united states supreme court archives

This page archives cases decided in the U.S. Supreme Court in the last 3 years. If a case is recently decided (within the last 6 months), it will reside in the Recently Decided cases. After 6 months it will archive here.


Areas of Constitutional Law
Updated: 4/22/2021 Whether Eighth Amendment Requires Finding that a Juvenile is Permanently Incorrigible Before Imposing an LWOP Sentence

Whether the Eighth Amendment requires the sentencing authority to make a finding that a juvenile is permanently incorrigible before imposing a sentence of life without parole.

Held: "Under Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. 460, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012), an individual who commits a homicide when he or she is under 18 may be sentenced to life without parole, but only if the sentence is not mandatory and the sentencer therefore has discretion to impose a lesser punishment. In this case, a Mississippi trial judge acknowledged his sentencing discretion under Miller and then sentenced petitioner Brett Jones to life without parole for a murder that Jones committed when he was under 18. The Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the discretionary sentencing procedure satisfied Miller.

"Jones argues, however, that a sentencer's discretion to impose a sentence less than life without parole does not alone satisfy Miller. Jones contends that a sentencer who imposes a life-without-parole sentence must also make a separate factual finding that the defendant is permanently incorrigible, or at least provide an on-the-record sentencing explanation with an implicit finding that the defendant is permanently incorrigible. And Jones says that the trial judge did not make such a finding in his case.

"Jones's argument that the sentencer must make a finding of permanent incorrigibility is inconsistent with the Court's precedents. In Miller, the Court mandated "only that a sentencer follow a certain process--considering an offender's youth and attendant characteristics--before imposing" a life-without-parole sentence. Id., at 483, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407. And in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which held that Miller applies retroactively on collateral review, the Court flatly stated that "Miller did not impose a formal factfinding requirement" and added that "a finding of fact regarding a child's incorrigibility . . . is not required." 577 U. S. 190, 211, 136 S. Ct. 718, 193 L. Ed. 2d 599 (2016). In light of that explicit language in the Court's prior decisions, we must reject Jones's argument. We affirm the judgment of the Mississippi Court of Appeals." (Jones v. Mississippi (2020) __ U.S. __ (18-1259).) This case was decided on 4/22/2021.

Areas of Constitutional Law
Updated: 2/20/2019 Excessive Fines Clause Applicable to States

Whether the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held: The Eighth Amendment's excessive fines clause is an "incorporated" protection applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. Timbs pleaded guilty in Indiana state court to drug charges. Indiana sought civil forfeiture of his vehicle, valued at $42,000, which was over four times the maximum fine for his offense. The trial court found the forfeiture would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offense and therefore unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment's excessive fines clause. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding the clause constrains only federal action and is inapplicable to state impositions. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Vacated and remanded. A protection afforded by the Bill of Rights is incorporated if it is fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty or deeply rooted in our Nation's history and tradition. Incorporated guarantees are enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment. Under the Eighth Amendment, "excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed." The protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history. Excessive fines can be used to chill freedom of speech or can be employed "in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence, for fines are a source of revenue, while other forms of punishment cost a state money." The court concluded the protection is both fundamental and deeply rooted in this Nation's history. The State argued that the clause does not apply to civil in rem forfeiture proceedings. However, in Austin v. United States (1993) 509 U. S. 602, the court held that civil in rem forfeiture proceedings fall within the clause's protection when they are at least partially punitive, as here. Moreover, in considering whether the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates a protection contained in the Bill of Rights, the court only asks whether the right guaranteed?not each and every particular application of that right?is fundamental or deeply rooted. [Editor's Note: Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. Justice Gorsuch also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.] (Timbs v. Indiana (2019) __ U.S. __ (17-1091).) This case was decided on 2/20/2019.

Right to Counsel
Updated: 2/27/2019 IAC for Failure to File Notice of Appeal When There is an Appeal Waiver

Does the "presumption of prejudice" recognized in Roe v. Flores-Ortega (2000) 528 U.S. 470, apply where a criminal defendant instructs his trial counsel to file a notice of appeal but trial counsel decides not to do so because the defendant's plea agreement included an appeal waiver? (Garza v. State (Idaho 2017) 405 P.3d 576, cert. granted 6/18/2018 (17-1026).) [Editor's Note: In Roe v. Flores-Ortega, the court held "that when counsel's constitutionally deficient performance deprives a defendant of an appeal that he otherwise would have taken, the defendant has made out a successful ineffective assistance of counsel claim entitling him to an appeal."]

Held: The presumption of prejudice recognized in Roe v. Flores-Ortega when trial counsel fails to file a notice of appeal when instructed applies regardless of whether the defendant has signed an appeal waiver. Garza signed two plea agreements, each containing a clause stating that he waived his right to appeal. Shortly after sentencing, Garza told his attorney that he wished to appeal. Instead of filing the notice of appeal, the attorney informed Garza that an appeal would be "problematic" given his appeal waiver. After the period of time for Garza to preserve an appeal lapsed, he sought state postconviction relief alleging that his attorney had rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file a notice of appeal despite his repeated requests. The Idaho Supreme Court denied relief, holding that Garza could not show the requisite deficient performance by counsel and resulting prejudice. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a split in authority. Held: Reversed and remanded. In Roe v. Flores-Ortega (2000) 528 U.S. 470, 484, the court held that when an attorney's deficient performance costs a defendant an appeal that the defendant would have otherwise pursued, prejudice to the defendant should be presumed with no further showing from the defendant of the merits of his underlying claims. In this case, the court concluded this presumption applies even when the defendant has signed an appeal waiver. This ruling is consistent with the fact that even the broadest appeal waiver does not deprive a defendant of all appellate claims. A valid and enforceable appeal waiver only precludes challenges that fall within its scope. All jurisdictions appear to treat at least some claims as unwaiveable. Most fundamentally, defendants retain the right to challenge whether the waiver itself is valid and enforceable. "Accordingly, where, as here, an attorney performed deficiently in failing to file a notice of appeal despite the defendant's express instructions, prejudice is presumed 'with no further showing from the defendant of the merits of his underlying claims.'" (Quoting Flores-Ortega, at p. 484.) [Editor's Note: Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Kavanaugh. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Alito (in part) and Gorsuch.] (Garza v. Idaho (2019) __ U.S. __ (17-1026).) This case was decided on 2/27/2019.