Friday, December 10, 2010

Was Justice Served In The Webster Smith Case? Is Justice Just Us?

A final judgement has been entered in the Case of Cadet Webster Smith. He fought a good fight; he kept the faith; and, he exhausted his judicial remedies.

Hard cases make bad law. In this case, the facts were not so hard to distinguish as the defendant was of the wrong persuasion.


No. 10-18
Title: Webster M. Smith, Petitioner
United States

Docketed: June 30, 2010
Lower Ct: United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
Case Nos.: (08-0719)
Decision Date: March 29, 2010

~~~Date~~~ ~~~~~~~Proceedings and Orders~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Jun 28 2010 Petition for a writ of certiorari filed. (Response due July 30, 2010)

Jul 30 2010 Brief amicus curiae of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed.
Jul 30 2010 Brief amicus curiae of United States Army Defense Appellate Division filed.

Oct 28 2010 Brief of respondent United States in opposition filed.
Nov 5 2010 Reply of petitioner Webster M. Smith filed. TBP
Nov 8 2010 DISTRIBUTED for Conference of November 23, 2010.
Nov 29 2010 Petition DENIED.


~~Name~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~Address~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~Phone~~~
Attorneys for Petitioner:
Daniel S. Volchok Wilmer Cutler Hale and Dorr LLP (202) 663-6000
1875 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Party name: Webster M. Smith
Attorneys for Respondent:
Neal Kumar Katyal Acting Solicitor General (202) 514-2217
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Party name: United States
Jonathan L. Marcus Covington & Burling, LLP (202) 662-6000
1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Party name: National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Jonathan F. Potter Senior Appellate Counsel United States Army (703) 588-6717
Defense Appellate Division
901 N. Stuart Street
Arlington, VA 22203
Party name: United States Army Defense Appellate Division

The only cadet court-martialed in the 130-year history of the Coast Guard Academy has run out of options to appeal his conviction.

Cadet Webster Smith already served time behind bars, but continued to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

After more than four years, the Smith case is over. The former Coast Guard cadet hit a dead end when the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear his final appeal.

Smith was acquitted of rape charges, but served five months in a military prison after being convicted of sodomy, extortion and other charges.

He was also kicked out of the Coast Guard Academy.

Smith has claimed in multiple appeals that his constitutional rights were violated at his trial.

He said he wasn't allowed to ask one of the female cadets who accused him of rape about her past, saying he wanted to show that the woman known as Cadet S.R., had a motive to lie about what happened with Smith.

He claimed their sexual encounter was consensual.

Since the nation's high court has declined to hear Smith's case, the final judgment comes from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the armed forces.

In March the court ruled that his conviction should stand, saying "further cross-examination of Cadet S.R. was not 'constitutionally required.'"

Many Supreme Court experts thought the high court might take Smith's case, but the justices declined the case without comment.

Congress is deadlocked; the President is weakened; and, the Supreme Court does not appear to be in a mood to settle conflicts of law between the Circuit Courts. Since nature abhors a vacuum, this may be a good time to legislate from the bench.

This case implicates a deep circuit conflict regarding
the standard of review that applies when a trial
judge’s restriction on the cross-examination of a prosecution
witness is challenged on appeal as a violation of
the Confrontation Clause. The Court of Appeals for the
Armed Forces (CAAF) held that the standard of
review is abuse of discretion rather than de novo. Applying
the former standard, the court rejected Webster Smith’s
Confrontation Clause claim by a vote of 3-2.

The Courts Of Appeals Are Deeply Divided
Over What Standard Of Review Applies To
Confrontation Clause Claims Like Webster Smith’s.
The CAAF employed abuse-of-discretion review in resolving
Smith’s Sixth Amendment challenge to the
military judge’s restriction on the defense’s crossexamination
of Shelly. That approach conflicts with the holdings of five circuits, which consider comparable Confrontation Clause claims de novo,
reserving abuse-of-discretion review for nonconstitutional
challenges. For example, the Seventh
Circuit has stated that “[o]rdinarily, a district court’s
evidentiary rulings are reviewed for abuse of discretion.
However, when the restriction [on crossexamination]
implicates the criminal defendant’s Sixth
Amendment right to confront witnesses against him, ...
the standard of review becomes de novo.”
The First, Fifth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits
have adopted the same approach.

Six other circuits, by contrast—the Second, Third,
Fourth, Sixth, Eleventh, and District of Columbia Circuits—
take the same approach that CAAF does, applying
abuse-of-discretion review even when a restriction
on the cross-examination of a prosecution witness is attacked
on constitutional grounds. The Sixth Circuit,
for example, stated in one case that “[defendant] argues
that his right to confrontation was violated when the
trial court ‘unfairly’ limited his cross-examination of [a]
government witness .… We review the district court’s
restriction on a defendant’s right to cross-examine witnesses
for abuse of discretion.”

In short, CAAF’s use of an abuse-of-discretion
standard in this case perpetuates a clear—and recognized—conflict in the circuits.

The Question Presented Was Recurring And
Important, And The Smith Case Was A Good Vehicle
For Deciding It.
The circuit conflict at issue warranted resolution
by the Supreme Court. The constitutionality of restrictions
on cross-examination arises frequently in criminal prosecutions, and in every part of the country. Those cases also show that the conflict over the standard for appellate review of such restrictions is established;
there is no benefit to be gained by giving the lower courts additional time to consider the issue. Moreover, the question presented was important, because the standard of review can determine the outcome of an appeal. The difference between a rule of deference and the duty to exercise independent review is much more than a mere matter of degree. In even moderately close cases, the standard of review may be dispositive of an appellate court’s decision. That is particularly true when one
standard is highly deferential: CAAF, for example, has stated that “the abuse of discretion standard is a strict one,” satisfied only when “[t]he challenged action [is] arbitrary, fanciful, clearly unreasonable, or clearly erroneous".

Also, disuniformity created by the conflict directly
affects a fundamental individual right. Some defendants
in criminal cases enjoy less protection of the critical
right to confront their accusers because of the fortuity
of where their trials were held,or, as to cases decided
by CAAF, because they have chosen to wear the nation’s uniform.

The Webster Smith case presented a good vehicle to resolve the circuit
conflict. Webster Smith’s standard-of-review argument was both pressed and passed upon in the court of appeals, rendering the issue suitable for review by certiorari. In addition, CAAF’s rejection of Smith’s argument may well have determined the ultimate outcome. Even applying highly deferential review, CAAF was narrowly divided as to the constitutionality
of the military judge’s ruling in this case. If even one of the three judges who deemed that ruling not to be an abuse of discretion were to conclude, upon reviewing without deference, that it was inconsistent
with the Sixth Amendment, Webster Smith would have prevailed.

Smith now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He's required to register as a sex offender there for the rest of his life.

Justice truly was not served in this case. What is happening in America?
What happened to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press? With the dumbing-down of the American educational system, most Americans now seem to know little and care less about their fundamental freedoms and civil liberties. Some believe that the police have a right to enter their homes without probable cause or a warrant. They do not believe that they have the right to "just say No".

In the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave fundamental freedoms are being challenged as never before. Senators on Capitol Hill sound like a lynch mob calling for the head of the Wikileaks leader who published diplomatic cables on the internet. Many of the cables were little more than embarassing gossip. Yet, the administration that came into town riding the "transparency in government" horse are scrambling to keep its in-house chatter secret. We have not seen this much ado about release of tapes and documents since Richard Nixon and Alexander Butterfield let the cat out of the bag with the Watergate Tapes brew-ha-ha.

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