ArtIII.S2.C1. Exceptions to Mootness in the Criminal Context

Article III, Section 2, Clause 1:

The Judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

The Supreme Court has also articulated special mootness principles that apply in criminal cases.1 Because criminal sentences are generally limited in duration, courts will sometimes be unable to rule on the merits of a criminal defendant's appeal before that defendant's sentence expires.2 Thus, the Court has ruled that a criminal defendant who wish[es] to continue his appeals after the expiration of his sentence must suffer some 'continuing injury' or 'collateral consequence' sufficient to satisfy Article III.3 Put another way, if the defendant can point to some disabilities or burdens which . . . flow from his conviction even after his release from prison, then he retains a substantial stake in the judgment of conviction which survives the satisfaction of the sentence imposed on him and therefore presents a justiciable controversy.4 If, by contrast, the defendant cannot make such a showing, then the expiration of the defendant's criminal sentence will render the defendant's appeal moot.5 Thus, in Carafas v. LaVallee, the petitioner faced lingering legal disabilities or burdens as a result of his conviction even though he had already been unconditionally released from custody.6 Specifically, the laws of the state in which the petitioner resided prohibited convicted felons from engag[ing] in certain businesses, serv[ing] as an official of a labor union, vot[ing] in any election held in his state of residence, and serv[ing] as a juror.7 The petitioner therefore retained a substantial stake in challenging the validity of his conviction so that he could engage in activities that his criminal record would otherwise prohibit.8 The Supreme Court thus determined that, on account of these 'collateral consequences' of his conviction, the petitioner's case was not moot.9 When the defendant challenges his underlying conviction, the Supreme Court generally presume[s] the existence of collateral consequences sufficient to save the defendant's appeal from dismissal on mootness grounds.10 The Court has justified this presumption on the ground that most criminal convictions do in fact entail adverse collateral legal consequences.11 The Court has generally declined to presume, however, that collateral consequences will result from other types of criminal sanctions, such as a revocation of parole.12


  1.  Jump to essay-1See, e.g., United States v. Juvenile Male, 564 U.S. 932, 936 (2011); Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. 431, 439 (2011); Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 3–16 (1998); Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 371 n.2 (1993); Evitts v. Lucey, 469 U.S. 387, 391 n.4 (1985); Lane v. Williams, 455 U.S. 624, 630–34 (1982); Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 108 n.3 (1977); Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 50–58 (1968); Carafas v. LaVallee, 391 U.S. 234, 236–38 (1968).
  2.  Jump to essay-2See, e.g., Sibron, 392 U.S. at 50, 52 (It is asserted that because Sibron has completed service of the six-month sentence imposed upon him as a result of his conviction, the case has become moot . . . We have concluded that the case is not moot . . . There was no way for Sibron to bring his case here before his six-month sentence expired.).
  3.  Jump to essay-3Juvenile Male, 564 U.S. at 936. See also, e.g., Dickerson, 508 U.S. at 371 n.2 (We have often observed . . . that 'the possibility of a criminal defendant's suffering collateral legal consequences from a sentence already served' precludes a finding of mootness.) (quoting Mimms, 434 U.S. at 108 n.3).
  4.  Jump to essay-4Carafas, 391 U.S. at 237 (quoting Fiswick v. United States, 329 U.S. 211, 222 (1946)).
  5.  Jump to essay-5E.g., Juvenile Male, 564 U.S. at 936.
  6.  Jump to essay-6Carafas, 391 U.S. at 236–37.
  7.  Jump to essay-7Id. at 237.
  8.  Jump to essay-8Id. (quoting Fiswick, 329 U.S. at 222).
  9.  Jump to essay-9Id. at 237–38 (quoting Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629, 633–34 & n.2 (1968)).
  10.  Jump to essay-10Juvenile Male, 564 U.S. at 936. See also, e.g., Evitts v. Lucey, 469 U.S. 387, 391 n.4 (1985) (deeming case not moot where some collateral consequences of [the party's] conviction remain[ed]).
  11.  Jump to essay-11Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 55 (1968).
  12.  Jump to essay-12Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 14 (1998) (declin[ing] to presume that collateral consequences adequate to meet Article III's injury-in-fact requirement would result from a petitioner's parole revocation). See also, e.g., Juvenile Male, 564 U.S. at 936–37 (When a defendant challenges only an expired sentence, no such presumption [of non-mootness] applies, and the defendant must bear the burden of identifying some ongoing 'collateral consequence' that is 'traceable' to the challenged portion of the sentence and is 'likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.') (emphasis in original) (quoting Spencer, 523 U.S. at 7).