Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant pleaded guilty to two child pornography offenses and was sentenced to 60 months' imprisonment and ten years' supervised release. Subsequently, Defendant moved to challenge eight of his supervised-release conditions, claiming that six of the conditions restrict his liberty more than necessary and that intervening Supreme Court precedent rendered two other conditions limiting his internet use unconstitutional. The district court denied Defendant's motion, finding that it lacked jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant's first claim pertaining to six of the challenged conditions because his arguments should have been raised at sentencing. By not doing so, he deprived the district court of jurisdiction to modify them. However, regarding Defendant's second claim, the court acknowledged that Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730 (2017), created “new, unforeseen, or changed legal . . . circumstances” relevant to Defendant's internet-use conditions. Thus, the district court had jurisdiction to consider Defendant's challenge. The court remanded the case for the district court to decide whether to modify those conditions. View "US v. Sebastian Morris" on Justia Law

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A 2014 act of Congress requires the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to convey Oak Flat to a mining company. In exchange, the mining company was to convey a series of nearby plots of land to the United States (the “Land Exchange”).Plaintiff, a nonprofit organization advocating on behalf of Apache American Indians, sued the government, alleging that the Land Exchange violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), the Free Exercise Clause, and the 1852 Treaty of Santa Fe. The district court denied Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction and Plainitff appealed.On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that, although the government's action was burdensome, it did not create a "substantial burden" under the RFRA. Next, the court held that the Plaintiff's Free-Exercise claim failed because the Land Exchange was neutral in that its object was not to infringe upon the Apache’s religious practices. Finally, the court held that Plaintiff could not establish that the Treaty of Santa Fe imposes an enforceable trust obligation on the United States. Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s order denying Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. View "APACHE STRONGHOLD V. USA" on Justia Law

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Lewis was charged with involuntary sexual servitude of a minor (720 ILCS 5/10-9(c)(2)), traveling to meet a minor (11- 26(a)), and grooming (i11-25(a)). He asserted the defense of entrapment. Convicted, he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. The appellate court reversed the conviction, holding that defense counsel’s cumulative errors rendered the proceeding unreliable under Strickland v. Washington.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the remand for a new trial. Defense counsel was ineffective in presenting his entrapment defense where he failed to object to the circuit court’s responses to two jury notes regarding the legal definition of “predisposed,” object to the prosecutor’s closing argument mischaracterizing the entrapment defense and the parties’ relevant burdens of proof, and present defendant’s lack of a criminal record to the jury. View "People v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Defendant Roy Kuhlmann appealed the denial of his pro se motion for a new trial filed during the pendency of his appeal of his sentence and final judgment. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not have jurisdiction to consider defendant’s motion and therefore affirmed. View "Vermont v. Kuhlmann" on Justia Law

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Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act provides that “[e]xcept in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality, a person shall not intentionally or knowingly perform . . . or induce an abortion of an unborn human being if the probable gestational age of the unborn human being has been determined to be greater than fifteen (15) weeks.” The Fifth Circuit affirmed an injunction, prohibiting enforcement of the Act.The Supreme Court reversed, overruling its own precedent. The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; the authority to regulate abortion belongs to state representatives. Citing the “faulty historical analysis” in Roe v. Wade, the justices concluded that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition; regulations and prohibitions of abortion are governed by the same “rational basis” standard of review as other health and safety measures. The justices analyzed “great common-law authorities,” concerning the historical understanding of ordered liberty. “Attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s ‘concept of existence’ … could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.”Noting “the critical moral question posed by abortion,” the justices compared their decision to Brown v. Board of Education in overruling Plessy v. Ferguson, which “was also egregiously wrong.” Roe conflated the right to shield information from disclosure and the right to make and implement important personal decisions without governmental interference and produced a scheme that "looked like legislation," including a “glaring deficiency” in failing to justify the distinction it drew between pre- and post-viability abortions. The subsequently-described “undue burden” test is unworkable in defining a line between permissible and unconstitutional restrictions. Traditional reliance interests are not implicated because getting an abortion is generally an “unplanned activity,” and “reproductive planning could take virtually immediate account of any sudden restoration of state authority to ban abortions.” The Court emphasized that nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act is supported by the Mississippi Legislature’s specific findings, which include the State’s asserted interest in “protecting the life of the unborn.” View "Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs accused the City of Doraville, Georgia, of violating their right to due process. Each of the four Plaintiffs received citations from the City for traffic or property code violations and were ordered to pay fines and fees by the municipal court. They allege that this process presented an unconstitutional risk of bias because the City’s budget heavily relies on fines and fees, and this reliance could encourage the judge, prosecutor, and law enforcement agents—all paid by the City—to overzealously enforce the law. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that Doraville’s prosecutor has a financial incentive to bring more cases because, like the judge, his income supposedly depends on his ability to generate revenue for the City.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City finding that Plaintiffs have not raised a genuine issue of material fact concerning the bias of Doraville’s judge, its prosecutor, its police, or its code enforcement agents. The court held while unwise for a government to rely on fines and fees to balance its budget, the importance of fines and fees to a city’s budget does not make its procedures for imposing fines and fees unconstitutional.   The court explained that the fact a judge works for a government, which gets a significant portion of its revenues from fines and fees, is not enough to establish an unconstitutional risk of bias on the part of the judge. Further, given the relaxed standard of impartiality for prosecutors, Plaintiffs have presented inadequate evidence that the prosecutor had a personal financial interest. View "Hilda Brucker, et al. v. City of Doraville" on Justia Law

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Los Angeles County Deputy Vega questioned Tekoh at the medical center where Tekoh worked regarding the reported sexual assault of a patient. Vega did not inform Tekoh of his Miranda rights. Tekoh eventually provided a written statement and was prosecuted for unlawful sexual penetration. His written statement was admitted against him at trial. After the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, Tekoh sued Vega under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Ninth Circuit held that the use of an un-Mirandized statement against a defendant in a criminal proceeding violated the Fifth Amendment and could support a section 1983 claim.The Supreme Court reversed. A violation of the Miranda rules does not provide a basis for a section 1983 claim. In Miranda, the Court concluded that additional procedural protections were necessary to prevent the violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Miranda did not hold that a violation of the rules it established necessarily constitute a Fifth Amendment violation. The Miranda rules have been described as “constitutionally based” with “constitutional underpinnings,” but a Miranda violation is not the same as a violation of the Fifth Amendment right.Miranda warnings are “prophylactic,” and can require balancing competing interests. A judicially crafted prophylactic rule should apply only where its benefits outweigh its costs. While the benefits of permitting the assertion of Miranda claims under section 1983 would be slight, the costs would be substantial. View "Vega v. Tekoh" on Justia Law

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Eugene Bullen was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), second offense. He appealed to the County Court of Madison County. Following a bench trial, the trial judge found Bullen guilty and sentenced him to thirty days of imprisonment, a two year’s driver’s license suspension, an alcohol and drug assessment, six months supervised probation, eighteen months unsupervised probation, and eighty hours of community service within six months. Aggrieved by that decision, Bullen appealed to the Madison County Circuit Court. The circuit court held that the decision of the county court was supported by substantial evidence and was not manifestly wrong. Bullen then appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, arguing the trial court erred by not granting his motion to dismiss for insufficiency of the evidence. Bullen argued the State did not meet its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was intoxicated. After review, the Supreme Court held the trial judge was presented with sufficient evidence to find Bullen guilty of violating Mississippi Code Section 63-11-30(1)(a), and accordingly, affirmed. View "Bullen v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Jelani Miles was convicted of shooting into a vehicle, aggravated assault, and second-degree murder. A circuit court sentenced Miles to five years for shooting into a vehicle, twenty years with five years suspended for aggravated assault, and life for second-degree murder, with all sentences to run consecutively. Miles appealed, and the Mississippi Supreme Court deflected his appeal to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed. The Supreme Court granted Miles’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review the remedy ordered by the Court of Appeals for the trial court’s imprecise and incomplete analysis under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals applied the appropriate remedy by remanding for the trial court to conduct a hearing to complete the second and third steps of the Batson analysis for three challenged venirepersons. Therefore, the judgment of the circuit court's judgment was affirmed in part, and the case was remanded. View "Miles v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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On December 14, 2021, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion in this case, upholding the district court's rejection of Plaintiff's challenge to an ATF rule determining that bump stocks are "machineguns" for purposes of the National Firearms Act (NFA) and the federal statutory bar on the possession or sale of new machine guns.However, after a majority of the eligible circuit judges voted in favor of hearing the case en banc, the court vacated its prior opinion so the entire court could hear the case. View "Cargill v. Garland" on Justia Law