WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court found for two defendants in cases that involved missteps in the legal process. The justices ruled that an indigent Texas man had been denied his right to an attorney, while the 8th Circuit improperly boosted a Minnesota defendant’s sentence.
The question in Greenlaw v. U.S. centered on whether a federal appeals court could increase Michael Greenberg’s sentence, when the government had not appealed his sentencing. Greenberg, who was convicted of various drug- and weapon-related offenses, had appealed his 442-month sentence as being “unreasonably long.” After rejecting his arguments, the appellate court, without any prompting by the government, determined that the trial court had undercut his sentence by 15 years and ordered the court to increase it to 622 months.
Greenlaw was a member of a Minnesota gang known for selling crack cocaine in a south Minneapolis neighborhood.
Justice Ginsburg said the appellate court overstepped the guidelines governing cross appeals, which are clearly established by federal law.
Justices Alito and Stevens dissented, while Justice Breyer dissented in part.
In Rothgery v. Gillespie County, the justice ruled 8-1 that the county’s unwritten policy of denying counsel to indigent defendants out on bail violates their Sixth Amendment right.
Texas police arrested Walter Rothgery as a felon in possession of a firearm, though Rothgery had never been convicted of a felony. At his initial hearing, a magistrate set his bail at $5,000 and sent him to jail. The court finally granted his numerous requests for a lawyer after he was indicted and rearrested, with bail set at $15,000. Charges were dropped after his attorney told the court that Rothgery was not a felon.
Rothgery claimed he would not have been indicted or rearrested had he been given a lawyer after his first hearing.
The justices narrowed their decision to find that “a criminal defendant’s initial appearance before a judicial officer … marks the start of adversary judicial proceedings that trigger attachment of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.”