In United States v. Knowles, No. 16-16802 (May 15, 2018) (Jordan, Martin, Ginsburg), the Court concluded that the district court erred by excluding lay identification testimony, but it found the error harmless. The district court had admitted under Rule 701 identification testimony from a government witness. The Court rejected the defendant's argument that the testimony should have been excluded under Rule 403 because the witness was a law enforcement official who participated in the vehicle stop uncovering the incriminating evidence. The official's familiarity with the defendant -- and thus the basis of his identification testimony -- was based in part on his observations of her during the traffic stop, and so it did not reveal any past or collateral contact by the defendant with the criminal justice system. The Court carefully noted that Knowles only raised a Rule 403 objection and implied the issue would have been a closer call under Rule 701. Remember to raise both! The Court, however, agreed with the defense that the district court erred by excluding defense identification testimony under Rule 701. The Court applied the "equal treatment" principle used in the context of expert witnesses to the context of lay witnesses. The defense witness [...]
To Arun Ravindran and Vanessa Chen for securing a government dismissal in a case involving drug and gun charges. Arun and Vanessa moved to suppress the evidence and the magistrate judge agreed that the evidence should be excluded. Rather than objecting to the judge's report and recommendation, the government dismissed.
Relying on Johnson, the court, in an opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and, in large part, Neil Gorsuch, affirmed the 9th Circuit’s ruling that Section 16(b) is unconstitutionally vague. The court began by noting that to determine whether a person’s conduct falls within the ambit of Section 16(b), “courts use a distinctive form of what we have called the categorical approach.” Rather than assessing whether the particular facts of someone’s conduct pose the substantial risk required under the statute, courts consider the overall nature of the offense, and ask “whether ‘the ordinary case’ of an offense poses the requisite risk.” The court went on to conclude that defining the “ordinary case” under the “crime of violence” provision poses the same vagueness and due process problems, including unpredictability and arbitrariness, as those identified in Johnson. As the court summed it up, “Johnson tells us how to resolve this case. … [N]one of the minor linguistic disparities in the statutes makes any real difference.” In a section of the opinion not joined by Gorsuch, a plurality of the court rejected the government’s argument that “a less searching form of the void-for-vagueness doctrine applies here than [...]