Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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In the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the case involved Marco Antonio Abundiz, the defendant-appellant, who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for sexually abusing his six-year-old niece, K.Z. Abundiz appealed his conviction arguing that the district court erred in several areas including: allowing the victim to testify via closed-circuit television (CCTV) which he claimed violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation; failing to make the necessary findings before permitting the victim to testify via CCTV; admitting evidence of a previous sexual assault; admitting evidence that he possessed child pornography; and the instructions given to the jury regarding evidence admitted under the Federal Rules of Evidence 413 and 414.After reviewing the case, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court. The Court held that the district court did not err in allowing the victim to testify via CCTV. The Court determined that the district court made the necessary findings showing that the child would be unable to testify in open court due to fear and a substantial likelihood she would suffer emotional trauma.The Court also found no error in the district court's admission of evidence regarding prior sexual assaults and child pornography possession. The Court observed that the district court had appropriately exercised its discretion to admit this evidence under the Federal Rules of Evidence 413 and 414, providing that such evidence can be considered in sexual assault and child molestation cases, respectively.Lastly, the Court concluded that the district court's jury instructions regarding the use of evidence admitted under Rules 413 and 414 were not erroneous. The Court noted that the instructions appropriately informed the jury that such evidence could be used for any relevant purpose only if it was proven by a preponderance of the evidence. The instructions did not allow the jury to convict using a lower standard of proof or confuse the preponderance and beyond a reasonable doubt standards. View "USA v. Abundiz" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, Joseph Hoskins was stopped by a Utah state trooper, Jared Withers, because his Illinois license plate was partially obscured. The situation escalated when Trooper Withers conducted a dog sniff of the car, which led him to search the car and find a large amount of cash. Mr. Hoskins was arrested, and his DNA was collected. Mr. Hoskins sued Trooper Withers and Jess Anderson, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and state law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that Trooper Withers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop because Utah law requires license plates to be legible, and this applies to out-of-state plates. The court also found that the dog sniff did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop, as Mr. Hoskins was searching for his proof of insurance at the time. The court ruled that the trooper's protective measures, including pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins, handcuffing him, and conducting a patdown, did not elevate the stop into an arrest due to Mr. Hoskins's confrontational behavior.The court further held that the dog's reaction to the car created arguable probable cause to search the car and that the discovery of a large amount of cash provided arguable probable cause to arrest Mr. Hoskins. The court found that Trooper Withers did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights by pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins in retaliation for protected speech or as excessive force. Lastly, the court found no violation of Mr. Hoskins's due process rights related to the handling of his DNA sample, as neither the Due Process Clause nor state law created a protected interest in a procedure to ensure the destruction of his DNA sample. View "Hoskins v. Withers" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, Donald Alvin Tolbert, appealed against the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) opening his emails and attachments without a warrant. These emails contained child pornography and were detected by AOL's software, which reported them to the NCMEC. The NCMEC, state law enforcement in New Mexico, and the federal government subsequently conducted investigations leading to Tolbert's conviction.Tolbert argued that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated by the warrantless search of his emails and attachments. The court, however, ruled that even if Tolbert's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, the evidence would still be admissible under the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule. This exception allows illegally obtained evidence to be admitted if it would have inevitably been discovered by legal means.The court found that the investigations by the NCMEC and law enforcement would have proceeded in the same way, even if the emails and attachments had not been opened, based on their routine practices. They would have used information available in the CyberTips, such as IP addresses and email addresses, to link the CyberTips to Tolbert and conduct further investigations. Thus, the evidence against Tolbert would have been discovered even without opening his emails and attachments.The court, therefore, affirmed the district court's denial of Tolbert's motion to suppress and motion to reconsider. View "United States v. Tolbert" on Justia Law

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In a dispute involving a fatal stabbing outside a Manhattan bar in 2000, defendant Gonzalo Aguilar appealed his conviction of murder in the second degree, attempted murder in the second degree, and assault in the first degree. Aguilar asserted that the trial court erred by not including a reinstruction on the justification defense in its response to a jury note, and that the court's interested witness charge violated his constitutional right to due process.The Court of Appeals of the State of New York disagreed with Aguilar's claims. The court held that the trial court's response to the jury's note was meaningful and appropriate. It reasoned that the jury's note had specifically requested the definitions of the charges, not a reinstruction on the justification defense. Furthermore, the court noted that the trial court was in the best position to evaluate the jury's request and had significant discretion in determining the scope and nature of its response. The court also pointed out that the jury did not seek further instruction or clarification after the recharge, indicating that the trial court's response was satisfactory.In addition, the court found that Aguilar's argument concerning the interested witness charge was unpreserved as it had not been raised in the trial court and no exception to the preservation rule applied in this case. Thus, the court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Division. View "People v Aguilar" on Justia Law

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In this case, Jamie Avila Reyes, the appellant, appealed his 15-year prison sentence for crimes including homicide by vehicle in the first degree and driving under the influence of alcohol. Reyes, an undocumented immigrant, contended that the trial court improperly considered his immigration status during sentencing, violating his due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Reyes also argued that OCGA § 17-10-1.3, a Georgia statute that allows a trial court to consider potential deportation when determining whether to probate a convicted person's sentence, is unconstitutional both on its face and as applied to him.The Supreme Court of Georgia held that OCGA § 17-10-1.3 is constitutional. The court found that the statute survived rational basis review because it bears a rational relationship to the legitimate governmental interest in ensuring the complete execution of judicial sentences. The court also held that the trial court did not violate Reyes' due process or equal protection rights when it applied the statute and declined to probate any portion of his sentence due to his impending deportation. The court noted that there was no evidence the trial court based its sentence on discriminatory animus towards undocumented noncitizens. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "REYES v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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In Georgia, the Fair Dismissal Act (FDA) offers certain protections to public school teachers after they have fulfilled a contract for the fourth consecutive school year with the same local board of education. This case considered whether the Charter Schools Act's waiver provision, which relieves public charter schools from complying with Title 20 (including the FDA), impairs the vested rights of teachers who had earned FDA protections before their school converted to a charter system. The Supreme Court of Georgia decided that the teachers' constitutional claims failed as a matter of law. The justices reasoned that the 1993 Charter Schools Act had already clarified that the FDA did not afford teachers any rights enforceable against charter schools. Therefore, the Charter Systems Act's retention of an FDA exemption for charter schools did not impair any rights for teachers who earned FDA rights after the 1993 Charter Schools Act was enacted. View "WOODS v. BARNES" on Justia Law

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The case concerns an appeal by Carl Monroe Gordon against his conviction on the grounds of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, traveling to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and abusive sexual contact with a child. Gordon argued that his statutory and constitutional rights to a speedy trial were violated due to delays in bringing him to trial and the denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment by the district court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The Court held that the delay in bringing Gordon to trial did not violate the Speedy Trial Act since the period of delay was attributed to other proceedings related to the defendant and ends-of-justice continuances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the Court determined that Gordon's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was not violated as he failed to demonstrate actual prejudice resulting from the delay. View "United States v. Gordon" on Justia Law

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In October 2018, Warren G. Treme, a member of AJSJS Development, LLC, leased minerals on a tract of land in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, from Dr. Christy Montegut and his siblings. AJSJS intended to join a joint venture formed in 2010 between Treme, AIMS Group, Inc., and Fred Kinsley. The joint venture aimed to extract and process clay material from the tract for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project. However, to conduct mining and excavation activities, the plaintiffs needed to change the zoning classification of the tract. Despite multiple applications for rezoning, the Parish Council denied the applications after hearing complaints from affected residents. The plaintiffs then sued the Parish and the Council, alleging that the denial of the rezoning application constituted a regulatory taking without compensation in violation of the United States and Louisiana Constitutions. The plaintiffs also alleged violations of procedural and substantive due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a takings claim because their mineral lease was not yet in effect, meaning they had no vested property interest in the tract. The court interpreted the lease to have a suspensive condition that required the plaintiffs to obtain governmental approvals for the lease to become effective. As the plaintiffs had not obtained these approvals, the lease had not yet come into effect. Consequently, the court affirmed the district court’s decision but modified the judgment to be a dismissal without prejudice. View "Treme v. St. John the Baptist" on Justia Law

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In this case, the State of Vermont appealed the superior court’s dismissal of charges against defendant Michael Armstrong on speedy-trial grounds. It had been more than nineteen years since the charges against defendant were first brought and more than fifteen years since defendant was adjudicated incompetent to stand trial. The trial court dismissed the charges, finding that the State had failed in its obligation to reevaluate defendant’s competency, thereby violating defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision, finding that the delay was primarily due to defendant's incompetency, which was not attributable to the State, and the State had no duty to seek a reevaluation of the defendant's competency absent an indication of changed circumstances. The Court concluded that the defendant did not make a sufficient claim of denial of his right to a speedy trial, reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the charges, and remanded for further proceedings. View "State v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals of the State of Nevada was reviewing a petition for a writ of certiorari challenging an order from the district court. Petitioner Lina Marie Willson had been convicted of obstructing a public officer. This conviction arose from an incident where Willson had yelled at police officers from her front yard while they were attending to a separate incident involving a potentially suicidal juvenile. Willson appealed her conviction, arguing that the law under which she was convicted, NRS 197.190, was unconstitutionally vague or overly broad.The court held that NRS 197.190 was not unconstitutionally vague or overly broad, either on its face or as applied to Willson. The court interpreted the law to apply only to physical conduct or fighting words that are specifically intended to hinder, delay, or obstruct a public officer in the performance of their duties. Although the court found that Willson's claims failed, it did acknowledge that her claims implicated the sufficiency of the evidence in relation to the court's interpretation of NRS 197.190.The court therefore granted the petition and directed the clerk of the court to issue a writ of certiorari upholding the constitutionality of NRS 197.190 and instructing the district court to reconsider Willson's direct appeal. The purpose of this reconsideration was to determine whether, given the court's interpretation of NRS 197.190, sufficient evidence existed to support Willson's conviction. View "Willson v. First Jud. Dist. Ct." on Justia Law