As experienced trial lawyers, we at Mikell Law Firm are sensitive to any perceptible trend in the Supreme Court’s views on the rights of the accused.  In particular, we are focused on any Supreme Court decisions relating to criminal procedure and how such decisions may affect the various rights important to our clients that are enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the other Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  Such rights include the right against self-incrimination, the right to a jury trial, protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and the right to legal counsel.

The Supreme Court Database is a wonderful tool for tracking trends in U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  This Database allows its users to analyze whether the Supreme Court is trending more “liberal” or more “conservative” on a variety of topics – including decisions relating to criminal procedure and the rights of the accused.

Defining “liberal” or “conservative” is a hazardous (and possibly incendiary) undertaking, but in the view of the legal scholars who maintain the Supreme Court Database, decisions favoring criminal defendants, unions, people claiming discrimination or violation of their civil rights are said to be liberal. Decisions striking down economic regulations and favoring prosecutors, employers and the government are said to be conservative.

Of course the Supreme Court’s views on the Constitution are constantly in flux, and tend to evolve with the appointment of new Justices or when the opinions of sitting Justices themselves evolve over time.  In recent years, the appointment of Justice Samuel Alito has probably had the biggest impact on the Supreme Court.  This is because Alito – one of the most conservative Justices on the Court today – replaced Sandra Day O’Conner, who over time came to be viewed as a solid centrist.

Getting back to the Supreme Court Database, when one plugs in the relevant parameters (i.e., “criminal procedure,” and “decisions relating to Amendments to the Constitution”), the resulting graphs for the period from 1953 to the end of 2008 (last year’s decisions have not yet been entered into the Database) reveals a marked “conservative” shift over the past decade, particularly in 2008, 2005 and 2003.  In fact, the number of “liberal” decisions regarding criminal procedure has not outpaced the “conservative” decisions since 2000.

We at the Mikell Law Firm are committed to continue to monitor the individual decisions that shape such trends (and any similar South Carolina state trends) so that are clients are ensured of receiving the best, absolutely most up-to date legal advice.