Alabama Courts Finally Adopt US Supreme Court Precedent 12 Years Later

*This post contains more “mature” content than my usual posts, so please be aware before reading on*

Law and justice concept, legal code

Williams v. State of Alabama

Background

In two cases released on July 2, 2015, we see the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals finally have a chance to apply the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Lawrence v. Texas to a challenge of Alabama’s sexual misconduct statute, sec. 13A-6-65.

In Lawrence, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas’ anti-sodomy statute which only applied to homosexual conduct was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Williams, the Court of Criminal Appeals explained:

“Section 13A-6-65(a)(3) provides: ‘A person commits the crime of sexual misconduct if … [h]e or she engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another person under circumstances other than those covered by Sections 13A-6-63 and 13A-6-64[, Ala. Code 1975]. Consent is no defense to a prosecution under this subdivision.’ The commentary to that statute notes that the specific subdivision ‘was changed by the legislature to make all homosexual conduct criminal, and consent is no defense.’ See Commentary to § 13A-6-65, Ala. Code 1975. Section 13A-6-60(2), Ala. Code 1975, defines ‘deviate sexual intercourse’ as ‘[a]ny act of sexual gratification between persons not married to each other involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another.’

Williams – Conviction Reversed

Williams was alleged to have sodomized another man against his will. He was prosecuted for first degree sodomy. At trial, Williams testified in his own defense and explained to the jury that he and the other man had engaged in consensual conduct.

While the parties discussed how the jury should be instructed, the Court considered whether a sexual misconduct instruction should be given as a lesser-included offense of first-degree sodomy. Williams objected, arguing that in his case, a sexual misconduct instruction would allow the jury to convict him of consensual sodomy. Williams argued this conviction would be unconstitutional under Lawrence. The judge overruled the objection and Williams was convicted of sexual misconduct.

The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed and rendered Williams’ conviction. The Court concluded that the sexual misconduct statute was unconstitutional under Lawrence as applied to Williams’ consensual conduct.

Wesson – Conviction Affirmed

Wesson was charged with engaging in acts of sodomy with a woman against her will. He was indicted on the charge of first-degree sodomy and sexual misconduct. Wesson pleaded guilty to the sexual misconduct charge and the sodomy charge was dismissed. He, like Williams, argued the sexual misconduct statue was unconstitutional as applied to him and appealed the constitutionality of his conviction to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. First, the Court rejected Wesson’s argument that the sexual misconduct statute was unconstitutional on it’s face. The Court concluded that Wesson didn’t raise that argument before the trial court, so they weren’t going to consider it on appeal. Next, the Court concluded that Wesson’s as-applied challenge under Lawrence was doomed to fail because he could not demonstrate that his conduct fell within the bounds of protected conduct described by Lawrence — namely, he couldn’t prove that the sex acts that occurred were consensual. Because he could not, Lawrence would not provide him any relief.

Consent is Now a Defense After 12 years, an Alabama court has finally recognized that Lawrence prohibits the criminalization of consensual conduct covered by sec. 13A-6-65(a)(3).

Alabama Courts Finally Adopt US Supreme Court Precedent 12 Years Later

SCOTUS – Administrative Searches – Los Angeles v. Patel

The Court today released an interesting opinion on administrative searches in Los Angeles v. Patel.

Under the Los Angeles Municipal Code, hotel operators are required to keep certain information in their hotel registry for 90 days. The Code requires the operators to allow the LAPD to inspect these registries upon request, or they could be charged with a misdemeanor. The hotels owners filed a facial challenge under the Fourth Amendment. The district court dismissed the challenge, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding this statutory scheme authorized unconstitutional administrative searches.

AFFIRMED.


The Court noted that the statutory scheme forced hotel operators with an unconstitutional “Comply or Else” dilemma without affording them any opportunity for administrative review of the validity of the search. The Court concluded that an administrative search scheme that does not create a mechanism for operators to seek administrative review of “on-the-spot” searches violates the Fourth Amendment as it authorizes an unconstitutional search. The Court noted that any administrative search carried out with an administrative warrant or as an exception to the warrant requirement would comply with the Fourth Amendment.

The opinion is available here:

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-1175_2qe4.pdf

SCOTUS – Administrative Searches – Los Angeles v. Patel

Lethal Injection — Glossip v. Gross

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Background

Oklahoma, like most states, uses a three-drug cocktail during its lethal injection procedure. The first drug induces unconsciousness. Until the manufacturer discontinued production, the drug used for this stage was a barbiturate, sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. The second drug is a paralytic that disables all muscular movements. The third drug stops the defendant’s heart.

Due to the manufacturer discontinuing production of the barbiturate used in the first stage of the execution protocol, Oklahoma adopted the used of midazolam, a strong sedative, for the first stage of the execution process. Oklahoma death-row inmates filed a challenge to the use of midazolam under 42 USC § 1983. Specifically, petitioners argued that the use of this drug would violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel or unusual punishment because this drug will not sufficiently sedate the inmates so they will not feel pain in the execution process.

The district court denied relief on two grounds: (1) the petitioners failed to identify an alternative method of execution that presented a substantially less severe risk of pain; and (2) the petitioners failed to demonstrate the use of midazolam created a risk of severe pain. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision.

AFFIRMED.

In rejecting the inmates’ claim that the use of midazolam violates the Eighth Amendment, the Court reached two conclusions: (1) the drug does not create a substantial risk of severe pain; and (2) the petitioners failed to show a “known and reliable” alternative that presents a lower risk of pain.

1. The inmates failed to establish the use of midazolam creates a substantial risk of severe pain.

In Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008), another case challenging the constitutionality of the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections, the Court held that in any Eighth Amendment challenges to an execution protocol, a challenger must show the method employed will create the great risk of causing pain. Here, the Court found that inmates completely failed to meet that showing. The Court concluded that ample evidence was presented that midazolam did not create a risk of severe pain necessary to grant the inmate’s request for a permanent injunction.

2. Petitioners failed to identify a “known and available alternative” to the execution methods that would have lower risks of pain

Baze also requires a challenger to show that the risk of harm was substantial in comparison to a known and available alternative method of execution. Here, the Court found the inmates failed to satisfy this requirement of Baze. While the inmates argued that Oklahoma could use sodium thiopental or pentobarbital as the first drug in the three-drug cocktail, the Court rejected this argument because it was all but conceded that these drugs were no longer available to the States.

Dissent — Justice Breyer no longer believes the death penalty is constitutional.

Justice Breyer authored a thoughtful dissent where he calls into question the constitutionality of the death penalty. He focused his criticism on three main points: (1) his belief that the process suffers from “serious unreliability;” (2) that the ultimate penalty is arbitrarily applied; and (3) that the long delays in sentencing and execution undermine the penological purpose of the penalty.

The opinion is available here:

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-7955_aplc.pdf

Lethal Injection — Glossip v. Gross