The court will decide whether the police need a warrant to use advanced technology to track suspects, whether jails may strip-search people arrested for even the most minor offenses, whether defendants have a right to competent lawyers to help them decide whether to plead guilty, when eyewitness evidence may be used at trial, and what should happen when prosecutors withhold evidence.
In United States v. Jones, No. 10-1259, the justices will consider whether the police need a warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspect’s car and track its movements for weeks at a time. Some appeals court judges have said that such surveillance put them in mind of George Orwell’s novel “1984.” Prosecutors say that electronic enhancement of the ability of the police to stake out and track suspects raises no constitutional concerns.
A second Fourth Amendment case, Florence v. Board of Freeholders, No. 10-945, asks whether people arrested and held for minor offenses may be routinely strip-searched.
The court will also consider, in Maples v. Thomas, No. 10-63, whether a mix-up in the mailroom of a big New York law firm should mean that a death row inmate in Alabama must lose an opportunity to appeal a decision against him.
In a pair of cases to be argued on Oct. 31 — Lafler v. Cooper, No. 10-209, and Missouri v. Frye, No. 10-444 — the justices will consider whether defendants who were not told of favorable plea deals or were advised to reject them may pursue claims for ineffective assistance of counsel. A great majority of prosecutions are resolved with guilty pleas, and more vigorous judicial supervision of how the pleas are reached would have a broad practical impact.
The court will also consider the use of eyewitness evidence, in Perry v. New Hampshire, No. 10-8974. Such evidence, as the New Jersey Supreme Court found in a major decision in August, is often unreliable and has been the cause of many wrongful convictions. The justices will consider whether trial courts must be particularly wary of allowing such evidence to be presented when it has been tainted by suggestive circumstances not created by the authorities.
And the justices will return to a subject that sharply divided them in last term’s Connick v. Thompson case, which threw out a $14 million jury award to a former death row inmate who was cleared after prosecutorial withholding of evidence in New Orleans came to light. The new case, Smith v. Cain, No. 10-8145, also comes from New Orleans and concerns similar claims of prosecutorial misconduct.
And the First Amendment:
The court will continue its intense engagement with the First Amendment. But where earlier cases involved quirky issues like dog fights, funeral protests and the Seven Aphorisms of a fringe church called Summum, the marquee First Amendment cases this term involve issues of sweep and consequence.
In one, the court will rule on whether the government may ban swearing and nudity on broadcast television. In another, the justices will decide for the first time whether there is a “ministerial exception” to employment laws that allows religious institutions to discriminate in ways others employers cannot.
And that little health care case might come along too:
The health care case is not the only juggernaut looming on the horizon. In the next term or two, the court may well address same-sex marriage, affirmative action and illegal immigration. For now, the justices are focused on criminal cases, especially ones concerning the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a fair trial.