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Samuel R.W. Price: U.S. Supreme Court year in review, Part 2

It's The Law

Posted: August 26, 2010 7:21 p.m.
Updated: August 27, 2010 4:55 a.m.

This week, we bring you the second and final part of our review of some of the major Supreme Court rulings from the past term, picking up at the Second Amendment.

In an issue of federal criminal law, the court dramatically limited a tool relied upon by federal prosecutors in prominent corruption cases against major corporate executives and politicians. A unanimous court found that the law which makes it a crime “to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services” was unconstitutionally vague, at least in its broadest interpretation. 

The law was challenged by Jeffrey Skilling, ex-CEO of Enron, and Conrad Black, a former newspaper owner, both of whom had been convicted on “honest services” fraud. The majority justices concluded that prosecutors may only seek convictions in cases where there is evidence that the defendants accepted bribes or kickbacks.

 In 2008, in its first major ruling on the Second Amendment, the court found that the Constitution guaranteed individuals of the right to bear arms for self-defense in the home, and overturned a federal prohibition of such right. This term, in a challenge to Chicago’s decades-old ban on handgun ownership, the court held that an individual’s right to bear arms was protected against state-enacted laws, as well.

The decision effectively bars states from enacting laws that constitute complete bans on gun ownership. As explained, the decision “limits (but by no means eliminates) (states’ and cities’) ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values.” The majority opinion stated, it did not intend to cast doubt on laws prohibiting the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, for instance.

The term also brought multiple rulings on criminal suspects’ Miranda rights. In the most important of the decisions, the court held that a suspect must affirmatively invoke the right to remain silent or to speak to a lawyer before police are required to cease interrogations.

 In the case, a suspect was interrogated for three hours, during which time he was almost completely silent, before he finally made an incriminating statement. In a 5-4 split, the court found that suspects must be informed of their right to remain silent; however, once they receive such warnings, any statements made are admissible against them even if they did not expressly waive their rights and spoke only after hours of interrogation. 

In another criminal case, the court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment forbids the sentencing of juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes in which no person is killed.

 Samuel R. W. Price is an attorney at the law offices of Poole & Shaffery, LLP. He may be reached at( 661) 290-2991. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice. Mr. Price’s column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. “It’s The Law” appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association.


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