[JURIST] The US Supreme Court ruled in three cases Tuesday, all on appeal from the Ninth Circuit. In Muehler v. Mena [case backgrounder from Duke Law School] the Court ruled unanimously that police did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of a suspect when they detained her in handcuffs while searching a house for a wanted gang member. Overturning the appeals court, the high court held that the actions of the officers were consistent with the Court's 1961 ruling in Michigan v. Summers [FindLaw text] in which the Court held that officers executing a search warrant for contraband have the authority “to detain the occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted.” Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for the Court, stated that "this was no ordinary search. The governmental interests in not only detaining, but using handcuffs, are at their maximum when, as here, a warrant authorizes a search for weapons and a wanted gang member resides on the premises. In such inherently dangerous situations, the use of handcuffs minimizes the risk of harm to both officers and occupants." Review the syllabus, opinion, and two concurrences [Cornell LII].
In another case decided on Tuesday, the Court held that a ham radio operator may not collect certain damages and fees in a dispute he won regarding the construction of a wireless tower. In City of Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams [case backgrounder from Duke Law School], the Court unanimously reversed a Ninth Circuit ruling which had held that Abrams was able to collect attorney's fees and damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, since the Telecommunications Act did not provide a comprehensive remedial scheme. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Court, stated that "the TCA–by providing a judicial remedy different from §1983 in §332(c)(7) itself–precluded resort to §1983." Review the syllabus, opinion, and two concurrences [Cornell LII].
In its third reversal of the Ninth Circuit Tuesday, the Court held that a jury which recommended a death sentence for a convicted killer properly considered evidence of his religious conversion. In Brown v. Payton [case backgrounder from Duke Law School], the Court in a 5-3 ruling reversed the Ninth Circuit's decision to order a new trial. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, stated, "Testimony about a religious conversion spanning one year and nine months may well have been considered altogether insignificant in light of the brutality of the crimes, the prior offenses, and a proclivity for committing violent acts against women." In his dissent, Justice David H. Souter argued that Payton deserved a new trial due to the prosecutor's misstatements about the nature of mitigating factors. "The trial judge utterly failed to correct these repeated misstatements or in any other way to honor his duty to give the jury an accurate definition of legitimate mitigation," wrote Justice Souter. Review the syllabus, opinion, two concurrences and dissent [Cornell LII]. Chief Justice Rehnquist did not take part in the case, which was heard in November while he was being treated for thyroid cancer.