Criminal Justice Essay Research Paper Supreme Court

Criminal Justice Essay, Research Paper

Supreme Court Cases

Engle vs. Vitale

Case: In the late 1950’s the New York State Board of Regents wrote and adopted a prayer, which was supposed to be nondenominational. The board recommended that students in public schools say the prayer on a voluntary basis every morning. In New Hyde Park Long Island a parent sued the school claiming that the prayer violated the first amendment of the constitution. The school argued that the prayer was nondenominational and did not attempt to “establish or endorse” a religion and thus that it did not violate the establishment clause.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Religion

Decision: The court ruled against the school district and upheld the establishment clause of the first amendment. Prayer in schools was to be considered unconstitutional.

Lemon vs. Kurtzman

Case: Pennsylvania’s law included paying the salaries of teachers in parochial schools, assisting the purchasing of textbooks, and other teaching supplies, as required by Pennsylvania’s Non-Public Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968. In Rhode Island, the State paid 15% of the salaries of private school teachers as mandated by the Rhode Island Salary Supplement Act of 1969. In both cases the teachers were teaching secular, not religious, subjects.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Religion

Decision: Arguments were made on March 3rd, 1971. On June 28th, 1971, the Court unanimously (7-0) determined that the direct government assistance to religious schools was unconstitutional.

Bridget Mergens-Mayhew vs. U.S.

Case: Westside High School, a public secondary school that receives federal financial assistance, permits its students to join, on a voluntary basis, a number of recognized groups and clubs, all of which meet after school hours on school premises. Citing the Establishment Clause and a School Board policy requiring clubs to have faculty sponsorship, petitioner school officials denied the request of respondent Mergens for permission to form a Christian club that would have the same privileges and meet on the same terms and conditions as other Westside student groups, except that it would have no faculty sponsor. After the Board voted to uphold the denial, respondents, current and former Westside students, brought suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. They alleged, inter alia, that the refusal to permit the proposed club to meet at Westside violated the Equal Access Act, which prohibits public secondary schools that receive federal assistance and that maintain a “limited open forum” from denying “equal access” to students who wish to meet within the forum on the basis of the “religious, political, philosophical, or other content” of the speech at such meetings. In reversing the District Court’s entry of judgment for petitioners, the Court of Appeals held that the Act applied to forbid discrimination against respondents’ proposed club on the basis of its religious content, and that the Act did not violate the Establishment Clause.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Religion

Decision: In 1985, the principal and superintendent of Westside High School (a secondary school in Omaha, Nebraska) cited the Establishment Clause as a reason for denying the request of Bridget Mergens to form a Christian club that would have the same privileges and meet on the same terms and conditions as other Westside student groups, except that it would have no faculty sponsor. Ms. Mergens took the case to court, and won at first. She lost on appeal at the 8th Circuit Court, and then later won in a 8-1 decision from the Supreme Court

Johnson vs. U.S.

Case: During the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, respondent Johnson participated in a political demonstration to protest the policies of the Reagan administration and some Dallas-based corporations. After a march through the city streets, Johnson burned an American flag while protesters chanted. No one was physically injured or threatened with injury, although several witnesses were seriously offended by the flag burning. Johnson was convicted of desecration of a venerated object in violation of a Texas statute, and a State Court of Appeals affirmed. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, holding that the State, consistent with the First Amendment, could not punish Johnson for burning the flag in these circumstances. The court first found that Johnson’s burning of the flag was expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. The court concluded that the State could not criminally sanction flag desecration in order to preserve the flag as a symbol of national unity. It also held that the statute did not meet the State’s goal of preventing breaches of the peace, since it was not drawn narrowly enough to encompass only those flag burnings that would likely result in a serious disturbance, and since the flag burning in this case did not threaten such a reaction. Further, it stressed that another Texas statute prohibited breaches of the peace and could be used to prevent disturbances without punishing this flag desecration.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Expression

Decision: Johnson’s conviction for flag desecration is inconsistent with the First Amendment

Schenck vs. U.S.

Case: Charles Schenck was arrested for violating the Espionage Act, passed by Congress in 1914. The Espionage Act made it illegal to defame the government or do anything that might retard the war effort. Schenck, a member of the Socialist Party, opposed the war and printed and distributed pamphlets urging citizens to oppose the draft, which he likened to slavery. Schenck claimed his first amendment rights were violated.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Speech

Decision: The court ruled against Schenck saying that the Espionage Act did not violate the first amendment and that in times of war the government may place reasonable limitations on freedom of speech. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes outlined the courts opinion by explaining that when a “clear and present danger” existed such as shouting fore in a crowded theater, freedom of speech may be limited.

Gitlow vs. U.S.

Case: Benjamin Gitlow had been a prominent member of the Socialist party during the 1920s. He was arrested and convicted for violating the New York Criminal Anarchy Law of 1902, which made it a crime to attempt to foster the violent overthrow of government. Gitlow’s publication and circulation of sixteen thousand copies of the Left-Wing Manifesto violated this Criminal Anarchy Act. The pamphlet went on to advocate the creation of a socialist system through the use of massive strikes and “class action…in any form.” Gitlow was tried and convicted. He appealed the decision, arguing that his First Amendment right to freedoms of speech and press was violated.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Speech

Decision: Although the New York courts held that the Communists must be held accountable for the results of their propaganda, the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 vote, ruled in favor of Gitlow. It stated in its decision that “for present purposes, we may assume that freedom of speech and of press…are among the fundamental personal rights and liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the State.”

Dennis vs. U.S.

Case: Eugene Dennis was a leader of the Communist Party in the United States between 1945 and 1948. He was arrested in New York for violation of Section 3 of the “Smith Act.” The Act prohibited advocation of the overthrow of the United States Government by force and violence. The government felt that the speeches made by Dennis presented a threat to national security. Dennis appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court of the United States, claiming that the Smith Act violated his First Amendment right to Free Speech. At issue was whether the Smith Act violated the First Amendment provision for freedom of speech or the Fifth Amendment due process clause.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Speech

Decision: The Court found that the Smith Act did not violate Dennis’ First Amendment right to free speech. Although free speech is a guaranteed right, it is not unlimited. The right to free speech may be lifted if the speech presents a clear and present danger to overthrow any government in the United States by force or violence. Since the speech made by Dennis advocated his position that the government should be overthrown, it represented a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.

Plessy vs. Ferguson

Case: Homer Plessey, a member of a citizens group protesting the Jim Crow laws that created segregation in the south, was arrested for violating the law that forced Blacks to ride in separate train cars. Plessey claimed that the laws violated the 14th amendment to the Constitution that said that all citizens were to receive “equal protection under the law.” The state argued that Plessey and other Blacks did receive equal treatment, just separate.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Civil Rights

Decision: Plessey’s conviction of a violation of Jim Crow laws has upheld by the Court. The Court ruled that the 14th amendment did say that Blacks had the right to the same facilities, just equal facilities. By ruling this way the court created the doctrine of “separate but equal.”

Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

Case: Linda Brown, a student in the segregated Topeka Kansas school district had to walk 5 miles to school each day. Across the train tracks from her house there was a white school she was unable to attend. Oliver Brown enlisted the help of the NAACP to ensure that his daughter was able to go to the best school possible. Thurgood Marshall, then head of the NAACP, challenged the segregation of the school claiming that the laws violated the 14th amendment to the Constitution that said that all citizens were to receive “equal protection under the law.” The state argued that Plessey v Ferguson had set the precedent and that the laws was clear on this point.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Civil Rights

Decision: The court affirmed the position of Marshall and the Brown family and overturned the precedent set by the Plessey decision. Justice Earl Warren claimed, “In the eyes of the law, justice was color-blind.” In ruling in favor of Brown the court ordered the integration of America “with all deliberate speed.” The civil rights movement had begun!

Gideon vs. Wainwright

Case: Gideon was accused of breaking into a poolroom. Gideon, an ex con, was too poor to pay for a lawyer and asked the court to appoint one for him. The court refused to grant his request stating that lawyers were only provided for those accused of committing capital crimes like murder, rape, etc. Gideon was tried and was forced to defend himself. While in Prison Gideon hand wrote a plea to the Supreme Court and was granted a hearing. At this point he received representation from lawyers who were attracted to his case. Gideon argued that his right to a fair trial was violated.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Rights of the Accused

Decision: Gideon’s position was upheld. The Court ruled that all citizens must be provided a lawyer if they cannot afford one. This is regardless of the type of crime.

Miranda vs. Arizona

Case: Ernesto Miranda was arrested for the kidnapping and rape of a young woman. Upon arrest Miranda was questioned for two hours. He never asked for a lawyer and eventually confessed to the crime. Later, however, a lawyer representing Miranda appealed the case to the Supreme Court claiming that Miranda’s rights had been violated.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Rights of the Accused

Decision: Miranda was acquitted. The Court ruled that citizens must be informed of their rights prior to questioning. Any evidence or statement obtained prior to a suspect being read his/her rights is inadmissible. This has led to what is commonly referred to as one’s “Miranda Rights” having to be read upon questioning or arrest. They are: “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can, and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you.” Note, Miranda was later killed in a barroom brawl, stabbed to death.

Mapp vs. Ohio

Case: Fremont Weeks was suspected of using the mail system to distribute chances in a lottery, which was considered gambling and was illegal in Missouri. Federal agents entered his house, searched his room, and obtained papers belonging to him. Later, the federal agents returned to the house in order to collect more evidence and took letters and envelopes from Weeks’ drawers. In both instances, the police did not have a search warrant. The materials were used against Weeks at his trial and he was convicted. At issue was whether the retention of Weeks’ property and its admission in evidence against him violated his Fourth Amendment right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure and his Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against himself.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Search and Seizure

Decision: The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously decided that as a defendant in a criminal case, Weeks had a right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and that the police unlawfully searched for, seized, and retained Weeks’ letters. The Court praised the police officials for trying to bring guilty people to punishment but said that the police could not be aided by sacrificing the fundamental rights secured and guaranteed by the Constitution. [This decision gave rise to the Exclusionary Rule." This meant that evidence seized in violation of the Constitution couldn t be admitted during a trial.]

Furman vs. Georgia

Case: Three cases were brought to the Supreme Court concerning the death penalty and the racial biases present in the selection process. Three juries had convicted and imposed the death penalty on their accused without any guidelines to go by in their decision. This case represents the first time the Supreme Court ruled against the death penalty. The dissenting Justices argued that the courts had no right to challenge legislative judgment on the effectiveness and justice of punishments. The majority however held that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment, which violated the Eighth Amendment. Justice Thurgood Marshall went on to attack the penalty more directly stating, “it is excessive, unnecessary, and offensive to contemporary values.”

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Decision: The actual decision created three options for use of the death penalty: mandatory death sentence for certain crimes, development of standardized guidelines for juries and outright abolition.

Gregg vs. Georgia

Case: In this case the court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty, defending statutes that guide judges and juries in the decision to issue the death sentence. The Court did, however, state that the mandatory use of the death penalty would be prohibited under the Eighth Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment. The defendant in this case, Gregg, had been convicted on two counts of armed robbery and two counts of murder.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Decision: The jury was instructed by the trial judge, who was following Georgia state law, to return with either a decision of life imprisonment or the death penalty. Justice Byron stated in his opinion that Gregg had failed in his burden of showing that the Georgia Supreme Court had not done all it could to prevent discriminatory practices in the forming of his sentence. This decision became the first time the Court stated, “punishment of death does not invariably violate the Constitution.”

Tinker vs. Des Moines

Case: Several students and parents in Des Moines organized a protest of the Vietnam War. Students were to wear black armbands to school in protest. When the school found out they warned all the students and parents that anyone wearing the armbands would be would be suspended. The Tinker children wore their armbands to school (they were the only ones of the group to do so) and were suspended. Mr. and Mrs. Tinker filed suit claiming that the school violated the children’s right to freedom of speech and expression. The school claimed that the armbands were disruptive.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Speech

Decision: The court ruled against the school district saying, “students do not shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates. In doing so the court protected what has come to be known as “symbolic speech.”


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