Friday, January 12, 2007

U.S. v. Reynard (9th Cir. - Jan. 12, 2007)

Speedy adjudication this ain't.

I was initially struck by this case when I saw the caption and happened to notice that the district court docket number was from 1998 (CR-98-02402-IEG). That's pretty unusual. There aren't many direct appeals left from the 20th century. Then I noticed that even though it's now 2007, the appeal had been docketed in 2002 (No. 02-50476), five years ago. And this is no death penalty case, which sometimes entail substantial -- and often strategic -- delays. This is actually a pretty important opinion, and concerns the constitutional validity of the
DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000, which requires inmates (and those on supervised release) to provide a blood sample for analysis. Reynard, who had been convicted and sentenced prior to passage of the Act, argued that this statute (1) violates the Fourth Amendment, (2) is impermissibly retroactive, (3) violates the Ex Post Facto Clause, (4) violates the Commerce Clause, and (5) violates the Fifth Amendment.

These are pretty weighty challenges. And ones that concern a large number of different people. So having the case take five years until it gets decided isn't exactly optimal.

Eventually (and I think that at least some of the delay was perhaps justified), the Ninth Circuit rejects these challenges and upholds the validity of the Act. Even though Judge Pregerson dissents to part of the opinion and argues -- interestingly enough -- that the DNA Act survives all of these challenges except the Commerce Clause claim. Not something that you would intuitively expect from Judge Pregerson, who hardly started out his tenure with a keen sense of the limitations of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause.

Judge Pregerson's dissent also makes for an interesting lineup, which looks more like something we're used to seeing from the Supreme Court than in the Ninth Circuit: "PREGERSON, J., delivered the opinion of the Court as to Parts I through II(D), in which TASHIMA and CLIFTON, JJ., joined. CLIFTON, J., delivered the opinion of the Court as to Part II(E), in which TASHIMA, J., joined. PREGERSON, J., filed a dissenting opinion as to Part II(E) and dissents from the judgment." Which, of course, just means that Pregerson decided to write the opinion even though, in the end, he didn't have the votes to make the case come out the way he wanted.

An interesting case. And important. Worth a read on this blustery (at least for Southern California) Friday afternoon. Plus, even at 23 pages, it'll certainly take much less time to read than the five years it took to write.