Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Hamid Sow, a citizen of Guinea, sought review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) denial of his motion to remand based upon ineffective assistance of counsel, and motion to reopen based upon new evidence. In December 2016, Sow entered the United States and immediately applied for asylum because he was a homosexual, and the stigma of being a homosexual in a devout Muslim community in his homeland meant danger for himself and his family. Sow only spoke French, and relied on other detainees to relate information to his attorney. Without a translator, Sow's counsel did not fully understand Sow’s concerns: Sow tried to communicate to his counsel that the content of affidavits counsel “did not match up with what happened.” When asked about discrepancies in facts from the affidavits presented, Sow responded he could not explain them because he did not have an opportunity to read them. In his oral decision, the IJ said that he “unfortunately” had to deny Sow’s application based solely on an adverse credibility finding. In coming to this conclusion, the IJ specifically highlighted the inconsistencies in statements made in affidavits. He noted that, if it were true that Sow were a homosexual, then he “clearly should get” asylum. Sow, represented by new counsel, appealed to the BIA. He argued that the IJ erred in failing to assess Sow’s well-founded fear of future persecution. The BIA denied Sow’s motion to remand. It held that the IJ did not clearly err in making an adverse credibility determination and the record did not establish that Sow was entitled to relief “independent of his discredited claim of past harm.” It also denied Sow’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, reasoning that counsel “reasonably relied on, and submitted the evidence provided by, the respondent and his friends.” The Eleventh Circuit concluded the BIA abused its discretion in denying Sow’s motion to remand based on ineffective assistance of counsel. It therefore granted Sow’s petition for review, vacated the BIA’s decisions, and remanded to the BIA with instructions to remand to the IJ for reconsideration of Sow’s asylum application. View "Sow v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Clifford Mecham took his computer to a technician for repairs. The technician discovered thousands of images showing nude bodies of adults with faces of children superimposed. The technician reported the pornography to the Corpus Christi Police Department. Unlike virtual pornography, this “morphed” child pornography used an image of a real child. Like virtual pornography, however, no child actually engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the circuits disagreed about whether morphed child pornography was protected speech. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the majority view that morphed child pornography did not enjoy First Amendment protection, so it affirmed defendant's conviction for possessing child pornography. "But the fact that the pornography was created without involving a child in a sex act does mean that a sentencing enhancement for images that display sadistic or masochistic conduct does not apply," so defendant's case was remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Mecham" on Justia Law

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Clarence Roy, a Christian street preacher, was issued a summons outside a nightclub in Monroe, Louisiana, after a woman accused him of following her and making inflammatory remarks. The summons, which was issued by Sergeant James Booth of the Monroe Police Department, cleared the way for formal charges under the city of Monroe’s “disturbing the peace” ordinance. Roy was tried and ultimately acquitted by a municipal court judge. Shortly thereafter, he filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which he argued Booth and the city deprived him of numerous constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Two district court judges denied relief, first in part and then in whole, respectively. Finding no reversible error, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Roy v. City of Monroe" on Justia Law

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Defendant Demetrious Marcus and an accomplice broke into an apartment occupied by an elderly couple and other family members. After robbing the victims at gunpoint, defendant and his partner left with various property and were chased by the son and grandson; the son was shot during the chase. A jury found defendant guilty of two counts of first degree robbery, assault with a firearm, and being a felon in possession of a firearm, and found true several enhancements for personal use of a firearm as well as allegations that defendant had suffered a prior strike, had a prior serious felony conviction, and had served a prior prison term. The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of 29 years in state prison. On appeal defendant contended the trial court erred in declining to excuse a juror who expressed concern for the safety of the alleged victims during deliberation, and by failing to recognize it had discretion to impose concurrent sentences for the robbery counts. He also sought a remand to allow the trial court, under recent statutory amendments, to exercise discretion to strike the prior serious felony enhancement. After review of the trial court record, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court misunderstood its discretion to impose concurrent sentences for crimes committed on the same occasion or arising under the same set of operative facts and agree with the parties that a remand is necessary to allow the court to consider striking the prior serious felony enhancement. The Court also noted the trial court failed to specify a sentence on count four and directed it to do so on remand. View "California v. Marcus" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying in part Marvin Cannon's initial postconviction motion filed pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 and denied Cannon's petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that Cannon was not entitled to relief on his claims. Cannon was convicted of first-degree murder and other crimes and sentenced to death. Cannon later filed his initial motion for postconviction relief, asserting that he was entitled to resentencing under Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016), that counsel was ineffective, and that the Department of Corrections' website reflected he was still serving a fifteen-year sentence for attempted robbery even though that conviction was vacated on direct appeal. The trial court agreed with Cannon's Hurst claim and vacated his death sentence but denied the remaining claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Cannon was not denied constitutionally effective assistance of counsel and that the postconviction court properly denied Cannon's second claim. In his habeas petition, Cannon alleged ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that appellate counsel was not ineffective for failing to raise a procedurally barred claim. View "Cannon v. State" on Justia Law

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The California Department of Corrections Rehabilitation (Department) challenged a trial court ruling striking down its regulation excluding from early parole consideration inmates serving sentences for current nonviolent sex offenses requiring them to register under Penal Code section 290. On appeal, the Department claimed its regulation was supported by Proposition 57’s overarching goal of protecting public safety and the requirement that the Secretary of the Department certify the Department’s regulations enhanced public safety. The Court of Appeal determined the regulation at issue contravened the plain language of the statute, so it affirmed the trial court’s ruling. View "Alliance for Constitutional etc. v. Dept. of Corrections etc." on Justia Law

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In December 2018, E.F. (minor) and L.S. were ninth graders enrolled in the same art class in high school. For unknown reasons, minor offered L.S. a Cup of Noodles, microwaved it, and handed it to him. When L.S. went to drink the broth, it smelled of bleach and he threw it out. The juvenile court entered a temporary restraining order (TRO) and, subsequently, a three-year restraining order against E.F., charged with poisoning one of her high school classmates. Among other things, this appeal presents the following question: Is a prosecutor seeking a TRO under Welfare and Institutions Code section 213.5 required to give advance notice of her intent to do so (or is notice at the hearing where the TRO is requested sufficient)? The court in In re L.W., 44 Cal.App.5th 44 (2020) held that advance notice is required. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that express language in section 213.5 authorized courts to authorize TROs without notice in advance of the hearing. “The minor appearing at the arraignment with counsel is still notified of the prosecutor’s TRO application and has the opportunity to oppose the application. Because due process guarantees notice and the opportunity to be heard, the issuance of TROs under section 213.5 accords with due process and thus provides no basis to read section 213.5 in a counter- textual manner to avoid possible constitutional infirmity.” View "In re E.F." on Justia Law

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James Brent was tried by jury and convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping, and he was sentenced to serve two concurrent life sentences as a violent habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99- 19-83 (Rev. 2015). Brent appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Brent’s appellate counsel filed a "Lindsey" brief, certifying no arguable issues existed in the record. Brent himself filed a supplemental pro se brief, arguing: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support each of his convictions; (2) his retrial subjected him to double jeopardy; (3) a jury instruction effectively modified an essential element of armed robbery; and (4) the State’s evidence was insufficient to prove his status as a violent habitual offender under Section 99-19-83. Finding no arguable issues from the record, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed conviction and sentence. View "Brent v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In March 2015, James White was shot and killed in Brad Reed’s house in Clay County, Mississippi. A jury ultimately found Johnson guilty of first-degree murder, and the trial court sentenced him to a term of life imprisonment. At the close of the State’s case-in-chief, Johnson unsuccessfully moved for a directed verdict challenging the sufficiency of the State’s evidence. Johnson filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, a new trial. The trial court denied that motion too. On appeal, Johnson argued: (1) the trial court erred by denying his motion challenging the sufficiency of the evidence; (2) the trial court erroneously instructed the jury; (3) his grand jury indictment was improper; and (4) his jury verdict form was erroneous. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found sufficient evidence was presented to support Johnson’s murder conviction; the indictment sufficiently notified Johnson of the charged crime, and the jury was properly instructed. Accordingly, Johnson’s conviction and sentence were affirmed. View "Johnson v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Robinson was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Under Michigan’s complex sentencing scheme, the judge sentenced Robinson as a fourth habitual offender to “concurrent terms of 47-1/2 to 120 years’ imprisonment for the assault and felon-in-possession convictions, to be served consecutive to two years’ imprisonment for the felony-firearm conviction.” The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed; the Michigan Supreme Court denied review. Robinson then filed a federal habeas corpus petition, which was denied. On appeal, Robinson argued that Supreme Court and state decisions postdating his sentencing have established that his sentence was imposed in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit vacated. Robinson’s sentencing claim undoubtedly has merit; the Supreme Court’s Alleyne decision clearly established the unconstitutionality of Michigan’s sentencing regime. However, Robinson did not “fairly present” his sentencing claim to the Michigan Supreme Court and failed to exhaust that claim in state court. On remand, the district court should decide whether to dismiss Robinson’s sentencing claim without prejudice for failure to exhaust or to stay the petition and hold it in abeyance while Robinson returns to state court to exhaust that claim. Stay and abeyance is appropriate only “when the district court determines there was good cause for the petitioner’s failure to exhaust his claims first in state court” and when the claims are not “plainly meritless.” View "Robinson v. Horton" on Justia Law