Supreme Court Roundup 6/25/99

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Jane Tseng, [email protected]

Court Refuses to Hear Singleton Appeal

This week, the Court refused to hear an appeal concerning a ruling last year in which prosecutors offered leniency to witnesses in exchange for testimony. By refusing to hear the case, the Court effectively ruled that the common but controversial federal practice of offering leniency to witnesses in exchange for testimony is still acceptable.

The controversy arose after the January decision by the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the conviction of Sonya Singleton in a cocaine trafficking case. Singleton had appealed her conviction, saying that the prosecution's witnesses were offered leniency for his testimony, which helped convict her and other defendants. Singleton's lawyer argued to the court of appeals that the testimony provided by the prosecution's witness could not be used because of a federal law forbidding the exchange of anything of value for testimony.

Singleton's lawyer commented that "the government's practice of buying testimony" will "eat away at the integrity of the judicial system." The Court reasoned that if Congress had written the law to make it illegal for prosecutors to continue their long-standing practice of offering lesser sentences in exchange for testimony, they would have worded the law in such a way as to eliminate doubts. More detailed information on the case in question can be found at

Dyson Traffic Stop Ruling Overturned

The Supreme Court reversed a ruling by a mid-level Maryland appeals court this week that had ruled that searching a vehicle without a warrant is unlawful. The decision upholds an exception to the 4th amendment dating back to 1925 that states that police do not need a warrant when searching a vehicle. The case came before the court after Kevin Darnell Dyson's conviction of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute. The police stopped Dyson on July 3, 1996 and searched his car after an informant told them that Dyson would be on his way home from New York City, where he had allegedly gone to buy cocaine. The police found 23 grams of crack cocaine in a bag in Dyson's trunk.

Dyson appealed his conviction, saying that the search was unlawful because the police had had time to obtain a warrant before searching Dyson's car. The justices noted that previous rulings in 1982 and 1996 affirmed that police do not need a warrant in order to search a vehicle if they had cause to believe there was evidence of a crime.

Court to Hear Case on Juror Removal

The Supreme Court also agreed to hear an Arizona drug case this week which will determine whether or not some criminal convictions would have to be overturned because of jury selection errors. The case concerns Abel Martinez-Salazar, who was arrested in Phoenix and was later convicted for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute and using or carrying a firearm during a drug crime. During the trial, Martinez-Salazar's lawyer used one of his automatic challenges to remove a juror. Martinez-Salazar later claimed that the juror was biased and that his lawyer should not have been forced to use one of his 11 preemptory challenges to remove that juror. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Martinez-Salazar's due-process rights were violated because under federal law, defendants are not required to use their automatic challenges to remove prospective jurors if they show bias. The prosecution argues that because a biased-juror was never allowed on the jury, the conviction still holds.

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Issue #96, 6/25/99 Governor of New Mexico Calls Drug War Failed -- Calls for Discussion of Alternatives | Hyde's Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Passes House Easily | Vancouver's Cannabis Cafe, Hemp BC Closed | Activist Banned from Talking About Marijuana | NEW YORK: Staten Island Assemblyman Wants Needle Exchange Banned | IDAHO: "Drug Bust: The Longest War" TV Special Preempted by Drug Testing Speech in Boise | News in Brief | Supreme Court Roundup | WASHINGTON: Free Video and Lunch-Talk Series | Editorial: Can't Keep a Good Idea Down
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