Williams v Pennsylvania

Williams sought review of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision reversing a grant of post-conviction relief as to his death sentence arguing one of the justices approved seeking the deaths entice as a prosecutor and his participation violated due process. The Court, 5-3, agreed and reversed. The majority held that under the objective likelihood of bias test, the risk of bias is too high when a prosecutor who had a significant personal involvement in a case later sits as judge on the same case as the now judge will not be neutral on the issue and may be psychologically wedded to his initial decisions as a prosecutor. The Court held the decision to authorize seeking the death penalty is significant indeed among the most important decisions a prosecutor can make. The majority held the participation is structural error as it is impossible to know what influence the judge had on the deliberations among the appellate panel. Roberts, joined by Alito, dissented arguing the decision to authorize the seeking of a death sentence was irrelevant to the issue actually before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and there was no evidence that the justice had prejudged the issues actually decided. Thomas dissented arguing that post-conviction proceedings are civil, not criminal, and thus there was no case where the Pennsylvania justice served as prosecutor and judge as understood under the historical practice. He also argued that because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has already considered Williams’ petition for rehearing and did so after the justice in question retired, there is no relief to be granted.

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v Sanchez Valle

Commonwealth sought review of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court decision that the United States and Puerto Rico are the same sovereign for double jeopardy purposes. The Court, 6 (5 Justice majority plus Thomas concurring in part and in judgment)-2, affirmed. The majority held that under the ultimate source rule, the united states and Puerto Rico are the same sovereign as authority to prosecute crimes for each comes through Congress not preexisting power like states or Indian tribes and the constitutional changes in the 1950s does not change this analysis as it is the earliest source not the most recent source which controls. Ginsberg, joined by Thomas added a concurrence arguing the whole dual sovereign issue should be considered anew. Thomas added a concurrence in part and in judgment stating his doubts about arguing Indian tribes being different sovereigns from the United States. Breyer, joined by Sotomayor, argued that grant of self-rule in the 1950s made Puerto Rico a different sovereign based on the timing, language, constitutional convention assembled, ratification by the people and by Congress, recognition by federal government of the change in status, the fact Congress has never overturned any criminal statute and the Puerto Rico supreme court’s recognition that the people, not Congress, are the current source of power to prosecute crimes.

Dietz v Bouldin

After the jury was discharged, the district court recalled them based on the verdict being legally impermissible as it did not award at least the stipulated damages. The 9th Circuit affirmed the recall order. Resolving a circuit split on the issue of jury recall, the court, 6-2, affirmed. It held that part of federal courts inherent authority is to recall a civil jury instead of ordering a new trial as district courts have control on the management of courtrooms and dockets, can offer jury charges to correct legally improper verdicts prior to discharge and can rescind and modify orders at a any time before judgment is entered. The majority adopted factors to consider when exercising the power to recall namely the length of time between discharge and recall, whether jurors have spoken to anyone about eh case, the reaction to the verdict. Here, the time involved was few minutes, none spoke about eh case and there was no reaction. Thus, it was not an abuse of discretion to recall the jury here. The majority rejected Dietz’s common law argument holding modern jury practice is significantly different form common law practice, a jury does not cease to be one after discharge if recalled and limiting the opportunity to recall to when the jury remains in the courtroom provides no good reason to abandon the prejudice approach. Thomas, joined by Kennedy, dissented arguing the common law rule barring recall should be followed as the underlying rationale of preventing opportunities to ex parte information remains valid today especially in view of smartphones and other communication technology and the multifactor test announced today will result in litigation, circuit splits and return the court all of which would be avoided by retaining the common law rule.