Opinion Analysis—Ayestas v. Davis and Marinello v. United States

On Wednesday, the Court released two opinions.

In Ayestas v. Davis, Ayestas, a Honduran national, was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering a woman during a home invasion. (See our Arguments Preview for more on case.) He appealed, arguing that he had ineffective counsel and was entitled, under federal law, to state investigative assistance in uncovering possible mitigating factors that could reduce his sentence. The Fifth Circuit found that he did not meet the burden of proof to show the assistance was “reasonably necessary.” The  Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Fifth Circuit. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion of for Court that “reasonably necessary” in the statute should be interpreted to provide the assistance in cases where the funding “[s]tands a credible chance of enabling a habeas petitioner to overcome the obstacle of procedural default…” The Justice explained that “the ‘reasonably necessary’ test requires an assessment of the likely utility of the services requested…. But a funding applicant must not be expected to prove that he will be able to win relief if given the services he seeks.” For more on this opinion, check out the Washington Post and SCOTUSblog.

In Marinello v. United States, the Court was asked to interpret the omnibus clause in 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a), which criminalizes anyone who “obstructs” or “impedes” the “due administration” of the title. Marinello argued that the statute required he have knowledge of the pending IRS action against him in order for a conviction. The Court sided with Marinello in the interpretation of the statues because it ‘risked depriving individuals of fair warning and risked ‘all kinds of unrelated unfairness.’” In his opinion, Justice Breyer wrote that ‘the government must show (among other things) that there is a ‘nexus’ between the defendant’s conduct and a particular administrative proceeding, such as an investigation, an audit, or other targeted administrative action,” which “must be “pending at the time the defendant engaged in the obstructive conduct or, at the least, was then reasonably foreseeable by the defendant.” Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito dissented, arguing the Court’s interpretation was not what Congress intended. JDSUPRA explains that the decision avoids making “every lapse in bookkeeping or business judgment a potential tax crime,” and holds the government to its burden of proof. Check out Lexology, the National Law Journal, and The National Law Review for more on this opinion.


This post was drafted by  ISCOTUS Fellow Matthew Webber, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, and  edited by ISCOTUS Co-Director and Chicago-Kent faculty member Christopher Schmidt.

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