Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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This appeal challenges the district court's denial of appellants' motion for a temporary restraining order and order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not issue in appellants' challenge to the application of California and San Diego's stay-at-home orders to in-person religious services during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Ninth Circuit issued an order denying appellants' emergency motion seeking injunction relief permitting them to hold in-person religious services during the pendency of this appeal. The panel held that appellants have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on appeal. The panel explained that, where state action does not infringe upon or restrict practices because of their religious motivation and does not in a selective manner impose burdens only on conduct motivated by religious belief, it does not violate the First Amendment. In this case, the panel stated that we are dealing with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there presently is no known cure. The panel held that the remaining factors do not counsel in favor of injunctive relief. View "South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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In 2014-2015, Flint and Michigan state officials caused, sustained, and covered up the poisoning of a community with lead- and legionella-contaminated water after the city began delivering Flint River water to its predominantly poor, African-American residents, knowing that it was not treated for corrosion. Flint residents reported that there was something wrong with the way the water looked, tasted, and smelled and that it was causing rashes. In response, the city treated the water with additional chlorine—exacerbating the corrosion, which contaminated the water with hazardous levels of lead and caused an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. State and city officials failed to stop the delivery of Flint River water and assured the public that the water was safe, knowing it was not. Flint's children will likely be permanently developmentally stunted. Six years later, corroded pipes still infect the water and poison Flint residents. In a consolidated class action, claiming deliberate indifference to the residents being poisoned in violation of their substantive due process right to bodily integrity, the district court denied motions to dismiss with respect to every defendant except State Treasurer Dillon. The Sixth Circuit affirmed but remanded the issue of whether Dillon should be dismissed in light of recent holdings; Dillon was not Treasurer at the time of the switch to river water . No legitimate government purpose justifies the city and state officials’ actions. View "Waid v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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Joshua Palmer was convicted by jury of first degree murder. The jury found true Palmer committed the murder while engaged in the commission or attempted commission of rape, sodomy, and sexual penetration by force, fear or threat. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. On appeal, Palmer contended he was entitled to a new trial under McCoy v. Louisiana, 138 S.Ct. 1500 (2018), which prohibited counsel from conceding guilt when a defendant insisted on maintaining innocence. He also claimed he was entitled to an additional 10 days of custody credit. The Court of Appeal disagreed with Palmer's contention he was entitled to relief under "McCoy." The State conceded, however, Palmer was entitled to ten days of custody credit. Except for instructing the trial court to amend the abstract of judgment to capture the additional 10 days of custody credit, the Court otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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In November 2013, three men robbed a Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania bank. A bank employee, Kane, later admitted to assisting them. The next morning, the three were pulled over in North Carolina. Wilson stated they were driving to Georgia and admitted that they had a lot of cash in the car. The officer, suspecting that they were going to buy drugs in Atlanta, searched the car, found the stolen cash, turned it over to federal agents, then released the men. A week later, three men robbed a Phoenixville, Pennsylvania bank. The police got a tip from Howell, whom Wilson had tried to recruit for the heists. Howell provided Wilson's cell phone number. Police pulled his cell-site location data, which put him at the Bala Cynwyd bank right before the first robbery and showed five calls and 17 text messages to Kane that day. Howell identified Wilson and Moore from a video of the robbery. Kane and Foster took plea bargains. Wilson and Moore were tried for bank robbery, conspiracy, and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Moore was sentenced to 385 months’ imprisonment. Wilson received 519 months. The Third Circuit affirmed. Counsel’s stipulation that the banks were federally insured did not violate the Sixth Amendment, which does not categorically forbid stipulating to a crime’s jurisdictional element without the defendant’s consent or over the defendant’s objection. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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On October 27, 2010, Spears drove Smith and Chandler to Cincinnati to buy drugs. Chandler left the car and returned, stating that “his man was coming.” The men then heard a voice: “Chandler, where’s my money[?]” Smith saw a bearded African American man in his thirties, of average build. Bullets ripped through the side window., hitting Chandler’s spinal cord. Spears rushed Chandler to the hospital, where doctors placed him on life support. Days later, Chandler regained consciousness. He could control movement only in his eyes. Doctors worked out a system of communicating by blinking. Chandler answered questions from his doctors and communicated with Father Seher, a priest and long-time friend. Chandler communicated that he understood his “likelihood of death” and requested Last Rites rather than the Sacrament of the Sick. Chandler later communicated to police that he knew his shooter; he blinked the letter “O.” Police showed him a photo of Woods, a dealer known on the streets as “O.” Chandler confirmed that Woods shot him. Woods had sold Chandler drugs many times. Chandler owed him money; Woods warned Chandler that “something was going to happen.” The shooting happened 100 feet from Woods’ house. Chandler subsequently suffered an aneurysm. On November 12, he died. Police arrested Woods 200 miles away from his home In jail, Woods told his cellmate (an informant) that he shot someone over a drug debt. At trial, the court admitted Chandler’s identification of Woods as a dying declaration. The jury convicted Woods. The Sixth Circuit rejected his habeas petition, rejecting Woods’ claims that the admission of Chandler’s deathbed identification violated the Confrontation Clause and that the state impermissibly struck a black juror based on race. View "Woods v. Cook" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Jordan Sandoval pleaded guilty to committing an assault in Indian Country which resulted in serious bodily injury. He was sentenced to a prison term of 27 months. Sandoval appealed the district court’s sentence as disproportionate by noting crimes either committed with greater intent or causing death are afforded only slightly higher sentencing ranges under the Guidelines. In the alternative, he argued his sentence was substantively unreasonable. Finding that the district court carefully considered Sandoval's arguments before sentencing, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in arriving at his sentence. View "United States v. Sandoval" on Justia Law

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In August 2017, Kansas law enforcement officers, after a traffic chase, pulled over Matthew Holmes for suspected vehicular burglary. The officers were from the City of Newton Police Department (“NPD”), McPherson County Sheriff’s Office (“MCSO”), and Harvey County Sheriff’s Office (“HCSO”). After Holmes stopped and exited the car, officers wrestled him to the ground. McPherson County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Somers shot Holmes in the back. He later died from the gunshot wound. Holmes' estate sued, alleging constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983 ad a state law claim. The district court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motions. In particular, it denied each sheriff’s motion to dismiss based on Eleventh Amendment immunity because, “with respect to local law enforcement activities, sheriffs are not arms of the state but rather of the county that they serve.” The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not err in denying the sheriffs' motions, and therefore affirmed. View "Couser v. Gay" on Justia Law

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After the district court granted petitioner partial habeas relief, both petitioner and the state appealed. The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court that petitioner's guilt-and-penalty ineffective-assistance claims were procedurally defaulted. However, the court held that no procedural default was triggered in the initial Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37 proceedings. In this case, habeas relief cannot be granted on petitioner's guilt-and-penalty ineffective-assistance claims because he cannot establish cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. The court also held that the district court did not err in denying petitioner a hearing for his jury-pool ineffective-assistance claim where petitioner received a constitutionally adequate jury and he was not prejudiced. Finally, the court held that petitioner's McCoy-type claim is procedurally defaulted and the court rejected his request for a hearing. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Thomas v. Payne" on Justia Law

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The Contra Costa County Public Guardian was appointed as the conservator of J.Y.’s person in 2004. The conservatorship was continued 12 times. The guardian filed a petition for reappointment in November 2018. J.Y. objected, requested a jury trial, and objected to the guardian calling her as a witness at trial, arguing that such compelled testimony would violate her due process and equal protection rights. The court overruled that objection. A jury trial was held and J.Y. testified. A psychiatrist testified that J.Y. suffered from schizophrenia; a licensed psychologist testified that J.Y was gravely disabled. The court reappointed the guardian as the conservator of her person and imposed special disabilities depriving J.Y. of the rights to refuse treatment, enter into contracts, and possess or own firearms. The court also designated her current placement in a skilled nursing facility, where she had lived for 10 years, as the least restrictive alternative placement. The court of appeal dismissed an appeal as moot because the one-year conservatorship has terminated but agreed that conservatees are similarly situated to persons found not guilty by reason of insanity in proceedings to extend their civil commitment. Considering the serious liberty interests at stake in involuntary civil commitments, the guardian did not offer a compelling reason why conservatees’ procedural protections should not include the right against compelled testimony. View "Conservatorship of J.Y." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his Nevada convictions for three murders and an attempted murder, as well as his death sentence for one of the murders. The district court issued a certificate of appealability (COA) for petitioner's argument that the procedural default of his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim should be excused in light of Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012). The panel affirmed the denial of habeas relief and held that, although counsel's performance was deficient at the second penalty-phase hearing, petitioner failed to show that he was prejudiced by counsel's performance. In this case, petitioner failed to show that he was prejudiced by the lack of an evidentiary hearing, and his claim remains procedurally defaulted. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the Martinez claim without holding an evidentiary hearing. The panel certified petitioner's claim alleging violation of the rule set out in Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931), but ultimately concluded that this claim does not entitle petitioner to habeas relief because the Stromberg error was harmless. The panel declined to certify the remaining claims because they do not raise substantial questions of law and the panel was not persuaded that reasonable jurists would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong. View "Smith v. Baker" on Justia Law