Case: Bartlett v. Strickland

Date: Tuesday October 14, 2008

Issue: Whether a racial minority group that constitutes less than 50 percent of a proposed district's population can state a vote dilution claim under Section 2 of the 1973 Voting Rights Act.

Background: More than a century after the end of Reconstruction, the North Carolina legislature had very few African American representatives. In the early 1990s, the Department of Justice took the state to task for its lack of districts with a significant concentration of African-American voters. In response, the state redrew its electoral boundaries and expanded the 18th district in southeastern North Carolina, which promptly elected an African-American representative. But in complying with the DOJ mandate, the state violated its own constitution in establishing how districts are shaped. The courts in North Carolina have been divided on how to resolve the matter.

Case: Pearson v. Callahan

Date: Tuesday October 14, 2008

Issue: Whether the Fourth Amendment is violated when police officers enter a home after a confidential informant has been admitted inside to purchase drugs, the informant completes the purchase, and he then signals the purchase to the officers waiting outside.

Background: In 2002, members of the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force employed a confidential informant to help them bust Afton Callahan. Callahan was believed to be a methamphetamine dealer and the Task Force was set up to crack down on the growing meth trade. The informant was invited inside Callahan's house where the informant bought $100 of meth. The informant, utilizing his concealed wire, then gave a signal to the officers outside that the deal was done. The Task Force officers immediately entered the house (without a warrant) and arrested Callahan, who eventually pled guilty to selling drugs and was sentenced to a minimum of five years in the pokey. But Callahan appealed, contending that his Fourth Amendment rights preventing unreasonable searches and seizures were violated. The Utah Court of Appeals agreed and set aside his conviction. Callahan then filed a federal civil suit against the officers. The trial court ruled against Callahan but the Tenth Circuit reversed that judgment saying the confidential informant was not the equivalent to a police officer. In other words, when Callahan invited the informant into his house he was not by extension giving consent to the officers to enter his home. The Tenth Circuit concluded that had the informant actually been an undercover officer then no Fourth Amendment violation would have occurred. As such, the court reasoned that Callahan's civil suit against the officers could proceed. Not surprisingly, 31 states and the federal government have asked the Court to rule in favor of the officers. The ACLU and a handful of other organizations have authored briefs in support of Callahan.

Case: Oregon v. Ice

Date: Tuesday October 14, 2008

Issue: Whether the Sixth Amendment requires that facts (other than prior convictions) necessary to imposing consecutive sentences be found by the jury or admitted by the defendant, in this case a convicted pedophile.

Background: Earlier this decade the Court in two cases — Apprendi v. New Jersey and Blakely v. Washington — established guidelines to trial courts about the need of having juries determine if a particular criminal should spend added time behind bars beyond what his or her sentence would otherwise mandate. This case out of Oregon examines if those decisions also require a jury to impose consecutive sentences which would keep Thomas Eugene Ice locked up for a much longer period of time than if his sentences were to be served concurrently.

Ice was convicted of six felony counts for twice breaking into an apartment and fondling an 11-year-old girl. Prosecutors asked the sentencing court for consecutive terms of imprisonment because Ice had entered the victim's apartment and fondled her on two separate occasions. Ice argued that the consecutive terms behind bars represented the kind of lengthened prison term that the High Court in Apprendi ruled must be determined by a jury. The sentencing judge sided with the state and sentenced Ice to consecutive terms totaling more than 28 years. The Oregon Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision reversed that decision ruling it was in violation of Ice's Sixth Amendment rights. It concluded a jury was required to hand down the longer sentence.