United States Supreme Court Criminal Cases
June 2001
by Kent Scheidegger

Here is a summary of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court in criminal and related cases in the last month of its October 2000 term.  A summary of the full term will appear in the next issue of Engage

Penry v. Johnson (June 4):  The trial court's attempt to instruct the jury in a way that reconciled the Supreme Court's first decision in Penry's case, Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), with the then-existing Texas sentencing statute was unsuccessful.  It did not make sufficiently clear to the jury that it could consider and give effect to mitigating evidence, even if that evidence would not justify a "no" answer to one of the three Texas special issues.  The statute was amended shortly thereafter, so this holding only directly affects cases in a narrow time window.
    The state court had also held that use of a psychiatric interview from a prior case did not violate Penry's self-incrimination rights under Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454 (1984).  The Supreme Court held that the state court had made a reasonable application of its precedents, and habeas relief was therefore not available under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Florida v. Thomas (June 4):  The Court granted certiorari to further define the limits of the rule allowing search of an arrestee's car under New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981).  However, the Court decided sua sponte that the decision it was reviewing was not a final judgment, which is a jurisdictional prerequisite in cases coming to the U.S. Supreme Court from state courts under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a).

Kyllo v. United States (June 11):  Use of a thermal imaging device to sense heat patterns radiated from a house is a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  A warrant is required, unless an exception applies.

Alabama v. Bozeman (June 11):  The anti-shuttling provision of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers forbids a state which has obtained custody of a prisoner through IAD to return him before trial.  The sanction in the statute is dismissal with prejudice.  The Court held there is no "de minimus" exception.

Cedric Kushner Promotions, Ltd. v. King (June 11):  For RICO purposes (18 U.S.C. § 1962(c)), a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its sole shareholder.

Saucier v. Katz (June 18):  When a police officer is sued for use of allegedly excessive force in an arrest, the officer is entitled to qualified immunity if he reasonably could have believed that the amount of force used was legal under the circumstances.  The fact that the standard for legal force is also a "reasonableness" inquiry does not cause the immunity inquiry to merge with the merits.  Summary judgment for the officer is appropriate unless the law put the officer on notice that the degree of force was clearly unlawful.

Duncan v. Walker (June 18):  The statute of limitations for federal habeas petitions is not tolled during the pendency of a prior federal petition.

INS v. St. Cyr & Calcano-Martinez v. INS (June 25):  Habeas corpus remains available, under the basic habeas corpus statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2241, to review questions of pure law arising in the deportation of aliens who have committed certain crimes.  The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act repealed direct judicial review of the Board of Immigration Appeals' decision in these cases, but did not repeal or amend the residual habeas jurisdiction.
    The repeal of discretionary waiver of deportation is not retroactive to aliens who would have been eligible at the time of their guilty pleas.

Zadvydas v. Davis (June 28):  A deportable alien whose home country will not take him back cannot be incarcerated indefinitely.

Tyler v. Cain (June 28):  Under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(1)(A), a successive habeas corpus petition cannot be considered on the ground of a new rule of constitutional law unless the Supreme Court itself has held that the new rule applies retroactively to cases on collateral review.


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