The 2018-2019 Term A Review of Significant Supreme Court Decisions, 1119 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, November 2019, #24

AuthorBy John S. Nichols
PositionVol. 31 Issue 3 Pg. 24

The 2018-2019 Term A Review of Significant Supreme Court Decisions

Vol. 31 Issue 3 Pg. 24

South Carolina BAR Journal

November, 2019

By John S. Nichols

This term of the U.S. Supreme Court saw a change in personnel (new Justice Brett Kavanaugh), the passing of a retired member (Justice John Paul Stevens), and a flurry of activity in the waning weeks in June. This article highlights some of the more significant cases from the term.

Criminal Cases

The Court decided four death penalty matters. The most noteworthy capital case was Madison u. Alabama, 139 S.Ct. 718 (2019). The Court held the Eighth Amendment permits a State to execute a prisoner even if the prisoner cannot remember committing the crime. Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007) asked only about a person's comprehension of the State's reasons for resorting to punishment, not the person's memory of the crime itself; "[t]he one may exist without the other." The Court remanded to evaluate whether Mr. Madison "can reach a 'rational understanding' of why the State wants to execute him."

In Shoop v. Hill, 139 S.Ct. 504 (2019), the Sixth Circuit granted habeas relief to Shoop under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), on the basis that Ohio state court decisions finding Shoop was not intellectually disabled were contrary to Moore v. Texas, 137 S.Ct. 1039 (2017) (court may not rely upon prison adaptability when evaluating whether defendant was not death penalty eligible due to intellectual disability). The Supreme Court handed down Moore long after the Ohio decisions, however, and remanded for the Sixth Circuit to evaluate the Ohio decisions based solely on Supreme Court holdings that were clearly established at the relevant times.

In Bucklew v. Precythe, 139 S.Ct. 1112 (2019), the Court noted that under Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008) and Glossip v. Gross, 576 U.S.___, 135 S.Ct. 2726 (2015), an inmate who raises an Eighth Amendment challenge to a state's method of execution must first identify a "feasible, readily implemented" alternative procedure that would "significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain." The Court held the Baze-Glossip rule governs all Eighth Amendment challenges, whether facial or "as-applied," that allege a method of execution inflicts unconstitutionally cruel pain.

The Court revisited Moore v.. Texas following its prior remand for the Texas court to reconsider whether Moore had an intellectual disability making him ineligible for the death penalty. Moore v. Texas 139 S.Ct. 666 (2019). The state court's decision, taken as a whole and read in light of prior opinions and the record, rested upon an analysis that much too closely resembled the analysis the Court had previously held was improper. The Court remanded, adding that Moore demonstrated he is a person with intellectual disability and, as such, was not eligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002).

In other criminal cases, the Court held the presumption of prejudice for counsel’s failure to appeal following a guilty plea applies regardless of whether the defendant signed an appeal waiver in the plea agreement. Garza v. Idaho, 139 S.Ct. 738 (2019). In Gamble v. US, 139 S.Ct. 1960 (2019), the Court declined to overturn the “dual sovereignty” doctrine, meaning a person can be tried again in federal court following a conviction in state court on the same conduct.

The Court fled several Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) cases. Under US v. Stitt, 139 S.Ct. 399 (2018), the term “burglary” in the ACCA includes burglary of a structure or vehicle that has been adapted or is customarily used for overnight accommodation. In Stokeling v. US, 139 S.Ct. 544 (2019), the Court held the ACCA’s elements clause for habitual violent felonies encompasses a Florida robbery offense that requires the defendant to merely overcome the victim’s resistance. And in Quarles v. US, 139 S.Ct. 1872 (2019), the Court ruled that generic “remaining-in” burglary occurs under the ACCA when the defendant forms the intent to commit a crime at any time while unlawfully remaining in a building or structure.

The Court addressed Batson v. Kentucky in Flowers v. Mississippi, 139 S.Ct. 2228 (2019). The Court stated “All of the relevant facts and circumstances taken together established that the trial court at Mr. Flowers’ sixth trial committed clear error...

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