[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Tuesday in two cases. In Arizona v. Johnson [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether the Fourth Amendment permits a police officer to search a vehicle passenger during a routine traffic stop if he believes that suspect may be armed and dangerous but has no justifiable reason to believe that a crime is being committed. In this case, Johnson, a passenger in a car, was frisked during a traffic stop. The officer suspected Johnson of gang affiliation, and upon pat-down she discovered a handgun and marijuana. At trial, Johnson was convicted of possession of the gun and marijuana, but the Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two [official website] overturned his conviction [opinion, PDF], finding that the evidence should have been excluded under the Fourth Amendment. Counsel for the state of Arizona argued that "Fourth Amendment searches must be reasonable, and the pat down in this case was reasonable." Counsel for the respondent argued that the Court's decision in Terry v. Ohio [opinion text] requires a "reasonable suspicion that crime is afoot" and no reasonable suspicion of a crime was present.
In Cone v. Bell [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments in a case brought by a Tennessee death row inmate who alleges that authorities hid mitigating evidence during his murder trial. The issues are whether a federal habeas claim is "procedurally defaulted" because it has been presented twice to the state court and whether a federal habeas court is powerless to recognize that a state court erred in holding that state law precludes reviewing a claim. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] against the petitioner Cone, finding "If the state court decides the petitioner's claims on an adequate and independent state ground, such as a state procedural rule, the petitioner's claims are considered procedurally defaulted and he is barred from seeking federal habeas relief." Counsel for Cone argued that the Court should reverse the ruling that the claim is procedurally defaulted and remand for a proper ruling on the merits. Counsel for the respondent argued that Cone's claim has already been properly rejected by the state court on the merits.