Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioners' Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law, Rule 59(a) motion for a new trial, and Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the judgment, as provided for by the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure, holding that the circuit court did not err. Respondent filed a complaint alleging that Petitioners, two correctional officers, used excessive force against him. The jury found that Petitioners used excessive force on Respondent and committed the civil tort of battery on Respondent. The jury award compensatory damages of $0 and punitive damages of $4,500. Petitioners filed a Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law and motions pursuant to Rules 59(a) and (e) for a new trial and/or to alter or amend the judgment, arguing that there was no reasonable relationship between the compensatory damages and punitive damages award. The circuit court denied the motions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in (1) allowing punitive damages to be recovered by Respondent without an accompanying award of compensatory or nominal damages; and (2) failing to apply the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e, to Petitioners. View "Lunsford v. Shy" on Justia Law

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Craig was involved in a high-speed shootout in the streets of Akron, Ohio and was apprehended wearing a shoulder holster and with gunshot residue on his hands. His DNA was identified on a firearm discovered in the backseat of one of the vehicles. Craig was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Craig admitted that he possessed a firearm while being a felon but testified that he possessed the gun only long enough to defend himself and his friends during the firefight. On cross-examination, the prosecution played for the jury a video depicting a masked individual (allegedly Craig) rapping and wielding a firearm that was similar to the gun for which he was charged. Craig denied that he was the individual in the video. The prosecution did not attempt to introduce the video into evidence. The district court never issued a limiting instruction about whether or how to consider the video. The prosecution referenced the video in closing arguments. The Sixth Circuit vacated Craig’s conviction. The prosecution had no legal basis to publish the unadmitted and unauthenticated exhibit to the jury, and the error was not harmless. The prosecution did not have a “‘good faith basis’ for cross-examination under Rule 608(b).” View "United States v. Craig" on Justia Law

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Recover Agents went to the home of Jiries and Yasmeen Abu-Joudeh to repossess their car. An altercation ensued. According to Yasmeen, an agent pushed her. The agents say that Jiries asked Yasmeen to get a gun and hit her when she refused. The agents called the police. The Abu-Joudehs moved their car into the garage and shut the door. Capac Police Chief Schneider and Michigan State Trooper Sebring arrived. Yasmeen let the officers into the house. More police cars arrived. One officer, whom Yasmeen called the “third officer,” entered the house and kept her seated. Schneider’s police report suggests that this third officer was Memphis Police Chief Sheets. Yasmeen’s physical description of the third officer fit Sheets. The third officer, with the repossession agents, attempted to pry open the garage's main electric door, then went around to the side door, which one of them opened. The agents loaded the vehicle onto their tow truck and hauled it away. AbuJoudeh filed suit, claiming Sheets broke into the garage, violating his right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Sheets submitted an affidavit saying he “did not open Plaintiff’s garage without consent, did not enter Plaintiff’s garage without consent, and did not enter Plaintiff’s vehicle or participate in its repossession.” The district court granted Sheets summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The evidence suggesting that Sheets was the officer who broke into his garage creates a genuine issue of material fact. View "Abu-Joudeh v. Schneider" on Justia Law

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The maternal grandparents of C.P. argued that the absolute statutory bar to placement of the child in their custody, either through approval as a resource family pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 16519.5 or on an emergency basis pursuant to section 361.4, was unconstitutional as applied to them. The bar was triggered in this case by a disqualifying misdemeanor criminal conviction the grandfather had dating to 1991. The child (born 2011) was removed from mother’s custody in May 2017, after he was sexually abused by a maternal uncle; at the time of removal, mother, child, and uncle all resided in the home of the grandparents. The uncle is now incarcerated on a 20-year sentence for child molestation. Mother has been out of contact with CFS, and reportedly has moved out of state. The child was initially placed with a foster family, but in June 2017 he was moved to a group home capable of addressing his special health care needs related to autism. Mother failed to reunify with the child. The child was ordered to remain in the group home under a planned permanent living arrangement, with the goal of identifying an appropriate placement for legal guardianship. The grandparents started the resource family approval process, with the goal of having the child placed in their care, almost immediately after the child was removed from mother’s custody in May 2017. A social worker characterized grandparents as the “only constant” in the child’s life. The Court of Appeal agreed with grandparents that the absolute statutory bar to placement of the child in their custody would have been unconstitutional as to them if they could establish they had a parental relationship with the child, not just a grandparental relationship. The case was therefore remanded to the trial court to make the predicate factual findings and for consideration of the issue anew from that perspective. View "In re C.P." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a petition for federal habeas relief brought by petitioner, challenging his California state murder conviction and death sentence. Petitioner alleges that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel at the penalty phase because his lawyers failed to present additional evidence of his family history and social background. The panel held that reasonable jurists could conclude that admission of this evidence would not have led to a reasonable probability of a different sentence and thus petitioner was not prejudiced by any deficiency in counsel's performance. The panel granted petitioner's motion to expand the certificate of appealability as to four additional claims. The panel held that the state court reasonably concluded that a mens rea defense theory would not have been reasonably probable to persuade the jury to acquit. Even assuming that counsel rendered deficient performance in failing to conduct further investigation, it was eminently reasonable for the court to conclude that petitioner failed to show that the omission of this argument adversely affected the outcome. Finally, the panel held that petitioner was not prejudiced by his counsel's failure to obtain a transport order and funding authorization for EEG tests and a PET scan during the guilt or penalty phase. View "Berryman v. Wong" on Justia Law

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Appellant sought habeas corpus relief, arguing that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel because the defense lawyer who represented him in his child molestation trial in Arizona state court was ineffective. After the jury reported that it was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial, the jury requested permission to resume deliberations. Appellant's counsel did not object and the jury convicted appellant on all grounds. The Ninth Circuit held that appellant's counsel was not ineffective because, on the facts of this case, it was a reasonable prediction that appellant had a better chance of a more favorable verdict from the existing jury on the existing trial record than he would from a retrial. View "May v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against UND Law under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), alleging that UND Law discriminated against him because of his mental illness when it rejected his admission application. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to UND Law, holding that plaintiff failed to show that UND Law's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for rejecting plaintiff's application was pretext for discrimination. The court reasoned that UND Law's holistic approach to application reviews did not discriminate against plaintiff in determining that he would not be a good fit for UND Law. In this case, plaintiff had dropped out of law school three times, had a very low undergraduate GPA, and submitted out-of-date recommendation letters. View "Power v. University of North Dakota School of Law" on Justia Law

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Worman mailed his supervisor a pipe bomb, which the Postal Service intercepted. Worman was convicted of mailing an explosive device (18 U.S.C. 1716), possessing an unregistered destructive device (26 U.S.C. 5861(d), 5845(f)), transporting an explosive device (18 U.S.C. 844(d)), and possessing and using a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)). Worman’s mailing of a bomb constituted the predicate crime of violence for the section 924(c) charge, which carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment consecutive to any sentence imposed on another count. Worman was sentenced to 360 months for the 924(c) offense and one month for the other offenses. The judge explained that Worman would not be released until he was 84 and lacked any criminal history. The Eighth Circuit vacated; its precedent prohibited judges from considering a mandatory consecutive sentence when granting a downward variance. The court resentenced Worman to 168 months for the pipe‐bomb offenses and 360 mandatory, consecutive months for the 924(c) offense. In 2016, Worman filed an unsuccessful pro se motion for a new sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, based on the Supreme Court’s 2015 “Johnson” decision. In 2017, the Supreme Court held, in “Dean,” that a sentencing court may use its discretion when calculating an appropriate sentence for a felony serving as the basis for a section 924(c) conviction. Worman sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, despite recognizing that Dean provided Worman a basis for a sentencing reduction. Worman does not meet either exception authorizing a second habeas motion. Dean was a decision of statutory law, not an interpretation of the Constitution, and does not apply retroactively to cases on collateral review. View "Worman v. Entzel" on Justia Law

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Turner suffered a broken nose during an altercation with another inmate while in pre-trial detention at the Cook County Jail. The injury left him with pain and shortness of breath. A doctor determined that he needed surgery to treat his problems. The surgery was repeatedly rescheduled and postponed. More than a year after the initial injury, he finally received the surgery following his release from custody. Claiming that his treatment was unconstitutionally deficient, Turner sued administrators and medical professionals and Cook County itself. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Turner presented no evidence that would allow the trier of fact to conclude that the allegedly unreasonable conduct of any named defendant caused his surgery to be delayed; none of them had the authority to schedule or to perform the relevant surgery. Each time any of the individual defendants encountered Turner, his surgery or another appointment was on the surgery schedule. No rule of law imposes a duty on the medical defendants to continue calling the clinic after they properly contacted the proper schedulers. View "Turner v. Paul" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Officer Swarbrick falsely arrested him and used excessive force; Officer Trammel failed to intervene; and the Sheriff had a custom or policy of excessive force or failed to adequately train, supervise, and discipline Swarbrick and Trammel. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Swarbrick on plaintiff's false arrest claim and plaintiff's excessive force claim regarding an alleged three-to-five minute period of pepper spraying. In this case, plaintiff has presented a genuine dispute of material fact regarding Swarbrick's use of force as to that period of pepper spraying. Accordingly, the court remanded those claims for further proceedings. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Swarbrick as to any other allegations of excessive force. Likewise, the court affirmed the claims against the Sheriff and Trammel. View "Alston v. Swarbrick" on Justia Law