There's a lot out there about Judge Kavanaugh's jurisprudence, but not much has been written about his views on Criminal justice. Where will he fall on the spectrum of conservative Justices? A rule-for-the-government-Justice, like Alito? A more moderate approach, like Roberts? Or a more criminal defense friendly conservative, like Scalia? Here's a look:
1. Acquitted Conduct. Many people, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, are shocked that sentencing judges are permitted to use acquitted conduct in fashioning a federal sentence. Kavanaugh wrote about the practice here in a thoughtful concurrence (in denying en banc review) shortly after Blakely and Booker. He said that although the law currently permits it, district judges have the discretion NOT to use acquitted conduct and his advice is that they should NOT use it at sentencing.
Here's a portion:
Allowing judges to rely on acquitted or uncharged conduct to impose higher sentences than they otherwise would impose seems a dubious infringement of the rights to due process and to a jury trial. If you have a right to have a jury find beyond a reasonable doubt the facts that make you guilty, and if you otherwise would receive, for example, a five-year sentence, why don’t you have a right to have a jury find beyond a reasonable doubt the facts that increase that five-year sentence to, say, a 20-year sentence?
2. Jury Instructions. Here, Kavanaugh writes a concurrence in a case that overturns a murder conviction because of faulty jury instructions. He explains that even though the crime is "heinous," the "vote to reverse Williams' murder conviction is not a hard call" because the jury was not instructed properly on mens rea:
In a criminal appeal where a mens rea-related jury instruction issue may have made a difference to the conviction and sentence, it is critically important to ensure that the jury had a correct understanding of the relevant law. See United States v. Burwell, 690 F.3d 500, 527 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (Kavanaugh, J., dissenting). That did not happen in this case, in my view. For that reason, I vote to reverse the murder conviction, and I fully join the majority opinion.
3. Sentencing. Here's a dissent in which Kavanaugh sides with the Government, calling the majoirty opinion "confounding." The majority opinion explains that the district judge did not adequately explain the upward variance. Kavanaugh disagrees: "Seizing on the Guidelines range as if it were talismanic (which it is not post-Booker), the majority opinion concludes that the District Court committed procedural error by failing to adequately explain Matthews’ above-Guidelines sentence. I disagree."
4. Terrorism and the 4th Amendment. Here's where some criminal defense lawyers may get anxious. Kavanaugh approvingly wrote about the NSA's collection of metadata in a concurrence to a denial of en banc review, citing the third party doctrine. (From this case, it looks like Kavanaugh would have sided with the dissenters in Carpenter.)
The Government’s collection of telephony metadata from a third party such as a telecommunications service provider is not considered a search under the Fourth Amendment, at least under the Supreme Court’s decision in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979). That precedent remains binding on lower courts in our hierarchical system of absolute vertical stare decisis.
The Government’s program for bulk collection of telephony metadata serves a critically important special need – preventing terrorist attacks on the United States. See THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT (2004). In my view, that critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this program. The Government’s program does not capture the content of communications, but rather the time and duration of calls, and the numbers called. In short, the Government’s program fits comfortably within the Supreme Court precedents applying the special needs doctrine.
To be sure, sincere and passionate concerns have been raised about the Government’s program. Those policy arguments may be addressed by Congress and the Executive. Those institutions possess authority to scale back or put more checks on this program, as they have done to some extent by enacting the USA Freedom Act.
5. Basketball. The judge coaches his daughters' basketball teams, which is very cool. And he played basketball growing up. Sheldon Gilbert, a great follow on Twitter, covers the only opinion Kavanaugh wrote dealing where he cites basketball here. The defendant in that case stole almost 20,000 pieces of computer equipment, and Kavanaugh reversed the restitution payment, which included an internal investigation:
The statute authorizes restitution for “necessary . . . expenses incurred during participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense.” We do not read that text to authorize restitution for the costs of an organization’s internal investigation, at least when (as here) the internal investigation was neither required nor requested by the criminal investigators or prosecutors. In our view, an internal investigation that is neither required nor requested by criminal investigators or prosecutors does not entail the organization’s “participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense.” Id. (emphasis added). Our conclusion is supported by the existence of other restitution statutes – not applicable here – in which Congress provided for restitution in terms that plainly cover the costs of an internal investigation. Our conclusion is further buttressed by the statutory term “necessary”: The costs of an internal investigation cannot be said to be necessary if the investigation was neither required nor requested by criminal investigators or prosecutors.
Here's the (fun) basketball stuff:
We disagree with the Government’s effort to equate the terms “assistance” and “participation.” In common parlance, the two terms are not equivalent. The company that provides electricity to power the sound system at our oral arguments assists the proceedings, but its employees are not ordinarily said to have participated in the oral argument. Engineers who design soldiers’ weapons aid the war effort, but the engineers are not thought to participate in the war; rather, they are said to provide support. Fans at a basketball game might help the home team win the game (and earn the title “sixth man”), but even the fans who wear jerseys and are given the choke sign by the opposing team’s star player do not participate in the game. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrtVZftjbhk. A health insurance company may pay for a patient’s operation, but the insurer does not participate in the operation at the hospital. The hardy Bostonians who hold cups of water on the side of the road help runners in the marathon, but they do not themselves participate in the race. The officers who provide security at a Taylor Swift show certainly assist, but no one would say that they participate in the performance.
So after reading these opinions, my take is that Kavanaugh appears to be more in line with Roberts. He won't be a Scalia and he won't be an Alito. But he'll probably be more sympathetic to criminal justice issues than Kennedy was.