Friday, November 13, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Update

Since the opening of the new Term of the United States Supreme Court in October, the Court has issued two opinions. The first, Corcoran v. Levenhagen, I discussed here on October 23.

Earlier this week in Bobby v. Van Hook, the Court unanimously reversed the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and concluded that the defendant was not denied his constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase of his capital trial.

The defendant Van Hook was tried in 1985. The Supreme Court's opinion is notable for two reasons. First, it is highly critical of the Sixth Circuit's reliance on the American Bar Association Guidelines for capital cases issued in 2003, or 18 years after Van Hook's trial.

Second, the Court is critical of the Sixth Circuit treating ABA guidelines as "inexorable commands with which all capital defense counsel 'must fully comply.'" The Supreme Court's opinion emphasizes that ABA standards are "only guides" and are not the "definition" of what is reasonably expected of defense counsel. The decision can be found here.

New Supreme Court Data Bank: the Supreme Court Database, which contains a wealth of information about Court cases since 1953, is now online. It is supported by funding from the National Science Foundation. It can be found at Thank you to for bringing this to my attention.

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