Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Two appeals were filed before this court five hours before Ledell Lee's scheduled execution. Lee challenged the district court's alleged denial of his motion requesting funds under 18 U.S.C. 3599(f) for "ancillary services to assist in the preparation of clemency and potential additional litigation." The court denied Lee's motion for stay of execution, concluding that Lee has failed to make a showing that there is a significant possibility that he will succeed on the merits of a claim that would deprive Arkansas of the authority to execute him. The court explained that, even if he succeeded on his section 3599(f) claim, Arkansas would still have the authority to execute him. View "Lee v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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Four Arkansas death-row inmates appealed the denial of their motions for a preliminary injunction prohibiting their executions and moved the court for a stay of execution. The court concluded that, to the extent the inmates argued that Arkansas law, regulations, and policy during the clemency process violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, this argument failed under well-established law; even if the inmates are correct that the Board failed to comply with Arkansas law, regulations, and policy, this in and of itself is insufficient to demonstrate a significant possibility of success on the merits; the district court was correct in determining that, despite the procedural shortcomings in the clemency process, the inmates received the minimal due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment; and the court rejected the inmates' claim that the district court abused its discretion in determining that their procedural impossibility claim "evaporated" at the moment the Board recommended against granting clemency. Accordingly, because the inmates have failed to show a significant possibility of success on the merits, the court denied the motion for a stay. View "Lee v. Hutchinson" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a police shooting of John Lincoln. John was shot and killed in front of his daughter, Erin. Erin and her aunt Kelly subsequently filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the Cities of Colleyville and North Richland Hills, Texas, and several officers involved in the incident, including Officer Barnes. On appeal, Barnes challenged the district court's denial of qualified immunity. Erin asserted that officers violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure when they took her into custody without a warrant, probable cause, or justifiable reason and interrogated her against her will for many hours, refusing her access to her family. The court concluded that the police violate the Fourth Amendment when, absent probable cause or the individual's consent, they seize and transport a person to the police station and subject her to prolonged interrogation. Because the right was clearly established at the time of the violation, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Lincoln v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of the crime of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated - fourth offense. Defendant requested a new trial, arguing that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the prosecutor’s statements that Defendant had refused to submit to a breathalyzer test following his arrest for drunk driving. Specifically, Defendant claimed that he possessed a constitutional right to refuse to take a warrantless breathalyzer test such that the prosecutor was not permitted to seek an inference of guilt from the refusal, and therefore, his trial attorney should have objected to the prosecutor’s statements. The circuit court denied the postconviction motion with a hearing. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) upon Defendant’s arrest for drunk driving he had no constitutional or statutory right to refuse to take the breathalyzer test; (2) therefore, the State could comment at trial on Defendant's improper refusal to take the test; and (3) accordingly, Defendant’s attorney did not render ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to argue contrary to controlling precedent. View "State v. Lemberger" on Justia Law

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In 2001, defendant Emigdio Valdez was convicted of possession of a sharp instrument in prison and assault by an inmate by means likely to cause great bodily injury. The trial court found true three prior strike allegations, for which the trial court sentenced defendant to consecutive terms of 25 years to life on each count. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. Defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his petition for recall of sentence under the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012. As to each conviction, defendant argued: (1) the trial court was not authorized to make findings of fact and the State was required to plead and prove any disqualifying facts in the prosecution of his commitment offense; (2) substantial evidence did not support the trial court’s determinations regarding his ineligibility; and (3) the trial court employed the wrong standard of proof, in that it should have applied the “clear and convincing evidence” standard rather than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. In the published part of this opinion the Court of Appeal concluded there was substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s determination that defendant was “armed” with the sharp instrument in prison. In the unpublished parts of this opinion, the Court rejected defendant’s other contentions. View "California v. Valdez" on Justia Law

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After Brown was charged with sexually abusing his children, before trial, the court three times allowed Brown’s appointed counsel to withdraw because Brown would not cooperate. Brown appeared pro se but after “multiple outbursts” and attempts “to intimidate the victim‐witnesses,” the court held that he had “forfeited his right to represent himself.” Brown was convicted. The Public Defender’s Office appointed attorney Rosen to represent Brown on appeal. Brown objected, arguing Rosen was acting without his “consent or participation.” Brown sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of “his constitutional right to represent himself on appeal” and that a lawyer had deprived him of legal documents and prevented him from requesting legal help from a nonprofit organization. The district court screened Brown’s complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915A and concluded that his claim that Rosen had been ineffective in representing him was barred because it implied that his conviction may have been invalid and there is no constitutional right to self‐representation on appeal. The Supreme Court has held that in an appeal the state’s “interest in the fair and efficient administration of justice” outweighs the defendant’s interest in autonomy because there is no longer the presumption of innocence and because the Sixth Amendment does not refer to appellate proceedings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, held that Brown’s appeal was frivolous, and imposed two strikes on him under 28 U.S.C. 1915(g). View "Brown v. Milwaukee County Public Defender's Office" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping. Defendant received concurrent, mandatory life sentences for the convictions. Defendant was fourteen years old when he committed the offenses. After the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Miller v. Alabama, Defendant filed a motion in circuit court to correct an illegal sentence. The circuit court granted the motion. Following a resentencing hearing, the sentencing court resentenced Defendant to concurrent, 200-year sentences for first-degree murder and kidnapping. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant failed to establish that his sentence is cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and (2) the sentencing court did not abuse its discretion when it imposed concurrent, 200-year sentences. View "State v. Jensen" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Hugo Rivera-Muniz pleaded guilty to reentering the United States without authorization after having been deported or removed. At the sentencing hearing, the district court considered Rivera-Muniz’s previous conviction for voluntary manslaughter under California Penal Code section 192(a) and concluded that it was an enumerated crime of violence that triggered a 16-level sentencing enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii). However, the district court also applied a 7-level downward variance, thus sentencing Rivera-Muniz to twenty-seven months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release. Rivera-Muniz challenged the 16-level enhancement, arguing that California Penal Code section 192(a) was not categorically a crime of violence. Finding no error in the district court’s decision, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Rivera-Muniz" on Justia Law

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After Henry B. was admitted to Pen Bay Medical Center (PBMC), PBMC staff applied to involuntarily commit Henry pursuant to the “white paper” procedures of Me. Rev. Stat. 34-B, 3863(5-A). After a commitment hearing, the district court ordered that Henry be submit to involuntary hospitalization for up to 120 days. The superior court affirmed the district court’s judgment of involuntary commitment. Henry appealed, arguing that he was not provided with effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) individuals subject to involuntary commitment proceedings in Maine have the right to effective representation of counsel, and the Strickland standard applies for courts reviewing claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in involuntary commitment proceedings; and (2) Henry was not deprived of the effective assistance of counsel in this case. View "In re Henry B." on Justia Law

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In this case, defendant John Wismer was accused of sexual molestation by the nine- and 13-year-old daughters of Wismer's friend and business associate, Richard S. The physical evidence was inconclusive; the prosecution's case turned largely on the credibility of the two girls and, to a certain extent, their parents. The primary incident, involving the younger of the two girls, allegedly took place on an evening in late November. Roughly a week later, police arranged for Richard to make a recorded pretext call to Wismer in which he confronted Wismer with his daughter's allegations. Although the pretext call failed to elicit any admissions from Wismer, jurors nonetheless focused on the call during their deliberations, listening to it three times and discussing whether Wismer's reaction to the call was consistent or inconsistent with guilt. One of the jurors (of Asian descent) took it upon herself to conduct what she characterized as an "experiment" illustrating for her colleagues how a truly innocent person would respond to a fabricated allegation. Using racially charged language, she falsely accused a male Hispanic juror of slapping her behind, punctuating the accusation by claiming he said "he wanted to put his Mexican burrito in my chicken fried rice." The Asian juror's false accusation and the Hispanic juror's reaction were not part of the evidence in the case, yet they were presented to and considered by the jury in reaching a verdict. The Court of Appeal concluded that was juror misconduct of a fundamental nature that required reversal of the judgment. View "California v. Wismer" on Justia Law