Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Ricky Lee Cobbs was one of several young men who confronted "Kenny W." at the home of his fiancée. Defendant discovered his gun was missing. While defendant and others were kicking and beating Kenny W., one of the men pulled out a gun, and shot Kenny W. through the heart. At trial with codefendant Undrey Turner, the prosecution argued defendant was guilty of first degree murder on either of two theories: felony murder based on attempted robbery, and murder as the natural and probable consequence of assault and battery. On appeal, Cobbs argued his conviction for murder as the natural and probable consequence of assault and battery was invalid under California v. Chiu, 59 Cal.4th 155 (2014) and In re Martinez, 3 Cal.5th 1216 (2017), and both theories were invalid following changes enacted under Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, sec. 2 (SB 1437).) He contended the Court of Appeal should have vacated his conviction and directed the trial court to conduct further proceedings consistent with sections 188 and 189. The Attorney General agreed the first degree murder conviction was invalid under Chiu and Martinez, but argued the remedy should be the same as was provided in Chiu and Martinez: reverse the first degree murder conviction, and give the State the option of retrying the first degree murder count or reducing the conviction to second degree murder. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Attorney General, as SB 1437 applied retroactively only through its resentencing provision, which did not apply in this habeas proceeding. Accordingly, the Court vacated the first degree murder conviction and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Cobbs" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lonnie Schmidt managed a home foreclosure rescue operation, doing business as Second Opinion Services and Financial Services Bureau Limited. Following a lengthy jury trial in which he represented himself, defendant was convicted on four counts of prohibited practices by a foreclosure consultant, ten counts of filing false instruments, six counts of identity theft, and five counts of attempted grand theft. Defendant was sentenced to a total of 28 years in prison, plus one year to serve in the county jail. On appeal, defendant argued, and the State conceded: (1) insufficient evidence supported some of defendant’s convictions for grand theft; (2) the evidence did not support some of defendant’s convictions for filing false instruments; and (3) the trial court should have stayed his sentence for second degree burglary and attempted grand theft. The Court of Appeal agreed as to all these contentions and reversed judgment and sentence regarding those counts. The Court remanded the case for resentencing in light of this decision. View "California v. Schmidt" on Justia Law

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Defendant Clyde Bovat was convicted of shooting a deer in violation of Vermont big-game-hunting laws and failing to immediately tag the deer. On appeal he claimed the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence allegedly obtained in violation of his constitutional right to be free from warrantless government intrusions. In the early morning hours of Thanksgiving 2017, a resident of Huntington, Vermont was awoken by a gunshot close to his home. The concerned resident called the state game warden to report a possible deer jackIng. In the course of the ensuing investigation, wardens were lead to defendant’s house. Based in part on their observations through the garage window, wardens obtained a search warrant to seize defendant’s truck and collected samples of the blood they had observed, which matched a sample from the deer at issue. They did not photograph the truck until approximately five days after the seizure, during which time the truck had been left outside in inclement weather. Due to exposure to the elements, a smaller amount of blood than originally observed was visible, and deer hair was no longer visible. Defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence obtained through the search warrant. While the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with defendant that his garage is within the curtilage of his home, it was unpersuaded by his remaining arguments. The Supreme Court found the wardens were conducting a legitimate police investigation, during which they observed defendant’s truck in plain view from a semiprivate area. The Court declined to address the merits of defendant’s remaining challenges and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Vermont v. Bovat" on Justia Law

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Defendant Onix Fonseca-Cintron appealed his three domestic assault convictions. He argued the trial court erred in failing to provide the jury with a self-defense instruction. He also argued the underlying conduct supported only one criminal offense, not three. The State charged defendant with three counts of domestic assault: (1) first-degree aggravated domestic assault based on defendant’s attempt to strangle complainant; (2) first-degree aggravated domestic assault with a weapon based on defendant’s hitting the complainant with a sheathed machete and threatening to kill her; and (3) domestic assault based on defendant’s dragging complainant by the hair. The jury found defendant guilty on all three counts. Finding no reversible error in the trial court judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Fonseca-Cintron" on Justia Law

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Save Jobs challenged DHS's rule permitting certain visa holders to seek lawful employment. The rule permitted H–4 visa holders to obtain work authorization if their H–1B visa-holding spouses have been granted an extension of status under the Immigration and Nationality Act or are the beneficiaries of approved Form I–140 petitions but cannot adjust status due to visa oversubscription. The DC Circuit reversed the district court's finding that Save Jobs lacked Article III standing and granting of summary judgment for the Department. The court held that Save Jobs has demonstrated that the rule will subject its members to an actual or imminent increase in competition, and thus Save Jobs has Article III standing to pursue its challenge. The court remanded to give the district court an opportunity to thoroughly assess and finally determine the merits in the first instance. View "Save Jobs USA v. DHS" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentences for four counts of first degree sexual assault, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims of error. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not commit plain error when it admitted the DNA evidence that linked Defendant to the assaults; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it overruled Defendant's motion to remove counsel and appoint substitute counsel; and (3) regarding Defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, either the record on direct appeal showed the claim was without merit or that the record was not sufficient to review the claim. View "State v. Weathers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion to suppress all evidence stemming from a stop of his vehicle, holding that the district court erred in finding that the deputy developed reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity before unreasonably prolonging the stop. After Defendant was stopped for violating Iowa Code 321.297(2) the deputy asked Defendant and his passenger questions. Finding the answers suspicious, the deputy sought permission for a consent search. Defendant consented. After a search of the car, the deputy located more than eighty pounds of marijuana in the trunk. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence, which the district court denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the delay of Defendant's stop was measurable, unreasonable, and in violation of Defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. View "State v. Salcedo" on Justia Law

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Planned Parenthood sued state officials in their official capacities, seeking to enjoin enforcement of Wisconsin abortion regulations. The Attorney General, as counsel for all defendants, answered the complaint, denying that the regulations were unconstitutional. The Wisconsin Legislature moved to intervene, both of right and with court permission, hoping to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. A recently-enacted state statute allows the legislature to intervene “as a matter of right” if a party challenges the constitutionality of a statute. It also asserted an interest based on Supreme Court precedent holding that legislators had standing to challenge actions that nullified the “effectiveness of their votes.” The district court denied the motion, finding that the Legislature lacked an interest that was unique to it; that its interest in the effectiveness of its votes would not be impaired even if the regulations were declared unconstitutional; and that the Attorney General had the duty to defend the statute and was presumed to be an adequate representative. The court expressed concerns about politicizing the case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding no abuse of discretion. While federal law does not mandate that a state speak in a single voice, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24 expresses a preference for it. The Legislature did not demonstrate that the Attorney General is an inadequate representative absent a showing he is acting in bad faith or with gross negligence. View "Wisconsin Legislature v. Kaul" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the former CEO of Alabama One Credit Union, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the Governor of Alabama and his legal advisor, alleging that defendants conspired with others to improperly exert regulatory pressure on the credit union in order to induce Alabama One to settle lawsuits brought by a friend and former law partner of the legal advisor. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that the Governor or his legal advisor was responsible for causing his injuries. Even if the court could assume away the basic causation problem, the court held that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that defendants violated his clearly established constitutional rights. Accordingly, defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and the district court did not err in dismissing the complaint. View "Carruth v. Bentley" on Justia Law

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Jack and Angela Howser decided that Angela’s estranged daughter, Jade, was failing to provide a suitable home for Jade’s four-year-old daughter, E.W. After unsuccessfully attempting to blackmail Jade, they enlisted the local police, the sheriff’s office, the county prosecutor, and a private investigator to help them. The group agreed that they would arrest Jade while Jade’s husband (Josh) was out of the house so that the Howsers could take the child. After midnight on Sunday night, a caravan of the sheriff, a deputy, the Howsers, and the private investigator set out for Jade’s home to arrest her for writing Angela a $200 check that had bounced. Once Jade was in handcuffs, an officer gave Jack the all-clear to come inside. The sheriff did not allow Jade to designate a custodian for E.W. or obtain her consent to giving E.W. to the Howsers. Jade sued the Howsers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for conspiring with state officials to violate her due process right to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of her child. A jury returned a verdict in her favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding sufficient evidence to support the verdict and upholding the magistrate judge’s pretrial decision to exclude unfavorable information about Jade and Josh. The court upheld an award of $970,000 in damages. View "Green v. Howser" on Justia Law