Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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In 1998, Long, age 16, got into Purkey’s truck. Purkey, 46, threatened her with a knife and drove her across the state line to his home, where he raped her and ultimately killed her. Purkey dismembered Long’s body and burned the pieces. He dumped the remains into a septic lagoon. Later in 1998, he killed 80-year-old Bales. He was caught. While awaiting trial, Purkey contacted Detective Howard about Long and insisted that an FBI agent come along because he thought that if he were convicted on federal charges, he could serve a life sentence in a federal facility. Purkey confessed to killing Long, took them to the crime scene, and gave handwritten confessions. Howard and Tarpley denied that any deal was on the table. After Purkey pleaded guilty to the Bales murder, he was indicted for Long's kidnapping, rape, and murder. Purkey had repeatedly confessed to kidnapping Long; his defense was that he thought she was a prostitute who willingly accompanied him and that he had fabricated the kidnapping claim to be prosecuted in federal court. Defense counsel did not object to the use of his confessions to refute that story. A jury voted for a death sentence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief, rejecting claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel and several alleged violations of his due process rights--government misconduct during the trial, insufficient evidence to find kidnapping beyond a reasonable doubt, and error in the jury’s failure to address the question of mitigating evidence. View "Purkey v. United States" on Justia Law

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Proponents of a criminal-justice reform initiative that they seek to place on the ballot for the 2020 Michigan general election sued state officials, who continued to strictly enforce the signature requirement for initiatives even after Governor Whitmer issued an order requiring most Michigan residents to remain in their homes as part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding that the combination of the stay-at-home order and the signature requirement violates the First Amendment by creating a severe restriction on their access to the ballot, the district court enjoined the strict enforcement of the signature requirement. The court rejected a proposed compromise that included a several-weeks extension of the filing deadline. The Sixth Circuit declined to issue an emergency stay pending appeal. With respect to the burden imposed on the Plaintiffs’ access to the ballot, the restrictions at issue are identical to those previously found to be severe. The Defendants failed to show a likelihood that the district court abused its discretion by rejecting the proposed remedy of extending the petition deadline by, at most, 35 days. The court took “no position on the merits.” View "SawariMedia, LLC v. Whitmer" on Justia Law

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Falealo Pulusila was charged with fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance (methamphetamine), misconduct involving weapons in the fifth degree, failure to carry proof of auto insurance, and failure to carry vehicle liability insurance. He entered into a plea agreement in July 2013, pursuant to which he pleaded guilty to the fourth-degree misconduct charge and the State dismissed the other charges; the court sentenced him to 48 months’ imprisonment with 42 months suspended and three years’ probation. In July 2014 Pulusila’s probation officer petitioned to revoke his probation for five alleged violations. The court found that he violated his probation and ordered him to serve 25 days of his suspended jail time. Over the next two years the probation officer petitioned the court four more times to revoke Pulusila’s probation, and the court ordered him to serve various amounts of his suspended jail time in connection with each. This appeal involved the probation officer’s fifth petition to revoke probation. The probation officer alleged that Pulusila was in possession of certain prohibited items after he was found in a truck with those items. Pulusila argued that the State had to show that he knew the items were in the borrowed truck for there to be a violation. The superior court disagreed and imposed all of the remaining time in the probationer’s suspended sentence. The court of appeals reversed, holding that there was a mens rea requirement for possession as a condition of probation. The State petitioned for hearing, arguing that the court of appeals significantly modified the Alaska Supreme Court's decision in Trumbly v. State, which outlined the proper analytical framework for probation revocation hearings; the State also argued that the court of appeals erred in holding that the probation condition included a mens rea requirement. After review, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its Trumbly holding and Trumbly's two-stage probation revocation hearing process. Further, the Court held that the appropriate mens rea requirement for possession of items prohibited by a condition of probation was a negligence standard, not an actual knowledge standard: the State must prove the probationer knew or should have known he was in possession of items prohibited by a condition of probation. The Court thus reversed the court of appeals’ decision and remanded to the superior court to determine whether Pulusila knew or should have known that he was in possession of the prohibited items. View "Alaska v. Pulusila" on Justia Law

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During defendant Isaiah Payne's trial for third-degree sexual abuse, the complainant denied including a racial description of defendant in her statement to police and accused defense counsel of trying to make her look racist. The author of the police report testified that he had included that racial description in quotation marks because it was a direct quote from the complainant. Based on the difference between the officer’s testimony and the complainant’s testimony, defendant requested the uniform witness-false-in-part jury instruction. The trial court denied that request, and the jury found defendant guilty. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that, even if the trial court had erred in failing to deliver the requested witness-false-in-part instruction, any error was harmless. The Oregon Supreme Court granted certiorari review to address whether a trial court had to give a requested witness-false-in-part jury instruction if there was evidence to support a conclusion that a witness consciously testified falsely. Based on the Supreme Court's statutory construction of the phrase “all proper occasions” in ORS 10.095, the Court concluded the trial court should have given the instruction. The Court concluded it was not a harmless error by the trial court. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeal and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Payne" on Justia Law

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By Legislative Referendum (LR) 401 (2020), the Oregon legislature asked voters to approve or reject a constitutional amendment that would permit the legislature, local governments, and the people through the initiative process to pass laws regulating campaign finance and advertising. As provided in Oregon Laws 2019, chapter 674, section 1, a joint legislative committee drafted the ballot title and explanatory statement for LR 401. In consolidated cases, petitioners sought review of the ballot title and the explanatory statement. Petitioner Markley challenged all parts of the ballot title, contending that the caption, “yes” and “no” result statements, and the summary did not comply with the requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2). Petitioner Buel challenged the ballot title summary and the explanatory statement. After the parties completed briefing on petitioners’ challenges, this court decided Multnomah County v. Mehrwein, 366 Or 295, 462 P3d 706 (2020), in which the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that a Multnomah County ordinance limiting campaign contributions was not subject to a facial challenge under Article I, section 8, of the Oregon Constitution. That decision overruled, in part, the court’s earlier decision in Vannatta v. Keisling, 931 P2d 770 (1997), which held that certain statutes that provided for, among other things, mandatory limits on contributions to state political campaigns, violated Article I, section 8. Because the ballot title “no” result statement and summary and the explanatory statement all briefly described the state of the law before the court’s issuance of the Mehrwein decision, the Court asked the parties to submit supplemental briefing concerning the effect, if any, that Mehrwein had on this matter. After review of the supplemental briefs of the parties, the Supreme Court concluded the the ballot title’s “no” result statement and summary and the explanatory statement had to be modified. The Court otherwise rejected petitioners’ arguments. The ballot title was referred back to the Attorney General for modification. View "Buel/Markley v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's adverse grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against the county, the sheriff, and two deputy sheriffs. The court held that Deputy Ford was entitled to qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment false arrest claim where he had probable cause to make the warrantless arrest of plaintiff. In this case, prior to arresting plaintiff, Deputy Ford was told by his dispatcher that plaintiff had tried to stab the victim; the victim gave both oral and written statements about the incident; and other evidence corroborated the victim's statements. The court also held that the sheriff and the second deputy are entitled to qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment false arrest claim; the officers are entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim for failure to investigate; plaintiff's section 1983 civil conspiracy claim failed as a matter of law because plaintiff failed to establish that he was deprived of a constitutional right or privilege; and in the absence of a constitutional violation, plaintiff's Monell claim also failed. View "Kingsley v. Lawrence County" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's sua sponte dismissal of plaintiff's in forma pauperis complaint as failing to state a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff is currently serving a prison sentence and has a diagnosis of diverticulitis, a chronic colon condition that causes diarrhea and constipation. The court held that plaintiff has stated a Title II claim by sufficiently alleging that he is a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA and that he was denied the benefit of the prison's privilege system by reason of his disability. The court also held that plaintiff has stated a claim under Title VI and that defendants retaliated against him for his filing of ADA grievances by taking the adverse action of rescinding his medical classification without providing a medical reevaluation or rationale. Finally, because plaintiff's complaint sufficiently states a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court necessarily reversed the district court's assignment of a strike under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. View "Rinehart v. Weitzell" on Justia Law

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Brian Davenport appealed his convictions for malice murder and other crimes in connection with the death of Debora Abney. Davenport contended: (1) the evidence was insufficient to convict him; and (2) that the trial court erred by admitting improper character evidence under OCGA 24-4-404 (b) and certain hearsay evidence. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed because the evidence was legally sufficient to support Davenport’s convictions, any error in the admission of the Rule 404 (b) evidence was harmless, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the hearsay evidence. However, by this opinion, the Court also announced it would end its practice of sua sponte review of the constitutional sufficiency of the evidence supporting convictions in appeals of non-death penalty murder cases, beginning with cases that docket to the term of court that begins December 2020. The Court stated it would begin assigning cases to the December Term on August 3, 2020. View "Davenport v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity to defendant on plaintiff's claim of deliberate indifference under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Plaintiff alleged that defendant was deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs resulting from an alleged psychological crisis when defendant failed to take any measures to address plaintiff's risk of suicide. The court held that plaintiff failed to establish a triable material issue of fact showing either that defendant's actions, which led to a three-hour delay in medical treatment, manifested deliberate indifference or that defendant's conduct was objectively unreasonable under clearly established law. In this case, the record does not support an inference that while in defendant's custody plaintiff faced a substantial risk of suicide. Furthermore, defendant's conduct did not amount to inaction in response to plaintiff's outcry for psychological assistance. View "Baldwin v. Dorsey" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was denied tenure as an assistant professor of Legal Studies at the University of Mississippi, he filed suit against several university officials in their individual capacities, alleging that they violated his substantive due process rights when they evaluated his eligibility for tenure in an arbitrary and capricious manner. A jury subsequently awarded plaintiff over $200,000 in damages for lost wages and past and future pain and suffering. The Fifth Circuit reversed and rendered judgment in favor of defendants, holding that the district court erred when it denied defendants' motions for qualified immunity and concluded that plaintiff had a clearly established property interest. In this case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the language in his contract that allegedly guaranteed him a "fair process of tenure review" gave rise to a clearly-established property right. View "Wigginton v. Jones" on Justia Law