Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Some recent US Supreme Court Cases

Holt v. Hobbs: The Court determined that preventing a prisoner from growing a half-inch beard in accordance with religious beliefs is illegal. Chisteson v. Roper: The Court determined that a lawyer's interest in avoiding damage to their own reputation is a conflict of interests if at odds with the client's strongest argument.

(9-0 Opinion by Justice Alito)
     The Arkansas Department of Correction’s grooming policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 when it prevents a prisoner from growing a half inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.
      The government argued that beards compromise prison safety because they can be used to hide contraband and can be shaved to quickly change appearance. The lower courts unanimously held that the policy met the RLUIPA because it was “the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling security interest.
      Lower courts erred by holding that because there were “other ways” in which to practice his religion, the petitioner was not allowed to grow his beard. The District Court further erred in determining that the religious burden on the petitioner was slight because “his religion would ‘credit’ him for attempting to follow his religious beliefs.”
      Therefore, the government failed to meet its burden here, because allowing a ½ inch beard, as requested by petitioner, would not compromise the governmental interest.

            Christenson’s original habeas attorneys filed an untimely federal habeas petition. The lower courts erroneously denied a petition for substitute counsel. In determining whether a district court abused its discretion in denying such a motion, the court of appeals should consider “the timeliness of the motion; the adequacy of the district court’s inquiry into the defendant’s complaint; and the asserted cause for that complaint.” Martel v. Clair, 565 U.S., at ___(slip op., at 1).
     The District Court’s primary error was not recognizing the original habeas attorney’s conflict of interest, in requiring them to denigrate their own performance. A “significant conflict of interest” arises when an attorney’s “interest in avoiding damage to [his] own reputation” is at odds with his client’s “strongest argument—i.e., that his attorneys had abandoned him.” Maples v. Thomas, 565 U.S.
     Holding: A motion for substitution in a federal habeas petition should be granted when it is in the “interests of justice.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Indigent Defense Act Cases, 2015.

Various cases arose under the Indigent Defense Act. The various cases discussed the differences in procedure depending on the the date in which indigent claims were made relative to the effective date of changes to the statute.

Indigent Defense Act Cases, 2015
The Utah legislature amended the Indigent Defense Act in 2012 in response to State v. Parduhn, decided by the Utah Supreme Court the year prior. The aim was bundling all defense services together and making them available solely through LDA.  The legislature intended LDA to be the exclusive source for all indigent defense services—including counsel and resources. These five cases arrived at the Supreme Court through interlocutory appeals and involve defendants which made claims under the pre-2012 version of the Indigent Defense Act.
            In State v. Perez and State v.Folsom, the Court found for the defendant because they had filed their motions for counsel under the IDA before the IDA amendments were scheduled to start, and the law does not govern retroactively. In State v. Earl, State v.Steinly, and State v.Rodriguez-Ramirez, also about the IDA, the county prevails because the defendant’s motions were filed after the effective date and the amendment was constitutional. There is consistent language throughout the cases.
“A defendant who opts out of public representation has also opted out of public defense resources, and nothing in the Constitution requires a different result.” State v. Earl, 2015 UT 12.
The defendant’s argument “fails as a matter of law because the IDA is not regulating the events giving rise to the criminal charges at issue.” The defendant’s right to indigent assistance vested after the IDA amendment went into effect, therefore the defendant is subject to the new version of the law. Also, the right to counsel, as guaranteed by the 6th Amendment, does not guarantee a “right to government funded counsel.” State v. Rodriguez-Ramirez, 2015 UT 16

Even if the Public Defender‘s Association could not qualify as a “defense services provider” under Utah Code section 77-32-201(4), the county had satisfied the statute in an alternative manner, by establishing a “county legal defender‘s office” under Utah Code section 77-32-302(2)(a). See State v. Rodriguez-Ramirez, 2015 UT 16.