Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The Colorado General Assembly unanimously adopted legislative rules that set the number of days to a legislative session to 120 days consecutively from the start of the regular session. The rules had one, single, narrow exception: when the Governor declares a state of disaster emergency and has activated the state’s emergency operations plan due to a public health emergency “infecting or exposing a great number of people to disease, agents, toxins, or other such threats.” The General Assembly agreed that in such circumstances, it would count only “working calendar days” toward the 120-day limit. Before the spring of 2020, this narrow exception had never been triggered. On March 14, 2020, recognizing the danger to the public and legislators posed by continuing to congregate at the State Capitol in light of the novel coronavirus spreading throughout the country, the General Assembly adjourned until March 30, 2020. Both chambers extended their adjournments. This suspension of the regular session was without precedent in state history; moreover, because the situation continued to escalate, the Colorado Supreme Court acknowledged the possibility that the legislature might not be able to convene safely before the originally scheduled adjournment sine die on May 6, 2020. Some have questioned whether the legislative rule counting only “working calendar days” during a declared public health disaster emergency ran afoul of article V, section 7 of the Colorado Constitution, such that legislation passed after May 6 in reliance on the rule could be challenged as void. Thus, the General Assembly petitioned the Supreme Court to exercise its original jurisdiction under article VI, section 3 to settle the issue raised. The Supreme Court determined the limitation on the regular legislative in article V, section to "one hundred twenty calendar days" was ambiguous as to whether those calendar days had to be counted consecutively. The Court further answered that the General Assembly reasonably resolved this ambiguity through its unanimous adoption of Joint Rules 23(d) and 44(g). "Together, these rules interpret article V, section 7 to count the 120 calendar days of a regular session consecutively, except in the extraordinary circumstance of a declared public health disaster emergency that disrupts the regular session, in which case only 'working calendar days' (i.e., calendar days when at least one chamber is in session) count toward the 120-day limit." The Court concluded that such an interpretation did not run afoul of either the text or underlying purposes of article V, section 7 and was therefore valid. View "In re Interrogatory on House Joint Resolution 20-1006" on Justia Law

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On September 20, 2010, at age of 13 appellant, H.R., was adjudicated delinquent for indecent assault of a complainant less than 13 years of age. Appellant was placed on official probation and, pursuant to Section 6352 of the Juvenile Act, was ordered to undergo inpatient treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility. Appellant remained in treatment when he turned 20 in February 2017 and he was assessed pursuant to Section 6352, the results of which found that involuntary treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility pursuant to the Court-Ordered Involuntary Treatment of Certain Sexually Violent Persons Statute (Act 21) was still necessary. On January 4, 2018, following a hearing, a trial court denied appellant's motion to dismiss and granted the petition for involuntary treatment, determining appellant was an sexually violent delinquent child (SVDC) and committing him to one year of mental health treatment. On appeal, appeal, appellant argued: (1) Act 21 was punitive in nature, and this its procedure for determining whether an individual was an SVDC was unconstitutional; and (2) retroactive application of amendments to Act 21 made effective in 2011, was also unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the superior court correctly determined the relevant provisions of Act 21 were not punitive, were constitutional, thus, affirming the trial court's order. View "In re: H.R." on Justia Law

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Audrie, the Potts’ daughter, was sexually assaulted while unconscious from intoxication. Her assailants distributed intimate photographs of her. Audrie committed suicide. The Potts, as the registered successors-in-interest to “deceased personality” rights for Audrie under Civil Code 3344.1, authorized the use of Audrie’s name and likeness in a documentary. The Potts sued Lazarin under section 3344.1, claiming that Lazarin (who claims to be Audrie’s biological father) had used Audrie’s name and likeness "for the purpose of advertising services” without their consent. Lazarin admitted that he had displayed Audrie’s photograph “to change the law regarding parental rights” but argued that he had not acted to promote “goods or services.” The Potts submitted evidence that Lazarin solicited donations for a suicide prevention group, using Audrie’s name and photograph. Lazarin brought an unsuccessful special motion to strike the complaint under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. The court of appeal reversed. Lazarin made a prima facie showing that the Potts’ suit was based on his “written or oral statement or writing made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.” The Potts failed to establish that there was a “probability” that they would “prevail” on their Civil Code section 3344.1 suit; they did not show that Lazarin “misappropriate[ed] the economic value generated by [Audrie’s] fame through the merchandising” of her name or likeness. View "Pott v. Lazarin" on Justia Law

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A fifth-grade student, C.T., lit a match during the bus ride home from an Ohio elementary school. The students sat in assigned seats, with the youngest students at the front of the bus. School administrators moved C.T. to the front of the bus, where he sexually assaulted a kindergarten student, Doe, as they rode home from school over several weeks. The bus driver apparently was aware that C.T. had moved across the aisle to sit with Doe but police concluded that the driver was not aware of the assaults. C.T. was expelled. Doe’s parents brought a state-created-danger claim against the School District and five employees. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, holding that no reasonable jury could find that they knowingly exposed Doe to the risk of sexual assault. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating “that the Constitution does not empower federal judges to remedy every situation” that is “heart-wrenching.” Nothing about C.T.’s school record could have put the school employees on notice that C.T. posed a risk of sexually assaulting Doe. The school employees’ responses to the risk also do not show the “callous disregard” or “conscience-shocking” behavior that state-created-danger cases require. Certain employees could have done more in implementing C.T.’s discipline, but their actions did not amount to “callous disregard for the safety” of Doe. View "Doe v. Jackson Local School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

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State Trooper King saw Lott’s vehicle slow down on I-75 as it came into view; Lott was driving with “arms locked out.” King interpreted that as a sign of nervousness. King followed Lott for three-fourths of a mile in the left lane while vehicles passed on the right, then pulled Lott over. King stated that he was not going to issue a citation but ran Lott’s driver’s license for outstanding warrants and flagged down Trooper Reams, who had a K-9 in tow. Based on Lott’s nervousness and proximity to the roadway, King asked him to step out of the vehicle. King did not check the warrant search. Lott refused King’s request for consent to search his vehicle. King stated that “we’re going to utilize the K-9.” According to King, Lott responded, “I have a little bit of marijuana in the console.” The K-9 alerted after a “free air sniff.” King located marijuana in the console, then searched the vehicle. In the trunk, King found heroin, other drugs, and money. The Troopers estimated that five-10 minutes elapsed between the stop and the K-9 sniff. Lott was charged under 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion to suppress. The traffic stop was initiated constitutionally and was not impermissibly extended. Lott did not dispute that he was impeding traffic; the marijuana admission occurred within the temporal scope of the tasks incident to the traffic stop. View "United States v. Lott" on Justia Law

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Detective Shockley, investigating whether methamphetamine was being sold at Alexander's mother's house, learned that Alexander’s driver’s license was suspended. Shockley saw Alexander drive away, stopped him and saw a bank deposit bag on the passenger seat and a safe in the backseat. Shockley arrested Alexander for driving on a suspended license and conducted a search, finding a baggie with methamphetamine residue, drug paraphernalia, and $11,000 in cash. Shockley found 35 grams of methamphetamine in Alexander’s waistband. The SUV was towed. The next day, Shockley obtained a warrant for the safe and discovered a loaded pistol. Days later, Shockley saw Alexander leave the house in a Lincoln and called another officer, who stopped him. Shockley arrested Alexander. After Alexander said, “I don’t care,” Shockley searched the vehicle, and found 113 grams of methamphetamine. Charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, and possession of a firearm as a felon, Alexander unsuccessfully moved to suppress both stops. Classified as a career offender, he was sentenced to 216 months’ incarceration. The Sixth Circuit upheld the denial of the motion to suppress. The inventory search exception did not apply absent evidence of standardized procedures but the inevitable-discovery doctrine salvaged the first search. Alexander consented to the second search. The court vacated the sentence; the government conceded that the case should be remanded for resentencing without the career-offender enhancement. View "United States v. Alexander" on Justia Law

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Within two months after plaintiff filed suit against Holiday seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Holiday remedied the violations. Three months later, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Holiday, holding that the post-suit alterations mooted plaintiff's accessibility claims. Furthermore, because there was no fair notice of the flared-sides issue, the disputed measurements are not a genuine issue of material fact. The court also held that the district court correctly ruled that nominal damages are not available under Title III of the ADA, and that requesting them does not affect mootness. View "Hillesheim v. Holiday Stationstores, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant, Lydia Metcalf, was convicted as a party of second-degree felony sexualassault based on her husband's anal rape of their then 16-year-old daughter. Metcalf was sentenced to three years in prison, but no fine. On appeal, she argued the evidence presented at trial was legally insufficient to convict because it did not show she had intent to promote or assist her husband's sexual assault. The court of appeals agreed, and rendered an acquittal. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State's petition for review, but the acquittal was affirmed. "Under the hypothetically correct jury charge, the State had to prove that Metcalf, at the time of the offense, intended to promote or assist the commission of the anal penetration alleged in the indictment. But because the evidence does not show that it was Metcalf’s conscious objective or desire for Allen to sexually assault Amber, the evidence is insufficient to show that she intended to promote or assist commission of that offense." View "Metcalf v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In 2015, while incarcerated in a penal institution, Appellant Billy Joel Tracy killed a correctional officer, for which he was convicted by jury of capital murder and sentenced to death. On automatic appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, appellant raised fourteen points of error. Finding none of merit, the Court affirmed conviction and appellant's death sentence. View "Tracy v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Tiffany Reichard was bound over to Circuit Court on a charge of open murder under a felony-murder theory for having aided and abetted her boyfriend in an armed robbery during which he stabbed a man to death. Defendant moved to present evidence that her boyfriend had physically abused her and that she had participated in the armed robbery under duress. The court granted the motion. The prosecution filed an interlocutory application for leave to appeal, and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that duress could not be used as a defense to first-degree felony murder when the claim of duress involves the defendant’s participation in the underlying felony. The Michigan Supreme Court held that duress could be asserted as an affirmative defense to murder if it was a defense to the underlying felony. "That Michigan has a separate malice requirement for felony murder does not alter our conclusion." The Court therefore reversed the appellate court and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings: the trial court had to provide a duress instruction to the jury if such instruction was requested by defendant, and if a rational view of the evidence supported the conclusion that defendant aided her boyfriend with robbery out of duress. View "Michigan v. Reichard" on Justia Law