Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.
By Ross Parker
The Supremes spent a very busy June and completed opinions on six difficult criminal cases, as well as three important civil cases and several others totaling 24 opinions as of June 27th.
That constitutes more than a quarter of the opinions for the entire year. The Court did, of course, have other business, several hundred certiorari petitions to review for next term’s docket, in-chambers opinions (applications to stay proceedings etc.), orders, and a few per curiam opinions deemed not to be worthy of full, authored opinion. The Justices have, for the most part, cleared the deck so that they can visit the grandchildren.
The Court rounded off the term on criminal cases by vacating the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell in a convincing unanimous opinion that not only restored his career hopes but also those of hundreds of legislators who feared the government’s interpretation of Hobbs Act bribery would make politics as usual a dicey business.
Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell
The Court narrowed the definition of “official acts” and “pending question or matter” such that the standard assistance of constituents provided by politicians could not result in a career-ending indictment. The Court did not go so far as to completely end McDonnell’s worries. It remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to review his claim that the evidence was insufficient, thus requiring dismissal of the charges. Even if he overcomes that hurdle or the Justice Department decides not to re-try the case, the question is whether future voters will forgive the First Couple’s receipt of $175,000 in shopping sprees and luxury vacations from someone who got essentially zero for his generosity.
As expected, the Court also vacated the judgment in Williams v. Pennsylvania, a capital case in which the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to recuse himself from ruling on a habeas petitioner’s appeal. What makes this action remarkable is that the Chief Justice, in his position as district attorney, had been involved in the criminal case by authorizing the decision to seek the death penalty and in supervising the case generally as head of the office. The vote, however, was closer than expected, 5-3, in reviewing this egregious behavior by former Chief Justice Castille. The dissent’s distinction was that the appeal involved a habeas decision, not the criminal phase of the case and occurred after Castille had left the prosecutor’s off ice. The state’s argument did not, however, pass the smell test, whatever artificial distinctions could be drawn.
In contrast, the Court ruled unanimously, 8-0, to reverse the 9th Circuit’s dismissal of the conviction in United States v. Bryant. The case held that tribal court domestic assault convictions could be valid predicates in a federal habitual offender prosecution, even though the prior convictions were without counsel. This was not a 6th Amendment violation since the right to counsel does not apply in this misdemeanor context in tribal courts. A victory for serially battered Native American women.
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