Argued: April 19, 2006
Decided: June 29, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 368
Does due process prohibit Arizona's use of an insanity test stated solely in terms of the capacity to tell whether an act charged as a crime was right or wrong?
No. The Arizona Legislature acted impermissibly when it narrowed its insanity standard in 1993 to eliminate the first of the two parts of the traditional M'Naghten insanity test, concerning whether a mental defect leaves a defendant unable to understand what he or she was doing.
From the opinion by Justice Souter (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas & Alito and joined in part by Justice Breyer):
[I]t is clear that no particular formulation has evolved into a baseline for due process, and that the insanity rule, like the conceptualization of criminal offenses, is substantially open to state choice. Indeed, the legitimacy of such choice is the more obvious when one considers the interplay of legal concepts of mental illness or deficiency required for an insanity defense, with the medical concepts of mental abnormality that influence the expert opinion testimony by psychologists and psychiatrists commonly introduced to support or contest insanity claims. There being such fodder for reasonable debate about what the cognate legal and medical tests should be, due process imposes no single canonical formulation of legal insanity.
Concurring in part and dissenting in part: Justice Breyer
Dissenting: Justice Kennedy (joined by Justices Stevens and Ginsburg)
Argued: March 20, 2006
Decided: June 19, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 292
Are statements nontestimonial, for the purpose of determining their admissibility under Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), when they are made in the course of police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency?
Yes. Statements are testimonial when the circumstances objectively indicate that there is no such ongoing emergency, and that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.
From the opinion by Justice Scalia (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer and Alito):
This is not to say that a conversation which begins as an interrogation to determine the need for emergency assistance cannot "evolve into testimonial statements" ... This presents no great problem. Just as, for Fifth Amendment purposes, "police officers can and will distinguish almost instinctively between questions necessary to secure their own safety or the safety of the public and questions designed solely to elicit testimonial evidence from a suspect," ... trial courts will recognize the point at which, for Sixth Amendment purposes, statements in response to interrogations become testimonial. Through in limine procedure, they should redact or exclude the portions of any statement that have become testimonial, as they do, for example, with unduly prejudicial portions of otherwise admissible evidence.
Concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part: Justice Thomas
Argued: February 22, 2006
Decided: May 1, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 236
Does a state violate the Constitution when it denies a murder defendant the opportunity to introduce evidence that another person committed the killing?
Yes. The Court held that a criminal defendant's federal constitutional rights are violated by an evidence rule under which the defendant may not introduce evidence of third-party guilt if the prosecution has introduced forensic evidence that, if believed, strongly supports a guilty verdict.
From the opinion by Justice Alito (for a unanimous Court):
Under this rule [excluding defense evidence], the trial judge does not focus on the probative value or the potential adverse effects of admitting the defense evidence of third-party guilt. Instead, the critical inquiry concerns the strength of the prosecution's case: If the prosecution's case is strong enough, the evidence of third-party guilt is excluded even if that evidence, if viewed independently, would have great probative value and even if it would not pose an undue risk of harassment, prejudice, or confusion of the issues. By evaluating the strength of only one party's evidence, no logical conclusion can be reached regarding the strength of contrary evidence offered by the other side to rebut or cast doubt. Because the rule applied below did not heed this point, the rule is "arbitrary."
Argued: November 1, 2005
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 61
From the November 14, 2005, per curiam opinion:
The writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted.
Argued: April 18, 2006
Decided: June 26, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 386
Did a trial court's erroneous deprivation of a criminal defendant's choice of counsel entitle him to reversal of his conviction?
Yes. The Court rejected the government's contention that a violation of a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel is not "complete" unless the defendant can show that substitute counsel was ineffective or that substitute counsel's performance, while not deficient, was not as good as what his counsel of choice would have provided, creating a reasonable probability that the result would have been different.
From the opinion by Justice Scalia (joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer):
This is not a case about a court's power to enforce rules or adhere to practices that determine which attorneys may appear before it, or to make scheduling and other decisions that effectively exclude a defendant's first choice of counsel. However broad a court's discretion may be, the Government has conceded that the District Court here erred when it denied respondent his choice of counsel. Accepting that premise, we hold that the error violated respondent's Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice and that this violation is not subject to harmless-error analysis.
Dissenting: Justice Alito (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy and Thomas).
Argued: April 17, 2006
Decided: June 26, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 396
Is the failure to submit a sentencing factor to the jury a "structural" error that will always invalidate a conviction under Sullivan v. Louisiana, 508 U.S. 275 (1993)?
No. Only in rare cases has an error been deemed "structural," thus requiring automatic reversal. Here, the fact that the state conceded a Sixth Amendment violation under Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), as a result of the failure to prove the "armed with a firearm" sentencing factor beyond a reasonable doubt, did not invalidate the defendant's conviction.
From the opinion by Justice Thomas (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Breyer and Alito):
[W]e concluded that the error [in an earlier case in which the prosecution failed to prove the element of materiality to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt] was subject to harmless-error analysis, even though the District Court there not only failed to submit the question of materiality to the jury, but also mistakenly concluded that the jury's verdict was a complete verdict of guilt on the charges and imposed sentence accordingly. Thus, in order to find for respondent, we would have to conclude that harmless-error analysis would apply if Washington had a crime labeled "assault in the second degree while armed with a firearm," and the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that it was not required to find a deadly weapon or a firearm to convict, while harmless error does not apply in the present case. This result defies logic.
Concurring: Justice Kennedy
Dissenting: Justice Stevens
Dissenting: Justice Ginsburg (joined by Justice Stevens)
Argued: April 18, 2006
Decided: June 5, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 391
In light of the statute's text and Congress's goal of protecting the public interest in prompt criminal trials, may the requirements of the Speedy Trial Act be waived only in the limited circumstances mentioned in the statute?
Yes. Because a defendant may not prospectively waive the application of the Speedy Trial Act, petitioner's waiver "for all time" was ineffective.
From the opinion by Justice Alito (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer and joined in parts by Justice Scalia):
[T]he Speedy Trial Act comprehensively regulates the time within which a trial must begin. Section 3161(h) specifies in detail numerous categories of delay that are not counted in applying the Act's deadlines. Conspicuously, §3161(h) has no provision excluding periods of delay during which a defendant waives the application of the Act, and it is apparent from the terms of the Act that this omission was a considered one. Instead of simply allowing defendants to opt out of the Act, the Act demands that defense continuance requests fit within one of the specific exclusions set out in subsection (h). Subsection (h)(8), which permits ends-of-justice continuances, was plainly meant to cover many of these requests. If a defendant could simply waive the application of the Act whenever he or she wanted more time, no defendant would ever need to put such considerations before the court under the rubric of an ends-of-justice exclusion.
Concurring in part and concurring in the judgment: Justice Scalia