Supreme Court overrules right to counsel precedent
Andrew Morgan at 11:20 AM ET
[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] issued three opinions on Tuesday. In Montejo v. Louisiana [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court decided 5-4 to overturn [opinion, PDF] its 1986 decision in Michigan v. Jackson [text], which found that the Sixth Amendment required that police cease interrogations after a suspect had invoked his right to counsel, ruling that the Fifth Amendment provides adequate protection. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia found that under other precedent:
a defendant who does not want to speak to the police without counsel present need only say as much when he is first approached and given the Miranda warnings. At that point, not only must the immediate contact end, but badgering by later requests is prohibited. ... [I]t is hard to see why it would not also suffice to protect that same choice after arraignment.The Court rejected the reasoning of the Supreme Court of Louisiana [official website] that Jackson required defendants to affirmatively assert their right to counsel, and remanded the case to allow Montejo to seek exclusion of inculpatory statements made after a hearing to appoint counsel under the Fifth Amendment protections in United States v. Edwards. Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the opinion in Jackson, filed a dissenting opinion to which Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer joined. Breyer also filed separate dissenting opinion.
The Court also ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Haywood v. Drown [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that New York Correction Law § 24 [text], which prevents state trial courts from hearing claims for money damages against prison employees whether based on federal or state law, was a violation of the Constitution's Supremacy Clause. Writing for the majority, Stevens said:
That New York strongly favors a rule shielding correction officers from personal damages liability and substituting the State as the party responsible for compensating individual victims is irrelevant. The State cannot condition its enforcement of federal law on the demand that those individuals whose conduct federal law seeks to regulate must nevertheless escape liability.Saying that the law "is effectively an immunity statute cloaked in jurisdictional garb", the Court struck down the decision [opinion, PDF] of the Court of Appeals of New York [official website]. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, which Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia joined, and which Justice Samuel Alito joined in part.
Finally, the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Abuelhawa v. U.S [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a defendant who used a cellphone for the misdemeanor purchase of cocaine cannot be charged with a felony for using a "communication facility" to facilitate the distribution of an illegal drug under 21 USC § 843(b) [text]. The Court reasoned that the government's interpretation of "facilitate" exposed a first-time buyer using a phone "to punishment 12 times more severe than a purchase by a recidivist offender and 8 times more severe than the unauthorized possession of a drug used by rapists," and was clearly not in line with Congress' intent, since it conflicts with the classification of the drug sale itself as a misdemeanor.
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