Courts Round Up

Washington, D.C.: High court turns down appeal in rogue juror case
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from a federal death row inmate who said his death sentence should have been thrown out because of a juror’s misconduct.

The justices did not comment in turning down Brandon Basham, who was sentenced to death for kidnapping and killing 44-year-old Alice Donovan in 2002. The foreman on Basham’s jury was held in contempt of court by the trial judge after it was learned that she called five news organizations and made 71 other calls to two fellow jurors, despite repeated warnings from the judge to refrain from discussing the case with anyone.

In the case from South Carolina, U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr. found that the behavior of juror Cynthia Wilson, was so outrageous that he held her in contempt of court, ordering her to return $2,500 of her juror’s pay and perform 120 hours of community service. Anderson said he would have put Wilson in jail for six months if she did not have four children at home.

But when Basham asked for his death sentence to be thrown out as a result of Wilson’s conduct, Anderson refused, and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., backed him up.

And when Basham took his plea to the Supreme Court, then-Solicitor General Elena Kagan agreed that the judge had made the correct call.

Arizona: Ariz. campaign funding issue back at Supreme Court
PHOENIX (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has been handed a new request to block Arizona’s distribution of supplemental campaign cash to some publicly funded candidates for state offices.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to block distribution of matching funds but left the door open to revisit the issue. That’s if opponents file a notice that they’ll seek a formal review of a lower court’s ruling that matching funds are constitutional.

The opponents then submitted a filing for overnight delivery Wednesday morning.

It includes the notice with a renewed request for the Supreme Court to block the extra money that publicly funded candidates get when they’re outspent by privately funded rivals or targeted by independent groups’ spending.

Massachusetts: Silence does not implicitly invoke Miranda right

BOSTON, MA — An arrestee’s silence during police questioning does not constitute an implicit assertion of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

The defendant in the case was arrested on charges of first-degree murder and other violations. He was read his Miranda rights by police and verbally acknowledged that he understood these rights, but he did not sign a written statement acknowledging them. He also did not expressly invoke or expressly waive the right to remain silent.

During nearly three hours of interrogation by police, the defendant sat mostly silent. He looked at the floor, only making eye contact when he was told to do so, and only occasionally provided one-word answers such as “no” and “yeah” to police questions.

Finally, when a detective asked him if he believed in God and if he had asked God for forgiveness for the murder, the defendant answered “yes” to both questions.  His statement was admitted in court and he was convicted of first-degree murder and the other charges.

He appealed, claiming that the statements were elicited in violation of the Fifth Amendment because his silence during questioning was an implicit invocation of his right to remain silent.

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction, finding that the Miranda right had been voluntarily waived.

On the defendant’s habeas petition, the 6th Circuit reversed his conviction, finding that Thompkins’ failure to expressly waive or assert his Fifth Amendment right manifested a desire to remain silent that should have triggered an end to the interrogation.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

In a 5-4 ruling authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court reversed, holding that the Michigan Court of Appeals’ ruling was reasonable and should not have been disturbed.

“Thompkins did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk with the police,” Kennedy wrote. “Had he made either of these simple, unambiguous statements, he would have invoked his ‘right to cut off questioning.’ ... Here he did neither, so he did not invoke his right to remain silent.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissenting opinion joined by justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, said that the majority’s ruling “mark[s] a substantial retreat from the protection against compelled self-incrimination that Miranda [has] long provided during custodial interrogation.”

U.S. Supreme Court. Berghuis v. Thompkins, No. 08-1470.  June 1, 2010. Lawyers USA No. 993-1951.

Massachusetts: High court rules in sex offender registration case
BOSTON, MA — A sex offender cannot be prosecuted for failing to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act when his underlying offense and travel in interstate commerce both predated the enactment of the law, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

The law requires convicted sex offenders to register with local authorities.

A regulation adopted in February 2007 made the Act applicable to individuals convicted of sex offenses before the law was passed.

The defendants in this case were two sex offenders who were convicted of failing to register in Indiana — where they had moved before the Act was passed — after the regulation was issued.

They argued that the Act did not apply to them because they had completed their interstate travel before the statute’s enactment.

The 7th Circuit affirmed the convictions, reasoning that “the statute does not require that the defendant’s travel postdate the Act, any more than it requires that the conviction of the sex offense that triggers the registration requirement postdate it.”

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and reversed.

In a 6-3 ruling written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court ruled that the plain language of the statute compels the conclusion that it was not meant to extend to pre-enactment conduct.

“That [the law] sets forth the travel requirement in the present tense (“travels”) rather than in the past or present perfect (“traveled” or “has traveled”) reinforces the conclusion that pre-enactment travel falls outside the statute’s compass,” Sotomayor wrote.

Justice Samuel Alito was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in dissent.

U.S. Supreme Court. Carr v. U.S., No. 08-1301.  June 1, 2010. Lawyers USA No. 993-1952.

U.S. Supreme Court to decide: Does federal law pre-empt state arbitration?
MINNEAPOLIS, MN— The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide under what circumstances the Federal Arbitration Act pre-empts a state from conditioning the enforcement of an arbitration agreement on the availability of class-wide arbitration.

The court will review a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision holding that the act did not pre-empt a California law rendering a cell phone company’s arbitration clause unconscionable.

The plaintiffs in the case filed a class action alleging that AT&T’s offer of a “free” cell phone to anyone who signed up for its service was fraudulent because the phone company charged the new subscriber sales tax on the retail value of each “free” phone.

The 9th Circuit concluded that the arbitration clause in AT&T’s customer agreement was unconscionable under California law.

This was so even though the arbitration clause contained certain procedural safeguards — including a $7,500 “premium” for prevailing plaintiffs — that were ostensibly designed to avoid rendering AT&T immune from individual claims.

The court said that the “premium payment provision has no effect on this conclusion, nor do any of the other provisions of AT&T’s revised arbitration clause. The actual damages a customer will recover remain predictably small, thus … AT&T’s class action waiver is in effect an exculpatory clause, hence substantively unconscionable.”

It went on to decide that the Federal Arbitration Act did not expressly or impliedly pre-empt California’s law on unconscionability because the state law was consistent with the act’s twin goals of reversing judicial hostility to arbitration and promoting the efficient resolution of claims.

The decision is AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.