Right to Counsel: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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Category: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Federalism, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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A photo of the Supreme CourtAs part of its end-of-term flurry, the U.S. Supreme Court issued three notable decisions in the past week on the criminal defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel. The results were a mixed bag.

First, the step forward: in Lee v. United States, the Court strengthened the defendant’s right to accurate legal advice in relation to plea bargaining. Lee, a South Korean who resided lawfully in the U.S. for more than three decades, faced a federal charge of possession with intent to distribute ecstasy. His attorney advised him that he would likely get a lighter sentence if he pleaded guilty, but Lee was concerned that he would be deported if convicted; deportation, not prison, seems to have been his primary concern. Lee’s lawyer assured him that he would not be deported, so Lee agreed to the guilty plea. However, the lawyer was wrong — Lee faced mandatory deportation as a result of his conviction. When Lee found out, he sought to withdraw his guilty plea on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel.

The lower courts rejected his motion. For Lee to show a violation of his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel, he was required to demonstrate both deficient performance by this attorney and prejudice. The lower courts seemed to accept that Lee’s lawyer performed poorly, but held that Lee could show no prejudice since he had no viable defense if the case had gone to trial. In other words, even with better information, Lee would have been convicted and deported anyway.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that prejudice can be established in some cases based on the lost opportunity to have a trial, without regard to the likely outcome of that trial. 

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Supreme Court Dodges Long-Running Dispute Over Defendant’s Right to Psychiatric Expert

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Poverty & Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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A photo of the Supreme CourtThree decades ago, in Ake v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court held that indigent criminal defendants have a constitutional right of access to a psychiatric expert in some cases. More specifically, the Court stated, “[W]hen a defendant demonstrates to the trial judge that his sanity at the time of the offense is to be a significant factor at trial, the State must, at a minimum, assure the defendant access to a competent psychiatrist who will conduct an appropriate examination and assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense.” 470 U.S. 68, 83 (1985).

This seemingly straightforward holding has spawned a number of long-running disputes in the lower courts. Among the more important lingering questions is this: May a state satisfy its obligation under Ake by supplying the defendant with access to a neutral expert who is equally available to both sides, or must the state engage an expert who will truly serve as a member of the defense team? Of course, a wealthy defendant would almost always be well-advised to hire his own expert, rather than merely relying on a neutral, but Ake does not necessarily guarantee that poor defendants will have all of the advantages of their rich counterparts.

With the lower courts split on this question, the Supreme Court finally seemed poised to provide a definitive answer this term in McWilliams v. DunnHowever, when the Court issued its McWilliams decision earlier this week, the justices actually ruled in the defendant’s favor on quite narrow, case-specific grounds, leaving the big question about the acceptability of a neutral expert unanswered.

Whenever the Court gets around to answering the question — and, given the way that matters were resolved this week, McWilliams itself could well provide the vehicle on a return trip to the Court — the justices will confront a difficult issue that touches more generally on the role of experts in an adversarial system of justice, and even on the very nature of scientific knowledge.

Our ideal for science is objective knowledge. We hope that scientists will develop analytical methods that will invariably yield the same conclusion as to the same subject, regardless of who is doing the analysis.

If tests for mental illness are “scientific” in this sense, then there seems little unfairness in limiting the defendant to a neutral psychiatrist. The only way in which having an expert on the defense team might change the outcome would be if the defendant’s “hired gun” were dishonest or incompetent — and there surely cannot be a constitutional right to mislead the jury with bad science.

Thus, the claim that the defendant should have his own expert seems implicitly grounded in a belief — accurate, I should think — that psychiatric diagnosis does not always fit that ideal of wholly objective and indisputable conclusions. In the American legal tradition, of course, we look to adversarial process to determine the truth when there are two conflicting, but both still plausible, versions of reality available. Thus, if reasonable psychiatrists could differ over a defendant’s diagnosis, it seems natural to fall back on adversarial process and give each side an opportunity to make the best case possible for its version of reality, including with its own expert witness. We are accustomed to think that the truth will emerge from such an adversarial clash.

And, yet, there is something disquieting about this picture. When we ask a jury to choose between two competing stories about what a defendant did, we count on the jury to use its common sense and life experience to decide which version of reality is more plausible. But, when the question instead relates to what was going on in the defendant’s head, it is not so clear that common sense and life experience are up to the challenge. After all, the essence of the defendant’s claim is that his brain was not working in a way that is familiar to most lay people in their day-to-day lives. The very reason we bring experts to bear to try to deal with the issue makes lay jurors seem unqualified to pick between the two different versions of reality being presented.

There does seem a dilemma here. If we use only a single, nominally neutral expert, then the jury may be left with a sense in some cases that the science is more certain and one-sided than it really is. On the other hand, if we arm each side with its own expert, then we implicitly ask the jury to perform a task for which it is ill-equipped — adjudicating the scientific quality of competing expert opinions. There may be ways of alleviating the concerns — e.g., through use of a neutral panel of experts — but such approaches tend to raise cost and other practical difficulties.

Perhaps the conundrum helps to explain why the Court has not seemed anxious to resolve the big question that was posed by McWilliams.




Woman Interrupted: The Pernicious Problem That’s Not Just in Our Heads

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Feminism, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Profession, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his contacts with Russian officials in Washington D.C. and his conversations with the President about the Russia investigation or about former F.B.I. Director James B. Comey.

The hearing has been called “at times fiery” and Sessions’ testimony “highly contentious.” Indeed, several Democratic senators engaged in some testy back-and-forth with Sessions, with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden saying that Sessions’ answers did not “pass the smell test” and New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich declaring that Sessions “[is] obstructing.”

But the grilling of Sessions that has probably received the most attention is that of California Senator Kamala Harris, a junior senator and former California attorney general. Senator Harris was questioning Sessions about his many non-answer answers at the hearing. Sessions claimed he was not answering due to long-standing Justice Department policy. Senator Harris pushed Sessions on this policy.

The New York Times described Senator Harris’ questioning style as “a rapid-fire . . . pace more commonly seen in courtrooms—a style that at times has her interrupting witnesses.” During her questioning, she was interrupted by both Arizona Senator John McCain and by North Carolina Senator Richard M. Burr, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Both men suggested that Sessions be allowed to answer. This was the second time in two weeks that Senator Harris has been interrupted by Senators Burr and McCain. Last week, she was interrupted by them while questioning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Following the Sessions testimony, Jason Miller, a panelist on CNN, referred to Senator Harris as “hysterical,” most certainly a gendered analysis. CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers called out Miller’s gendered statement and pointed out how Miller believed neither Senators Harris (a woman of color) nor Wyden (a man) were “trying to get to the bottom of answers,” yet Miller called only Senator Harris “hysterical.”)

Earlier this year, during a Senate debate about Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was interrupted and then formally rebuked by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King about then-U.S. attorney Jeff Sessions, who had been nominated at that time for a federal judgeship. The letter had criticized Sessions for using “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.” (The Senate rejected Sessions’ nomination for that federal judgeship.) Later, three male senators read the same letter on the Senate floor, and none were rebuked.

Maybe Harris’ and Warren’s treatment is all about rules of decorum in the Senate. Decorum may be part of it; more than that, though, it appears to be the ages-old pernicious pattern of men interrupting women. It happens to most women, much of the time, in both personal and professional settings.

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Dark Clouds on the Horizon for Graham v. Florida?

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A photo of the Supreme CourtIn 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that a juvenile sentenced to life in prison for a nonhomicide crime must be given “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” But what makes a release opportunity “meaningful”? The Court’s decision yesterday in Virginia v. LeBlanc suggests that the threshold may not be as high as some hoped.

LeBlanc was convicted of committing a rape when he was 16 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of conventional parole. On the face of it, this would seem a clear violation of Graham. However, in federal habeas proceedings, the state argued that LeBlanc would eventually have his “meaningful opportunity” through a geriatric release program, which permits the release of some inmates who are age sixty or older.

Since many other states also have geriatric release programs, the issue presented by LeBlanc has important, national ramifications for the strength of the Eighth Amendment right recognized in Graham.

A district judge and then a panel of the Fourth Circuit held in LeBlanc’s favor. The Fourth Circuit noted the highly discretionary nature of geriatric release under Virginia law, which effectively permits the releasing authority to disregard an applicant’s “demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,” contrary to Graham. 841 F.3d 256, 269 (4th Cir. 2016).

Yet, the Supreme Court reversed yesterday in a brief per curiam opinion.   Read more »




Violence Prevention Initiatives: The Difficulty of Building on Early Success

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Project Safe Neighborhoods has been among the highest-profile and best-funded national violence prevention initiatives of the past two decades, involving allocations of about $1 billion to U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. Evaluations to date have generally been positive, but a new study of the PSN experience in Chicago highlights the challenges of building on early success.

The researchers, Ben Grunwald and Andrew Papachristos, attempted a rigorous, beat-level analysis of the impact of PSN on troubled neighborhoods in the Windy City, which had a distinctive approach to PSN that seemed quite effective at first. Read more »




Insights on Judiciary and Tech Industry Highlight New Marquette Lawyer Magazine

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Environmental Law, Federal Law & Legal System, Marquette Law School, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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Marquette Lawyer Summer 2017 CoverTwo pairs may not be the most powerful hand in poker, but they are definitely a winning combination for the Summer 2017 edition of Marquette Lawyer, the Marquette Law School magazine.

One pair in the magazine focuses on how long U.S. Supreme Court Justices should serve and, more broadly, how to assure confidence in the judiciary. Judge Albert Diaz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit focused on this in the E. Harold Hallows Lecture he delivered at Marquette Law School in 2016. The magazine offers a lightly edited text of the lecture by Diaz, including his advocacy of ideas he presumes that few of his fellow judges would support. Paired with the text is a comment from Diaz’s colleague on the Fourth Circuit, Judge James Wynn, L’79. An interview and profile of Wynn accompany his comment. The Diaz text may be read by clicking here and the Wynn comment (and interview) here.

The other pair in the magazine offers provocative insights from two people who play leading roles in the tech world. Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, made two appearances at Marquette Law School on November 15, 2016, delivering the Helen Wilson Nies Lecture on Intellectual Property and participating in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program. A selection of his thoughts may be found by clicking here.

Ted Ullyot is currently a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a leading venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, and he was formerly general counsel for Facebook—indeed, the lawyer who led the company in the process of going public. An edited version of Ullyot’s remarks at the Law School in a Helen Wilson Nies Lecture in April 2016 may be found by clicking hereRead more »




A Win for Judicial Sentencing Discretion in Armed Robbery Cases; Additional Reform Still Needed

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Law & Legal System, Federal Sentencing, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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A photo of the Supreme CourtEarlier this month, in Dean v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that federal sentencing judges retain some discretion to soften the notoriously draconian sentencing scheme of 18 U.S.C. §924(c). The statute establishes a mandatory prison term when a defendant uses or possesses a firearm in connection with a violent or drug trafficking crime. Unlike most minimums, though, this one must be imposed to run consecutively with any other sentences imposed at the same time. Thus, for instance, a defendant convicted of both a robbery and possession of a firearm during the robbery must get at least five years on top of whatever sentence is ordered for the robbery.

But what if a judge—in light of all of the facts of the case and the circumstances of the defendant—decides that five years is a sufficient punishment for the crime? Could the judge impose a sentence of just one day on the robbery count, so that the total sentence does not exceed what is necessary? In other words, in sentencing for the robbery count, can the judge take into consideration what she will have to impose for the §924(c) count?

Yes, said the Supreme Court in Dean.   Read more »




Supreme Court Permits Some Light Into the Black Box of Jury Deliberations

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Public, Race & Law, U.S. Supreme Court
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A photo of the Supreme CourtJury deliberations are the proverbial black box. After passively receiving the law, evidence, and arguments at a trial, the jurors will retire to discuss the case in secret. When they return with a verdict, no explanation will be required for their decision. Afterward, the jurors will normally be instructed that they need discuss the case with no one. The parties are left to wonder how well the jurors understood the governing law, attended to the key evidence, and faithfully attempted to apply the former to the latter.

Occasionally, the public catches some glimpse of what happens inside the black box. But when this happens, the law’s typical response echoes the famous admonition of the Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” This position is reflected in Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which generally prohibits jurors from testifying about their deliberations and thought processes when the validity of a verdict is challenged.

Although it seems perfectly sensible to discourage losing litigants from harassing jurors in the hope of uncovering errors, it is not so clear that the system benefits when judges are required to turn a blind eye to substantial evidence that a jury’s decisionmaking went off the rails.  Read more »




More Doubts About the Court’s Resolution of the John Doe Investigation

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Today, the United States Supreme Court summarily affirmed the decision of a Three Judge Panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in  Independence Institute v. Federal Election Commission.  By affirming the panel in this case, the U.S. Supreme Court seriously undermined the legal rationale that the Wisconsin Supreme Court relied upon when it dismissed the John Doe investigation into possible illegal campaign coordination during the Governor Walker Recall Election.  In one sense, today’s action by the U.S. Supreme Court merely establishes the narrow rule that “electioneering activity,” which encompasses a variety of activity beyond express advocacy on behalf of a candidate for office, is subject to regulation without violating the U.S. Constitution.

However, the action of the U.S. Supreme Court is significant because it also necessarily rejects a converse proposition: that the scope of permissible government regulation of election activity is limited to conduct which constitutes “express advocacy.”  The Independence Institute case is relevant to the John Doe Investigation because both cases raise the legal question of whether the U.S. Constitution permits any regulation of election activity other than “express advocacy” or its functional equivalent.  “Express advocacy” is usually defined as a communication that expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.

The Independence Institute is a nonprofit organization.  It challenged disclosure requirements contained in the McCain-Feingold Act which would have required it to disclose its donors if it spent more than $10,000 on “electioneering communications” in the 60 days before a general election (or the 30 days before a primary election).  The group argued that this statutory requirement was unconstitutional because it went beyond the regulation of express advocacy.  As described by Judge Wilkins in an earlier proceeding in the D.C. Circuit, the argument of the Independence Institute reduced to the argument that “the only speech that should be considered an electioneering communication, and therefore trigger the BCRA’s reporting and disclosure requirements, is speech that is ‘unambiguously related’ to a campaign.”  The group wanted the Court to rule that the disclosure requirement in the statute could only be enforced in instances involving express advocacy.

If this sounds familiar, it is because the legal argument advanced by the Independence Institute is parallel to the reasoning adopted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in its opinion ending the John Doe Investigation (State ex rel. Two Unnamed Petitioners v. Peterson, 2015 WI 85).  Read more »




Ninth Circuit Rules 3-0 Against Trump Administration: Analysis and Explanation

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Category: Constitutional Law, Immigration Law, President & Executive Branch, Public, Religion & Law
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Tonight, the Ninth Circuit issued an unanimous ruling in State of Washington v. Trump rejecting the Trump Administration’s motion for an emergency stay of the District Court’s temporary injunction.  That order by the District Court had the effect of halting enforcement of the President’s January 27 Executive Order suspending entry of aliens from seven specified countries into the United States.  In prior posts here and here, I argued that the January 27 Executive Order violated statutory provisions such as the 1980 Refugee Act and also that the Order violated the United States Constitution by discriminating on the basis of religion in the entry of immigrants and non-immigrants.

Tonight’s ruling by the Ninth Circuit is necessarily limited by the procedural posture of the case.  The court states at the outset:

To rule on the Government’s motion, we must consider several factors, including whether the Government has shown that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its appeal, the degree of hardship caused by a stay or its denial, and the public interest in granting or denying a stay. We assess those factors in light of the limited evidence put forward by both parties at this very preliminary stage and are mindful that our analysis of the hardships and public interest in this case involves particularly sensitive and weighty concerns on both sides. Nevertheless, we hold that the Government has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal, nor has it shown that failure to enter a stay would cause irreparable injury, and we therefore deny its emergency motion for a stay.  (opinion at p. 3)

Despite this procedural posture, the opinion issued by the court goes out of its way to make several strong statements of law.  First, the court firmly rejects the assertion of the Trump Administration that “the district court lacked authority to enjoin enforcement of the Executive Order because the President has ‘unreviewable authority to suspend the admission of any class of aliens.’ ” (opinion at p. 13). Read more »




President Trump’s Executive Order is Still Unlawful

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Category: Constitutional Law, Federal Law & Legal System, Human Rights, Immigration Law, President & Executive Branch, Public, Religion & Law
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Yesterday, in a post on this Blog, I called President Trump’s Executive Order of January 27, 2017, “a rare trifecta of illegitimacy.”  The rollout of the Executive Order has been confused, and its implementation uneven.  Thus far, most Republican members of Congress have been silent on the legality of the Executive Order, even those Republicans who criticized Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration during the presidential primaries.  Notably, the Executive Order has received only tepid support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Executive Order purports to “suspend entry” of all aliens into the United States who are nationals of specified countries.  Media accounts describing the implementation of the Executive Order have focused thus far on the situation of individuals who are fleeing persecution being turned away at the United States border, and subsequently returned to their home country.  For example, reporters have underscored the plight of Iraqis who provided assistance to U.S. forces during the Iraq War, and who have expressed fear over their safety if they remain in Iraq.

Defenders of the President’s power to issue the Executive Order point to a 1950s era statute passed by Congress, Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act ( 8 U.S.C. 1182(f)).  This provision is the key to the power Mr. Trump claims to suspend entry of certain categories of aliens and return them to their home countries.  Section 212(f) says:

“Whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” (emphasis added)

By its own terms, the statute purports to grant the President the power to “suspend the entry” of aliens.  However, the Trump Administration has gone further.  The Trump Administration is turning aliens away from the border and returning them from whence they came. Read more »




A Trifecta of Illegitimacy

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Human Rights, Immigration Law, President & Executive Branch, Public, Religion & Law
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Let’s review a few basics about the Rule of Law in the United States of America.  First of all, the Executive Branch (in the form of the President) is given the power to enforce federal law by our United States Constitution.  In contrast, the Legislative Branch (in the form of the Congress) is given the power to make the law.  So, for example, if the Legislative Branch has passed a statute that grants all refugees seeking political asylum the absolute right to file such a claim when they reach our nation’s borders (which it has, in the Refugee Act of 1980), then the President cannot simply declare that right to be “suspended” and instruct officers with the Customs and Border Protection office to turn such refugees away when they arrive at U.S. airports or other ports of entry.

As a side note, none of the Executive Orders or Presidential Directives issued by President Obama relating to the enforcement of the immigration laws directly contravened explicit language contained in a statute passed by Congress.  The legal debate over the unilateral actions taken by President Obama concerned the scope of the President’s discretion to choose how to enforce the law and how to prioritize deportations.  They did not concern whether the President had the authority to order government officials to ignore explicit commands contained in the law.  The Order by President Trump to “suspend” the entry of refugees from specified countries without complying with the provisions required under the Refugee Act of 1980 is in direct conflict with an Act of Congress.

Second, the United States has signed treaties that obligate us to treat persons who are “refugees” in certain ways. Read more »