Mobile Phone Case Tops High Court Criminal Docket

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A relatively calm U.S. Supreme Court term will soon give way to what court watchers say could be a stormy one when the justices take the bench October 2. Among the pivotal criminal law issues in the 2017 term are the balance between surveillance and privacy in the mobile phone era, the treatment of immigrants who break the nation’s laws, and whether death-row inmates can challenge legal errors they claim are grave enough to save them, reports Bloomberg BNA. Carpenter v. United States headlines the criminal cases so far. There, the high court “will likely decide whether the government can obtain any digital information exposed to a third party service provider without a warrant,” says University of Utah law Prof. Matthew Tokson. The issue is whether the Fourth Amendment demands a warrant for historical mobile phone location records, which placed Timothy Carpenter near the scene of several armed robberies. Law enforcement got the data from Carpenter’s wireless carrier with a court order under the Stored Communications Act, rather than with a probable cause warrant, which would have required more proof.

Carpenter isn’t scheduled for argument yet. The term’s first two days feature re-arguments in two important “crimmigration” cases—at the intersection of criminal and immigration law. Both cases involve people facing deportation. Sessions v. Dimaya deals with scrutinizing the vagueness of a law whose violation leads to removal, while Jennings v. Rodriguez involves with the right to bond hearings for non-citizens facing removal. The justices also will hear two “hugely important” habeas corpus issues, says University of California Irvine law Prof. Leah Litman. She cited Avestas v. Davis and Wilson v. Sellers, cases brought by death row inmates seeking to clear procedural hurdles to challenge their convictions.

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