Supreme Court Says No Double Jeopardy In Retrial After Arkansas Prosecutors First Threw Laundry List Of Charges At Jury To See What Would Stick

May 24, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a criminal defendant may be retried even though the jury in his first trial had unanimously rejected the most serious charges against him. The vote was 6 to 3, with the justices split over whether the constitutional protection against double jeopardy barred such reprosecutions.

The case arose from the death in 2007 of a 1-year-old Arkansas boy, Matthew McFadden Jr., from a head injury while he was at home with his mother’s boyfriend, Alex Blueford. The prosecution said Mr. Blueford had slammed Matthew into a mattress; Mr. Blueford said he had accidentally knocked the boy to the floor.

Mr. Blueford was charged under four theories, in decreasing order of seriousness: capital murder (though the state did not seek the death penalty), first-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide.

The jurors were instructed to consider the most serious charge first and move to the next only if they agreed unanimously that Mr. Blueford was not guilty. In this way, they were to work their way down to the appropriate conviction, or to an acquittal.

After a few hours of deliberation, the jurors announced that they were deadlocked. The forewoman told the judge that the jury had unanimously agreed that Mr. Blueford was not guilty of capital or first-degree murder but was divided, 9 to 3, in favor of guilt on the manslaughter charge.

The jury deliberated for another half-hour but could not reach a verdict. The court declared a mistrial.

Prosecutors sought to retry Mr. Blueford on all four charges. His lawyers agreed that he could be retried on the less serious ones but said double jeopardy principles should preclude his retrial for capital murder and first-degree murder.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said Mr. Blueford could be retried on all of the charges because “the foreperson’s report was not a final resolution of anything.” When the jurors returned to their deliberations after the forewoman spoke, he said, they could have changed their minds about the two more serious charges.

“The fact that deliberations continued after the report deprives that report of the finality necessary to constitute an acquittal on the murder offenses,” the chief justice wrote. Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.

Mr. Blueford’s lawyers also argued that the trial judge should not have declared a mistrial without first asking the jury whether, in the end, the defendant had been found not guilty of some charges. Chief Justice Roberts said the judge had acted appropriately, as “the jury’s options in this case were limited to two: eitiher convict on one of the offenses, or aqcuit on all.”

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the majority had improperly given prosecutors “the proverbial second bite at the apple.”

“The forewoman’s announcement in open court that the jury was ‘unanimous against’ conviction on capital and first-degree murder,” she wrote, “was an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes.”

Justice Sotomayor said the trial judge should have asked for a partial verdict from the jury before declaring a mistrial. She added that the protections of the Constitution’s double jeopardy clause were needed in light of “the threat to individual freedom from reprosecutions that favor states and unfairly rescue them from weak cases.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan joined the dissent in the case, Blueford v. Arkansas, No. 10-1320.

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US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Robbed Twice In Three Months

May 18, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Less than three months after he was robbed at his vacation home in the Caribbean, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has been targeted again — this time by burglars at his Washington, D.C., house.

Breyer’s property was raided May 4, The Washington Post reported Thursday, with cutlery and candlesticks worth about $3,500 taken.

Unlike the February robbery in Nevis — where Breyer and his house guests were threatened with a machete by a gardener who took $1,000 — no one was home during the Washington robbery. A housekeeper discovered the crime scene.

A Supreme Court spokeswoman said no court documents were taken.

The robbery comes a month after Congress allocated nearly $1 million to hire 12 new Supreme Court police officers, according to The Hill.

Breyer had been among the group pushing for that greater protection after U.S. District Judge John Roll was among six people killed in a gunman’s rampage at a Tucson shopping mall last year, which seriously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 12 others.

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Obama Lawyer Worried That Inforcing AZ State Laws, That Parallel Federal Laws, Will Result In “Mass Incarceration” Of Illegal Immigrants And Will Cause “Significant Foreign Relations Problems”

April 25, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The lawyer arguing for the Obama administration against provisions in Arizona’s controversial immigration law said Wednesday that if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds S.B. 1070 “mass incarceration” of Latinos would cause “significant foreign relations problems.”

During oral arguments before the high court on the law – which allows state police to check the immigration status of individuals stopped, detained or arrested for other reasons – Solicitor General Donald Verrilli responded to Justice Antonin Scalia’s remarks that Arizona seems to be merely enacting laws that are already federal statutes.

“Well, what I think they are going to do in Arizona is something quite extraordinary, that has significant real and practical foreign relations effects,” Verrilli said. “And that’s the problem, and it’s the reason why this power needs to be vested exclusively in the federal government.”

Verrilli said Arizona’s “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” takes that power away from the government and gives it to the state.

“And so – so, you’re going to have a situation of mass incarceration of people who are unlawfully present,” he argued. “That is going to raise – poses a very serious risk of raising significant foreign relations problems.

“And these problems are real,” Verrilli continued. “It is the problem of reciprocal treatment of the United States’ citizens in other countries.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy responded: “So you’re saying the government has a legitimate interest in not enforcing its laws?”

“No,” Verrilli replied. “We have a legitimate interest in enforcing the law, of course, but it needs to be – but these – this court has said over and over again, has recognized that the balance of interest that has to be achieved in enforcing the immigration laws is exceedingly delicate and complex, and it involves consideration of foreign relations, it involves humanitarian concerns, and it also involves public order …”

Of two million Latinos in Arizona, Verrilli told the court, “only 400,000 at most are there illegally.”

Scalia suggested that the government could take action to prevent the incarceration of illegal aliens.

“Well, can’t we avoid that particular foreign relations problem by simply deporting these people?” Scalia asked. “Look, free them from the jails.”

During the one-hour session both conservative and liberal justices seemed skeptical of the government’s case. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was nominated by President Obama and is the first Hispanic to serve, told Verrilli at one point that she was “terribly confused” by his remarks.

“It seems to me that the federal government just doesn’t want to know who’s here illegally,” commented Chief Justice John Roberts.

Attorney Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of Arizona, said the Ninth Circuit federal court decision that set in motion the case coming before the Supreme Court was “inverting fundamental principles of federalism.”

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law two years ago. Several groups, including the Department of Justice, challenged the law in court.

Only eight justices will decide the case since Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because of her work on immigration during her tenure as Solicitor General.

The court is expected to rule on the case by the end of its current term this summer. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah have proposed or enacted similar legislation.

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Obama Sends Warning To “Unelected” US Supreme Court Judges Over His Doomed Health Care Plan – Obamacare

April 3, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – US President Barack Obama on Monday challenged the “unelected” Supreme Court not to take the “extraordinary” and “unprecedented” step of overturning his landmark health reform law.

Though Obama said he was confident the court would uphold the law, the centerpiece of his political legacy, he appeared to be previewing campaign trail arguments should the nine justices strike the legislation down.

In a highly combative salvo, Obama also staunchly defended the anchor of the law — a requirement that all Americans buy health insurance — as key to giving millions of people access to treatment for the first time.

“Ultimately, I am confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress,” Obama said.

Pointed comments from Supreme Court justices last week during three days of compelling hearings have convinced many commentators that the court, expected to rule in June, will declare the law, dubbed ObamaCare, unconstitutional.

Such a move would electrify the White House race, puncture Obama’s claims to be a reformer in the grand political tradition, and throw the US health care industry into chaos.

Obama noted that for years, conservatives had been arguing that the “unelected” Supreme Court should not adopt an activist approach by making rather than interpreting law, and held up the health legislation as an example.

“I am pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step,” Obama said during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden with the leaders of Canada and Mexico in his first comments on last week’s hearings.

Obama’s comments will be seen as a warning shot to the court, one of the three branches of the US government, and could draw complaints from critics that he is trying to influence the deliberations.

The health care case is the most closely watched Supreme Court deliberation since a divided bench handed the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush over Al Gore, and could have far reaching political implications.

Obama also argued there was a “human element” to the health care battle, as well as legal and political dimensions.

He said that without the law, passed after a fierce battle with Republicans in 2010, several million children would not have health care, and millions more adults with pre-existing conditions would also be deprived of treatment.

Opponents of the health care law argue that the government has overreached its powers by requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance.

But supporters say that the government is within its rights to regulate the health industry as it has the power to oversee commerce across state borders.

Without the mandate, they say, the costs of insuring an extra 32 million Americans would be prohibitive to the private health insurance industry.

The Affordable Care Act is highly polarizing in US politics as the election approaches and Obama is yet to get a political dividend for the huge expenditure of political capital required to pass the legislation.

If the court upholds the law, and he wins reelection in November, the legislation will likely stand for years, as it will be fully implemented by 2014, two years before his second term draws to a close.

But Republicans running to replace him in the November 6 election have all vowed to repeal ObamaCare.

“I think it’s important… to remind people that this is not an abstract argument,” Obama said.

“The law that’s already in place has already given 2.5 million young people health care that wouldn’t otherwise have it.

“There are tens of thousands of adults with preexisting conditions who have health care right now because of this law.”

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