U.S. Supreme Court Notebook

Supreme Court ­greenlights driver rights in rental case

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court says people who borrow rental cars from friends or family are generally entitled to the same protections against police searches as the authorized driver.

The justices said Monday that as a general rule someone who is given permission to drive a rental car by the person who rented it has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car, even if the rental agreement doesn't list them as an authorized driver. That means police can't generally search the car unless they have a warrant or probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.

The Trump administration had argued that unauthorized drivers had no reasonable expectation of privacy in a borrowed car.

Supreme Court rules for inmate whose lawyer conceded guilt

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a lawyer for a criminal defendant cannot override his client's wish to maintain his innocence at trial, even if the lawyer's aim is to avoid a death sentence.

The justices voted 6-3 in favor of Louisiana death row inmate Robert McCoy. He repeatedly objected to his lawyer's decision to acknowledge that McCoy killed the son, mother and step-father of his estranged wife in 2008.

Lawyer Larry English said the evidence of McCoy's guilt was overwhelming. English said his strategy was to seek a sentence of life in prison instead of death.

But jurors sentenced McCoy to death anyway.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said McCoy must be given a new trial.

"Even when a criminal defendant is assisted by counsel, some decisions are reserved for the client," Ginsburg said in a summary of her opinion. That includes the decision about whether to assert innocence, she said.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented.

While English admitted that McCoy killed the victims, he did not concede that his client was guilty of first-degree murder, Alito wrote in his dissent for the three justices.

Overwhelming evidence implicated McCoy in the killings, Alito said. "If petitioner is retried, it will be interesting to see what petitioner's current counsel...will do," Alito said.

Among the evidence was a gun found in the vehicle in which McCoy was riding at the time of his arrest in Idaho that was linked to cartridge casings found at the scene of the killings in Louisiana.

McCoy testified in his own defense, saying he was innocent and suggesting that a drug trafficking ring led by law enforcement officers had framed him for the killings. He tried to recruit witnesses he said would vouch for him, including then-Sen. David Vitter. Vitter said he did not know McCoy.

The trial court found McCoy was competent to stand trial. English, the trial lawyer, argued consistently that McCoy was in a fragile emotional state and that he lacked the intent to kill that is necessary for a jury to impose the death penalty.

English's view of McCoy's chances led him to concede in his opening argument that McCoy "committed these crimes." McCoy had told English not to do that.

The case is McCoy v. Louisiana, 16-8255.

Supreme Court lets suit to go forward in trooper's shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) - The mother of a Pennsylvania State Police trooper accidentally shot by a firearms instructor can go forward with her lawsuit against the instructor after the Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear the case.

The case stems from the September 2014 shooting death of 26-year-old David Kedra. Kedra was attending firearms training when he was accidentally shot by instructor Richard Schroeter.

Schroeter pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment of another person and was sentenced to two weeks in jail, followed by three to 18 months of house arrest and other penalties.

A court initially dismissed a lawsuit against Schroeter by Kedra's mother. But an appeals court allowed the lawsuit to go forward.

Supreme Court won't take appeal in ­Blackwater case

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is staying out of a case that involves former Blackwater security contractors convicted in the 2007 slayings of 14 Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad.

The court said Monday it won't hear an appeal brought by the four former contractors convicted after a 2014 trial in the case. They argued in part to the high court that a federal law they were charged under doesn't apply to them. A District of Columbia federal appeals court disagreed in a ruling in August.

The appeals court did order new sentences for three of the men: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. It also overturned the conviction of the fourth man, Nicholas Slatten, saying he should have been tried separately. Slatten's re-trial is scheduled for June.

Supreme Court won't take Wyoming murder case

WASHINGTON (AP) - A Wyoming man who was 16 when he fatally shot another teenager in the head at point-blank range will be resentenced for the killing after the Supreme Court declined to step in to the case.

The Supreme Court said Monday it will not take the case of Phillip Sam, who killed 19-year-old Tyler Burns in a Cheyenne park in 2014. Sam was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years, plus three consecutive sentences of at least nine years each.

Wyoming's highest court overturned the sentence in 2017. The court said Sam was effectively sentenced to life without parole even though a court concluded he didn't deserve to be in prison for the rest of his life.

Published: Tue, May 15, 2018


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