The criminal law docket includes roughly thirty cases that divide fairly evenly into three categories:  Criminal Procedure (including both constitutional criminal procedure and statutory rules); Criminal Law (for example, the term’s three cases involving the federal “honest services” statute); and Habeas Corpus (the post-conviction process).

Click the links below to scroll to cases of that subcategory, or browse the entire list below them.

Criminal Procedure

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Title: Maryland v. Shatzer

Docket: 08-680

Argument date: October 5, 2009

Question presented: Under the Constitution, if a suspect being interrogated asks for his lawyer, the police must immediately stop questioning him until the lawyer arrives or until he voluntarily re-initiates a conversation.   The question presented is whether that rule continues to apply to an attempt to re-interview the suspect three years after he requested the lawyer.

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Title: Bloate v. United States

Docket: 08-728

Argument date: October 6, 2009

Question presented: The Speedy Trial Act requires that a defendant in a criminal case be tried within 70 days, excluding delays "resulting from other proceedings concerning the defendant, including but not limited to . . . delay resulting from any pretrial motion."  The question presented is whether the time a defendant spent preparing pretrial motions "“ as opposed to the time spent by the court ruling on the motions "“ falls within the exclusion?

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Title: Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky

Docket: 08-651

Argument date: October 13, 2009

Question presented: Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to "effective" counsel. Here, the lawyer failed to tell the defendant that his guilty plea would result in his automatic deportation.  The question presented is whether the lawyer provided constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel that requires overturning the guilty plea.

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Title: Florida v. Powell

Docket: 08-1175

Argument date: December 7, 2009

Question presented: Must the police notify a criminal suspect of his right to have a lawyer present throughout a police interrogation?

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Title: Briscoe v. Virginia

Docket: 07-11191

Argument date: January 11, 2010

Question presented: The Constitution gives a criminal defendant the right to confront at trial the witnesses against him.  The Supreme Court has held that if the government wants to introduce a lab report (for example, saying that powder found in the defendant’s possession was cocaine), the defendant has a right to cross-examine an analyst about how that lab report was produced.  The question is whether the Constitution requires the government itself to call the analyst as a witness, or is it enough that the defendant has the right to call the analyst as his own witness?

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Title: United States v. Marcus

Docket: 08-1341

Argument date: February 24, 2010

Question presented: When a defendant raises an issue on appeal that he did not raise in the district court, that argument is generally subject to “plain error review,” which is hard to prove.  In this case, the defendant argued for the first time on appeal that he had been unconstitutionally convicted for conduct that occurred before the criminal statute was enacted.  The question presented is whether that claim prevails on plain error review so long as there is “any possibility” the defendant was convicted for conduct prior to the statute’s adoption, or whether a more stringent standard applies.

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Title: Barber v. Thomas

Docket: 09-5201

Argument date: Will be set for argument in March or April 2010

Question presented: Did the federal Bureau of Prisons properly adopt a rule that inmates receive "good-time" credit based on their time served rather than the length of the sentence (which would provide greater credits)?

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Title: Dillon v. United States

Docket: 09-6338

Argument date: Will be set for argument in March or April 2010

Question presented: When a defendant seeks to modify his sentence in light of a revision to the federal Sentencing Guidelines, is the trial judge bound by the Guidelines or may he impose a different sentence?

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Title: Robertson v. U.S. ex rel. Watson

Docket: 08-6261

Argument date: Will be set for argument in March or April 2010

Question presented: A person who violates a court order can be held in contempt, which can be civil (requiring payment of a fine, for example) or criminal (potentially requiring jail time).  Here, a man violated a court order that he stay away from a woman.  The woman successfully sought to have the man held in criminal contempt.  The question presented is whether the Constitution permits a private person acting in her own name (rather than the government's) to seek criminal contempt.

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Title: City of Ontario v. Quon

Docket: 08-1332

Argument date: Will be set for argument in March or April 2010

Question presented: Does the Constitution prevent the government from reviewing text messages sent by an employee on a government device.

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Criminal Law

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Title: Johnson v. United States

Docket: 08-6925

Argument date: October 6, 2009

Question presented: Federal law imposes tougher sentences on defendants who previously have committed "violent felonies."  The question is whether that is triggered by every conviction for "battery" or only convictions that involved actual or threatened physical force?

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Title: Graham v. Florida

Docket: 08-7412

Argument date: November 9, 2009

Question presented: Does the Constitution permit the government to sentence a person to life in prison with no chance of parole for a crime committed at the age of 16?

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Title: Sullivan v. Florida

Docket: 08-7621

Argument date: November 9, 2009

Question presented: Does the Constitution permit the government to sentence a person to life in prison, with no chance of parole, for a crime committed at age 13?

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Title: Black v. United States

Docket: 08-876

Argument date: December 8, 2009

Question presented: Federal law makes it a crime to deprive your employer of your "honest services."  One question presented by this case is whether an employee of a private company violate the statute if there is no risk that his employer will be harmed?  The case also presents an unrelated question regarding what a defendant must do to object to an erroneous jury instruction.

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Title: Weyhrauch v. United States

Docket: 08-1196

Argument date: December 8, 2009

Question presented: Can a state government official be convicted under the honest services statute for conduct that is not illegal under state law?

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Title: United States v. Comstock

Docket: 08-1224

Argument date: January 12, 2010

Question presented: Does the Constitution give Congress the power to enact a law providing that individuals who complete federal prison sentences may still be detained indefinitely because of the risk they will commit sex crimes.

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Title: United States v. O'Brien & Burgess

Docket: 08-1569

Argument date: February 23, 2010

Question presented: In a federal gun case, does the judge decide whether the gun was a machine gun by a preponderance of the evidence, or must the jury find that beyond a reasonable doubt?

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Title: Carr v. United States

Docket: 08-1301

Argument date: February 24, 2010

Question presented: The federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requires defendants who commit certain sex-related offenses to register with state and federal databases.  The issue is whether a defendant who committed a sex-related offense before SORNA became law must register after its enactment.

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Title: Skilling v. United States

Docket: 08-1394

Argument date: March 1, 2010

Question presented: The case raises two issues regarding the  “honest services” law.  First, must the defendant have intended to benefit himself?  Second, is the statute unconstitutionally vague?  The case also raises a separate issue:  what legal standard governs a claim that prejudice in the community prevented him from receiving a fair trial?

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Title: Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder

Docket: 09-60

Argument date: Will be set for argument in March or April 2010

Question presented: Federal law forbids a lawful permanent resident who has been convicted of an "aggravated felony" from asking an immigration judge to cancel his deportation.  A defendant who is convicted multiple times for drug offenses can be deemed to have committed an aggravated felony.  The question presented is whether the successive drug conviction is an aggravated felony automatically or instead only if the court specifically finds that the defendant is a repeat offender.

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Habeas Corpus

A defendant convicted in state court can challenge the conviction as illegal or unconstitutional by seeking “federal habeas corpus.”  All cases that may involve an application of the special rules governing claims brought on habeas corpus are in this category.

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Title: McDaniel v. Brown

Docket: 08-559

Argument date: Unclear whether the case will be set for argument

Question presented: A defendant can attempt to prove that his conviction was unconstitutional because there was not enough evidence to convict. The question presented is what standard the federal court should apply in considering such a claim, and in particular whether the federal court can consider evidence that was not presented to the state courts.

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Title: Smith v. Spisak

Docket: 08-724

Argument date: October 13, 2009

Question presented: A state conviction may be overturned on federal habeas corpus on the ground that it violated "clearly established" federal law.  One question in this case is whether the instruction given to jurors about the requirement of jury unanimity violated law that was clearly established at the time.  Another question is whether the court of appeals improperly presumed that the defendant's lawyer's poor performance influenced the outcome of the case.

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Title: Beard v. Kindler

Docket: 08-992

Argument date: November 2, 2009

Decision date: December 8, 2009

Decision: A defendant convicted in state court cannot challenge his conviction in a federal “habeas corpus” petition if there is an “independent and adequate” basis in state law for rejecting his claims — for example, if the defendant missed a deadline created by state law.  The Supreme Court ruled that state law is not “inadequate” merely because state court judges have discretion whether to apply or ignore it.

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Title: Berghuis v. Smith

Docket: 08-1402

Argument date: January 20, 2010

Question presented: The case presents two issues.  First, what test should be used to decide whether the defendant’s constitutional right to a jury representing a fair cross-section of the community has been violated?  Second, assuming that the state courts in this case applied the wrong test, did they violate “clearly established federal law,” which is required to overturn the defendant’s conviction?

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Title: Berghuis v. Thompkins

Docket: 08-1470

Argument date: March 1, 2010

Question presented: The case raises two issues.  First, when a defendant says he understands his “Miranda” rights but does not invoke or waive them, what are the police allowed to say in trying to persuade him to cooperate?  Second, did the federal court of appeals in this case improperly override the state courts’ ruling that the evidence of the defendant’s guilt was so strong that he was not harmed by the bad performance of his lawyer?

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Title: Wood v. Allen

Docket: 08-9156

Argument date: November 4, 2009

Question presented: The question presented is whether the defendant's death sentence should be overturned on federal habeas corpus on the ground that his lawyer provided constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel by not advising the jury of his significant mental impairments.

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Title: Holland v. Florida

Docket: 09-5327

Argument date: March 1, 2010

Question presented: Can the fact that a defendant missed the one-year deadline to file a “habeas corpus” petition challenging his conviction be forgiven because it resulted from his lawyer’s inexcusable mistake?

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Title: Kiyemba v. Obama

Docket: 08-1234

Argument date: Will be set for argument in March or April 2010

Question presented: May a federal court order that detainees held at Guantanamo Bay who have been deemed not to be "enemy combatants" be released into the United States?

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Title: Magwood v. Culliver

Docket: 09-158

Argument date: Will be set for argument in March or April 2010

Question presented: A state defendant is generally not permitted to file a "second or successive" federal habeas corpus challenge to his conviction or sentence.  Here, the defendant filed a habeas corpus application and won a right to a reconsideration of his sentence.  After the state court imposed the same sentence again, he again sought federal habeas corpus.  This time, he raised a new argument that could have been in his initial application but was not.  The question presented is whether the latter petition is "second or successive" and therefore forbidden.

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Title: Renico v. Lett

Docket: 09-338

Argument date: Will be set for argument in March or April 2010

Question presented: The Constitution forbids twice placing a defendant in “jeopardy” for the same crime.  Here, at the first trial, the jury said it could not reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial.  The issues are whether (i) a retrial violates the Constitution’s double jeopardy bar, and if so (ii) that rule was firmly established at the time of the defendant’s trial, so that it is a basis for overturning his conviction on a federal habeas corpus application.

Posted in Plain English / Cases Made Simple