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High Court Rules on Post-Conviction Remedies, Obstruction

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against a federal prisoner who challenged his sentence for firearms possession based on changes in the law since his trial, a decision that will make it harder for federal prisoners to bring certain types of post-conviction challenges, CNN reports. Marcus Jones had appealed his 27-year sentence, arguing that a Supreme Court ruling 17 years after his original conviction changed the standard of proof about knowledge of a crime. The court's 6-3 majority opinion, by Justice Clarence Thomas, held that under so-called 2255 motions there are limited conditions in which Congress has permitted federal prisoners to bring second or successive collateral attacks on their sentences. “The inability of a prisoner with a statutory claim to satisfy those conditions does not mean that he can bring his claim in a habeas petition under the savings clause,” Thomas wrote in his majority opinion. “It means he cannot bring it at all. Congress has chosen finality over error correction in his case,” he said. The three liberal justices, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, dissented.


In the second criminal decision of the day, as the high court nears the end of its term, an unusual 6-3 alignment of justices ruled in the majority that the government can deport two immigrants for obstruction of justice even though an existing legal proceeding may not be pending, Courthouse News reports. The question in the case was whether an offense could be considered related to obstruction of justice even if an investigation was not ongoing. “That question arises because some obstruction offenses can occur when an investigation or proceeding is not pending, such as threatening a witness to prevent the witness from reporting a crime to the police,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the majority. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, claiming the majority's interpretation cast too broad of a net. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Elena Kagan joined Sotomayor’s opinion.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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