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Supreme Court hears criminal procedure, voting rights cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call] Monday in three cases, including Pearson v. Callahan [Cornell LII backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-751, in which the Court will review a July 2007 ruling [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit allowing individuals to directly sue police officers who enter their home without a search warrant to conduct a search and seizure. The Court will consider whether there exists a "consent once removed" exception to the Fourth Amendment [LII materials] that would allow police to enter a home without a warrant when an undercover informant inside the home signals that a drug sale is in progress. Supporting the petitioners during Monday's arguments [transcript], Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart said:

[O]ur principal contention is ... that once a person has, even unknowingly, admitted a government agent into his home, his expectation of privacy is sharply reduced and the entry of the officers works an insubstantial incremental invasion of privacy.... It's true that the informant here lacked the training and skills that - and integrity, for that matter, that you would expect a police officer to have. But he was for Fourth Amendment purposes a government agent a State actor.
Theodore Metzler Jr., arguing on behalf of the respondent, said that "no reasonable officer could have believed" that Callahan had consented to the entry of police by consenting to the entry of a confidential informant. While Justice David Souter called the petitioners' view of probable cause "the most astonishing ... I have heard in this courtroom," Justice Samuel Alito [official profiles, PDF] suggested the respondent advocated "a rule that is going to get police officers killed."

In a second criminal procedure case argued [transcript] Monday, Oregon v. Ice [SCOTUSwiki backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-901, presenting the question of whether is unconstitutional for a convict to be sentenced to consecutive rather than concurrent terms for burglary and sex offenses when a judge rather than a jury determined that the crimes arose out of separate offenses. The Oregon Supreme Court held [opinion text] that the trial court's imposition of consecutive sentences based on its own fact-finding violated the defendant's rights under the Sixth Amendment [LII materials].

Finally, the Court heard arguments [transcript] in Bartlett v. Strickland [Cornell LII backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-689, in which it will consider whether a racial minority group that comprises less than 50 percent of a district's population can file a vote dilution claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act [text]. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Act only applies to districts where the minority population constitutes 50 percent or more of voters.

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