Black Robes Speak!: January 2009
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Black Robes At The Supremes Are Back In Session, And So Are We. Read More.

In case if you have not being paying attention, the Supremes are not only back in session, but they are now releasing their opinions.

And so are we.

First up is the case of Herring v. United States where SCOTUS ruled that evidence seized during a search incident to an arrest does not have to be suppressed when the sole premise for the arrest was information later found to be negligently provided by another law enforcement agency. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the Court:

[In circumstances where] an officer reasonably believes there is an out-standing arrest warrant, but that belief turns out to be wrong because of a negligent bookkeeping error by an-other police employee ... the jury should not be barred from considering all the evidence.

Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Stephen Breyer joined, warning that, "the 'most serious impact' of the Court's holding will be on innocent persons 'wrongfully arrested based on erroneous information [carelessly maintained] in a computer data base.'"

The opinion affirmed this lower court one.

In another case, Chambers V. United States, where SCOTUS held that that it the constitution does not forbid for a convict to be sentenced to consecutive rather than concurrent terms for burglary and sex offenses when a judge rather than a jury determined that the crimes arose out of separate offenses. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reasoned:

The jury-trial right is best honored through a "principled rationale" that applies the rule of the Apprendi cases "within the central sphere of their concern." Our disposition today — upholding an Oregon statute that assigns to judges a decision that has not traditionally belonged to the jury — is faithful to that aim.

Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting with Justices David Souter, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice John Roberts, wrote:

The rule of Apprendi v. New Jersey is clear: Any fact — other than that of a prior conviction — that increases the maximum punishment to which a defendant may be sentenced must be admitted by the defendant or proved beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. Oregon’s sentencing scheme allows judges rather than juries to find the facts necessary to commit defendants to longer prison sentences, and thus directly contradicts what we held eight years ago and have reaffirmed several times since.

The majority opinion reversed the Oregon Supreme Court.