Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The Eleventh Circuit denied the motion for stay of execution pending appeal, holding that the district court rightly dismissed petitioner's current petition as second or successive under 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(3)(A). In this case, petitioner failed to obtain authorization from this court before filing the petition. The court rejected petitioner's remaining three claims as to why his petition should not be dismissed, and held that petitioner failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of his appeal. View "Bowles v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Simon was stopped for failing to signal sufficiently ahead of turning. A drug-sniffing dog alerted on Simon’s car. Officers searched it. They did not find drugs, but found a gun. The government charged Simon as a felon-in-possession. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Simon’s motions for recusal, suppression, and supplementation. The court rejected an argument that the judge should have recused himself because, before he was a judge, he supervised a prior prosecution of Simon. The district court properly assessed credibility and found that the officers had probable cause to initiate the traffic stop and did not prolong the stop to allow for the dog sniff. The mere absence of drugs does not undermine the probable cause to search for drugs, provided there was probable cause in the first place. The judge conducted the proper Harris evaluation and concluded the dog’s satisfactory certification and training provide sufficient reason to trust his alert. The judge did not abuse his discretion in denying a motion to supplement the record, after the denial of the suppression motion, with a nighttime video. The nighttime video would not capture the actual visual capabilities of the officers, who credibly testified about how close Simon was to the intersection when he signaled. View "United States v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an involuntarily committed inmate, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action claiming that FCCC's policies violated his expressive freedoms under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Applying the four factor test in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89–90 (1987), the Fifth Circuit held that the FCCC's ban of plaintiff's newsletter was reasonably related to the substantial government interest of security and safety that was unrelated to the suppression of expression. The three other factors also weigh in favor of FCCC where plaintiff has alternative means of exercising his asserted right; allowing residents to read the newsletter could increase tension and hostility, potentially resulting in inmate-on-staff violence; and the ban was not an exaggerated response to FCCC's security concerns. The court also held that the 2006 page-limit policy did not violate plaintiff's First Amendment rights where it clearly related to FCCC's legitimate interest in conserving resources. View "Pesci v. Budz" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's California conviction and sentence for the first-degree murder and sexual assault of an eight-year-old girl. The panel held that the state court reasonably rejected petitioner's Napue claim challenging the serology evidence where, even assuming that there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny the claim as to the first two Napue requirements, the panel could not say that it would be unreasonable to conclude that the testimony did not satisfy the materiality element. The panel noted that, even setting aside the serology testimony, the case against petitioner was devastating and largely unchallenged. The panel also held that, even assuming counsel's performance was deficient, it could not say that the state court would have erred in finding no reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. View "Panah v. Chappell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a state prisoner, appealed the revocation of his in forma pauperis (IFP) status based on his three prior strikes under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The Ninth Circuit reversed and held that plaintiff's prior cases were not dismissed on grounds enumerated under 28 U.S.C. 1915(g) and thus did not qualify as strikes. Applying the D.C. Circuit's decision in Fourstar v. Garden City Grp., Inc., 875 F.3d 1147, 1152 (D.C. Cir. 2017), the panel held that a dismissal based on a district court's decision not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction is not an enumerated ground under section 1915(g). The panel also held that dismissal due to a failure to serve is plainly not a dismissal on the ground that the suit was frivolous, malicious, or failed to state a claim. In one of defendant's cases, the district court held that plaintiff failed to state a claim and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state claims. Another case was dismissed because plaintiff failed to serve a defendant and others enjoyed quasi-judicial immunity. View "Harris v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against police officers, the LAPD, and the City, alleging violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and various state laws. Plaintiffs were four teenagers who met in an alleyway near their school to listen to and sing rap music. One of the teenagers was holding a plastic replica gun as a prop when Officer Gutierrez shot him because the officer mistook the replica gun as an actual gun. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling as to the Fourth Amendment claim and held that plaintiffs' detention for five hours—well after any probable cause would have dissipated—and the use of handcuffs throughout the duration of the detention violated their clearly established Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful arrest and excessive force. Furthermore, a reasonable jury could conclude that Gutierrez was more than a mere bystander, but rather played an integral role in the unlawfully prolonged detention and sustained handcuffing of plaintiffs. The panel reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to Gutierrez as to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, holding that although Gutierrez's conduct violated plaintiff's substantive due process rights, the right was not clearly established at the time. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Nicholson v. Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Vanderhoef crashed his Ford Mustang into Dixon’s vehicle. Dixon, an off-duty, part-time reserve Maryville, Tennessee police officer, responded by holding Vanderhoef and his passengers at gunpoint for about two minutes. Keller let them go after a bystander threatened to call the police. A jury found that Dixon violated Vanderhoef’s Fourth Amendment rights (42 U.S.C. 1983). The district court set aside the jury’s verdict, ruling that Dixon was entitled to qualified immunity because no clearly established law put him on notice that doing what he did was unconstitutional. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The facts presented at trial adequately established a violation of plaintiff’s constitutional rights to be free from excessive force and unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. At the time of this accident and confrontation, Dixon should have known that pointing his gun at a non-fleeing teenager whom he did not reasonably suspect of any prior crime beyond speeding and reckless driving and holding him at gunpoint for roughly two minutes, violated the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights. View "Vanderhoef v. Dixon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and MDHS brought a negligence action against defendants, alleging that a jail official provided and made plaintiff wear shoes that were too small for his feet. The shoes caused a blister on one of his left toes, which ultimately resulted in a severe infection requiring multiple corrective surgeries. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the County, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the county negligently caused plaintiff's injury. In this case, the district court erred when it concluded that plaintiff's infection was not a foreseeable consequence of wearing too small shoes. The court also held that the county was not entitled to vicarious official immunity, because the duty of providing suitable shoes in a county jail setting is ministerial. View "DeLuna v. Mower County" on Justia Law

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Defendant James Castine was convicted by jury of selling a controlled drug. A Rockingham County Drug Task Force confidential informant told police he could purchase heroin from defendant. The informant agreed to conduct three controlled buys from defendant. The drugs purchased from the defendant were tested, and all three samples were determined to contain a mixture of fentanyl and cocaine. Both the CI and the deputy testified that they were unable to differentiate between heroin and fentanyl. On appeal, defendant challenged: (1) the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions; and (2) the trial court’s consideration at sentencing of evidence that he was the leader of a drug enterprise. With respect to (1), the New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that the essence of the defendant’s argument was that the evidence was insufficient because the informant was the only witness who testified that defendant sold him drugs on the three occasions at issue. The defendant claimed that one or the other of two individuals, who were present when the transactions occurred, could have made the sales. Furthermore, defendant argued the trial court should not have considered the evidence presented by the State that suggested a drug scheme beyond the three buys made by the informant. The Supreme Court was not persuaded by defendant’s arguments, finding the evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, defendant was guilty of selling a controlled drug on three occasions. Defendant did not dispute, that, at the time of sentencing, he had been indicted on the drug enterprise charges. “Given the trial court’s knowledge of the indictments, as well as the other information provided by the State, the court had a reliable basis upon which to conclude that the defendant was involved in a drug enterprise that extended beyond the three buys made by the [confidential informant].” Judgment of conviction was affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Castine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the superior court's denial of Defendant's motion seeking a refund of fees associated with his vacated convictions, holding that due process principles required a refund of a drug analysis fee but did not require a refund of other fees. Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of distribution of cocaine. Defendant later sought a new trial due to the misconduct of Sonja Farak, a chemist who analyzed the substances seized in Defendant's case. The indictments were subsequently dismissed with prejudice on the Commonwealth's motion. Thereafter, Defendant filed a motion seeking a refund of fees associated with the vacated convictions, including the drug analysis fee and fees Defendant incurrent on an account he was obligated to maintain while he was incarcerated. The superior court denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order to the extent that the order denied a refund of the drug analysis fee and affirmed the order in all other respects, holding that Defendant was entitled to a refund of a drug analysis fee but that neither statute nor due process required that fees Defendant incurred on his inmate account be refunded. View "Commonwealth v. Watt" on Justia Law