The biggest legal news of the week may be the Supreme Court’s recognition of a right to the effective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining in Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye. I previewed Lafler here, and plan to do a detailed analysis of the cases next week. For now, suffice it to say that while I don’t agree with the claim made in this article that the cases together constitute “the single greatest revolution in the criminal justice process since Gideon v. Wainwright provided indigents the right to counsel,” I do think that they’re a big deal. In other news:
1. The Court heard another significant pair of criminal cases this week when it had oral argument in Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama. Both cases involve 14-year-old defendants who were sentenced to life without parole for murder, and who now claim that their punishments were unconstitutionally harsh. Law professor Doug Berman, of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, posted this video preview — it gives Berman fans a face, and voice, to go with his name. You can read the oral argument transcripts here (Jackson) and here (Miller), and you can read a recap of the arguments at SCOTUSblog here. Most observers seem to believe that the Court will, at a minimum, rule against mandatory life without parole for the youngest killers who are tried as adults.
2. The “other” supreme court — the one in Raleigh, not Washington — got some attention in the Greensboro News and Record this week. This article states that the court issued full opinions in just 20 cases in 2011, and that it ranks “near the bottom of the list” of state supreme courts in terms of productivity. My own view is that while the court’s caseload numbers are quite low, numbers aren’t necessarily revealing. The key question should be whether the court is declining to hear well-presented cases in areas of the law that need clarification. That’s a much harder and more subjective question to answer, and one that the story mentions but doesn’t dig into deeply.
3. The lawsuit concerning ignition interlock has come to a close. The News and Observer reports here that Monitech, Inc., formerly the sole approved provider of interlocks in the state, has agreed to dismiss the lawsuit it filed against the state after the state selected a different vendor. It appears that the state has agreed to allow Monitech to re-enter the market alongside the other maker, though the details of the deal aren’t provided in the article.
4. Many of us at UNC are nonplussed by this story, about a UNC physics professor jailed in Argentina on drug smuggling charges. Strangely, the professor has accused the provost of the university — also a physicist — of refusing to help him because of professional jealousy. The professor claims that he is innocent and says that there is a “99.995 percent” chance that he will be released in time to resume his duties in the fall. Leave it to a physicist to calculate probability to three decimal places, I suppose.
5. Equally odd, but not so serious: sure, it might be annoying to have your spouse constantly looking over your shoulder while you’re on Facebook, but it is not a crime and you should not call the police for assistance.