Supreme Court cautions lower courts against expanding qualified immunity

“Clearly established law” for qualified immunity purposes cannot be defined at a “high level of generality,” but must be “particularized” to the facts of a case, the Court ruled.

Supreme Court Issues Decisions on Double Jeopardy, Bank Fraud, and Insider Trading

The U.S. Supreme Court issued three criminal opinions in November and December on double jeopardy, bank fraud, and insider trading. The cases are: Bravo-Fernandez v. United States, Shaw v. United States, and Salman v. United States. You can read recaps of these decisions in the blog post below. 

Voisine v. United States: Upholds Firearms Ban for Persons Convicted of DV Misdemeanors Involving Only Reckless Conduct

People convicted of misdemeanor crimes involving use of physical force against a domestic relation cannot possess firearms or ammunition, even when the offense they were convicted of involves only reckless conduct, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 27.

Mathis v. United States: Re Warrantless Breath Tests

The Armed Career Criminal Act compares only “elements” of offenses to determine whether a prior conviction qualifies for an enhanced sentence, even when the state law at issue lists alternative means of satisfying one or more elements, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 23 in Mathis v. United States. But with five justices questioning the result, either in whole or part, the decision will not be the last word on interpreting ACCA.  

Birchfield v. North Dakota: A SCOTUS Summary

States can criminalize refusal to take a breath test without a warrant after an arrest for drunk driving, because a breath test is categorically a search incident to arrest, the U.S. Supreme Court held June 23 in Birchfield v. North Dakota. But States cannot criminalize refusal to submit to a blood test without a warrant, due to the blood test's more intrusive nature, the Court held. Two Justices dissented from the Court's ruling regarding breath tests. 

Supreme Court issues Five Significant Decisions for Public Defenders

Perhaps the most important case so far in June is Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, but not for the decision itself.  The importance is in a concurrence, which expressly invites defense counsel to bring to the Court a case to reexamine whether double jeopardy prohibits prosecutions for the same criminal conduct in both state and federal court. 

Utah v. Strieff: Discovery of valid arrest warrant can attenuate taint of illegal stop

Despite Sotomayor's pessimistic warning, defense counsel will need to try to use the limitations cited by the majority to distinguish Strieff in future cases. Counsel should try to show that the mitigating factors identified in Strieff aren't present.  For example, counsel should seek to show that police engaged in other misconduct besides the stop or after the stop.

Utah v. Strieff: Legalizing Illegal Stops

This is how policing will work post-Strieff: police will stop individuals they deem suspicious, with or without cause. They will search them and inquire into the existence of warrants. If they search and nothing turns up, everyone goes on their way, no one any wiser. If something does turn up, then their illegal stop has reaped its benefit and the arrest and search will be upheld under Strieff.

Supreme Court Issues Decisions on Juvenile Life without Parole, the Death Penalty, and State Procedural Bars to Federal Habeas

In Adams v. Alabama, the Court, on May 23, vacated and remanded for reconsideration in light of Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016), judgments in several cases involving juveniles who had been sentenced to life in prison without parole after having originally received the death penalty. Although the Adams opinion itself was merely a standard two-sentence order vacating and remanding the case, four justices wrote concurring opinions raising issues for future litigation involving juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole before Miller. 

Supreme Court Issues Decisions on Batson, Deportation of Persons Convicted of Crimes, Speedy Sentencing, Conspiracy, and AEDPA Deference

Justice Sotomayor and Chief Justice Roberts dissented. They said that the majority “interprets the phrase extorting property ‘from another' in the Hobbs Act contrary to [a] natural understanding” that extorting money or property usually involves a victim outside the group of conspirators, not one of themselves. They, too, expressed concern that the Court was expanding the law of conspiracy to fit “whatever a prosecutor needs in a given case.”


On December 28, 2016, NAPD published its Open Letter to Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for his prosecution of Orleans Public Defender investigator Taryn Blume. A bedrock principle of our criminal justice system is that every citizen accused by the government of a crime starts with the benefit of the doubt – with a presumption that they are in fact innocent.  That right becomes meaningless if we do not uphold the equally important right of every citizen-accused defense team who fights for her cause; who digs for evidence of her innocence; who exposes the government when it hides that evidence.  The legitimacy of our criminal justice system depends upon defense lawyers and defense investigators doing their jobs, and doing them well, without fear of reprisal from a prosecutor acting more like a bully than the champion of truth and justice he is supposed to be.


Last Chance to Register! The NAPD Executive Leadership Institute (ELI-2017) is almost full will will be held from 3:00 pm on April 2 through 11:45 am on April 5, 2017 at the Department of Public Advocacy training facility in Frankfort, KY. You can see more information and registration details HERE