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A Statuary . . I Mean Statutory Argument

“. . . under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward . . . “

Today’s argument in Lockhart v. United States turned on what Congress meant in a statute so poorly drafted Justice Alito gives it a “D”.

The petitioner in this case, Avondale Lockhart, was caught in a child pornography sting and pleaded guilty. At sentencing he faced a mandatory minimum ten-year enhancement because of a previous state conviction for attempted rape of his girlfriend. Lockhart argues that the sentencing enhancement only applies if the prior conviction was for an offense “. . . involving a minor or ward”, and that in the language quoted above “aggravated sexual abuse” and “sexual abuse” are qualified in the same as “abusive sexual conduct”. 

The lower courts, of course, found otherwise.

It sounded like a lively and perplexing argument, and I hear form some of the reporters present that Lockhart may win to some degree.

Today’s SCOTUS Sketches

As arguments were about to begin today Chief Justice Roberts reminded lawyers of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s admonition to not look up at the courtroom clock. The reason, not the same as Rehnquist’s, was that the two clocks in the courtroom were showing different times, neither of which was correct, and the minutes hands were moving in stops and starts. It seems that, just like last year, setting the Court’s clocks back an hour at the end of Daylight Saving is no easy matter.

The Court heard two interesting arguments, neither of which I’ll comment on since I’m about as good at explaining as the Court is at setting a clock.

The first argument, Foster v Chatman :

. . . and the second argument, Spokeo v. Robins :

Ahmed Abu Khatallah

It had been almost a year since the only suspect in the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi appeared in court a couple weeks ago. Still looking very much like an Old Testament prophet, Khatallah took notes as defense lawyers asked a judge to throw out some of the charges against him.

The judge did not rule on the defense motions. No trial date has been set, nor has the government decided whether to seek the death penalty.