Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Under the felony-murder rule as it existed prior to Senate Bill 1437 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, eff. Jan. 1, 2019), a defendant who intended to commit a specified felony could be convicted of murder for a killing during the felony, or attempted felony, without further examination of his or her mental state. Independent of the felony-murder rule, the natural and probable consequences doctrine rendered a defendant liable for murder if he or she aided and abetted the commission of a criminal act (a target offense), and a principal in the target offense committed murder (a nontarget offense) that, even if unintended, was a natural and probable consequence of the target offense. Senate Bill 1437 restricted the application of the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences doctrine, as applied to murder, by amending Penal Code section 189. Real parties in interest Allen Gooden and Marty Dominguez were convicted of murder in unrelated proceedings: Gooden was convicted of first degree felony murder in 1982 for the death of a neighbor during a burglary; Dominguez was found guilty of second degree murder in 1990 after a companion killed a pedestrian under facts suggesting the jury may have relied on the natural and probable consequence doctrine. Real parties in interest filed petitions requesting vacatur of their murder convictions and resentencing. The State moved to dismiss the petitions on grounds that Senate Bill 1437, which voters did not approve, impermissibly amended two voter-approved initiatives, Proposition 7 and Proposition 115. According to the State, these alleged amendments were unconstitutional. The trial court consolidated real party in interests' cases and denied the motions. The court found Senate Bill 1437 did not amend Proposition 7 because it did "not reduce sentences for first or second degree-murder." Further, the court found Senate Bill 1437 did not amend Proposition 115 because it did not "in any way modif[y]" the predicate offenses on which first degree felony-murder liability may be based. Therefore, the court found Senate Bill 1437 was not an invalid legislative amendment. Like the trial court, the Court of Appeal concluded Senate Bill 1437 was not an invalid amendment to Proposition 7 or Proposition 115 because it neither added to, nor took away from, the initiatives. Therefore, the State's petitions for writ relief were denied. View "California v. Superior Court (Gooden)" on Justia Law

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Under the felony-murder rule as it existed prior to Senate Bill 1437 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, eff. Jan. 1, 2019), a defendant who intended to commit a specified felony could be convicted of murder for a killing during the felony, or attempted felony, without further examination of his or her mental state. Independent of the felony-murder rule, the natural and probable consequences doctrine rendered a defendant liable for murder if he or she aided and abetted the commission of a criminal act (a target offense), and a principal in the target offense committed murder (a nontarget offense) that, even if unintended, was a natural and probable consequence of the target offense. Senate Bill 1437 restricted the application of the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences doctrine, as applied to murder, by amending Penal Code section 189. Patty Ann Lamoureux appealed an order denying her petition to vacate a first degree murder conviction and obtain resentencing under the procedures established by Senate Bill 1437. The trial court denied the petition after concluding the resentencing provision of Senate Bill 1437 invalidly amended Proposition 7, a voter initiative that increased the punishments for persons convicted of murder. The State urged the Court of Appeal to affirm the denial order on grounds that: (1) Senate Bill 1437 invalidly amended Proposition 7; (2) Senate Bill 1437 invalidly amended Proposition 115, a voter initiative that augmented the list of predicate offenses for first degree felony-murder liability; (3) the resentencing provision violated the separation of powers doctrine; and/or (4) the resentencing provision deprived crime victims the rights afforded them by the Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008 (Marsy's Law). In California v. Superior Court (Gooden), ___ Cal.App.5th ___ (Nov. 19, 2019, D075787) a companion case issued with this case, the Court of Appeal concluded Senate Bill 1437 did not invalidly amend Proposition 7 or Proposition 115. Like the Gooden opinion, the Court reached the same determination here. Further, the Court concluded the resentencing provision of Senate Bill 1437 did not contravene separation of powers principles or violate the rights of crime victims. Therefore, the Court found "no constitutional infirmity" with Senate Bill 1437, and reversed the order denying Lamoureux's petition. View "California v. Lamoureux" on Justia Law

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Vaquero filed suit challenging provisions of a new zoning ordinance requiring permits for new oil and gas exploration, drilling, and production. The ordinance imposed a wide range of environmental and other standards on permit applicants, adopting two procedural pathways for obtaining permits when the proposed activity would be conducted on split-estate land zoned for agriculture. Vaquero alleged that the new provisions violated its constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The trial court rejected Vaquero's claims and the company appealed. Based on its interpretation of a line of relevant United States Supreme Court cases, the Court of Appeal held that the new ordinance did not violate Vaquero's right to due process because the owner of the surface rights does not have final control over how an owner of mineral rights uses those rights. Rather, the final authority over permits is retained by the County. In regard to the equal protection claim, the court applied the deferential rational basis test and held that the board of supervisors rationally could have decided the availability of an expedited seven-day pathway would promote cooperation between owners of mineral rights and owners of surface rights and reduce conflicts, which is a legitimate public purpose. View "Vaquero Energy v. County of Kern" on Justia Law

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By separate bills of information, defendant Valentino Hodge was charged with one count of domestic abuse battery by strangulation in the presence of a minor, and with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Defendant pleaded not guilty, and the charges were slated for a jury trial. Owing in large measure to the defendant’s vacillation between being represented by appointed counsel and seeking retained counsel, the trial date was continued several times. In January 2019, the state filed a motion in limine seeking to have the district court declare that the defendant would be tried by a jury composed of twelve jurors, ten of whom must concur to render a verdict. The next day, without a hearing, the district court signed an order denying the state’s motion in limine and declaring that defendant was entitled to a unanimous jury verdict pursuant to the district court’s own earlier ruling in Louisiana v. Maxie, 11th Judicial District Court, No. 13-CR-72522, October 11, 2018. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined the district court committed two interrelated errors: (1) creating, on its own initiative, a constitutional challenge to statutory law and to provisions of the Louisiana Constitution; and (2) striking down the jury verdict regime as unconstitutional on the basis of an earlier, nonbinding district court holding. Based on these errors, the Supreme Court vacated the district court’s ruling and remanded for further proceedings. View "Louisiana v. Hodge" on Justia Law

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A jury found Defendant–Appellant Kevin Leffler guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, possessing a short-barreled shotgun in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, possessing with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, and possessing an unregistered firearm. Defendant appealed only his conviction for possession of a short-barreled shotgun in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, arguing the Government presented insufficient evidence for the jury to find him guilty of this offense. Because Defendant waived his only asserted ground for appeal, the Tenth Circuit declined to address the merits of his claim. View "United States v. Leffler" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellees, Cloudi Mornings and Austin Miller (collectively Cloudi Mornings) filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief with the District Court of Tulsa County. In the petition, Cloudi Mornings stated that it was an L.L.C. with its primary business activities located within the City of Broken Arrow and that Austin Miller was a resident of Broken Arrow, and that as a "business within city limits," they had a vested interest in City enacted medical marijuana rules related to the voter approved June 26, 2018, Initiative Petition 788 which legalized medical marijuana in the State of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained this case to address the authority of a city, such as the City of Broken Arrow, to zone/regulate a medical marijuana establishment within city limits. However, because this case lacked any case or controversy as to these plaintiffs, and was merely a request for an advisory opinion, the Court dismissed the appeal. View "Cloudi Mornings, LLC v. City of Broken Arrow" on Justia Law

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HHS issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) in 2018, soliciting applications for family planning grants. Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the FOA as inconsistent with a governing regulation and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The district court rejected their claims, and granted summary judgment for HHS. After plaintiffs appealed, HHS issued its FOA announcing grants for 2018. The DC Circuit held that plaintiffs' appeal was moot because, while the appeal was pending, HHS disbursed the grant funds for 2018, issued a modified FOA for 2019, and amended the regulation. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to dismiss the case as moot. View "Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Azar" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's denial of his Federal Rule Civil of Procedure 60(b) motion to reconsider termination of the Milburn consent decree, which provided injunctive relief to inmates at Green Haven Correctional Facility seeking access to adequate medical care. The Second Circuit reversed and held that plaintiff had standing to invoke Rule 60(b) to challenge the termination because he was sufficiently connected with the underlying litigation and his interests were strongly affected by the termination. The court also held that the termination of the consent decree violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)(4) and the Due Process Clause because the class was inadequately represented at the times relevant to the termination proceedings. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Irvin v. Harris" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held in this case that the governor was permitted to make an interim appointment when the term of an official who is statutorily permitted to holdover expires and the senate is not in session. Michael Champley's term as commissioner of the Hawai'i Public Utilities Commission was set to expire on June 30, 2016. The 2016 legislative session ended on May 5, 2016 without the governor submitting a nomination for a new commission to replace Champley. On June 28, 2016, Champley stated that he intended to continue to serve as "holdover" commissioner until his successor was appointed and confirmed by the senate. The next day, however, the governor announced that he intended to exercise his constitutional authority to temporarily fill the vacancy to appoint Thomas Goran to replace Champley following the expiration of Champley's term. Plaintiff filed a complaint and quo warranty petition against Gorak and the State, alleging that no vacancy existed, and therefore, the interim appointment power of the governor was not implicated. The circuit court granted Gorak's motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a vacancy existed upon the expiration of Champley's term as commissioner, and therefore, the governor was entitled to appoint Goran on an interim basis. View "Morita v. Gorak" on Justia Law

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Officer Nelson learned from Heard, who was previously unknown to Nelson, that Crawford was dealing cocaine. Heard identified Crawford’s driver’s license photograph and provided Crawford’s telephone number. Nelson contacted the Drug Abuse Reduction Task Force and the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition Task Force; both confirmed Heard’s reliability as an informant. Nelson reviewed Crawford’s drug-trafficking convictions. Heard showed Nelson text messages between Crawford and Heard. Nelson obtained a state court warrant to electronically track Crawford’s cellphone. Heard told Nelson that Crawford drove a silver 2003 BMW X5 and, using the license plate number provided by Heard, Nelson learned that the vehicle was registered to Crawford at a Cincinnati residence. Cellphone data placed Crawford near a Florence, Kentucky apartment, leased to Crawford’s wife. Nelson surveilled the apartment. He saw Crawford exit the apartment and leave in the BMW. A warrant issued, authorizing officers to use GPS tracking on that vehicle. Weeks later, Heard completed a controlled drug buy from Crawford. Another search warrant was issued for Crawford’s apartment, where officers found cocaine and $1,390 in tagged bills used in the controlled buy. Mirandized, Crawford incriminated himself, admitting that he sold the cocaine on consignment and that he had placed cocaine under his sink. Crawford unsuccessfully argued that the warrants should not have issued. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Crawford’s convictions and 216-month sentence, finding the warrants justified. The informant’s reliability was confirmed by law enforcement agencies and through the affiant officer’s own research. Key information disclosed by the informant proved credible. View "United States v. Crawford" on Justia Law