August-September, 2014

New Mexico:  Motel Guest’s Privacy in Dumpster Was Protected by State Constitution

The New Mexico Supreme Court held that police officers violated the New Mexico Constitution’s counterpart to the Fourth Amendment when they searched discarded garbage bags found in a dumpster behind a motel without a search warrant.  New Mexico extended its reasoning from residential trash to commercial dumpsters, disagreeing with the reasonableness analysis in California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988).  State v. Crane, N.M., No. 12,014, 06-30-14); full text at

Massachusetts:  Defendant Has a Right to Cross-Examine Someone From Private Lab That Tested DNA

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that when investigators send crime scene DNA to a private lab for analysis, expert testimony that the evidence matched DNA from a known sample is inadmissible unless the defendant has the opportunity to cross-examine an expert from the private lab.  The court relied on the state’s common-law evidentiary rules.  Commonwealth v. Tassone, 2014 BL 165500 (Mass., No. SJC-11446, 06-16-14); full text at

Ninth Circuit:  Attorney Did Not Deserve to be Sanctioned for Complaining About Low Payment of Fees

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a court-appointed criminal defense attorney’s warning that he would “suspend work” on his client’s case if the district court did not act on his payment requests more quickly did not warrant the judge’s response of removing the attorney from the case and referring him to state bar disciplinary authorities.  The trial court construed the attorney’s actions as an attempt to extort the court.  The court violated the attorney’s due process rights by expanding the hearing into an inquiry of whether the lawyer should be sanctioned, without giving him advance notice that sanctions might occur.  United States v. Tillman, 2014 BL 181993 (9th Cir., No. 13-10131, 06-30-14); full text at

Florida:  Police Cannot Stop Car on Basis of Color Discrepancy

A divided Florida Supreme Court held that an apparent discrepancy between a car’s paint scheme and the color listed on the information in the DMV’s database did not provide reasonable suspicion required to pull the vehicle over.  The court stated that anyone who painted their car would be subject to being pulled over every time they drove the car.  State v. Teamer, 2014 BL 185682 (Fla., No. SC-13-318, 07-03-14); full text at

Ninth Circuit:  Rehearing Granted in Voir Dire Closure Case

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted panel rehearing in a case in which it held that a trial judge’s request that the defendant’s relatives and spectators leave the courtroom during voir dire due to a scarcity of seats was merely a trivial closure that did not implicate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.  The panel vacated its previous opinion and remanded for the district judge to allow parties to present evidence as to the scope of the courtroom closure and to make findings on whether spectators had an opportunity to re-enter the courtroom.  United States v. Dharni, 2014 BL 184753 (9th Cir., No. 11-16438, 07-02-14); full text at

Seventh Circuit:  Acceptance of Guilty Plea is Too Important to be Left to Magistrate Judge

The Seventh Circuit held that the Federal Magistrates Act does not permit magistrate judges to accept guilty pleas even when the parties consent.  The acceptance of a guilty plea is very similar in importance to conducting a felony trial.  Accepting a guilty plea is too important to be considered an “additional duty” under § 636(b)(3).  United States v. Harden, 2014 BL 194584 (7th Cir., No. 13-1323, 07-14-14); full text at

Ninth Circuit:  Court Must Affirmatively Offer Allocution Before Imposing Post-Revocation Sentence

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the federal rule governing revocation of supervised release, Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1(b)(2)(E), requires a district court to address the defendant personally to ask whether he wants to speak before it imposes a post-revocation sentence.  Not allowing the allocution affected the defendant’s substantial rights and seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings.  The district court could have imposed a more lenient sentence after hearing the defendant speak.  United States v. Daniels, 2014 BL 204032 (9th Cir., No. 13-50331,  07-23-14); full text at

Iowa:  Police Must First Obtain Warrant Before Searching Probationer’s House

A divided Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Iowa’s constitutional guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures requires law enforcement officers to secure a search warrant before entering a probationer’s residence.  The Iowa Court refused to mirror federal court interpretations of the Fourth amendment, which allow a warrantless intrusion into a probationer’s home as long as there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  State v. Short, 2014 BL 199915 (Iowa, No. 12-1150, 07-18-14); full text at

Iowa:  Mandatory Minimums For Juveniles Unconstitutional

The Iowa Supreme Court held that a state law mandating that juveniles convicted of certain felonies be incarcerated with no chance of parole until a minimum period of time has been served is unconstitutional.  The statute deprives sentencing judges of discretion to consider the peculiar vulnerability of children and their inability to make critical decisions in an informed, mature manner as a mitigating factor justifying lighter punishment.  State v. Lyle, 2014 BL 199918 (Iowa, No. 11-1339, 07-18-14); full text at

Tenth Circuit:  Testimony of Anonymous Witnesses Deprived the Defendant of Confrontation Right

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the government’s showing of a threat to the safety of confidential informers was insufficiently specific to sustain a trial judge’s decision to allow the informers to testify without disclosing their true names to defense counsel.  For the first time, the court set out a legal framework for determining when the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause permits testimony by an anonymous witness.  First, has the government demonstrated a threat to the safety of the witness?  Second, if so, would withholding the witness’s identity from the defense deprive the accused of an opportunity for effective cross-examination?  United States v. Gutierrez de Lopez, 2014 BL 214318, (10th Cir., No. 13-2141, 08-01-14); full text at

California: Juror’s Mid-Deliberation Consult with Pastor Created Substantial Likelihood of Juror Bias

The California Supreme Court held that a death sentence must be reversed in light of a juror’s testimony that, during penalty-phase deliberations, he consulted with his pastor about mercy and sympathy.  The fact that the juror sought out his pastor’s advice helped convince the court that there was a substantial likelihood that the defendant was prejudiced by it.  People v. Hensley, 2014 BL 213009 (Cal., No. S050102, 07-31-14); full text at

Seventh Circuit:  Denial of Right to Represent Self at Suppression Hearing Cannot be Harmless

The Seventh Circuit held that the erroneous denial of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to self-representation at a pretrial suppression hearing can never be harmless.  The court found that the appropriate remedy is a new suppression hearing where the defendant can represent himself, not an automatic reversal of his conviction.  United States v. Lee, 2014 BL 208492 (7th Cir., No. 13-1976, 07-29-14); full text at