McCoy v. Louisiana
Robert LeRoy McCoy was on trial in Louisiana for murdering his son and his wife’s parents. His attorney thought the best chance for Mr. McCoy to avoid lethal injection would be by arguing to the court that though McCoy had indeed taken the lives of the three people, his mental state was such that he could not form the legal intent required to successfully prosecute him for first-degree murder. Mr. McCoy continually asserted his innocence and objected to any defense that included an admission that he was a killer. His attorney did not obey his instructions, and with the judge’s permission, conceded the killings, both in the case in chief and the sentencing hearing. Mr. McCoy was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder sentenced to death for each.
Here, the court ruled 6-3 that an accused person has the right to “choose the object of his defense” – or put more plainly – a person on trial has the right to decide what elements of a crime they admit to. Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan agreed with Justice Ginsburg, who authored the majority opinion that the Sixth Amendment required the trial court and his attorney to obey the defendant’s wishes, and not admit the killings. McCoy will now get a new trial where he may present a defense with such admissions.
Justices Thomas and Gorsuch joined Justice Alito’s dissent. It argued that while McCoy’s attorney did admit to an element of the crime of first-degree murder, that did not amount to an overall admission of the crime and did not constitute a violation of McCoy’s Sixth Amendment rights. The dissenters accused the majority of discovering a new right that does not exist, which would have potentially catastrophic results in many cases where the defense strategy includes admitting an element of the crime accused.
Byrd v. United States
Terrence Byrd was ridin’ dirty in Pennsylvania in a rented car with a trunk full of heroin. Troopers pulled him over for a traffic infraction and proceeded to search the car. Since the car was rented by someone else, and because Mr. Byrd was not listed as an authorized operator of the vehicle in the rental agreement, the Pennsylvania state police claimed they did not need a warrant, or an exception to the warrant requirement to enter the car. They claimed that since he wasn’t on the agreement, Mr. Byrd had no legal cause to object to the search of the car. The Department of Justice agreed, both under Presidents Obama and Trump. They said police could treat those who are driving rental cars and not listed on the agreements as they would car thieves.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court disagreed. They held that police couldn’t examine rental agreements to determine who might expect to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
United States v. Sanchez-Gomez
Mr. Sanchez-Gomez, who was charged with a federal felony, objects to the use of full five-point shackle restraints during nonjury pretrial proceedings by the judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. He sued to have the practice declared impermissible. The court never reached the merits of the case, instead ruling that since the underlying criminal charge has been dispensed with, the case is now moot. The court’s unanimous holding
Dahda v. United States
Los and Roosevelt Dahda were drug dealers who were convicted, in part, due to evidence obtained via wiretaps. They argued that the authorization for the wiretaps included an impermissibly broad grant by the court issuing the surveillance order and that because of that error, all the wiretap evidence should be disallowed against them.
As the court succinctly laid out:
Under federal law, a judge normally may issue a wiretap order permitting the interception of communications only “within the territorial jurisdiction of the court in which the judge is sitting.” 18 U. S. C. §2518(3). Here, a judge for the District of Kansas authorized nine wiretap Orders as part of a Government investigation of a suspected drug distribution ring in Kansas. For the most part, the Government intercepted communications from a listening post within Kansas. But each Order also contained a sentence purporting to authorize interception outside of Kansas. Based on that authorization, the Government intercepted additional communications from a listening post in Missouri.
The Dahda’s argued that the inclusion of that sentence, and that the government did collect evidence outside the territorial jurisdiction tainted all the wiretap evidence, necessitating its suppression. They were successful at the Ninth Circuit court of appeals, but as seems so often the case, the Supreme Court found the Ninth Circuit got it wrong. Overturning the Ninth Circuit unanimously, it ruled that because the recordings collected from outside the territorial jurisdiction of the court were not introduced against the defendants at trial, no violation occurred.