This week the Supreme Court issued a number of significant criminal opinions, as well as a number of GVRs signalling that the holding of Sessions v. Dimaya likely extends to § 924’s residual clause (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(B)).
In McCoy v. Louisiana, 16-8255, the Court held that it was structural Sixth Amendment error for an attorney to concede a defendant’s guilt, against his wishes, in the hope of sparing him the death penalty. McCoy’s attorney argued that his client lacked the mental capacity to form the specific intent necessary for first-degree murder, see slip op. at 3 n.1, but conceded in his opening statement that the jury could not reach “any other conclusion than Robert McCoy was the cause of” the victims’ deaths. Id. at 4. This strategy, the Court held, violated the client’s Sixth Amendment rights regardless whether it was “counsel’s experienced-based view . . . that confessing guilt offers the defendant the best chance to avoid the death penalty.” Id. at 2. Moreover, “[b]ecause a client’s autonomy, not counsel’s competence,” was at issue, doctrines governing ineffective assistance claims did not apply to McCoy’s claim. Slip op. at 14. “Here . . . the violation of McCoy’s protected autonomy right was complete when the court allowed counsel to usurp control of an issue within McCoy’s sole prerogative.” Id. Thus, McCoy’s claim did not require him to show prejudice.
Justice Alito, in a dissenting opinion, argued that McCoy’s counsel did not concede his guilt. Rather, according to Justice Alito’s characterization, the attorney simply argued that McCoy lacked the mental state for first degree murder—and was thus guilty of only the lesser included offense of second-degree murder. Slip op. at 9-10 (Alito, J., dissenting). The majority implicitly rejected this narrow view of what it means to concede guilt: “With individual liberty—and, in capital cases, life—at stake, it is the defendant’s prerogative, not counsel’s, to decide on the objective of his defense: to admit guilt in the hope of gaining mercy at the sentencing stage, or to maintain his innocence, leaving it to the State to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Slip op. at 4. Post-conviction attorneys may wish to consider how the majority’s rejection of Justice Alito’s characterization might be used to advocate for a robust interpretation of McCoy.
SCOTUS opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-8255_i4ek.pdf
SCOTUSblog case page: http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/mccoy-v-louisiana/
As to the rest of the Court’s criminal docket, Sentencing Resource Counsel Sissy Phleger has the details:
The Court issued a flurry of post-Dimaya GVRs, and released opinions in two other criminal cases (Dahda v. United States and Byrd v. United States), and mooted another (United States v. Sanchez-Gomez).
Having decided Dimaya, the Court worked through its relist backlog and issued a flurry of post-Dimaya GVRs. Delightfully, the list includes not just directly-on-point §16(b) cases (like several § 1326(b)(2) cases), but also numerous cases challenging § 924(c)’s residual clause. The Government and some lower courts had attempted to distinguish § 16(b) from § 924(c), so this is good news. We are only aware of two such § 924(c) cases that were denied, both of which had some procedural idiosyncrasies and potential force-clause problems, Taylor v. United States (No. 16-6392) and Prickett v. United States (No. 16-7373).
The 924(c) cases that were GVRed were: Glover v. United States, No. 16-8777; Taylor v. United States, No. 16-8996; Davis v. United States, No. 16-8997; United States v. Jenkins, No. 17-97; United States v. Jackson, No. 17-651; McCoy v. United States, No. 17-5484; Winters v. United States, No. 17-5495; Lin v. United States, No. 17-5767; Eizember v. United States, No. 17-6117; Enix v. United States, No. 17-6340; Ecourse-Westbrook v. United States, No. 17-6368; Carreon v. United States, No. 17-6926
The full order list is here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/051418zor_j4el.pdf
In Dahda v. United States, the Court upheld the Tenth Circuit’s determination that wiretap orders authorizing interception outside a court’s territorial jurisdiction were not facially insufficient. The decision was 8-0 with Gorsuch taking no part. The Court found that the orders authorizing the taps were not facially insufficient because they included all the information that the wiretap statute required them to include and the language authorizing interception outside the court’s territorial jurisdiction was surplusage.
SCOTUS opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/17-43_m648.pdf
SCOTUSblog case page: http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/dahda-v-united-states/
In Byrd v. United States, the Court, also unanimously, held that the driver of rental car can challenge a search of the vehicle even if he is not listed as an authorized driver on rental agreement. The Court reasoned that the Fourth Amendment entitles that driver to essentially the same protections as the person who rented the car, even though the defendant in Byrd had the permission of the original renter, but was not himself listed on the rental car agreement.
SCOTUS opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1371_1bn2.pdf
SCOTUSblog case page: http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/byrd-v-united-states/
In United States v. Sanchez-Gomez, the Court vacated a Ninth Circuit ruling which had struck down a district-wide shackling policy, finding that the issue was moot. At issue was a district-wide U.S. Marshals policy allowing for five-point shackling of all defendants in all non-jury proceedings, with no individual determinations of necessity. The procedural history was complex—the challenges began as emergency pre-trial motions, and were eventually construed by a divided en banc Ninth Circuit as writs of mandamus presenting a class-action-y challenge. In the Supreme Court, the Government argued that the issue was moot, and the Court agreed, holding that the defendants’ appeals became moot when their underlying criminal cases came to an end before the Ninth Circuit could render its decision.
SCOTUS opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/17-312_i426.pdf
SCOTUSblog case page: http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/united-states-v-sanchez-gomez/