(The Return of) Ignatz, by Sam Heldman

Thursday, April 17, 2003

S.Ct. predictions
Back for the last round of this (getting old, but there's no one to blame but myself) Supreme Court prediction thing; the last two weeks of April bring the last 12 cases to be argued this Term. The first case to be argued on Monday is yet another habeas corpus case, Price v. Vincent. The Sixth Circuit granted the writ of habeas corpus, finding that Vincent's rights under the Double Jeopardy clause had been violated. In a nutshell, what happened is that when the prosecution (in Michigan state court) had concluded, the defense moved for a directed verdict of acquittal on one count – essentially, a motion asking the trial court to declare that the prosecution had not introduced sufficient evidence to allow the jury to convict on that count, even if the jury believed all the prosecution's evidence and drew every allowable inference from that evidence. The trial court indicated that it was granting that motion, i.e., that it would remove the most serious charge from the case and let the case proceed on the other reduced charges. Whether the trial court was ambiguous about this, or not, is a big question here. Then the next morning, the trial court said that it had changed its mind, and was not granting a directed verdict on any part of the case. The jury had never been informed about the prior "ruling" or "quasi-ruling", whichever it was. And now the question is, did this really amount to an acquittal, such that it would violate the Double Jeopardy clause to "undo" the acquittal? And was the error (if any) so clear that a federal court can grant habeas corpus relief? (We've talked before about the stringent standards applicable to federal habeas relief in state court convictions.)

Why do I think that the Court will REVERSE and reinstate the conviction despite what strikes me as a convincing brief (pdf) for the Respondent? Because the United States has filed an amicus brief in support of the state (here), and because there's something odd about the many times that the Court "relisted" the case (see docket sheet here) before setting it for argument. Maybe they were even considering a summary reversal without full briefing or argument, but decided in the end that there were some questions that needed to be cleared up? Anyway, REVERSE it is.

posted by sam 10:23 AM 0 comments


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