Should police be allowed to strip-search you if you’re being held for a minor offense? Should the United States have uniform laws on immigration, or can individual states set their own rules? How reliable is eyewitness testimony in a criminal trial? Should minorities be denied affirmative action in state university admissions even if voters approved the policy? These are some of the questions that will be taken up in the 2011-12 Supreme Court term that opened today.
Here are some of the key cases coming up in the areas of criminal justice, affirmative action and immigration:
In Perry v. New Hampshire, the court will consider the extent to which juries can rely on eyewitness testimony in a criminal trial. Although eyewitness identification has long been central to prosecutions, it is now believed to be less reliable than some other forms of evidence. Of the 273 people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence after a wrongful conviction in the U.S., 61 percent have been African-American, according to the Innocence Project. Many of them were convicted on the basis of eyewitness misidentification.
In United States v. Jones, the court will determine whether police should require a court warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspect’s car in order to track its movements. Prosecutors argue that electronic enhancements are no different than visual stakeouts, even if they maintain constant watch of suspects for weeks at a time.
Albert V. Florence, a Black man who was wrongly arrested for a minor offense in New Jersey in 2005, and then strip-searched, has taken his case, Florence v. Board of Freeholders, to the high court, which will rule on whether he has the right to sue.
In Lafler v. Cooper, and Missouri v. Frye, justices will find whether defendants can sue for ineffective assistance of counsel if they are not informed of favorable plea deals, or were advised to reject them.
Two cases examining the constitutionality of affirmative action have landed in the court’s docket this term. The justices will determine whether school or voter-approved policies at state colleges and universities violate the constitution by favoring or burdening racial minorities.
Both cases, Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary v. Regents of the University of Michigan and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, originated from student appeals of the admissions process at the universities and stem from earlier Supreme Court decisions in which the court ruled that race could be used on a “narrowly tailored” basis to ensure a diverse student body.
Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, reviewed by the court in Arizona v. U.S. to determine whether states have any authority to enforce immigration matters or whether only the federal government has such authority.
SB1070 requires local police officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws, including routine traffic stops. The law, which was blocked from taking effect while it was still under judicial review, has been widely denounced, with many opponents terming it racist. In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security estimated that Arizona has the largest growing population of undocumented immigrants in the country, and opinion polls suggest that the measure enjoys wide public support in that state.
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