Summaries of Select Supreme Court Cases
Timbs v. Indiana, 139 S. Ct. 682 (2019)
In Timbs v. Indiana, a unanimous Supreme Court held that the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment applies to the states regarding criminal fines and civil forfeitures. The Court in Timbs did not establish a test to consider the Defendant’s ability to pay in determining whether a fine or a forfeiture is excessive.
In 2013 Tyson Timbs purchased a Land Rover for $42,058.30 using life insurance proceeds received upon the death of his father. Mr. Timbs subsequently used the Land Rover on one of two occasions to sell heroin to undercover police officers. On his way to a third sale, Mr. Timbs was arrested, and his vehicle was seized. The State sought a civil forfeiture of the Land Rover, which had a value as much as four times greater than the maximum criminal fine of $10,000. The Defendant argued the forfeiture was excessive and grossly disproportionate to the Defendant’s offense.
Gamble v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 1960 (2019)
In Gamble v. United States, the majority of the Court reaffirmed the exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause, that a Defendant can be subject to prosecution for the same offense if the prosecution comes from two distinct sovereigns. The Court reaffirmed that the federal government and the state government are two distinct sovereigns. The Court relied on stare decisis to defeat the the “spotty” and “muddled” argument of the Defendant based on originalism. Justice Ginsburg and Justice Gorsuch filed separate dissents.
In Alabama, Terance Gamble was charged with violating state law
prohibiting a person convicted of a “crime of violence” from possessing a
firearm. After Mr. Gamble pled guilty in state court, federal prosecutors
indicted him for the same act under a federal felon-in-possession statute. Mr.
Gamble moved to dismiss the indictment under the grounds of Double Jeopardy.
United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019)
In United States v. Davis, the majority of the Court held that one portion of the federal definition of a “crime of violence” contained in 18 U.S.C. §924(c), specifically 18 U.S.C. §924(c)(3)(B), “an offense that is a felony and . . . . that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense” is too vague to be enforced. This provision has been interpreted so judges do not look at the actual facts of the crime but whether the crime “by its nature” is violent in the “ordinary” case. Therefore, based on the Supreme Court’s prior decisions in Johnson and Dimaya interpreting similar language, the Court held that portion of the statute unconstitutionally vague. Justice Kavanaugh’s dissent, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito and Roberts (in part), relied on the 33-year enforcement of 18 U.S.C. §924(c) the impact the Court’s decision will have on numerous prosecutions and the ability to prosecute violent gun crimes.
Maurice Davis and Andre Glover committed a string of gas station robberies in Texas. They were charged with federal robbery offenses, including the § 924(c) charge of commission of a crime while possessing a firearm. Following a jury trial, Davis received a prison sentence of more than 50 years, and Glover received more than 41 years. The lengthy sentences were because of enhanced penalties under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).
Flowers v. Mississippi, 139 S. Ct. 228 (2019)
In Flowers v. Mississippi (Flowers VI), the majority opinion overturned the murder conviction and capital sentence of Curtis Flowers because the State had impermissibly discriminated on the basis of race in jury selection during Mr. Flower’s sixth trial. The Court looked at all the previous trials and found discriminatory intent. Once discriminatory intent was found, a presumption of prejudice carried through the rest of the Batson analysis. Justice Thomas dissented joined in part by Justice Gorsuch.
In 1996, four people were murdered in Winona, a small town in Montgomery County, Mississippi. The county is majority white while the town is majority black. The State identified Mr. Flowers as the sole suspect, and the District Attorney Doug Evans has tried Mr. Flowers six times for the murders. During the first five trials, Mr. Evans struck over eighty-five percent of potential black jurors. In the first three trials, the convictions were overturned for prosecutorial misconduct. Trials four and five resulted in mistrials because the jury could not return a unanimous verdict. Over the course of the first five trials, only where there were more potential black jurors than the State had peremptory strikes did a black juror serve. In the sixth trial, the State asked on average one question of each seated white juror versus 29 questions of each struck prospective black juror. The State accepted one black juror and used five of its six peremptory strikes against black jurors.
In 2016, the United States Supreme Court granted Mr. Flower’s petition for cert and vacated the decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Foster v. Chatman. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.
Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392 (2018)
In Trump v. Hawaii, the majority of the Court rejected statutory and constitutional challenges to the third iteration of an executive order that restricted the entry of nationals from eight countries (Chad, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen). The Court was skeptical that the Plaintiffs could even inquire into the persuasiveness of the President’s justifications given his broad authority in international affairs and national security and that the third iteration was more appropriately tailored than the first two executive orders. Additionally, the Court found that under 8 U.S.C. § 1152(a)(1)(A) the President could discriminate based on nationality in admissibility if not in visa issuance. Even after considering the President’s statements prior to election about Islam, the Court upheld the executive order because of the independent justification of national security. Justice Breyer and Justice Sotomayor filed dissents joined by Justice Kagan and Justice Ginsburg, respectively.
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Within a week of taking office, President Trump issued an executive order suspending entry of nationals from seven Muslim majority countries (Executive Order 13769 “EO1”). The Western District of Washington entered a preliminary injunction, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Court replaced EO1 with Executive Order 2 (Executive Order 13780 “EO2”), removing Iraq from the list of countries. District courts in Hawaii and Maryland also issued preliminary injunctions. The Supreme Court stayed the injunctions with respect to foreign nationals who lacked a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States, but otherwise kept the injunctions in place. EO2 expired before the Supreme Court reached the merits of the case. The President then issued Executive Order 3 (Executive Order 13815 “EO3”) to support foreign policy, national security and counterterrorism based on the countries inadequately vetting foreign nationals. The District Court of Hawaii issued a preliminary injunction, and the Ninth Circuit stayed the injunctions in the same way the Supreme Court did with respect to EO2.
Dep’t of Commerce v. New York, 139 S. Ct. 2551 (2019)
The Court remanded the decision to include the question of whether the person is a citizen of the United States to the Department of Commerce not because the decision to include the question was arbitrary and capricious, but because the reason given for asking the question was a pretext for an illegitimate motive. The Court held that (1) agencies must disclose the basis of its action, (2) courts are ordinarily limited to evaluating the agency’s explanation of the administrative record, (3) courts cannot reject an agency’s stated reasons based on other unstated reasons, and (4) if there is a strong showing of bad faith or improper behavior, courts may inquire into the minds of decisionmakers. The Court was unanimous as to two parts and divided in different groups in parts three, four and five with three other opinions filed concurring in part and dissenting in part.
On March 26, 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross released a memorandum stating the 2020 census would include a question about whether each person is a citizen of the United States justifying its necessity to implement the Voting Rights Act.