In Andrus v. Texas, 140 S. Ct. 1875 (2020), the Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denying habeas relief to the petitioner challenging his death sentence and claiming that his counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and present mitigating evidence at the penalty phase of trial. At the guilty phase of defendant's capital murder trial, defense counsel essentially conceded guilt and indicated he would "be fighting" at the punishment phase. Counsel, however, presented limited evidence at sentencing and failed to investigate and overlooked "vast tranches of mitigating evidence." Id. at 1881. Counsel also failed to investigate the State's aggravating evidence. At the habeas hearing, counsel offered no tactical rationale for such failure, which was "all the more alarming given that counsel's purported strategy was to concede guilt and focus on mitigation." Id. at 1883. The Court easily found that counsel was ineffective at the penalty phase, despite the Texas state court's summary dismissal of such claim.Read More
Criminal Law Blog
In Kahler v. Kansas, 140 S. Ct. 1021 (2020), the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not require a state to adopt a particular formulation of the insanity defense. The ruling came in a case out of Kansas where the state had adopted the "cognitive incapacity" test, which examines whether a defendant was able to understand what he was doing when he committed the crime. The Kansas statute does not incorporate the "moral incapacity" test, which is the inquiry into whether a defendant could not distinguish right from wrong when committing the crime.Read More
On what the court in United States v. Bosyk, 933 F.3d 319 (4th Cir. 2019), described as a "secretive online message board," id. at 322, a link appeared with a message explaining that the link would lead to multiple videos of child pornography. On the same day that this link appeared, an IP address associated with Bosyk's house accessed the link to view the advertised materials. Id. Armed with these facts, and a brief description regarding the characteristics of individuals who possess and access child pornography, investigators were able to obtain a search warrant for Bosyk's residence authorizing the seizure of "computers, digital devices, storage media, and related evidence." Id. at 323.Read More
In Commonwealth v. Hicks, No. 56 MAP 2017, 2019 WL 2305953 (Pa. May 31, 2019), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled precedent from the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Robinson, 410 Pa. Super. 614, 600 A.2d 957 (1991), and held that the mere possession of a concealed firearm does not provide reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify a stop pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The court explained that the prior holding in Robinson, upholding such stops (the Robinson rule) improperly dispensed with the requirement of individualized suspicion and, in doing so, misapplied the overarching totality of the circumstances test.Read More
In an unusual case, and one apparently of first impression, the Virginia Court of Appeals has very recently upheld the constitutionality of the state's statute prohibiting bestiality. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-361(A); Warren v. Commonwealth, No. 2086-17-3, 2019 WL 189386 (Va. Ct. App. Jan. 15, 2019). The defendant in Warren was convicted of soliciting another person to "carnally know a brute animal or to submit to carnal knowledge with a brute animal" in violation of Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-361(A) and 18.2-29 (criminal solicitation). The evidence against the defendant included videos of the prohibited activities. The defendant argued that the bestiality statute was unconstitutional under Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), because the activities at issue amounted to nothing more than private sexual conduct of consenting adults.Read More
Cell-site location information ("CSLI") is location information generated by cellular phone providers that indicates which cell tower a particular phone was communicating with when a communication was made. United States v. Curtis, No. 17-1833, 2018 WL 4042631, at *1 (7th Cir. Aug. 24, 2018). It is capable of pinpointing a phone's location within 50 meters. Id. Because cell phones are in constant communication with the nearest cell site—often affixed to a cell tower—they can collect CSLI as frequently as several times a minute. Id.
In June 2018, in Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018), the Supreme Court extended Fourth Amendment protection to CSLI and held that the government conducts a "search" when it accesses historical cell phone records that provide a comprehensive chronicle of the user's past movements. The Court concluded that the government must generally obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before acquiring such records and rejected application of the "third-party doctrine," even though the records at issue were held by a wireless carrier.Read More
The Gun Control Act of 1968 bars firearm possession by certain groups of individuals, including convicted felons and those “adjudicated as a mental defective or who ha[ve] been committed to a mental institution.” 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), (4). In 1996, Congress added a domestic violence misdemeanant restriction. Id. § 922(g)(9). Recognizing that “[e]xisting felon-in-possession laws . . . were not keeping firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, because many people who engage in serious spousal or child abuse ultimately are not charged with or convicted of felonies,” Congress extended the federal firearm prohibition to persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence to “close this dangerous loophole.” United States v. Hayes, 555 U.S. 415, 426 (2009) (internal quotation marks, citation, and bracket omitted).Read More
Early in the morning on March 16, 2008, the D.C. Police received a complaint of loud music coming from a house in Northeast D.C. District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S. Ct. 577, 583 (2018). When officers responded to the house, they found it in a state of disarray with beer bottles and cups of liquor all over. Id. The floor was so dirty, the officers noted, "that one of the partygoers refused to sit on it while being questioned." Id. Although it had working electricity and plumbing, the house contained no furniture aside from a few folding chairs. A further inspection of the house found the living room transformed into "a makeshift strip club," and "more debauchery upstairs." Id.Read More
Coming in the midst of a national discussion on reasonable limits on the Second Amendment right to bear arms prompted by high school students’ reaction to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, a decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a New York City regulation restricting the ability of individuals with a "premises license" handgun permit to remove the gun from the specified premises has special resonance. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. City of New York, 883 F.3d 45 (2d Cir. 2018), a firearms owners' association and individual holders of premises handgun licenses sued the City of New York and the New York City Police Department‑License Division (collectively "City"), the local office authorized by the New York State Penal Code to issue handgun permits in the City, challenging New York City Rule 5‑23(a) on the grounds that it violates the Second Amendment, the dormant Commerce Clause, the fundamental right to travel, and the First Amendment right to expressive association. The district court granted the City's motion for summary judgment, upholding the regulation on all grounds, and the Second Circuit affirmed.
Mark Rieber—Senior AttorneyEver since Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), courts have had to decide whether evidence discovered during routine traffic stops should be suppressed on the ground that the police unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop, even for a short time, to investigate matters unrelated to the purpose of the stop, and what should be considered matters unrelated to the purpose of the stop. A good example is the recent decision in Lerma v. State, No. PD-1229-16, 2018 WL 525427 (Tex. Crim. App. Jan. 24, 2018), in which the court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision suppressing evidence discovered on a passenger of a vehicle during a routine traffic stop. Contrary to the Court of Appeals’ holding, the Court of Criminal Appeals (Texas' highest court for criminal cases) determined that the officer conducting the traffic stop had reasonable suspicion to pat-down the passenger and that by questioning the passenger and patting him down, the officer did not unduly prolong the stop in violation of the holding in Rodriguez or the holding in St. George v. State, 237 S.W.3d 720 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007), upon which the Court of Appeals relied. Read More