A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

August 26 at 9:30 AM

Last May I noted a recent cert. petition challenging the use of judge-found facts to increase a federal sentence. (The Supreme Court has already said that it is unconstitutional for statutes to rely on judge-found facts to justify a longer sentence; the new question is whether it is also unconstitutional for common-law rules like appellate reasonableness review to do the same thing. I first blogged about the case here.)

I thought I’d post with a short update about the petition. Two amicus briefs were filed in support of the petition — one from the Cato Institute and Rutherford Institute, and one from Professor Douglas Berman, known to all of the blogosphere for his tireless work at Sentencing Law and Policy. The Court asked the government for a response, which is posted here. And the defendants filed a reply. It is distributed for conference at the end of September.a

Click for entire report from the Washington Post

Supreme Court PA

By Burt Rose

Click for Opinion

Click for Dissenting Opinion

In Commonwealth versus Reid, 2014WL4097636, August 20, 2014, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled in an appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia in a post conviction relief act matter. Justice Todd, writing for the court, held that claims presented in an amended or supplemental PCRA petition which had not received the approval of the lower court pursuant to rule 905A of the rules of criminal procedure will not be considered on appeal even if the PCRA judge addressed those issues on their merits.

Therefore, practitioners must be very careful to obtain leave of court when they file an amended PCRA petition or they will face a waiver of those claims on appeal.

third  circuit

By Burt Rose

Click for Opinion

The United States Court of Appeals for the third circuit has decided the case of United States vs Donohue, 2014 WL 4115949, on August 22, 2014. This was a government appeal from the grant of a motion to suppress by Judge Caputo in the United States District Court for the middle District of Pennsylvania. The panel was composed of judges Ambro, Greenberg and Barry; Judge Greenberg wrote the opinion for the panel. 

The Appellee  was a fugitive. The police arrested him and as he entered his son’s automobile and proceeded to conduct an extensive, continuous and lengthy search until they found a firearm and other evidence. The police had no information whatsoever about the automobile prior to the search. 

The District Court suppressed because the police had no information that the car contained contraband or other evidence of a crime and therefore there was insufficient probable cause even under the automobile exception. 

The Court of Appeals reversed and found probable cause in view of the agent’s “extensive experience with fugitives who are likely to have false identification documents to be found in places where those items are ready and available to gather up and leave quickly, such as their cars.”

This decision reminds me of cases in which narcotics officers successfully testify that it is likely that drugs will be stored inside of a dealer’s home even if there is no information to indicate that such is the case as to that particular residence.

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Session schedule

The House and Senate return to session on September 15.

Sentencing Commission

September 3 – Commission on Sentencing strategic planning session- 3 p.m., dinner meeting- 6 p.m. Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Ave., State College.  (formal notice)

September 4 – Commission on Sentencing policy committee meeting- 9 a.m., commission meeting- 9 a.m.. Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Ave., State College.  (formal notice)

Public hearing

September 8– Senate Transportation and Judiciary Committees hold a joint hearing on the inadequacy of existing DUI laws.  Millersville University’s Ware Center, Lancaster. 10:30 a.m.

News items

Court: Mandatory Minimum Sentences Unconstitutional

Superior Court Frowns On Mandatory Sentencing Law

(Source:  Crisci Associates’ PA Capitol Digest)

Conservative columnist George Will writes about the 50th anniversary of the Criminal Justice Act

Click for story in the Washington Post

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Judicial assignments

By Orders of the Supreme Court dated August 11, 2014, the Honorable Kenneth J. Powell, Jr. and the Honorable Vincent N. Melchiorre have been assigned to the Trial Division and the Honorable Michael Fanning has been assigned to the Family Court Division.

Disciplinary Board increases public notice of attorney discipline

Click for news release

Session schedule

The House and Senate return to session on September 15.

Sentencing Commission

September 3 – Commission on Sentencing strategic planning session- 3:00 p.m., dinner meeting- 6:00 p.m. Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Ave., State College.  (formal notice)

September 4 – Commission on Sentencing policy committee meeting- 9:00 a.m., commission meeting- 9:00 a.m. Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Ave., State College.  (formal notice)

Public hearing

September 8– Senate Transportation and Judiciary Committees hold a joint hearing on the inadequacy of existing DUI laws.  Millersville University’s Ware Center, Lancaster. 10:30 a.m.

(Source for session schedule, Sentencing Commission schedule, and public hearing is Crisci Associates PA Capitol Digest).

 

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Session schedule

The House and Senate return to session on September 15.

ESLNo developments.  No damage.  Happy summer.

CORSICANA, Tex. — For more than 20 years, the prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham of murdering his three young daughters has insisted that the authorities made no deals to secure the testimony of the jailhouse informer who told jurors that Willingham confessed the crime to him.

Cameron Todd Willingham with his family.

Since Willingham was executed in 2004, officials have continued to defend the account of the informer, Johnny E. Webb, even as a series of scientific experts have discredited the forensic evidence that Willingham might have deliberately set the house fire in which his toddlers were killed.

But now new evidence has revived questions about Willingham’s guilt: In taped interviews, Webb, who has previously both recanted and affirmed his testimony, gives his first detailed account of how he lied on the witness stand in return for efforts by the former prosecutor, John H. Jackson, to reduce Webb’s prison sentence for robbery and to arrange thousands of dollars in support from a wealthy Corsicana rancher. Newly uncovered letters and court files show that Jackson worked diligently to intercede for Webb after his testimony and to coordinate with the rancher, Charles S. Pearce Jr., to keep the mercurial informer in line.

Click for full report from The Marshall Project

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