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The U.S. Supreme Court on March 7 rendered the following decisions: The justices ruled, 8-1, that two Ohio prison inmates may file federal civil rights complaints under 42 U.S.C. 1983 challenging the constitutionality of state parole procedures; they need not seek relief exclusively under federal habeas corpus statutes. Wilkinson v. Dotson, No. 03-287. The high court rejected Ohio’s argument that inmates William Dotson and Rogerico Johnson were using civil rights law to do what the court prohibited in earlier cases: challenge the fact or duration of their confinement. Dotson, who began serving a life term in 1981 for murder, was seeking an immediate parole hearing, challenging guidelines that said he must wait five more years. The guidelines were adopted only in 1998. Johnson, who began serving a 10- to 30-year sentence in 1992, was seeking a new parole hearing, after being found unsuitable for release under the 1998 guidelines. “The problem with Ohio’s argument lies in its jump from a true premise . . . to a faulty conclusion,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote on behalf of the court. “Success for Dotson” on the civil rights claim “does not mean immediate release from confinement or a shorter stay in prison,” Breyer wrote. Breyer’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, David Souter, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy dissented. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW The justices ruled, 5-3, that only a plea agreement, a charging document to which a defendant pleads guilty, an admission by a defendant or similarly reliable facts may be used by judges to stiffen sentences. Police reports and other unproven evidence cannot be used to tack on prison time. Shepard v. U.S., No. 03-9168. Writing on behalf of the court, Souter said, “The Sixth and 14th Amendments guarantee a jury standing between a defendant and the power of the state, and they guarantee a jury’s finding of any disputed fact essential to increase the ceiling of a potential sentence.” Unproven evidence such as police reports are “too far removed from the conclusive significance of a prior judicial record” to allow, he said. The case involved Reginald Shepard, who pleaded guilty to gun possession, a conviction that carried a sentence of four years in prison. At sentencing, the federal government asked that Shepard be sentenced to 15 years, as called for under federal law, based on three prior convictions for burglary. At issue was whether the burglaries to which Shepard pleaded guilty were violent felonies involving breaking and entering a “building,” as opposed to a vehicle, which is not considered violent under federal law. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yes, relying on police reports provided by the prosecution. Stevens, Scalia, Ginsburg and Thomas joined Souter. O’Connor’s dissent was joined by Kennedy and Breyer. TAXATION The justices’ 7-2 ruling that early-stage determinations made by special trial judges assigned by Tax Court must be made public is discussed on Page 6. Estate of Burton W. Kanter v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, No. 03-1034, and Ballard v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, No. 03-184.

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