Supreme Court hears oral arguments in two criminal procedure cases

Supreme Court hears oral arguments in two criminal procedure cases

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday heard oral arguments in two criminal procedure cases.

In Rosales-Mireles v. US [transcript, PDF], the petitioner framed the question for the court as: “How should a court of appeals exercise its discretion when confronted with an obvious guidelines error that probably results in a defendant serving a longer prison sentence?” Rosales-Mireles pleaded guilty [SCOTUSblog report] to illegal re-entry, and the district court sentenced him to 78 months in prison based on the probation officer’s erroneous conviction count, which caused the potential sentence to jump from 70-87 months to 77-96 months. Once Rosales-Mireles became aware of the error, he appealed. On appeal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 52(b) [text, PDF], Rosales-Mireles was required to show that the district court’s sentence showed a “plain error,” which “seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.”

The court pressed the petitioner to justify overturning a case as this, where the error resulted in a longer sentence but only as to a matter of additional months, not several years. Further, the court raised the issue that neither Rosales-Mireles nor his attorney discovered the error at sentencing and the error could have been corrected if they did.

The second case, Dahda v. US [transcript, PDF], asks the court whether evidence gathered from improper wiretapping should be excluded according to Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 [text].

At the Kansas district court, the court found [SCOTUSblog report] the police wiretapped an area much broader than that permitted but the court still allowed the prosecution to present the evidence. Under Title III, the evidence is suppressible when the wiretap is “insufficient on its face.” The Supreme Court thus is left to interpret the meaning of “insufficient” as it relates to the wiretap order.

Dahda argued that “insufficient” means the order did not comply with Title III requirements, stating:

We think that an order is insufficient on its face if the failure to comply with the requirements of Title III is evident from the four corners of the order itself. And the government now concedes that, under such a standard, the orders here would be invalid because each of the orders here contained jurisdictional provisions that went too far, that went beyond the power of the district court to authorize.

The government argued that the order is not insufficient because “insufficient” necessarily requires a lack of information or detail and the order gave too much authority. The court, however, pressed the government to explain how the order was sufficient even though it did not detail the jurisdiction the police could wiretap. In response, the government argued Title III does not require the government to state where in the jurisdiction the wiretap is authorized.