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Cheryl Brown and Matthew Denis were involved in a traffic accident, when Denis’s truck bumped into Brown’s car from behind. Denis claimed the accident happened when he inadvertently took his foot off the brake as he turned to roll the rear window down to provide fresh air to his dog, who was riding in the back seat. Denis’s truck, which was positioned behind Brown’s car, rolled forward five to six feet, striking her rear bumper. The collision took place in stop-and-go traffic. Denis, a sergeant with the Vermont State Police, estimated his speed at impact to be two miles per hour and did not believe there was any damage caused to Brown’s vehicle from the collision. Brown claimed the impact caused a scratch on her rear bumper. The truck Denis was driving did not have any markings indicating it was a police vehicle. Brown filed suit against the State of Vermont alleging it was responsible for injuries she sustained in the accident due to Denis’s negligence. Brown also raised constitutional claims, alleging: (1) due process and equality of treatment violations under the Vermont Constitution’s Common Benefits Clause, and (2) an equal protection, and possibly a due process, claim under the United States Constitution. Brown did not name Denis as a defendant in her suit. Brown’s constitutional claims were based on her assertion that Denis received favorable treatment because he was not prosecuted for causing the accident or leaving the scene without providing identifying information. Before trial, the court dismissed the due process and equal protection claims under the United States Constitution on the basis that Brown had only sued the State, and not Denis personally, and that the State was not a “person” for claims arising under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court further ruled that Brown lacked standing to assert any claim based on the State’s failure to prosecute Denis. The court also dismissed the Common Benefits Clause claim because Brown lacked any cognizable interest in the prosecution or discipline of Denis. Lastly, the court held that, to the extent a due process claim had been raised, it was undisputed that Brown received the information required to be exchanged in the event of a car collision shortly after the accident, and her ability to file suit against the State as a result of the accident showed her due process rights were not impeded. On appeal, Brown alleged several errors in pre-trial and trial rulings, as well as in the failure to grant her a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a petition for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court held that petitioner's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) motion was timely filed and tolled the deadline for filing a notice of appeal until the entry of the order disposing of the motion. The court also held that this case presented one of those "extreme situations" in which the court was justified in finding a violation of the Sixth Amendment based on implied juror bias during the punishment phase of his trial. Although petitioner's conviction for possession of methamphetamine must stand, his sentence of life imprisonment could not. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions. View "Uranga v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the trial judge’s dismissal of counts in an indictment that charged Defendants with dispensing misbranded drugs in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Defendants, Massachusetts-licensed pharmacists, were charged with multiple crimes, including the allegation that Defendants dispensed drugs in violation of the FFDCA. The trial judge granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss the FFDCA charges, ruling that the indictment did not provide fair notice. The First Circuit reversed, holding that the indictment passed muster because it gave Defendants enough information to prepare a defense and to invoke double-jeopardy protections to forestall a later trial on the same charges. View "United States v. Stepanets" on Justia Law

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Manuel Saldana was a 58-year-old legal Mexican immigrant with a sixth grade education who, with no notable criminal history, was charged with committing lewd acts on three girls, G.H. (age 11), M.H. (age 8), and Y.H. (age 6) (collectively the children), who lived in the trailer park where he resided. The veracity of the children's claims was open to question. Left mostly unsupervised, the eight-year-old and the 11-year-old​ watched a daily television soap opera which frequently depicted adult themes. After watching, the girls acted out episodes themselves. The day before accusing Saldana of molesting them, they watched an episode involving child molestation. In a police station interrogation (with no Miranda advisements) Saldana confessed to inadvertently touching G.H. and M.H. on the vagina, outside their clothes. The jury watched a video of his confession and during deliberations asked to watch it again. About two hours later, the jury found Saldana guilty of four counts of committing lewd acts, violating Penal Code section 288(a). The court sentenced Saldana to six years in prison. Saldana raised numerous issues on appeal; however, the crux of this case was whether Saldana was subjected to a custodial interrogation. Saldana denied the accusations more than 25 times, but ultimately, he confessed, stating he inadvertently touched M.H. and G.H. twice on the vagina, over their clothes. In response to the prosecutor's question, Saldana testified he believed he could not leave the police station unless he confessed. The Court of Appeal found it appropriate for police to use the kind of interrogation techniques used in this matter. "However, when police create an atmosphere equivalent to that of formal arrest by questioning a suspect who is isolated behind closed doors in a police station interrogation room, by repeatedly confronting him with the evidence against him, repeatedly dismissing his denials, and telling him at the outset he is free to leave, when all the objective circumstances later are to the contrary, Miranda is triggered." The Court of Appeal found the trial court prejudicially erred in receiving Saldana's confession into evidence. Accordingly, it reversed the judgment. View "California v. Saldana" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the city and two officers, alleging the use of excessive force under 42 U.S.C. 1983, and negligence under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erred in disregarding plaintiff's proposed amended complaint because it stated plausible claims against the officers. The proposed amended complaint alleged that Officer Vela approached to arrest plaintiff and that she did not physically assault either Vela or her father. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded to the district court to consider whether plaintiff's pleadings survived the officers' defense of qualified immunity. The court held that the claims against the city failed. Therefore, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Pena v. Rio Grande City, Texas" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action challenging the constitutionality of California Family Code Section 7962. Section 7962 codified California cases that found gestational surrogacy contracts enforceable. The panel held that this case did not fall within the two limited categories of civil cases that define the scope of Younger abstention. Therefore, the district court erred by abstaining. However, notwithstanding this error, the panel affirmed on issue preclusion grounds the dismissal of the complaint because the California Court of Appeal's decision precluded further litigation of plaintiff's constitutional claims. View "Cook v. Harding" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for rehearing, filed an amended opinion reversing the denial of habeas relief challenging petitioner's death sentence, and remanded. The panel held that the Arizona Supreme Court denied petitioner his Eighth Amendment right to individualized sentencing by applying an unconstitutional causal nexus test to his mitigating evidence of a troubled childhood and mental health issues. Such error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the sentence. The panel denied habeas relief on petitioner's claim that the Arizona courts failed to consider his history of substance abuse as a nonstatutory mitigating factor. Finally, the panel agreed with the district court that petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was procedurally defaulted because it was fundamentally different from the claim he presented in state court. View "Poyson v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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Defendants Rodolfo Villa and Michael Almeda appealed their convictions of first degree murder. They both contended the trial court erred by admitting evidence of Villa’s jailhouse confession and by failing to instruct on the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. Villa also contended the court erred by admitting uncharged offense evidence. Almeda also contended the court erred by denying his motion for severance. Both defendants claimed cumulative error. Finding no reversible errors leading to cumulative error, the Court of Appeal affirmed both defendants’ convictions. View "California v. Almeda" on Justia Law

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Law enforcement officers executing a search warrant violated Defendant’s rights under Iowa Const. art. I, 8 by searching her purse while she was a visitor present at the premises to be searched but where the search warrant made no motion of her. Prior to trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress, which the district court denied. Defendant was subsequently found guilty of possessing marijuana. The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s ruling on the motion to suppress and remanded the case to the district court, holding (1) a search of the possessions of a third party at a residence is unconstitutional when the warrant does not support probable cause to search that particular person; and (2) under this court’s applicable caselaw, the search of Defendant’s purse could not be supported based on any of the State’s theories independent of the search warrant. View "State v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Commercial truck drivers and their industry association filed suit claiming that they were injured by the Department's violation of its statutory obligation to ensure the accuracy of a database containing driver-safety information. In Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016), the Supreme Court held that Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. The DC Circuit held that, under Spokeo, the asserted injury was, by itself, insufficiently concrete to confer Article III standing to plaintiffs. However, the court reversed with respect to two drivers whose information was released to prospective employers because dissemination of inaccurate driver-safety data inflicts an injury sufficiently concrete to confer standing to seek damages. View "Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association v. DOT" on Justia Law