May 27, 2014 United States Supreme Court opinions

Martinez v Illinois

Martinez trail on assault charges, the state declined to participate after tis motion for a continuance to locate the complaining witnesses was denied. The jury was sworn and a motion or directed verdict was granted. The Illinois appellate courts reversed on the grounds that Martinez was never in jeopardy as no evidence was presented. The Court reversed per curium. It held that jeopardy attaches at the moment the jury is sworn and there is no exception when the state refused to put on witnesses. It also held that the trial court here granted a directed verdict of not guilty which is a quintessential acquittal. Thus retrial was bared.

Michigan v Bay Mills Indian Community

Michigan sued Community for an injunction against a casino built off reservation property. The 6th Circuit ruled the suit barred by tribal immunity. The Court, 5-4 with a spate concurrence on three dissenting opinions, affirmed. The majority held that the applicable statute, 25 USC 10(d)(7)(A)(ii) only allows suits when the alleged gaming violation takes place “on Indian territory” and here the alleged violation took place off Indian territory. Thus, immunity applied. The Court noted that Michigan could have negotiated a waiver of immunity in its gaming compact with the community but did not and in any event could still do such things as deny permits and sue individual tribal leaders for relief. The majority declined to overrule Court precedent extending immunity to off reservation commercial activities as the immunity decision is a congressional mater, congress has declined to change the rule and the rule has been relied upon in numerous context supporting the application of stare decisis. Justice Sotomayor added a concurrence arguing that Indian tribes have never been treated as foreign governments so foreign sovereign immunity cases have no place in the analysis, comity is served by the majority approach of extending immunity to both states and tribes and the tribes face economic hardship largely form the historical treatment by the federal government and thus their commercial activates need to be protected by immunity. Justice Scalia filed a dissent arguing the Court wrongly extended immunity off reservation commercial activity with his vote and thus he would undo the mess by overruling that precedent. Justice Thomas, joined by Scalia, Ginsberg and Alito filed a dissent arguing that tribal immunity is solely the creation of the Court, and extending it to off reservation commercial activity does not serve the interests of comity, offends state sovereignty, engenders ill will between states and the tribes and shields tribes from liability for tortious and other civilly wrong actions. He also argued that because it is a common law rule, congressional inaction is no bar to overturning the case establishing the rule. Justice Ginsberg added a dissent arguing that state immunity is also a creation of the Court and both it and tribal immunity will disappear over time.

Plumhoff v Rickard

Rickard’s father was shot and killed by Plumhoff and other officers as they attempted to end a high speed chase. Plumhoff moved for judgment based on qualified immunity which was denied. The 6th Circuit affirmed. The Court unanimously reversed. The Court held it had jurisdiction over the case as Plumhoff and the other officers only raised legal issues and not a dispute as to the facts or evidentiary sufficiency. The majority held that it was appropriate to consider the substantive excessive force claim in order to further develop and clarify the law. (Ginsberg declined to join this part of the opinion). The majority held that lethal force was authorized here as Rickard’s father drove over 100 miles an hour, rammed police cars and attempted to escape after the ramming. Thus a reasonable officer could conclude Rickard’s father posed a serious risk to the public and firing their weapons did not violate the 4th Amendment. (Ginsberg declined to join this part of the opinion). The majority also held that the 15 rounds fired did not constitute excessive force as the officers were authorized to fire until the threat was ended. (Ginsberg and Breyer declined to join this part of the opinion. Alternatively, the court held that the right asserted here was not clearly established at the time of the shooting given Court precedent allowing lethal force in foot chases and the lack of authority between that case and the shooting here which would have put Plumhoff on notice the shooting here was unconstitutional.

Wood v Moss

Moss sued wood and another secret Service agent alleging his and other protesters first Amendment rights were violate when a group of Kerry supporters were moved further away from President Bush than Bush supporters. Both the district court and 9th Circuit denied Wood’s motion for judgment based on qualified immunity. The Court unanimously reversed. It held there was no clearly established law as of 2004 that put Wood on notice that it violated the First Amendment to move the Kerry supports further from president Bush that the Bush supporters. Additionally, the Court held that there were valid security concerns involved namely the unobstructed lien of sight of the Kerry supports within handgun and grenade range of President Bush. Thus, immunity applied here and the 9th Circuit was reversed.

Hall v Florida

Hall sought to set aside his death sentence arguing he was intellectually disabled. The Florida Supreme Court rejected this argument on the grounds that he tested a 71 on an IQ test above the 70 threshold for intellectual disability set out in state statute. The Court, 5-4, reversed. The majority held that because IQ tests are imprecise setting a range instead of a fixed value, 41 states do not make a person with a 70 IQ automatically eligible for the death penalty, only one state has joined Florida in its strict threshold approach and in the independent view of the majority the cutoff method is at odds with unanimous professional practice of the medical community and an affront to human dignity. The dissent argued that there is no national consensus on how to measure intellectual disability in the death penalty context and the majority’s approach, particularly relying on the views of the medical community, is contrary to 8th Amendment jurisprudence. It also argued that the Florida approach is at least as reliable as the majority approach and that should end the matter.

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