The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

SPSSI Policy News RSS Feed - October 8, 2009

Supreme Court Cases for the Fall 2009 Term

The following are summaries of some of the first Supreme Court cases that address social issues under the constitution:

1. Maryland v. Shatzer 10/5/09
Fifth Amendment rights to counsel and to remain silent

In 2003, a Maryland police officer interviewed Michael Shatzer about the allegations that Shatzer had sexually abused his 3-year-old child. Shatzer invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to counsel and to remain silent and the investigation was terminated. Three years later, when Shatzer’s son was older and able to testify, a second police officer, unaware that Shatzer had invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, interviewed him. In this second interview, Shatzer waived his Miranda rights and confessed to some incidents of sexually abusing his child. Shatzer then moved to suppress his confession in the second interview as inadmissible, using the argument that his invoking of his Fifth Amendment rights in 2003 prevented the police from interviewing him without an attorney present.

Constitutional Question: Does the Fifth Amendment prohibit re-interrogation of a suspect when a substantial period of time has elapsed after his invoking his right to counsel and to remain silent?

2. U.S. v. Stevens 10/6/09
First Amendment right to free speech

Robert Stevens was convicted for distributing depictions of animal cruelty, under 18 U.S.C. § 48, which prohibits “the knowing creation, sale, or possession of depictions of animal cruelty with the intent to place them in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain.” Specifically, the videos showed pit bulls in organized dog fights. Stevens did not participate in the acts of animal violence, but he did edit and distribute the videos. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that the law violated the First Amendment free speech clause, claiming that prohibition of the videos did not further a compelling government interest.

Constitutional Question: Should depictions of animal cruelty be protected under the free speech clause of the First Amendment?

3. Salazar v. Buono 10/7/09
First Amendment protection against establishment of religion

A 75-year-old cross stands on Sunrise Rock in the middle of a federally-owned desert as a monument to Veterans in Foreign Wars. In 1999, Frank Buono, a former preserve employee, filed suit in federal court after the National Park Service refused to give permission for a Buddhist shrine to be built on the same property. The district court ruled in favor of Buono and ordered that the cross be covered. In 2004, Congress intervened on behalf of the cross, making Sunrise Rock private property by exchanging it for another parcel of land. Buono then moved to both prohibit the land swap as well as enforce the court’s previous ruling by preventing display of the cross.

Constitutional Questions:
1) Whether Buono, by simply being offended at the allowance of the display of a cross and not other religious symbols, has suffered a violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause
2) If so, is it within the district court’s discretion to declare Congress’ land swap invalid?

4. Padilla v. Kentucky 10/13/2009
Sixth Amendment Guarantee of Counsel

Jose Padilla is a legal permanent resident but not a citizen, and has lived in the United States for 40 years. Padilla was indicted in 2001 for two drug possession misdemeanors and one drug trafficking felony. Padilla pleaded guilty under advice from his attorney, who failed to inform him that a guilty plea for the felony of drug trafficking is cause for deportation under the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IRIRA). Padilla had asked his attorney whether the guilty plea would have an effect on his immigration status, to which his attorney replied that he “did not have to worry about his immigration status since he had been in the country so long”. After he was convicted, Padilla asked that the court set aside the plea on the grounds that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel.
 The Kentucky Supreme Court held that deportation was a “collateral consequence” and therefore outside the scope of the 6th Amendment right to counsel. 

Constitutional Questions:
1) Whether deportation as a result of a guilty plea to drug trafficking is a “collateral consequence” and therefore outside the scope of what an attorney is required to advise under the 6th Amendment guarantee of counsel
2) If deportation is a “collateral consequence”, whether the gross misadvice of counsel about deportation consequences is grounds for setting aside a guilty plea based on that advice.

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin