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Supreme Court rules on Clean Water Act scope, parolee searches

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down three decisions in argued cases Monday, including a ruling in the consolidated cases of Rapanos v. US and Carabell v. Army Corps of Engineers [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], where a plurality of the Court decided that the Clean Water Act [text] applies only to bodies of water that are "permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water 'forming geographic features' that are described in ordinary parlance as 'streams,' 'oceans, rivers, [and] lakes.'" The four-justice plurality also concluded that "only those wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are 'waters of the United States' in their own right, so that there is no clear demarcation between the two, are 'adjacent' to such waters and covered by the Act." In the cases, the Court considered a challenge to the federal government's legal authority to regulate private land that does not have a substantial connection to navigable waters. Petitioners argued that regulations promulgated by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency [official websites] exceed the scope of the CWA. Under the CWA, landowners must obtain a permit before depositing "dredged or fill material" into the "navigable waters of the United States." The CWA defines "navigable waters" as "waters of the United States," and the agencies have defined "waters" to include wetlands adjacent to navigable waters or tributaries. The Carabells and Rapanos argued that their properties may contain wetlands, but they are not adjacent to navigable waters and should be beyond the scope of the CWA. By a 5-4 vote, the Court remanded both cases to the lower courts. Read the Court's majority decision [text] per Justice Scalia, along with a concurrence in the judgment [text] from Justice Kennedy, a concurrence [text] from Chief Justice Roberts, a dissent [text] from Justice Stevens, who was joined by Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer and a second dissent [text] from Justice Breyer. AP has more. SCOTUSblog has additional coverage.

In Samson v. California [Duke Law case backgrounder] the Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not prevent police officers from routinely searching parolees even when the search is not based on suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, but instead is due solely to the person's parolee status. In affirming a California appeals court ruling [text], the Supreme Court ruled that the searches are allowable under the Fourth Amendment because California's "legitimate government interest" in monitoring parolees outweighs the parolees' privacy rights. Read the Court's 6-3 majority opinion [text] per Justice Thomas along with a dissent [text] from Justice Stevens, who was joined by Justices Souter and Breyer. AP has more.

In the final decision in an argued case Monday, the Court held in Davis v. Washington [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report] that an out-of-court "excited utterance" made to a 911 operator was not testimonial and therefore could be admitted as evidence at trial. The Court also held, however, that statements made to police at a crime scene are testimonial and cannot be admitted at trial under Crawford v. Washington [text], which interpreted the Confrontation Clause as barring "admission of testimonial statements of a witness who did not appear at trial unless he was unavailable to testify, and the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination." Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Scalia along with a concurrence in the judgment [text] and partial dissent from Justice Thomas. AP has more.

The Court also handed down a per curiam opinion [text] in Youngblood v. West Virginia where the Court granted certiorari in the case and remanded for a decision on the merits of Youngblood's claim that when a state police officer observed evidence that would have helped Youngblood's defense on sexual assault charges but failed to take possession of it, Youngblood presented a valid claim that "the suppression of this evidence violated the State's federal constitutional obligation to disclose evidence favorable to the defense" under the 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland [text]. The decision was accompanied by a dissent [text] from Justice Scalia and a second dissent [text] from Justice Kennedy.

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