Luna Torres v Lynch

Luna Torres challenged the immigration board’s determination that his New York arson conviction was an aggravated felony under 8 USC 1101(a)43) and he was thus ineligible for cancellation of removal or other discretionary relief from removal arguing the new York statue lacked an interstate commerce element and thus his crime was not described in (a)(43). The Court, resolving a circuit split on the issue, affirmed 5-3. The majority held that “described in” as used in the statute is ambiguous as it could require exactness of description or a more general description. It held that a broader view was appropriate as states do not need to connect eh criminal prohibitions with a specific grant of authority, the broad reading avoids undercutting congressional intent by including serious state crimes such as child pornography offenses and demanding ransom in a kidnapping which Luna Torres reading would exclude, and the broad reading is consistent with the distinction in precedent between substantive and jurisdictional elements of crimes as when  jurisdictional elements are ignored in the career criminal context. The fact that other immigration provisions might also result in removal does not provide a basis to adopt Luna Torres’ reading as Congress intended for certain crimes to automatically result in removal. The majority also rejected Luna Torres’ argument that Congress would have used generic terms if it really meant for state crimes lacking the jurisdictional element to qualify as aggravated felonies noting that there is disagreement about the elements of generic crimes and Congress could have rationally decided to capture the conduct it wanted to capture through citation of federal statutes. Sotomayor, joined by Thomas and Breyer, dissented arguing that described means conveying the recognizable features of something, the jurisdictional element is such a  feature of the cress referenced federal offenses and is missing in New York statute, the structure of the immigration code contains numerous fail safes to capture truly serious crimes, Luna Torres reading captures most of the listed crimes in (a)(43) and the distinction between substantial and jurisdictional elements is not used for proof issues or the right to a jury trial and thus does not provide support for the broad reading.

Betterman v Montana

Betterman sought review of the Montana Supreme Court decision which held the speedy trial clause of the 6th Amendment does not apply to post verdict, presentence delays.  The Court, resolving a split of authority on the issue, affirmed. It held that the speedy trial clause effectuates the presumption of innocence and losses force after conviction and that this conclusion comports with the historical understanding of the clause, court precedent construing the clause and legislative implementation of the clause and the remedy of dismissal of charges when the clause is violated is not appropriate in eh sentencing context. The Court noted that protections from undue delay in sentencing are found in statutes and court rules and Betterman has a liberty interest here, but, noted he failed to raise these issues and thus did not analyze whether he has a remedy under any of them. Thomas, joined by Alito, added a concurrence agreed with the decision to deal with due process issues when properly presented in a case and disagreed with Sotomayor’s suggested approach as prejudging the issue. Sotomayor added a concurrence emphasizing the due process issues were open and suggesting the same test for speedy trial violations may be appropriate in the sentencing context.

CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

CRST sought review of the 8th Circuit’s rejection of its motion for attorney fees based on its rule that a Title VII defendant must receive a ruling on the merits. The Court, resolving circuit split, reversed. It held that defendants prevail when they prevent an alteration in the legal relationship between themselves and the plaintiff or plaintiffs and it make little sense to distinguish between success on the merits and success on another basis particularly as Congress intended to deter frivolous lawsuits through the fee provision. The Court declined to rule on the other pending legal issues in the case and remanded for further proceedings with encouragement to expeditiously resolve them. Thomas added a concurrence noting his continued disagreement with Court precedent requiring a finding of frivolousness unreasonableness or lack of foundation before a Title VII defendant can obtain an attorney fee award.