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Important 2018 Federal Criminal Issues


The Supreme Court will decided several important issues related to federal criminal cases this term. Look for decisions by June 30, 2018.

Self-Incrimination. The court will answer whether the Fifth Amendment is violated when a criminal defendant is compelled to incriminate himself, and the incriminating statement is used in a probable cause hearing. The Fifth Amendment protects individuals from being compelled to be witnesses against themselves in a criminal case. In City of Hays, Kansas v. Vogt, Mr. Vogt was seeking to switch police stations and move to a different town. In the interview process, he disclosed that he had kept a knife from his old station. His potential employer told him to write a statement and return the knife to his old employer. After returning the knife and his written statement, his former employer opened a criminal investigation and used his statement as evidence in a probable cause hearing. Mr. Vogt claimed that the use of his compelled written statement in the probable cause hearing violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Guilty Plea. The court will determine whether a guilty plea waves a defendant’s right to challenge the constitutionality of his conviction. In the case of Class v. United States, Mr. Class plead guilty at trial for illegal possession of three firearms on United States Capitol Grounds. Mr. Class then appealed on grounds of constitutional error. The Supreme Court will address whether the D.C. law that informed guilty pleas waive a defendant’s right to claim a constitutional error is proper.

Double Jeopardy. The court will consider whether a defendant who consents to breaking up multiple charges into sequential trials loses his rights under Double Jeopardy. Double Jeopardy prevents an accused person from being tried again on the same, or similar, charges on the same facts. In Currier v. Virginia, the prosecution and defense agreed to break up the charges regarding possession of firearm, burglary, and grand larceny into sequential trials. The first trial would involve the burglary and grand larceny charges, and the subsequent trial would involve the firearm charge. After being acquired in the first trial, Mr. Currier turned around and claimed double jeopardy prevented his re-trial on the firearm charge. The trial court denied his motion. The trial court’s decision was affirmed by the Virginia Supreme Court, and will ultimately be decided by the United States Supreme Court.

Probable cause/good faith. The court will answer two questions. First, did police officers have probable cause to arrest the defendants for unlawful entry despite a claim of good faith entry from the property resident. Second, is the good faith entry defense to trespassing clear enough to justify the denial of immunity to police officers for wrongful arrest. In District of Columbia v. Wesby, the trial court held that sixteen partygoers were falsely arrested for trespassing by police officers at a house party. The police officers, in response to a noise complaint, knocked on the door and asked to speak to the owner of the home. The partygoers answered that the owner was not present, but she had given them permission. After a series of phone-calls, the police discovered the friend who the partygoers believed was the owner of the home was in fact not the owner, and the actual owner had not given permission for the party. The officers subsequently arrested the sixteen partygoers. At trial, the court held that partygoers were not trespassing because they believed in good faith that the owner of the location had given permission, and there was otherwise insufficient probable cause to arrest them. Additionally, the court held that the officers were not entitled to immunity because it was unreasonable for them to believe they were not violating the partygoers Fourth Amendment rights by falsely arresting them.

Sixth Amendment. The court will determine whether a defense counsel’s guilty plea, over the defendant’s express objection, violates the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to be represented by counsel. In McCoy v. Louisiana, Mr. McCoy’s public defender advised him to take a plea. Mr. McCoy refused his advice, and requested that his public defender be removed by the Court. The Court denied his request for a new public defender as untimely, and Mr. McCoy already had one public defender removed. At trial, the public defender pled guilty for Mr. McCoy. Mr. McCoy argued that the concession of guilt functioned as a violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. The trial court disagreed, holding that the decision to concede guilt was a strategic choice by counsel, and did not deny him counsel or create a conflict of interest.

If you are in need of a criminal lawyer, contact Ingram Law, LLC or (205) 335-2640.


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