Crime

In an amicus brief in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, New York the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) urges the Supreme Court to not apply strict scrutiny to regulations of guns carried in public.

In this case the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether New York City’s ban on transporting a handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits violates the Second Amendment, the Commerce Clause, or the constitutional right to travel. The Second Circuit held the law is constitutional on all accounts.

Kelly v. United States is a conflux of fascinating law and facts.

The basic question the Supreme Court will decide is whether the masterminds of “Bridgegate” have committed fraud in violation of federal law. The more technical question is whether a public official “defrauds” the government of its property by advancing a “public policy reason” for an official decision that is not the subjective “real reason” for making the decision.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority’s Director of Interstate Capital Projects, and Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Intergovernmental Affairs orchestrated “Bridgegate.” Under the guise of conducting a traffic study, they conspired to reduce traffic lanes from the George Washington Bridge (the busiest bridge in the world) to Fort Lee the first week of Fort Lee’s school year, because the mayor of Fort Lee refused to endorse Governor Christie for governor.

In Mitchell v. Wisconsin the Supreme Court held that generally when police officers have probable cause to believe an unconscious person has committed a drunk driving offense, warrantless blood draws are permissible. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing for this result.

By the time the police officer got Gerald Mitchell from his car to the hospital to take a blood test he was unconscious. Mitchell’s blood alcohol content (BAC) about 90 minutes after his arrest was 0.222%.

Wisconsin and twenty-eight other states allow warrantless blood draws of unconscious persons where police officers have probable cause to suspect drunk driving.

In Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Thomas the Supreme Court held 7-2 that Tennessee’s law requiring alcohol retailers to live in the state for two years to receive a license is unconstitutional. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case arguing the law was constitutional.  

Two constitutional provisions are at issue in this case. The dormant Commerce Clause prohibits state laws that unduly restrict interstate commerce. Both parties agree that if Tennessee’s durational-residency requirement applied to anyone wishing to sell anything other than alcohol it would violate the dormant Commerce Clause.

In Gundy v. United States the Supreme Court held 5-3 that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act’s (SORNA) delegation of authority to the Attorney General to apply SORNA’s requirements to pre-Act offenders doesn’t violate the constitution’s nondelegation doctrine.

SORNA, enacted in 2006, is Congress’s third sex offender registry law. It was intended to be more comprehensive than the previous two. It covers “more sex offenders, and imposes more onerous registration requirements, than most States had before.”

SORNA states “[t]he Attorney General shall have the authority to specify the applicability of the requirements of this subchapter to sex offenders convicted before the enactment of this chapter.” In 2007 the Attorney General issued an interim rule stating that SORNA’s registration requirements apply in full to pre-Act offenders. 

In McKinney v. Arizona James Erin McKinney wants the Arizona Supreme Court out of his death penalty case. More specifically, the Supreme Court will decide whether a jury rather than a judge must weigh the factors mitigating against imposing a death sentence when the law at the time he was convicted allowed a judge to weigh mitigating factors. The Court also has agreed to decide whether a trial court rather than an appellate court must correct the failure to weigh relevant mitigating factors.

A jury found McKinney guilty of first-degree murder related to two separate burglaries and murders committed in 1991. McKinney had PTSD from his “horrific” childhood but the Arizona Supreme Court disallowed the sentancer to consider non-statutory mitigating evidence (including family background and mental condition) unconnected to the crime. In 1996 the trial court found the evidence of PTSD to be unconnected to the crime and sentenced McKinney to death.

It has been three cases and nearly a decade in the making but the Supreme Court has finally ruled in Nieves v. Bartlett that the existence of probable cause defeats a First Amendment retaliatory arrest case…with one, small caveat. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in favor of the broader ruling in this case.

While police officer Luis Nieves and Russell Bartlett have different versions of what happened at Artic Man, a weeklong winter sports festival in Alaska, even the Ninth Circuit agreed that Sergeant Nieves had probable cause to arrest Bartlett. Sergeant Nieves knew Bartlett had been drinking and talking loudly when he saw Bartlett stand close to another officer and the officer push Bartlett away. But Bartlett claimed Sergeant Nieves really arrested him in violation of his First Amendment free speech rights because he had refused to speak to Sergeant Nieves previously, which Bartlett reminded Sergeant Nieves of when he was being arrested.

CSG Midwest

As part of a national movement that has states re-examining their laws on rape and marriage, Minnesota legislators have removed statutory language that allowed for a “pre-existing relationship defense” in cases of criminal sexual assault. HF 15 was signed into law in early May by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. 

Timbs v. Indiana has received a lot of attention because it deals with a controversial subject—civil asset forfeitures. But as a practical matter this case is unlikely to have much of an impact. What this case now requires under the federal constitution has long since been required under state constitutions.

 

In Timbs the Supreme Court held unanimously that the Eighth Amendment Excessive Fines Clause applies to states and local governments. This ruling is unsurprising given that the Supreme Court has “incorporated” almost all of the Bill of Rights against states and local governments since the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868.

 

The Supreme Court’s opinion explains why this case doesn’t change much. All 50 states constitutions have excessive fines clauses which apply to states and local governments—some for centuries. It is possible that some of these state constitutional provisions have been interpreted differently than the federal provision. But there is so little federal case law on what is an excessive fine that it is unlikely most interpretations of state constitutions contradict the scant federal case law.

The issue the Supreme Court will decide in McDonough v. Smith is whether the statute of limitations for a due process fabrication of evidence claim begins to run when the criminal proceedings terminate in the defendant’s favor, or when the defendant becomes aware of the tainted evidence and its improper use. The States and Local Legal Center (SLLC) amicus brief argues for the latter standard.

Edward McDonough, former Democratic Commissioner of Rensselaer County Board of Elections, approved forged absentee ballot applications which he claims he didn’t know had been falsified. Youel Smith investigated and prosecuted McDonough. McDonough claims Smith “engaged in an elaborate scheme to frame McDonough for the crimes by, among other things, fabricating evidence.” After two trials, McDonough was ultimately acquitted.

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