Monday, March 7, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court Takes On Criminal Justice Issues

I recently wrote about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision with regard to the Confrontation Clause and what appears to be the new 'emergency’ exception carved out by the Court. My column on the subject for the Youngstown Vindicator can be found at,

Here are some other law and order issues that the Court will or has taken up this session, according to ABC News.

Material witness statute Nearly eight years ago Abdullah Al-Kidd, an American citizen and former football player at the University of Idaho, was arrested by the FBI and held for 15 days because of his connections to a suspected terrorist. Al-Kidd was never charged with a crime and is now seeking to sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft arguing that he was improperly detained. The U.S. government, representing Ashcroft, argues that Ashcroft should receive immunity from such suits. This case was argued before the high Court last week. Look for a more detailed examination of this case and prosecutorial immunity that I wrote for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly.

Child abuse The Court will decide whether police and social workers must obtain a warrant before interviewing a child in public school about suspected sexual assault in the home. A lower court concluded that such an interview in Oregon was unconstitutional because the officials failed to obtain a warrant based on probable cause. Child protective agencies say obtaining a warrant is often impossible when the suspected abuser is a parent.

Death penalty & DNA Henry Skinner was convicted of killing his girlfriend and her two adult sons in 1995 and sentenced to death. I wrote about Skinner’s case last fall, Within a few hours of his execution the Supreme Court stepped in and agreed to hear his appeal. Skinner argues that he should be able to test DNA material found at the crime scene. He is asking the Supreme Court to decide the narrow issue of whether he can bring his claim under the Civil Rights Act. If Skinner wins it could open up a new legal avenue for those on death row challenging their sentences.

Prison overcrowding The state of California is arguing that a federal court order mandating the state to reduce the prison population by 40,000 over two years is too drastic, and will endanger public safety. The case stems from two lawsuits that have been wending their way through the courts for years, challenging the health care available in the overcrowded prison system.

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