Case: Corley v. United States

Date: Wednesday Jan. 21, 2009

Issue: Whether federal law requires that a confession taken more than six hours after arrest is inadmissible if there was unreasonable or unnecessary delay in presenting the defendant to the magistrate judge.

Background: Federal law stipulates that a voluntary confession may be used at trial if it is obtained within six hours of an arrest. A confession beyond that six hour window may still be used but proof must be shown that there was no unreasonable delay in bringing the individual in custody before a magistrate judge.

Johnnie Corley was convicted of robbing $47,532 from a Norristown, Pennsylvania bank. A couple of months after the heist, FBI agents using an outstanding warrant in an unrelated matter tracked Corley down and arrested him. While in custody, agents interrogated Corley until he confessed to the bank robbery. But 29 hours had elapsed from the time of his arrest to his initial appearance before a judge. At trial, Corley's lawyers attempted to have the confession tossed but were unsuccessful. A jury convicted him and he was sentenced to more than 14 years behind bars. A divided three-judge panel of the Third Circuit concluded the confession was admissible in spite of the timeline.

Corley argues to the High Court that the FBI agents "purposefully and unnecessarily delayed" his appearance before the magistrate judge in order to get the confessions. Meanwhile the government argues Corley and his lawyers are trying to twist federal laws around to get a new trial. In its brief, lawyers from the solicitor general's office contend the statutes at issue are written in a way that gives trial judges the appropriate level of flexibility needed to determine the admissibility of confessions.

Case: Kansas v. Ventris

Date: Wednesday Jan. 21, 2009

Issue: Whether a criminal defendant's voluntary statement obtained in the absence of a knowing and voluntary waiver of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel is admissible for impeachment purposes if the defendant testifies untruthfully at his trial?

Background: In 2004, Donnie Ray Ventris and his girlfriend robbed a Kansas man who died during the attack. At trial, Ventris took the stand in his own defense and claimed his girlfriend was responsible for the man's death. Prosecutors then introduced a jailhouse snitch to rebut Ventris' testimony. The informant told the court that Ventris had told him that he had pulled the fatal trigger — not the girlfriend. But the jury couldn't hash it out and acquitted Ventris on the murder charge. He was still found guilty of the robbery and sentenced to more than 23 years behind bars.

At trial, Ventris attempted to prevent the jailhouse informant's testimony. He claimed that the snitch was effectively hired by the State to gather information against him in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The judge overruled the objection. Ventris took his case to the Kansas Court of Appeals which ruled that such testimony would ordinarily be excluded from trial, but because it was used to rebut Ventris' supposedly perjured story that it was permissible. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled otherwise. It concluded that under no circumstances can the testimony of a hired jailhouse snitch who purposefully elicits information be used at court. Kansas has appealed that ruling to the High Court.

Case: Nken v. Mukasey

Date: Wednesday Jan. 21, 2009

Issue: Whether the decision of a court of appeals to stay an alien's removal pending consideration of the alien's petition for review is governed by the standard set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act, or instead by the traditional test for stays and preliminary injunctive relief.

Background: In 2001, Jean Marc Nken entered the United States on a travel visa and decided to stay even though he had no legal right to do so. The Cameroon native now claims asylum based on the contention he will be persecuted in his home country for having participated in student demonstrations many years ago. At every stage of the immigration process Nken has lost in his efforts to stay in the United States. The initial immigration judge found Nken's testimony to be questionable and concluded that his claims lacked merit. The specific problem for the judge was Nken's failure to seek asylum in the Ivory Coast before he ever landed in the United States.

Nken argues the Fourth Circuit erroneously relied upon language in immigration law to deny his request for a stay preventing the final disposition of his case. Nken's lawyers argue the Fourth Circuit should have utilized a standard four-part test for determining the stay request. He believes this standard is the one that should have been used by the lower court and is asking the High Court to issue a ruling to this effect.