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Court overrules Michigan v. Jackson

Splitting 5-4, the Supreme Court on Tuesday overruled its 23-year-old ruling in Michigan v. Jackson on the rights of a criminal suspect in police custody who has asked for a lawyer.  The Court did so in Montejo v. Louisiana (07-1529), in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia.  After Scalia announced the decision, Justice John Paul Stevens spoke orally for the dissenters — a somewhat unusual gesture.  Stevens was the author of the 1986 decision that was cast aside; he was the only member of the Court then who is still sitting.

The Court had signaled in late March that it was considering overruling the Jackson decision, a decision designed to assure that the right to a lawyer is not lost during police questioning of a suspect they are holding, resulting in a confession to the crime.  The Court ruled there that, once a suspect has claimed the right to a lawyer, any later waiver of that right during questioning would be invalid, unless the suspect initiated communcation with the officers.  Among others calling for it to be overruled was U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who argued it was no longer necessary to protect the rights of those in police custody.

The Court, in a separate decision Tuesday, ruled unanimously that using a cellphone to make a purchase of a drug when the crime would be only a misdemeanor does not “facilitate” a felony distribution crime. Justice David H. Souter wrote the opinion in Abuelhawa v. U.S. (08-192).

In the last of three opinions on the merits, the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for a state to bar all damage lawsuits brought under federal civil rights law against prison officers or guards, allowing instead only a claim against the state itself in a special claims court.  The Court divided 5-4 in Haywood v. Drown (07-10374); Justice Stevens wrote for the majority striking down a New York law as a violation of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

The Court has 22 other decisions in preparation, and is expected to announce them by the end of June.  The next scheduled decision day is next Monday.  The Court will have at least one day for decisions each week through the close of the Term.