Friday, March 29, 2013

SCOTUS Drug Dog Cases: Horror in Harris, Joy in Jardines

The United States Supreme Court has ruled on two drug dog cases in the last few weeks: Florida v. Harris and Florida v. Jardines. The Florida Supreme Court suppressed Drug Dog searches in both cases. In Harris, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed with a particularly troubling opinion. In Jardines, they affirmed and the opinion might actually expand some fourth amendment protections.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Criminal Sentencing Revolution? Alleyne v. United States

mandatory minimum sentences may be unconstitutionally imposed in Federal courts
[Update: This case was decided in Alleyne's favor. Read my post on the opinion here].

In America, defendants facing criminal charges have the right to a jury trial. The jury hears evidence and determines the facts. The judge hears legal argument and determines the law, then instructs the jury on that law. The jury applies the law to the facts and reaches a verdict. A guilty verdict must be supported by the highest standard of proof, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. After the verdict, the judge imposes sentence, and it's here that certain facts, or sentencing factors, shape the outcome. The law in Federal court and in some states, allows these facts to be proved by a lower standard, and only to a judge. Proof of certain facts triggers mandatory minimum sentences. These facts are never part of the indictment, they are never presented to the jury yet they might double or triple the sentence. If that sounds wrong, it's because it might be. The issue is before the U.S. Supreme Court in Alleyne v. United States.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Excessive Force in Maine Prisons: A Bounty of Isolated Incidents

Maine inmate Paul Schlosser is pepper sprayed while restrained, excessive force
Screen shot of the video from Portland Press Herald
Local reporter David Hench at the Portland Press Herald wrote a great piece this weekend about Maine State Prison inmate Paul Schlosser. Officers bound Paul in a restraint chair and then pepper sprayed him in the face. There is a video and the sprayer, Capt. Shawn Welch, was terminated after internal review. His appeal was denied, but he was then reinstated by the Commissioner of Corrections himself. Hench writes today that the case and the prison's use of force will now get a closer look.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Maine Drug Court Process Ruled Unconstitutional

Penobscot county courthouse Maine Drug Court challenged
The case of Arnold Gross v. State of Maine challenges the fundamental structure of Maine's drug court system. In the February 25, 2012 decision, Justice William Anderson of the Penobscot County Superior Court found that, allowing a judge who participates in the drug court team to preside over revocation proceedings violates constitutional standards.