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A Busy Thursday: Davila, American Trucking, and Tarrant Recaps

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Myriad was an interesting case with interesting issues. Where is the line between finding (and patenting) genetic code, as it exists in nature, and protecting the intellectual property rights of a company that spent time and money researching a gene that can predict predisposition towards breast and ovarian cancer?

It wasn't the only decision released on the court's irregularly-scheduled Thursday. If judicial participation in plea negotiations, federal preemption of local trucking regulations, or interstate water rights disputes are your topic of choice on a Friday afternoon, read on.

United States v. Davila - Go to The Cross

You are the defendant. You have no plausible defense, your attorney apparently is out of ideas, and the magistrate judge repeatedly tells you (in violation of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure) that "it might be a good idea" to plead guilty and that you should "go to the cross" in order to get that all-important acceptance-of-responsibility sentence reduction.

You take the plea, right?

The Eleventh Circuit, despite clear "harmless error" language in FRCP 11(h), held that the judge's actions called for automatic reversal. The Supreme Court, using the language of the statute and the legislative history, held that the inquiry, in light of the whole record, should be whether the defendant would have pled guilty anyway. If so, harmless error, rather than automatic reversal, applies.

Justice Scalia wrote a concurrence bemoaning the use of legislative history, as the statute was clear enough and Scalia hates legislative history.

Davila, by the way, never objected to the judge's participation when he pled guilty three months later to a different judge. He also argued, in his initial appeal, that the decision to plead guilty was done strategically, to obtain discovery. The facts of his case, "go to the cross" language notwithstanding, were pretty weak.

American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles - Federal Law Trumps Local Regulations

The Port of Los Angeles requires trucks to place placards displaying a hotline for people to complain about environmental and safety issues, as well as provide plans for where the trucks will be parked. Violation of the rules is enforceable by criminal sanctions. Unfortunately for LA, the Supreme Court held that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) trumps the local laws. The City's "market participant" argument failed, as the "the hammer of the criminal law" counts as regulation "if anything does."

Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann - Texas Steals Oklahoma's Water

Four states, including Texas and Oklahoma, entered into a water compact where each would have equal rights to the water in a subbasin of a river, so long as none consumed more than 25 percent. Texas was thirsty and couldn't get their 25 percent from their own territory in the basin, so they argued that they could cross into Oklahoma in order to make up the difference.

This is a holding of state sovereignty, narrow readings of the interstate compact, and as Justice Sotomayor pointed out, Texas losing to Oklahoma -- again.

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