest groups against what they see as increasingly greedy governments. Two dozen friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed on his behalf from groups as distinct as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Ten million people owed more than $50 billion in such fines and forfeitures, said a study by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the National Institute of Justice. It’s a trend the court’s conservative and liberal justices might find objectionable. Among examples cited: a Georgia man was sentenced to pay $360 monthly for stealing a $2 can of beer; a Missouri couple was fined $180,000 for lacking turf grass in their yard; a Michigan man who underpaid his 2011 property tax by $8.41 had his property auctioned off for $24,500; a Colorado man was fined $678 and had to pay $1,680 more in collection fees for violating open container laws and driving without proof of insurance. Timbs’ conviction resulted in a year’s home detention, five years’ probation and $1,200 in fees. It was the seizure of his SUV, purchased with life insurance proceeds after his father’s death, that led to the lawsuit.

from https://thecrimereport.org

High Court Issue: Police Abuse vs. Free Speech

The Supreme Court is considering whether to allow lawsuits claiming abuse of police power in retaliation for exercising free speech rights. The case argued on Monday concerned a claim for retaliatory arrest at a festival in remote Alaska.

The Supreme Court is considering whether to allow lawsuits claiming abuse of police power in retaliation for exercising free speech rights. The case argued on Monday concerned a claim for retaliatory arrest at a festival in remote Alaska, but several justices seemed to have an array of controversies in mind, the New York Times reports. “You can think of it,” Justice Elena Kagan said, “as a case where an individual police officer …decides to arrest for jaywalking somebody wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ T-shirt or, alternatively, a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap.” Some courts have said the existence of probable cause for the arrest always is enough to bar lawsuits claiming retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. Others have allowed juries to decide whether officers intended to suppress protected speech.

The Supreme Court has been struggling to find a line separating two kinds of arrests. At one extreme, said Justice Samuel Alito, are people arrested after mouthing off to the police in heated settings. On the other are serious abuses. “A journalist has written something critical of the police department,” he said, and later, that hypothetical journalist is arrested for slightly exceeding the speed limit. Alito suggested that the court would have a difficult time fashioning a standard that would bar the first kind of suit but allow the second. The new case arose from an encounter at the Arctic Man ski and snowmobile event in Alaska’s Hoodoo Mountains. Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that the setting should give officers some leeway. “You’ve got 10,000 mostly drunk people in the middle of nowhere and you’ve got eight police officers,” he said. Russell Bartlett was arrested after yelling at police officers and refusing to answer questions. Bartlett sued, saying he was arrested for exercising his First Amendment rights.

from https://thecrimereport.org