Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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T.O. and his parents appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims arising under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974. Plaintiffs' claims arose from a primary school disciplinary incident experienced by T.O.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the substantive due process claim, concluding that the facts simply do not suggest that T.O. was the subject of a random, malicious, and unprovoked attack, which would justify deviation from Fee v. Herndon, 900 F.2d 804. In this case, an aide removed T.O. from his classroom for disrupting class, and the teacher used force only after T.O. pushed and hit her. Even if the teacher's intervention were ill-advised and her reaction inappropriate, the court cannot say that it did not occur in a disciplinary context. Furthermore, the court has consistently held that Texas law provides adequate, alternative remedies in the form of both criminal and civil liability for school employees whose use of excessive disciplinary force results in injury to students in T.O.'s situation.The court also concluded that plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims fail because this court has not conclusively determined whether the momentary use of force by a teacher against a student constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure. In regard to the ADA and section 504 claims, the court concluded that the amended complaint failed to allege facts permitting the inference that either the teacher's actions or the school district's actions were based on T.O.'s disability. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's rulings. View "T.O. v. Fort Bend Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant Clark and Cox's motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity for claims of failure to treat and the wrongful death of Hirschell Wayne Fletcher, Jr., who died from previously sustained head trauma while in custody.The court agreed with plaintiffs that between when paramedics Clark and Cox arrived and allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, but before he was formally transported, a reasonable person in Fletcher's position—surrounded and confronted by five officers—may not have thought he was free to leave, and was therefore detained. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Clark, Cox, and the surrounding officers harassed and laughed at Fletcher until he was transported to the detention facility, all without any medical treatment. As alleged, the court concluded that such conduct supports that the paramedics may have been both subjectively aware of, and disregarded, Fletcher's serious risk of injury. Furthermore, it is undisputed that, at the time Clark and Cox allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, the law was clearly established that pretrial detainees have a Fourteenth Amendment right to medical care. View "Kelson v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Defendant Michael Coleman appealed from the denial of his petition for resentencing under Penal Code section 1170.91. That section allowed a current or former servicemember who might be suffering from sexual trauma or substance abuse (among other conditions) as a result of his or her military service to obtain a new sentencing hearing. Defendant contended he pleaded and proved a qualifying condition, and that the trial court erred by ruling otherwise. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed the trial court. View "California v. Coleman" on Justia Law

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In 2013, a jury found defendant-respondent James Ambrosia Williams guilty of child abuse and that he had personally inflicted great bodily injury on the child, who was under the age of five. The trial court found defendant had a prior strike conviction, a prior serious felony conviction, and two prior prison terms. It imposed an aggregate term of 22 years in state prison, including a five-year enhancement for the prior serious felony conviction. Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal, and judgment was affirmed. At the time defendant was sentenced, Penal Code section 1385 generally authorized judges and magistrates to order an action dismissed in the interests of justice on their own motion or upon the application of the prosecuting attorney but specifically barred them from striking any prior serious felony conviction in connection with imposition of a five- year enhancement. Four years after defendant was sentenced, Senate Bill No. 1393 (Reg. Sess. 2017-2018) amended the statute to delete the prohibition. In an unreported minute order dated September 30, 2019, and without the parties present, the sentencing judge recalled defendant’s sentence and struck the five-year punishment for the section 667 serious felony enhancement. The rest of defendant’s sentence remained unchanged. The State appealed. The Court of Appeal vacated the sentence: the trial court set forth the authority it relied upon for its decision but did not articulate a factual basis for exercising its discretion to strike the punishment for the prior serious felony enhancement. The matter was remanded for the sentencing court to articulate its basis for exercising discretion to strike the punishment. View "California v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In October 2020, the superior court conducted a contested hearing and issued orders granting relief to defendant-respondent, Travis Burhop, on Burhop’s petition to vacate his 2015 second degree murder conviction and to be resentenced pursuant to Penal Code section 1170.95. On October 2, 2020, the petition was the subject of a pending appeal with the Court of Appeal in California v. Travis Burhop (Aug. 28, 2020, E073709 [nonpub. opn.]) (Burhop II). In August 2020, the Court of Appeal court issued its opinion in Burhop II and remanded the matter to the superior court for further proceedings on Burhop’s petition. But the remittitur in Burhop II was not issued until October 30, 2020. Thus, in this appeal, the State claimed that the October 2, 2020 orders adjudicating Burhop’s section 1170.95 petition were null and void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, given that the petition was the subject of the pending appeal in Burhop II and the remittitur in Burhop II had not yet issued. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed the October 2 orders and again remanded the matter for further proceedings on the petition. View "California v. Burhop" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff's state criminal charge for animal cruelty was dismissed, plaintiff and his wife filed suit against the City and the Police Department under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims for wrongful arrest and excessive force, as well as various state law claims. The jury returned a verdict for defendants on all counts. The district court denied plaintiff's motion for a mistrial during the trial and later denied a post-trial motion for a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for mistrial based on its response to a potential juror's de minimis conduct. In this case, the district court properly dispatched its voir dire duties by probing whether the excused potential juror had made any additional statements which could have prejudiced plaintiff and by considering and rejecting the argument that brief departing comments in this instance required the empanelment of a new venire. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a continuance and properly exercised its discretion by limiting plaintiff's testimony to issues relevant to the substantive issues in the case being tried. The court further concluded that the district court did not err by allowing defendants to argue that the entire requested $975,000 damages award would come from Officer Horan personally. In any event, to the extent that these statements created confusion because of the temporal proximity between the accurate statements of the law and the references to the full amount requested, the district court allowed plaintiff's counsel on rebuttal to explain the issue. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's challenges to the district court's handling of the jury instructions. View "Farnik v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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In January 2006, two armed assailants fatally shot Tameka Giles in the back after a botched robbery attempt while she was walking with her husband. After multiple police interrogations in the two years following the murder, Ronald Harris repeatedly told police he knew nothing about the crime and had not been involved. But on the eve of trial and after jury selection, Harris was offered and accepted a plea deal in exchange for testimony against Mark Purnell. Purnell’s court-appointed trial attorney was the same advocate who represented Dawan Harris in a weapons prosecution earlier in the murder investigation. The trial judge did not permit him to withdraw when he brought the conflict to the State’s and court’s attention. Trial counsel failed to investigate evidentiary leads implicating Dawan Harris, did not call him as a witness, and failed to present even then-known or obvious evidence and argument to the jury that would have inculpated his former client. The jury convicted Purnell of Second Degree Murder and all other charges after more than a day of deliberation, and he was sentenced to forty-five years of unsuspended Level V incarceration. In 2009, based on narrow issues presented to the Delaware Supreme Court (which did not include the conflict), his conviction and sentence were upheld. Following the denial of his direct appeal, Purnell filed a pro se Rule 61 motion raising ten grounds for relief, of which the first was an objection to his trial counsel’s conflict of interest. Postconviction counsel filed an amended motion asserting only three grounds, and did not include the conflict claim. The Superior Court denied Purnell’s motion and, again without having the conflict brought to the Supreme Court's attention, the Supreme Court affirmed that denial in 2014. Because postconviction counsel died a few weeks prior to oral argument before the Supreme Court in 2014, it was unknown why the conflict issue was not included in the amended motion. Due to that omission, the conflict claim went before the Supreme Court as one of Purnell’s grounds in an untimely, successive Rule 61 motion. "Ordinarily, having clarified the standards for newness and persuasiveness necessary for relief, we would remand the matter to the Superior Court for an evidentiary hearing and a decision guided by those rulings. But because Purnell has spent more than fourteen years in prison for murder based on a manifestly unfair trial and conviction, and based on his new evidence, viewed as a part of the entire evidentiary record, we are convinced that in this extraordinary case remand for an evidentiary hearing would serve no useful purpose. Instead, we reverse and remand for a new trial." View "Purnell v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute entered after Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, holding that Defendant's argument that his plea was invalid was without merit.On appeal, Defendant argued that his plea was invalid because he entered it without knowing that he was waiving his right to appeal the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress the drugs, gun, and statements he had made following his arrest. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that, even if there was error, it was not clear or obvious. View "United States v. Casiano-Santana" on Justia Law

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In September 2019, Brian Turner was found not guilty of one count of aggravated assault upon a law-enforcement officer (Count I), but was convicted of one count of failing to stop a motor vehicle pursuant to the signal of a law-enforcement officer (Count II), two counts of aggravated assault upon a law-enforcement officer (Counts III and IV) and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon (Count V). Turner appealed his convictions and the circuit court’s denial of his Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict or, in the Alternative, for New Trial (J.N.O.V. Motion). Finding each of Turner’s assignments of error to be without merit, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Turner’s convictions and the circuit court’s denial of the J.N.O.V. Motion. View "Turner v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former inmate at Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail, filed suit against defendant, a doctor for the jail, alleging an Eighth Amendment violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and violations of state law, based on the doctor's purported failure to properly treat his diabetes.As a preliminary matter, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court's order sufficiently addressed all permutations of plaintiff's deliberate indifference claims and is therefore final. On the merits, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the doctor. The court concluded that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the doctor's alternative treatment plan was "so grossly incompetent" as to permit a finding of deliberate indifference. Likewise, plaintiff's gross negligence claim of medical malpractice failed for substantially the same reasons. In this case, the doctor was not grossly negligent where he placed plaintiff on a diabetic diet, ordered daily and then twice daily blood sugar tests, and reviewed plaintiff's blood sugar levels on a weekly basis. View "Hixson v. Moran" on Justia Law