Criminal Cases Dominate In Early ’05 Court Docket

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The Supreme Court already has agreed to hear 35 cases in the term beginning in October, reports Legal Times. “One thing that strikes me about this upcoming term is the high number of criminal cases,” says Georgetown University law professor Richard Lazarus. The most prominent one may be Roper v. Simmons, which tests whether the death penalty for juvenile defendants constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth and 14th amendments. The Court declined to prohibit such executions in 1989, but will revisit the issue to rule on whether 16-and 17-year-old defendants may constitutionally be put to death under the “evolving standards of decency” test.

In a California case, the court will address whether the practice of segregating prisoners for the first 60 days of their incarceration violates the equal protection clause. The justices also will decide whether Congress has the power to regulate the medicinal use of homegrown marijuana. The 1996 Controlled Substances Act prohibits patients from using marijuana for medical purposes, even in states where the voters or the legislature have approved the drug’s use under a doctor’s care. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that such marijuana usage is noncommercial and therefore outside the jurisdiction of Congress. A decision in the government’s favor would invalidate legislation in nine states that permits medicinal marijuana use.


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