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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying the quashing of IRS summonses to Bank of America in the course of investigating the federal income tax liabilities of a lawyer, his law firm, and associated parties (plaintiffs). The court held that neither plaintiffs nor their law firm clients whose interests plaintiffs attempted to invoke have a viable Fourth Amendment objection to the IRS's collection of plaintiffs' bank records from plaintiffs' bank. Plaintiffs' arguments were foreclosed by the Supreme Court's holdings in United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976), and United States v. Powell, 379 U.S. 48 (1964). View "Presley v. United States" on Justia Law

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A Pennsylvania municipal lien is automatic; it is perfected by filing with the local court, without notice or a hearing, where it is publicly docketed. Until filed, a municipal lien may not be enforced through a judicial sale. Municipalities can delay filing a lien indefinitely, but it is not enforceable against subsequent purchasers until filed. A municipality can petition the court for a sale. Property owners may request a hearing on the legality of a lien at any time by paying the underlying claim into the court with a petition. PGW, a public utility owned by the city, scans its billing database, identifies delinquent accounts, then sends a pre-filing letter. If full payment is not made, the system automatically files the lien and sends another notice. Landlords are not normally apprised of tenants' growing arrearages. An exception is entered if the name/address associated with an account does not match the property tax records. PGW frequently enters “exceptions,” which do not prevent arrearages from continuing to grow nor do they interrupt service but prevent the lien from being filed. Landlords who learned of thousands of dollars of liens against their properties, due to nonpayment by tenants, filed suit. The court certified a class and held that the City had violated the landlords’ due process rights. The Third Circuit reversed. Whether the lien procedures comport with due process depends on three factors: the private interest that will be affected; the risk of an erroneous deprivation and the value of other procedural safeguards in avoiding errors; and the governmental interest. Although the filing of a lien is “significant” enough to trigger due process protections, it is a relatively limited interference with the landlords’ property. None of the plaintiffs have suffered injury to their credit. Nor have the liens interfered with their ability to maintain their properties or collect rents. Risks associated with an erroneous lien are mitigated by the statute's post-deprivation remedies. View "Augustin v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Appellant’s conviction for first- and second-degree murder on an aiding-and-abetting theory. The Court held (1) even if it was error for the district court to admit into evidence Appellant’s statement to police, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the district court plainly erred by giving a no-adverse-inference instruction to the jury without Appellant’s consent, but the error was not prejudicial; and (3) assuming, without deciding, that the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument by “indirectly alluding” to Appellant’s failure to testify, the prosecutor’s argument was not prejudicial. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that four irrevocable inter vivos trusts (the Trusts) lacked sufficient relevant contacts with Minnesota during the relevant tax year to be permissibly taxed, consistent with due process, on all sources of income as “resident trusts.” The Trusts filed their 2014 Minnesota income tax returns under protest, asserting that Minn. Stat. 290.01(7b)(a)(2), the statute classifying them as resident trusts, was unconstitutional as applied to them. The Trusts sought refunds for the difference between taxation as resident trusts and taxation as non-resident trusts. The Commissioner of Revenue denied the refund claims. The Minnesota Tax Court granted summary judgment for the Trusts, holding that the statutory definition of “resident trust” violates the Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota and United States Constitutions as applied to the Trusts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, for due process purposes, the State lacked sufficient contacts with the Trusts to support taxation of the Trusts’ entire income as residents. View "Fielding v. Commissioner of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Walter Grant, Jr. appealed his convictions after pleading guilty to gross sexual imposition, burglary, aggravated assault, and terrorizing. He argued the district court committed obvious error by failing to determine whether he was competent to proceed; he did not argue that the court erred by failing to hold a competency hearing or that he was incompetent when he pled guilty. Grant argued N.D.C.C. ch. 12.1-04 required the district court make a determination about competency if doubt existed about a defendant's fitness. Because the court ordered an examination and ordered he be detained at the state hospital for up to thirty days to complete the examination, Grant contended there was doubt about his fitness to proceed, no presumption he was competent, and the court was required to find by a preponderance of the evidence that he was competent and fit to proceed. To the extent Grant argued his constitutional due process rights were violated because the court failed to determine whether he was competent, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded his argument failed: Grant claimed the district court implicitly found reasonable doubt about his competency because it ordered his examination and detention at the state hospital. "Although N.D.C.C. 12.1-04-06 authorizes a court to order a defendant's detention for purposes of an examination whenever there is reason to doubt the defendant's fitness to proceed ... a trial court's decision to grant a motion for a psychological examination alone was not sufficient to raise the required reasonable doubt about the defendant's competence for purposes of a due process violation, regardless of the effect granting the motion may have under state law." In this case, an examiner filed a report containing findings that Grant was competent to proceed and that there was no reason to believe Grant lacked the capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his defense. Grant did not object to the report or otherwise contest the examiner's findings. No clear statutory provisions or case law required the district court to make a determination about Grant's competency under these circumstances. The Court determined Grant did not show the trial court's failure to make a finding about his competency after the psychological evaluation report was filed was a clear deviation from statutory or case law. The district court did not commit obvious error by failing to fully adjudicate Grant's competency before accepting his guilty pleas. View "North Dakota v. Grant" on Justia Law

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Tyrone King was convicted of murder, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, third-degree assault and battery, and pointing and presenting a firearm. The trial court sentenced King to life imprisonment for murder, a consecutive five year term for possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, and thirty days for third-degree assault and battery. King appealed his murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime convictions, and the court of appeals remanded the case to the trial court to conduct a full Rule 404(b), SCRE, analysis regarding the trial court's admission of certain other bad act evidence. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision. The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the unrelated murder charge, and the Supreme Court held this error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court vacated the court appeals' decision to remand to the trial court for proper analysis of the admissibility of the unrelated murder charge, as a remand would be pointless. The Court held King was entitled to a new trial on the charges of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. King's unappealed convictions for third-degree assault and battery and pointing and presenting a firearm were not affected by the Supreme Court's holding. View "South Carolina v. King" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme COurt's review centered on the meaning of "merely corroborative or cumulative evidence" in the context of whether a new trial is warranted based on after-discovered evidence. Appellant Eric Small was identified as the shooter who killed William Price outside a nightclub in Harrisburg in 2011. No one saw the shooting, but witnesses saw appellant walking away from the club with his right arm around Price moments before the fatal gunshot. The defense argued Pedro Espada, appellant's friend who was also outside the nightclub just before the shooting, was the real shooter. In addition to circumstantial evidence, the Commonwealth presented some direct evidence of appellant's guilt through the testimony of two witnesses to whom appellant confessed about killing Price: two prison informants with whom appellant shared a cell at the Dauphin County Prison. The Supreme Court found it necessary to answer two preliminary questions central to the after-discovered evidence issue in this case: (1) did one of the witness affidavit and new testimony amount to a recantation; and (2) if so, then did the Post-Conviction Relief court believe that recantation to be true? Where appropriate, the Supreme Court has remanded matters involving after-discovered evidence claims for the PCRA court to make credibility determinations on the recanting witness testimony. Finding that the PCRA court "failed to mention, let alone pass upon" the credibility of the recantation testimony in its opinion, the Supreme Court found it necessary to remand this case for that determination. The Superior COurt's order was vacated and the case was remanded to the PCRA court for limited further proceedings. View "Pennsylvania v. Small" on Justia Law

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Three disabled individuals who formerly received cash general assistance benefits from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare filed a complaint alleging that the manner in which the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted Act 80 of 2012, a piece of legislation which, inter alia, made sweeping changes to the administration of the state's human services programs, violated Article III, Sections 1, 3 and 4 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Act was in violation of Section 4. The provisions of H.B 1261, P.N. 1385 were entirely removed from the bill by the Senate, inasmuch as they had been enacted by another piece of legislation, Act 22 of 2011. Since the original provisions were gone when the new provisions were added by the Senate, it was factually and legally impossible for the new provisions to work together with the deleted provisions to accomplish a single purpose. The Court held the amendments "to such enfeebled legislation" were not germane as a matter of law. Consequently, the Senate amendments were not germane to the provisions of H.B. 1261, P.N. 1385, and, accordingly, the three times that H.B. 1261, P.N. 1385 was passed by the House in 2011 could not count towards the requirements of Article III, Section 4. View "Washington, et al. v. Dept. of Pub. Welfare" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed this appeal to address the City of Philadelphia's so-called "soda tax." In June 2016, City Council enacted the challenged ordinance, which imposed a tax regarding specified categories of drinks sold, or intended to be sold, in the municipal limits. Appellants -- a group of consumers, retailers, distributors, producers, and trade associations -- filed suit against the City and the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Revenue, in the court of common pleas, challenging the legality and constitutionality of the tax and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The common pleas court differentiated the soda tax as a “non-retail, distribution level tax” and that the tax did not apply to the same transaction or subject as the state sales tax, thus, no violation of the "Sterling Act," Act of August 5, 1932, Ex. Sess., P.L. 45 (as amended 53 P.S. sections 15971–15973). A divided, en banc panel of the Commonwealth Court affirmed, the majority reasoning that in determining whether a tax was duplicative, the focus is upon the incidence of the tax; such incidence is ultimately determined according to the substantive text of the enabling legislation; and the concept of legal incidence does not concern post-tax economic actions of private actors. Because the City’s beverage tax and the state sales and use tax are imposed on different, albeit related, transactions and measured on distinct terms, the majority likewise concluded that the Sterling Act was not offended. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the Sterling Act conferred upon the City "a broad taxing power subject to preemption," while clarifying that “any and all subjects” are available for local taxation which the Commonwealth could, but does not presently, tax. The Commonwealth could, but did not, tax the distributor/dealer-level transactions or subjects targeted by the soda tax. "Moreover, the legal incidences of the Philadelphia tax and the Commonwealth’s sales and use tax are different and, accordingly, Sterling Act preemption does not apply." View "Williams v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the trial evidence sufficed to support a conspiracy conviction, as well as derivative convictions for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possessing instruments of crime. The case started after a street fight into which additional persons entered. Richard Chambers' vehicle was blocking egress for Calvin Wilson. Wilson drove up on the curb and squeezed his vehicle past Chambers' Jeep without making contact with it. However, as he passed Chambers, “words were exchanged.” Wilson parked his car and approached Chambers, continuing to press Chambers as to why he and the Jeep were impeding access to the driveway. The two men walked toward each other as their verbal spat escalated. As Wilson got closer to the Jeep, he noticed at least two women inside. Finally, Wilson and Chambers met, and “fists were flying.” According to Wilson, Chambers threw the first punch and Wilson retaliated in kind to defend himself. Philadelphia police arrived to a "pile of people." Wilson was not charged, but Chambers was with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, possessing instruments of crime, simple assault and reckless endangerment. The Supreme Court held that, under the particular circumstances of this case, the Commonwealth did not meet its evidentiary burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Chambers was guilty of criminal conspiracy. Without a conspiracy, the evidence was similarly insufficient to prove Chambers guilty of conspiratorial liability, aggravated assault, and of possessing instruments of crime. Chambers' sentence was vacated, and the case remanded for resentencing on the remaining unchallenged convictions for terroristic threats, simple assault and reckless endangerment. View "Pennsylvania v. Chambers" on Justia Law