Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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In a previous appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed defendant Shaun Shaw’s convictions for burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, and making a criminal threat, but remanded to allow the trial court to exercise its new authority pursuant to Senate Bill No. 1393 (Senate Bill 1393) (Stats. 2018, ch. 1013) to consider striking Shaw’s five-year enhancement for his serious prior felony conviction. At resentencing, the trial court again imposed the enhancement. Shaw challenged that decision and further arged that he was again entitled to resentencing, this time in light of Senate Bill No. 136 (Senate Bill 136) (Stats. 2019, ch. 590). After review, the Court of Appeal found no abuse of discretion in the decision not to strike the five-year enhancement imposed under section 667(a)(1). Nevertheless, resentencing was necessary to permit the trial court to strike the prison priors pursuant to recently enacted Senate Bill 136. View "California v. Shaw" on Justia Law

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Fletcher was convicted of importuning a minor under Ohio law. Under the terms of his probation, Fletcher “[a]greed to a search without warrant of [his] person, [his] motor vehicle or [his] place of residence by a Probation Officer at any time.” During a routine visit, his probation officer noticed that Fletcher had two phones. The officer stated that he was going to search the phones and observed that Fletcher responded nervously and began looking through one of them. Fletcher initially resisted but ultimately unlocked the phone. The officer, searching through the phone, saw an image of child pornography. Detective Carter executed a warrant to search the phone, which contained child pornography that had been downloaded from the internet and that had been filmed by the phone itself. Carter forwarded the videos filmed on the phone to federal agents. For the downloaded child pornography, Fletcher pled guilty in state court, to pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor. For the videos filmed on the phone, Fletcher was charged in federal court with conspiracy to produce child pornography and production of child pornography. His motion to suppress the evidence recovered from his cell phone was denied. Fletcher was sentenced to 35 years in prison, to run concurrently with his 10-year state sentence.The Sixth Circuit reversed. The probation officer did not have reasonable suspicion to search Fletcher’s cell phone and Fletcher’s probation agreement did not authorize the search. View "United States v. Fletcher" on Justia Law

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Henry Jones appealed the denial of his petition to vacate his murder conviction under Penal Code section 1170.95, the resentencing provision of Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) In 2000, Jones was convicted of attempted murder and first degree felony murder, and the jury also found true the robbery-murder special circumstance, which authorized a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for “a major participant” in a felony murder who acted with “reckless indifference to human life.” The trial court summarily denied Jones’s section 1170.95 petition on groundd that his special circumstance finding rendered him ineligible for relief as a matter of law. On appeal, Jones argued the trial court erred by denying his petition without the benefit of briefing from his counsel. He argued he could demonstrate a prima facie case for relief because his special circumstance finding no longer supported a felony-murder conviction after the California Supreme Court’s decisions in California v. Banks, 61 Cal.4th 788 (2015) and California v. Clark, 63 Cal.4th 522 (2016), which clarified the meaning of “major participant” and “reckless indifference to human life.” California appellate courts have split over whether such a pre-Banks/Clark special circumstance finding rendered a petitioner ineligible for relief under section 1170.95 as a matter of law. The Court of Appeal agreed with the line of decisions in California v. Gomez, 52 Cal.App.5th 1 (2020) and California v. Galvan, 52 Cal.App.5th 1134 (2020), which held that a petitioner with a pre-Banks/Clark finding was ineligible for relief under section 1170.95 as a matter of law. The Court therefore affirmed. View "California v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Barton was convicted by jury on five counts of forcible oral copulation, and one count of forcible sodomy. The jury reached its verdict only after the trial court discharged a holdout juror (Juror No. 12), after it found she was refusing to deliberate. Thereafter, the trial court sentenced Barton to a prison term of 48 years. Barton appealed, contending, inter alia, the trial court abused its discretion by discharging Juror No. 12 on the basis that she was refusing to deliberate. Barton contended the other jurors’ testimony demonstrated only that Juror No. 12 disagreed with the other jurors, who found her to be unfriendly and unable to offer persuasive explanations for her opinion, not that she was unable or unwilling to deliberate. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed: under the heightened standard of review that applies to a trial court’s decision to discharge a holdout juror for refusing to deliberate, the Court concluded the trial court’s decision to discharge Juror No. 12 was not manifestly supported by evidence. Accordingly, the Court did not address Barton’s other contentions on appeal, other than his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, and reversed the judgment. View "California v. Barton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice of the Court denying Petitioner's petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying relief.Petitioner was indicted on several counts of rape and one count of strangulation or suffocation. Petitioner was committed for observation to Bridgewater State Hospital for a determination whether he was competent to stand trial. Petitioner was found incompetent to stand trial and committed to the hospital pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 16. Petitioner, who remains in the hospital, filed a Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition claiming, among other things, that his constitutional rights had been violated. The single justice denied the petition without a hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner had an adequate alternative remedy and that his claims did not present a situation warranting extraordinary superintendence relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. View "Ardaneh v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the enforcement of portions of Mo. Rev. Stat. 115.302, which provides for voting by mail-in ballot due to the ongoing global pandemic. Plaintiffs alleged that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by treating mail-in ballots differently than absentee ballots, requiring the former to be returned by mail only while allowing the latter to be returned by mail or in-person, either from the voter himself or a relative within the second degree of consanguinity. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiffs and the Secretary entered a temporary administrative stay of the preliminary injunction.The Eighth Circuit granted the Secretary's motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. The court held that the Secretary has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, under the Anderson-Burdick standard, that the requirement that mail-in ballots be returned by USPS mail is a minimal burden and a reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction. The Secretary has also shown that the State will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not grant the stay, and that the remaining factors of injury to other parties and the public's interest weigh in favor of granting the motion to stay. View "Organization for Black Struggle v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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The City of Houston contends that it is being sued for a so-called "zombie" law. The City's Charter allows only registered voters to circulate petitions for initiatives and referenda, even though the Supreme Court held a similar law unconstitutional twenty years ago. Plaintiffs, Trent and Trey Pool, sought a preliminary injunction allowing them to collect signatures for their anti-pay-to-play petition as well as a declaratory judgment that the Charter's voter-registration and residency provisions are unconstitutional, permanent injunctive relief against enforcement of those provisions, and nominal damages. Plaintiffs also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which would allow them to circulate the petition through the deadline of July 9, 2019. The district court granted a TRO, allowing plaintiffs to circulate the petition for the next week, but concluded that plaintiffs had not demonstrated an injury sufficient to support standing with regard to future petitions. The district court later dismissed plaintiffs' remaining claims. Although the City now concedes that the qualified-voter requirement is unconstitutional, at issue is whether plaintiffs may obtain a permanent injunction preventing its enforcement.The Fifth Circuit held that, although there would not usually be a reasonable fear of continued enforcement of a zombie law, the history of Houston's qualified-voter requirement gives Trent Pool standing to seek an injunction that would guard against continued chilling of his speech. The court also held that the City has not met its heavy burden of showing that plaintiffs' challenges are moot. Therefore, because there is a reasonable concern that the City might enforce its unconstitutional Charter provision, the court reversed the judgment dismissing this case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pool v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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Jeremy Tellez was charged with DUI offenses and sought pretrial mental health diversion. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review was which of the two statutes prevailed: Vehicle Code section 23640 or Penal Code section 1001.36. Like the trial court, the Court concluded that Vehicle Code section 23640 prevailed and barred pretrial mental health diversion for defendants charged with DUI offenses. the Court therefore denied Tellez’s petition for a writ of mandate. View "Tellez v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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SMART manages a public-transportation system for the counties in and around Detroit. For a fee, parties may display advertisements on the inside and outside of SMART’s buses and bus shelters. SMART guidelines prohibit “political” ads; ads that engage in “scorn or ridicule”; advertising promoting the sale of alcohol or tobacco; advertising that is false, misleading, or deceptive; advertising that is clearly defamatory or likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule any person or group of persons; advertising that is obscene or pornographic or advocates imminent lawlessness or unlawful violent action.AFDI sought to run an ad that said: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? RefugefromIslam.com.” SMART rejected this ad as “political” and as holding up a group of people to “scorn or ridicule.”Initially, the Sixth Circuit held that the advertising space on SMART’s buses is a nonpublic forum and that SMART likely could show that its restrictions were reasonable and viewpoint neutral. In light of subsequent Supreme Court decisions, the Sixth Circuit reversed. SMART’s ban on “political” ads is unreasonable because SMART offers no “sensible basis for distinguishing what may come in from what must stay out.”. SMART’s ban on ads that engage in “scorn or ridicule” is not viewpoint-neutral. For any group, “an applicant may [display] a positive or benign [ad] but not a derogatory one.” View "American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation" on Justia Law