Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Appellants Dionte Simpson, Victor Ware, and Nicholas Hoskins were members of 5/9 Brim (Brim), a criminal street gang in San Diego that was a set of the Bloods gang. The Neighborhood Crips (NC) and West Coast Crips (WCC), (together, the Crips), other criminal street gangs, were the main rivals of the Brims. A jury found appellants guilty of multiple crimes related to their gang involvement. Ware admitted a prison prior allegation. The court sentenced appellants to prison as follows: (1) Ware, 27 years plus 40 years to life; (2) Simpson, 36 years plus 25 years to life; and (3) Hoskins, 25 years to life. Appellants challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting their convictions for conspiracy to commit murder (count 1) and criminal street gang conspiracy (counts 6, 7, 9). They also challenged various alleged errors at trial to attack their respective convictions and sentences. The Court of Appeal reversed Ware's and Hoskins's gang conspiracy convictions, but rejected appellants' remaining arguments regarding their convictions. The Court agreed that Simpson's and Ware's sentences had to be vacated; the matter was remanded for resentencing. View "California v. Ware" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Section 204D.13(2) of the Minnesota Statutes, which requires that major party candidates be listed on the ballot in reverse order of the parties' electoral showing in the last general election. Plaintiffs contend that the law irrationally disadvantages their preferred political candidates and is therefore unconstitutional. The district court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the law's enforcement and prescribed instead a lottery-based system of ordering candidates on Minnesota ballots. Political committees intervened and moved to stay the injunction. As a preliminary matter, the Eighth Circuit held that plaintiffs have Article III standing by alleging a cognizable and redressable injury fairly traceable to the statute. On the merits of the preliminary injunction, the court held that intervenors have shown that, absent a stay, they would be irreparably injured. As to intervenors' likelihood of success, the court held that, under the Anderson/Burdick standard, the burdens imposed by section 204D.13(2) do not unconstitutionally violate the rights asserted. The court considered the character and magnitude of the asserted injury, and observed that the statute does not in any way restrict voting or ballot access; the statute neither systematically advantages incumbents nor advantages the state’s most popular party; but, rather, the statute favors candidates from parties other than the one that received the most votes (on average) in the last general election. In this case, Minnesota's justifications are rationally related to placing political parties in reverse order of popularity and, by design, the statute cannot advantage the state's predominant party. Furthermore, incumbents cannot count on using the statute's operation to its advantage and the statute promotes political diversity. Therefore, the court granted the motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. View "Pavek v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc." on Justia Law

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Biegert texted his mother that he had taken pills in an apparent suicide attempt; she called the Green Bay police and requested a welfare check. She stated that Biegert was depressed, had a history of suicide attempts, was alone, and had no weapons nor vehicles. Officers were dispatched to Biegert’s apartment. As they approached, Biegert called police dispatch, expressing concern that there were strangers outside his door. While Biegert was on the call, the officers knocked and announced themselves. The officers did not know that Biegert had called dispatch and grew suspicious when they heard him walk away from the door, rummage for something, and return to open the door. Biegert opened the door, confirmed his identity and that he was depressed, and allowed both officers into the apartment. Biegert initially cooperated. He began resisting when the officers tried to pat him down. The officers used fists, Tasers, and batons. Biegert armed himself with a kitchen knife. When he began to stab an officer, they shot him. He died at the scene. In rejecting a suit alleging excessive force, the Seventh Circuit affirmed that the officers reasonably restrained Biegert and reasonably resorted to lethal force when Biegert threatened them with a knife. View "Estate of Biegert v. Molitor" on Justia Law

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In this case involving the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the First Circuit vacated Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's death sentences and reversed his three convictions for carrying a firearm during crimes of violence, holding that the judge did not meet the standard set by Patriarca v. United States, 402 F.2d 314, 318 (1st Cir. 1968), and erred in denying Tsarnaev's post-trial motion for judgments of acquittal. A jury convicted Tsarnaev of all charges for which he was indicted arising from the Boston Marathon bombing. The district judge imposed a sentence of death on six of the death-eligible counts. On appeal, Tsarnaev argued, among other things, that the judge erred in the way he handled Tsarnaev's venue-change motions and the jury-selection process. The First Circuit held (1) the trial judge in this high-profile case did not fully comply with Patriarca by running a voir dire sufficient to identify prejudice, which provided a sufficient ground to vacate Tsarnaev's death sentences; and (2) because not each of the underlying offenses constituted a crime of violence, three of Defendant's convictions for carrying a firearm for crimes of violence are reversed. View "United States v. Tsarnaev" on Justia Law

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After almost 20 years as a Reynoldsburg detective, Tye was charged with a federal drug trafficking offense. While awaiting a preliminary hearing, Tye committed suicide in his cell at the Delaware County Jail. In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for deliberate indifference to Tye’s serious medical need, with state-law claims for wrongful death and survival, the district court denied summary judgment to officers Foley and Wallace, finding that neither was entitled to federal qualified immunity or immunity under Ohio law. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The facts and inferences as found by the district court do not, as a matter of law, show that either officer was aware that Tye posed a “strong likelihood” of attempting suicide. During the intake process, Tye denied any thoughts of suicide, feelings of hopelessness, or history of psychiatric issues. Foley reported no visible signs of distress, noting only that Tye was a “peace officer.” Tye was later seen by a nurse, who ministered her own physical and mental health assessments, and again denied any thoughts of suicide, feelings of hopelessness, or history of psychiatric issues. Tye later met with a mental health clinician, who reported only “[n]ormal [f]inding[s]” with respect to demeanor, mood, thought process, behavior, affect, and cognition. View "Downard v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Jonas Brown was tried for his involvement in three gang-related shootings. Tremayne Jones, a member of the Skyline gang and a confidential informant, died in the third incident. Among other counts, Brown was convicted by jury of the first-degree murder of Jones. On appeal, Brown claimed one trial error and three sentencing errors: (1) the court prejudicially erred by failing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter; (2) his conduct and actual custody credits were miscalculated; (3) two gang enhancements added to his sentence were unauthorized; and (4) the court was unaware of its discretion regarding a firearm enhancement. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed with Jones that his actual custody credits and gang enhancements should be corrected, but otherwise the Court affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a defendant presenting an appellate claim of fundamental error due to cumulative prosecutorial misconduct does not need to assert fundamental error for every allegation in order to preserve for review the argument that misconduct occurred. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and other crimes. On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecutor committed several instances of misconduct. For all but three of the alleged incidents of misconduct, the court of appeals concluded that Defendant waived argument that error occurred because he failed to set forth an argument of fundamental error for each allegation. The court then determined that Defendant failed to successfully argue misconduct for any of his allegations. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' decision, holding (1) when a defendant raises a claim on appeal that multiple incidents of prosecutorial misconduct, for which the defendant failed to object, cumulatively deprived him of a fair trial, the defendant need not argue that each instance of alleged misconduct individually deprived him of a fair trial; and (2) Defendant indisputably argued that cumulative error entitled him to a new trial due to pervasive prosecutorial misconduct. View "State v. Vargas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that an ordinance adopted by the City of Minneapolis that prohibits certain property owners, property managers, and others from refusing to rent property to prospective tenants in order to avoid the burden of complying with the requirements of Section 8 of the United States Housing Act survives due process and equal protection rational basis scrutiny, holding that the ordinance is constitutional. Plaintiffs, property owners who owned and rented residential properties in the City, alleged, among other things, that the ordinance violated the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Minnesota Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, concluding that the ordinance violated equal protection and due process protections. The court of appeals reversed on both claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Minneapolis ordinance did not violate the Minnesota Constitution's guarantee of substantive due process or equal protection guarantee. View "Fletcher Properties, Inc. v. City of Minneapolis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief arguing that the rule announced in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and later clarified in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. __ (2016), should be extended to adult offenders whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's postconviction petition. Defendant was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison without the possibility of release. Defendant was eighteen years and seven days old on the date of the offense. On appeal from the denial of his postconviction motion, Defendant renewed his Miller/Montgomery argument and further asked the Supreme Court to interpret Minn. Const. art. I, 5 to provide greater protection than the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because the Miller/Montgomery rule is clearly limited to juvenile offenders under the age of eighteen at the time of the offense, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's petition for postconviction relief; and (2) Defendant forfeited appellate review of his claim under the Minnesota Constitution. View "Nelson v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Arizona Corporation Commission may appoint an interim manager to operate a public service corporation (PSC) based on its permissive authority under Ariz. Const. art. XV, 3. Under article 15, section 3, the Commission has permissive authority to make and enforce reasonable orders for the convenience, comfort, safety, and health of the public. Concluding that it was necessary to protect public health and safety, the Commission appointed EPCOR Water Arizona as an interim manager for Johnson Utilities, LLC, an Arizona PSC. Johnson filed a special action seeking to enjoin its enforcement, but the court of appeals denied relief, holding that the Commission has both constitutional and statutory authority to appoint an interim manager of a PSC. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion, holding that the Commission may appoint an interim manager based on its permissive authority under article 15, section 3 of the Arizona Constitution. View "Johnson Utilities, LLC v. Arizona Corp. Commission" on Justia Law