Supreme Court hears arguments in animal cruelty video case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in three cases. In United States v. Stevens [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on whether a federal law [18 USC § 48 text] that bans depictions of animal cruelty, violates the First Amendment. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the law illegally restricts speech, overturning the conviction of Robert Stevens, who was prosecuted for selling videos depicting dog fights. At oral argument, counsel for the federal government argued that the law was narrowly tailored to target certain videos depicting small animals being crushed to death. Counsel for respondent Stevens argued that the law was overly broad, saying "I think at some level Congress has a job to write with a scalpel and not a buzz saw in the First Amendment area." The majority of justices appeared to agree that the law as written might be overly broad or too vague, implying a willingness to overturn it.

In Johnson v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether a conviction for battery involving possible touching of another person meets the physical force requirement of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) [19 USC § 924 text] to be considered a violent felony for sentencing enhancement purposes. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that such a battery does constitute a violent felony. Counsel for petitioner Darnell Johnson argued:

Mr. Johnson's conviction for battery in the State of Florida can be sustained by the slightest contact. Such a conviction does not qualify as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act. A violent felony means one that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another. Physical contact is not the same as physical force.
Counsel for the US responded that "[t]he primary definition of violent felony in the Armed Career Criminal Act ... almost precisely tracks the general definition of the crime of battery; that is, the unlawful application of physical force to the person of another."

In Bloate v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether time granted to prepare pretrial motions is excludable under federal law [18 USC § 3161(h)(1) text], which lists exceptions to the requirement that a criminal defendant be tried within 70 days of indictment or his first appearance in court. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld [opinion, PDF] Taylor Bloate's conviction, ruling that time granted to file pretrial motions is automatically excludable. Counsel for the petitioner argued that is "abundantly clear" that "[p]retrial motion preparation time is not automatically excluded under Section 3161(h)(1) of the Speedy Trial Act. Such delays are subject to exclusion only on a case-by-case basis." Counsel for the US government argued that pretrial motion preparation time is automatically excluded under the language of the statute.

 

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