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Supremes Consider Defendents’ Right to Confront Accusers, & other Legal Issues

December 7th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



CASE BEFORE SCOTUS ASKS: WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE ON THE 6TH AMENDMENT?

Wednesday’s WaPo has a story by Robert Barnes and David Savage writes for the LA Times on this interesting 8th Amendment case that went before a sharply divided Supreme Court on Tuesday.

On these issues the divisions weren’t the usual liberal/conservative fracturing, with Kennedy as the swing vote.

This time Ruth Bader Ginsberg hooked up philosophically with Antonin Scalia, while Breyer, agreed with Alito and Roberts. Kennedy appears to be wobbling.

Here’s a clip from Savage’s story (which seemed much less muddled in it’s explanation of the case than that of Barnes):

Supreme Court justices were sharply divided Tuesday concerning whether a lab analyst who did a crucial DNA test that identified a Chicago rapist should have testified at his trial, deepening a split that defies the usual conservative and liberal lines.

Justice Antonin Scalia, the court’s senior conservative, has insisted that the Constitution protects criminal defendants from out-of-court statements being used against them in court. He relies on the 6th Amendment, which says the “accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

But the justices remain divided over whether those “witnesses” should include lab analysts who submit reports to the prosecution, such as technicians who check fingerprints, test the amount of alcohol in a driver’s blood or make a DNA profile from a semen sample.

As the justices heard arguments in the Chicago case, Scalia clashed with Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. over whether the DNA profiler must testify whenever DNA evidence is used at a trial.

DNA is the “crucial evidence” in a rape case, Scalia said. “We don’t know how good the lab is, or how good those individuals [analysts] are.”

But Breyer and Alito said that DNA profiles are often the work of 10 or 12 lab analysts. Are courts “going to be calling up to 10 technicians” to testify? Breyer asked. If so, it would be “a sea change” for crime labs and prosecutors, he said.

Taking Scalia’s side, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said one lab analyst could testify, not necessarily 10.

“Ten is not far-fetched,” Alito countered, if the Constitution indeed requires that all those who furnish “testimonial evidence” must testify in court.

And so it went for the hour as the justices went back and forth.


REPUBLICANS FILIBUSTER YET ANOTHER OBAMA JUDICIAL NOMINEE WHILE APPEARING SHOCKED AT THE NOTION OF CAMERAS IN THE SUPREME COURT

Another Judicial nominee was filibustered to a standstill by a recalcitrant Congress that seems to put partisanship ahead of anything and everything, the good of the country be damned. ,

At the same time, there was a lot of posturing and moralizing about why TV cameras being allowed into Supreme Court hearings would likely bring down the empire.

Slate’s Dahlia Lathwick has an appropriately irritated rundown on both issues.

Here’s how it opens:

There is nothing funnier than Senate Republicans talking about judges. In the span of three hours today, Republicans went from extolling the sweet incomprehensible mystery of the legal process, to effectuating a rankly political filibuster of a highly qualified nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. At a hearing this morning about putting cameras into the Supreme Court, we heard high-minded GOP talk of de-politicizing the judicial branch and the impropriety of reducing whole cases to “snippets.” Within minutes, 54 Republicans had voted to deny cloture to Obama’s nominee, Caitlin Halligan, based on snippets of her writing and a partisan campaign to demonize her.

Halligan’s qualifications are not an issue. She clerked at the Supreme Court and then served for six years as New York State’s solicitor general. Halligan was endorsed by Supreme Court experts across the spectrum. She was nominated in September of 2009 to the federal appeals court, and reported out of committee last March. She was filibustered today by a long list of GOP senators—including members of the Gang of 14 that once agreed to avoid filibusters of judicial nominees except under what they termed “extraordinary circumstances.”

There were no extraordinary circumstances here. There were, in fact, no circumstances at all…..



MINN. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS STUDY CONCLUDES THAT INMATES WHO RECEIVE REGULAR VISITS FROM FAMILY, FRIENDS AND VOLUNTEERS DO BETTER WHILE INSIDE AND ARE MUCH LESS LIKELY TO RETURN

Well, duh. Like every study in the last ten years didn’t say that. But, okay, maybe now people are ready to make policy changes based on the information—at least in Minnesota. (God forbid we should do something so sensible here in California.)

Here’s the story from the StarTribuine.

It opens like this:

Ezra Ayala, finishing out a prison term for felony theft, placed a quick kiss on his fiancée’s cheek, gave her a squeeze and walked off with a memory he could hold into the night and beyond. The smear of her mascara stained his shirt.

Across the visitor’s room at the Stillwater Correctional Facility one day last week, about 10 other inmates finished up their visits — quiet moments spent in the effort to keep relationships intact, figuring out how to pay the heat bill, and shuffling the myriad problems facing families and friends who are kept apart by bars.

“It makes you realize how they expect you to work to get your life back on track,” said Ayala, 21. “There are a lot of people here [who] don’t know how to connect to anyone because they have no one who comes to visit them. I’m fortunate. I get a visit on every visiting day.”

It turns out those visits, though they seem mundane, play a significant role in improving public safety and reducing corrections costs.

Inmates who receive regular visits from family, friends and volunteers are much less likely to be convicted of a felony once they leave prison because they develop strong support networks while imprisoned, according to a study just completed by the state Department of Corrections (DOC).

Although it may seem obvious, the finding could trigger changes across Minnesota’s state prison system. It will likely prompt the Corrections Department to extend visiting hours, address decrepit conditions in visiting areas and reach out for volunteers to spend time with prisoners who’ve been abandoned by family.

“The ability to make a successful transition from prison to rebuilding a normal life
can be measured by visits and shows there are significant savings in public safety costs,” said Grant Duwe, DOC’s director of research. “Just going back to prison for a technical violation of probation violation costs $9,000 a pop, so you can see how it becomes expensive.”

Interestingly, while visits from husbands, wives, siblings, kids, mentors and clergy markedly reduced recidivism, visits from one’s ex-husband or wife, not only didn’t cut the odds that one would return to lock up, it actually increased the chances that an inmate would reoffend.

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