United States Supreme Court Roundup of Criminal Cases

Feb 28, 2013

The United States Supreme Court recently decided a number of criminal cases of interest to citizens, criminal law practitioners, and constitutional law aficionados. This roundup summarizes the following cases: Bailey v. United States (search & seizure); Evans v. Michigan (double jeopardy); Florida v. Harris (4th Amendment); and Chaidez v. United States (Sixth Amendment).

Bailey v. United States, 652 F.3rd 197 (2013): this case had to do with the execution of a search warrant. The Court held that police executing a search warrant may only “seize” or detain individuals within the “immediate vicinity” of the premises subject to the search. The facts of the case were as follows: while police were preparing to execute a warrant to search an apartment for a handgun, detectives conducting surveillance outside saw two men – later identified as Bailey and his friend – leave the apartment area in a car. The detectives followed the car for about a mile before stopping it. Upon contacting the men, Bailey said he lived in the apartment, and then denied it upon learning of the search. The detectives conducted a patdown search of Bailey and found a set of keys on him that later matched the apartment door. Both men were handcuffed and driven to the apartment, where the search team had uncovered a gun and illicit narcotics in plain view. Bailey moved to suppress his statement and the apartment key, arguing that it resulted from an unreasonable seizure. At trial, the District Court denied Bailey’s motion to suppress, holding that Bailey’s detention was justified under Michigan v. Summers, 452 U. S. 692, as a detention incident to the execution of a search warrant, and, in the alternative, that the detention was supported by reasonable suspicion under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1. Bailey was convicted. The Second Circuit affirmed denial of the suppression motion. Finding that Summers authorized Bailey’s detention, it did not address the alternative Terry holding.

By way of a quick summary, the Supreme Court held that the rule in Summers is limited to the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched and does not apply here, where Bailey was detained at a point beyond any reasonable understanding of the immediate vicinity of the premises in question. The Court concluded that the three law enforcement interests of officer safety, facilitating completion of the search and preventing flight didn’t justify detention once the occupants had left the area, as was the case with Bailey, who was a mile away when detained.


Evans v. Michigan, Docket No. 11-1327 (U.S. Sup. Ct. Feb 2013): the question presented in this case was whether the Double Jeopardy Clause bars retrial after the trial judge erroneously held a particular fact to be an element of the offense and then granted a midtrial directed verdict of acquittal because the prosecution failed to prove that fact. What occurred was that two police officers saw Evans running away from a burning house while holding a gas can. At the time of the fire, the house was uninhabited and lacked gas or electricity. He was charged with arson. The offense in Michigan requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant “willfully or maliciously burn[ed] any building or other real property.” The trial judge erroneously added an additional element to the offense by also requiring the State to prove that the burned building was not a dwelling. As such, the trial judge granted Evans’ mid-trial motion for directed verdict, entered an acquittal and dismissed the case since the State hadn’t proven the additional element added by the judge. On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge’s order granting the directed verdict.

In an 8-1 decision by Justice Sotomayor, the Court reversed the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision and held that even where the acquittal was based on a legal error, the Double Jeopardy Clause bars retrial.


Florida v. Harris, Docket No. 11-817 (U.S. Sup. Ct. Feb 2013): the Court evaluated at what point a sniffer dog was qualified to be used to provide probable cause to search a vehicle. Harris was charged with possession of pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine. At trial, he moved to suppress evidence obtained during a warrantless search of his car. The police had searched his car during a traffic stop when a drug-detection dog alerted the officer. This particular canine had been trained to detect various illegal substances, but not pseudoephedrine. During the search, officers found over 200 loose pills and other supplies for making meth. Harris argued to the trial court that the dog’s alert was false and didn’t provide probable cause for the search. His motion was denied based on an analysis of the totality of the circumstances. The First District Court of Appeals affirmed, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed, holding that Florida hadn’t proven the dog’s reliability in drug detection to support the search.

Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Kagan reversed the Florida Supreme Court and held that probable cause is a flexible common sense test that takes the totality of the circumstances into account. The Court added that a probable cause hearing involving a drug-sniffing dog should proceed like any other, allowing each side to make their best case and evaluating the totality of the circumstances with the evidence available. The Court found that the record in the case supported the trial court’s determination that the police had probable cause to search Harris’ car. Harris did not get to cross-examine the dog.


Chaidez v. United States, Docket No. 11-820 (U.S. Sup. Ct. Feb 2013): this case held that the Sixth Amendment requiring criminal defense attorneys to inform their clients of deportation risks of guilty pleas does not apply retroactively to cases already final on direct review. Here, Ms. Chaidez was a lawful permanent resident when she was indicted on three counts of mail fraud in connection with an insurance scheme. On the advice of her attorney, she pled guilty in Northern District of Illinois in 2003 and received a sentence of four years probation. In 2009, under a federal law that allows deportation of any alien who commits an aggravated felony, the U.S. Government initiated removal proceedings. Her attorney never told her that pleading guilty could lead to her deportation. Chaidez filed for a writ of coram nobis, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel. While this motion was pending before the District Court, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, which held that it is ineffective assistance of counsel for an attorney to fail to advise his/her client that he/she may face deportation as a result of a guilty plea. The District Court concluded that Padilla didn’t really announce a new rule, and so its holding applied to Chaidez’s case. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Padilla did announce a new rule and was therefore not retroactively applicable to Chaidez, whose conviction was final.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed and found that Padilla created an entirely new rule regarding advice about deportation and how it applied to the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Because it was a new rule, it couldn’t retroactively apply to already-decided cases. So Chaidez was out of luck.

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