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SCOTUS News, Week of December 11th, 2016

The Supreme Court denied certiorari for the case of Henry Perry Sireci v. Florida, another death penalty case. Justice Breyer dissented from the denial, reiterating his position on the conflict between the death penalty and the stipulations of the Eighth Amendment.

Opinions Released

– The Supreme Court decided Shaw v. US on Monday. This appears to be a stumbling block for both the FantasySCOTUS Crowd and the {Marshall}+ Algorithm. The Court reversed unanimously, while the Crowd had anticipated a unanimous affirm. The Algorithm had predicted a 5-3 affirm. This case is pretty cut and dry. The reversal and remand was due to an imprecise instruction given during the argument phase in the Ninth Circuit. The Supreme Court essentially withheld a true holding of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling to clean up the discrepancy in language. From Justice Breyer’s opinion, it seems likely that the Supreme Court would have affirmed if not for this discrepancy. The Crowd members can thus place an asterisk on this seeming error.

This case appeared to be a slam dunk (and, arguably, still is). Shaw’s contention that he did not knowingly scheme to defraud a bank is, understandably, skewered by the Court. Shaw also tried to reason that a bank must suffer a measurable loss for a crime to be valid. The Court rejected this as well. A crime is a crime. Intent does not matter as much as knowledge of wrongdoing. Shaw knew he was stealing money.

So why the reversal? Word choice. In this case, “or” rather than “and”. The Court rejected all of Shaw’s assertions, but they ultimately remanded because of one specific word. In jury instructions for Shaw’s original trial, the jury were told the following:

“[A scheme to defraud is] conduct by which someone intends to deceive, cheat, or deprive a financial institution…”

The relevant instruction was supposed to use the word “and”. A seemingly minor issue makes all the difference in this clause. The Court remanded this case in order for this error to be corrected.

Certiorari Granted

Turner et al. v. US and Overton v. US were granted certiorari on Wednesday. The Supreme Court will decide whether the multiple convictions in this murder case should be overturned under Brady v. Maryland. The petitioners argue that prosecutors were obligated to turn over evidence that could have potentially exonerated them.

– In Lee v. US, the petitioner argues that he received deficient counsel on a drug possession charge. Lee is a non-citizen, and could be deported for his crime. The Court will decide whether counsel was inadequate enough that it violated Lee’s constitutional rights.

TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Food Brands Group LLC is another patent case. The Justices must determine whether a corporation can be tried in a judicial district other than the one in which it is incorporated. There are competing doctrines currently used by the various lower courts. Expect the Supreme Court to attempt to create a unified path forward for patent case adjudication in the future.