The docket of the United States Supreme Court each year usually includes a number of cases challenging the federal constitutionality of some aspect of a state or federal criminal law, and the Court’s 2017-2018 term is no exception.
Evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures cannot generally be used against a defendant, and that inadmissibility can undercut or even end a given prosecution. Several cases in this term involve questions regarding the scope of Fourth Amendment protections.
Warrantless Seizure and Search of Cell Phone Records – Carpenter v. United States
Timothy Carpenter was arrested on suspicion of involvement in several Detroit-area armed robberies. Without a warrant, the FBI had obtained Carpenter’s cell phone records, which placed his cell phone in the area of several of the robberies, and Carpenter was convicted of firearms and other crimes.
The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the warrantless seizure of cell phone transaction records from the subscriber’s carrier is prohibited by the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. A ruling in Carpenter’s favor will limit the availability of an investigative tool often used by law enforcement.
Warrantless Automobile Search Case No. 1 – Collins v. Virginia
The courts have recognized a number of exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches. Some are based on concerns that evidence in given circumstances may be lost or concealed. One such exception allows authorities to search a motor vehicle if it is capable of being moved and they have probable cause to believe that it represents or contains evidence of a crime.
The Supreme Court will decide whether evidence related to Ryan Collins’ motorcycle was admissible even though the police were able to identify the vehicle only after entering the private driveway on which it was parked.
Warrantless Automobile Search Case No. 2 – Byrd v. the United States
Terrence Byrd was convicted on drug charges after heroin was discovered during a warrantless search of a rental car he was operating. Although the rental agreement did not list Byrd as the renter or an authorized operator, he was able to prove that he had the renter’s verbal permission.
The Supreme Court will decide whether under these circumstances a warrantless search was permissible.
My Lawyer Said What? – McCoy v. Louisiana
Robert McCoy was convicted of first degree murder in 2008. His counsel had advised him to concede that he had committed the crime in the hope McCoy would be convicted of a lesser charge. When McCoy refused, counsel nevertheless conceded McCoy’s guilt in open court and argued – unsuccessfully – for a conviction on the lesser offense.
The Supreme Court will decide whether McCoy was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel based on his attorney’s disregard of McCoy’s stated objection.
The Effect of a Guilty Plea – Class v. United States
Defendant Rodney Class was arrested in the District of Columbia on federal charges of possessing firearms on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. Following a guilty plea, he appealed on the basis that the statute under which he was convicted violates the Constitution’s Second Amendment clause protecting the right to bear arms.
The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether, by pleading guilty, a defendant automatically gives up the right to challenge the constitutionality of the underlying criminal statute.