Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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A grand jury charged Defendant and co-Defendant with three offenses: conspiracy to deal methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine; and conspiracy to deal marijuana. Defendant filed a motion seeking an acquittal or, in the alternative, a new trial. The district court granted the second request, however, the order did not divulge the grounds for the new trial. The government had timely appealed the new trial grant. A divided panel of the Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting a new trial.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the order granting a new trial, reinstated as to Count Two and the jury’s verdict on that count (possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine). The court further remanded for sentencing on that conviction. The court explained this is not one of the “exceptional cases” in which a judge had the discretion to vacate the jury’s verdict by ordering a new trial. Far from being a case in which the evidence weighs heavily against the verdict, the great weight of the evidence supports this one. The court wrote, that the district court set aside the verdict because, in its view, little evidence showed that Defendant knowingly possessed an illegal substance. But a trinity of evidence supported the knowledge element. The court explained that it is true that the “district judge, unlike us, was there throughout the trial.” But because the jury’s verdict was not against the great weight of evidence, it was an abuse of discretion to erase it. View "USA v. Crittenden" on Justia Law

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Victor Salgado appealed a recall and resentencing under former Penal Code section 1170 (d)(1). After Salgado shot at a rival gang member but killed another, he was charged with: one count of first degree murder; one count of attempted premeditated murder; two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm; one count of possession of a firearm while on probation; and one count of street terrorism (active gang participation). Salgado argued the trial court erred in imposing a one-year determinate sentence on a gang enhancement, improperly calculated his custody credit, and requests this court correct clerical errors in the sentencing minute order and the abstract of judgment. The Attorney General conceded these errors, but argued the sentencing court should have imposed higher, statutorily prescribed terms on the enhancements. While this appeal was pending, Assembly Bill No. 333 (2021-2022 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2021, ch. 699, § 3) came into effect on January 1, 2022. Assem. Bill 333 “amended section 186.22 to impose new substantive and procedural requirements for gang allegations.” Additionally, on the same day, Assembly Bill No. 1540 (2021-2022 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2021, ch. 719, §§ 1-7) came into effect, and moved the recall and resentencing provisions of former section 1170(d), to new section 1170.03. Assem. Bill 1540 also clarified the Legislature’s intent that the resentencing court would “apply ameliorative laws . . . that reduce sentences or provide for judicial discretion, regardless of the date of the offense of conviction.” The Court of Appeal concluded Salgado was entitled to the benefit of Assem. Bill 333 because his criminal judgment was no longer final following the recall and resentencing. Accordingly, the Court reversed the gang offense conviction and vacated the jury’s true findings on the gang enhancement allegations. The Court remanded the matter to afford the prosecution an opportunity to retry the gang crime and related enhancements. View "California v. Salgado" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that, as to counts I-IV, Plaintiffs ran afoul of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and that count V failed due to a lack of standing.Appellants, approximately fifty members of a class of retired Rhode Island public employees, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging constitutional violations in the changes to Rhode Island's retirement benefits scheme (counts I-IV) and in a class action settlement agreement (count V) reached following litigation in state court, in which each appellant was a party. The district court dismissed the action, holding that Appellants' claims were barred by res judicata, a lack of Article III standing, and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Appellants' due process, takings, and Contracts Clause claims were barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; and (2) Appellants' First Amendment claims were nonjusticiable. View "Efreom v. McKee" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court dismissing this complaint after concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Appellant's suit under the Anti-Injunction Act of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. 7241, holding that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint.Appellant brought a complaint against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and some of the IRS's agents alleging that Defendants violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and 26 U.S.C. 7609(f) by acquiring Appellant's personal financial information through a third-party summons process. The district court dismissed Appellant's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, ruling that the Anti-Injunction Act of the Internal Revenue Code, 262 U.S.C. 7421, constituted an exception to the APA's waiver of sovereign immunity. The First Circuit vacated the judgment, holding that the Anti-Injunction Act did not bar Appellant's suit. View "Harper v. Rettig" on Justia Law

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Walker Officer Dumond began pursuing Meadows after he passed Dumond on the highway while traveling nearly 90 miles per hour. During the subsequent traffic stop, which was captured on dash-camera footage, Dumond instructed Meadows to keep his hands out of his vehicle and to open the door to his vehicle. Dumond and Meadows shouted back and forth as Meadows attempted to open his door. Once Meadows exited the vehicle, Dumond grabbed Meadows and slammed him to the ground. On the ground, Dumond kneed Meadows to try and roll him over, and Officer Wietfeldt punched Meadows multiple times. Wietfeldt fractured Meadows’s wrist while handcuffing him.Meadows sued the officers and the city under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The officers appealed the denial of their summary judgment motions based on qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The court stated that on interlocutory appeal, it is bound by the district court’s determination that a reasonable jury could conclude that Dumond and Wietfeldt did not perceive Meadows as refusing to comply or resisting arrest. The dash-camera footage does not “blatantly contradict” the factual issues identified by the district court. View "Meadows v. City of Walker, Michigan" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a Colombian native, was arrested in Colombia on drug trafficking charges and ultimately convicted in federal court. Petitioner now appeals the denial of both his amended 28 U.S.C. Section 2255 motion to vacate his convictions and sentence and his subsequent motion to alter or amend the judgment. He claims that one of his pre-extradition attorneys was ineffective due to a conflict of interest. According to Petitioner, his attorney tried to convince him to pay a thirty-million-dollar bribe or kickback as part of a plea agreement, which would redound to the benefit of one of Petitioner’s other clients. But Petitioner was represented by other attorneys, and he does not allege that they were conflicted or otherwise deficient in pursuing legitimate plea agreements on Petitioner’s behalf. The district court held that the allegations in Petitioner’s motion would not establish a Sixth Amendment violation even if true.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that even assuming a conflict of interest existed, Petitioner’s claim ultimately fails because he does not sufficiently allege that the “conflict adversely affected his representation.” Although Petitioner criticizes his attorney, he does not allege that his other attorneys suffered under a conflict of interest. The Sixth Amendment ensures the right to effective assistance of “an attorney.” The Sixth Amendment does not include the right to receive good advice from every lawyer a criminal defendant consults about his case. Further, the court wrote, that because it concluded that Petitioner’s claim fails on the merits, it cannot say the district court abused its discretion in denying his request for an evidentiary hearing. View "Fabio Ochoa v. USA" on Justia Law

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Appellants operated for around seven years an enterprise known as “Trained to Go” (TTG) within one of West Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Appellants distributed drugs and engaged in countless acts of violence using firearms. They exercised their constitutional right to a jury trial and were convicted for their actions, including for conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). They now bring numerous challenges to their convictions and sentences, including their right to a public trial, the evidence admitted at trial, and more.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed Appellants’ convictions and sentences on all fronts, save one. The court reversed one Appellant’s Section 922(g)(1) conviction, vacated the judgment as to him, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with our opinion. The court explained that Appellants contend that any RICO conspiracy was confined to a neighborhood in Baltimore. But the government must only prove a “de minimis” effect on interstate commerce. Appellants argue that the de minimis standard does not apply to their activity because it was purely intrastate activity. But the de minimis standard does in fact apply. In Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court made clear that “when ‘a general regulatory statute bears a substantial relation to commerce, the de minimis character of individual instances arising under that statute is of no consequence.’” Construing all this evidence in the light most favorable to the government, the court found there is sufficient evidence that the conspiracy affected interstate commerce. View "US v. Montana Barronette" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of illegally possessing an unregistered firearm, specifically a “destructive device,” under the National Firearms Act (“NFA”). Appealing his conviction, Defendant argues that the NFA is unconstitutionally vague as applied to his case and that the evidence is insufficient to support conviction.   The determinative issue on appeal was whether an explosive-containing device falls within the NFA when it is susceptible of both innocent and destructive uses and not clearly designed as a weapon. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment of conviction. The court explained that in this case, the government’s only evidence challenging Defendant’s testimony that his bamboo stick device was used to scare beavers and destroy their dams (and wasn’t very good even at that) was the conclusion testimony of an ATF expert. Thus, the court wrote, in light of the government’s wholly conclusory case that the bamboo device was designed as a weapon or that it had no benign or social value, the conviction cannot stand. The evidence was insufficient to prove that the bamboo stick was an illegal explosive device “designed” as a weapon. View "USA v. Harbarger" on Justia Law

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In an action involving federal and state constitutional challenges to the City of Lacey’s recently passed RV Parking Ordinance, the Ninth Circuit certified the following question to the Washington Supreme Court:Is the right to intrastate travel in Washington protected under the Washington State Constitution, or other Washington law? If Washington state law protects the right to intrastate travel, does the RV Parking Ordinance codified in LMC Section 10.14.020– 045 violate Plaintiff’s intrastate travel rights? In certifying the question, the court noted that it is well established that adjudication of federal constitutional claims should be avoided when alternative state grounds are available, even when the alternative ground is one of state constitutional law.Because this issue was complex and involved policy considerations that were best left to the State of Washington’s own courts, the court concluded that it was prudent to certify this question to the Washington Supreme Court so that it could determine its own law in the first instance. View "JACK POTTER V. CITY OF LACEY" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion seeking remand to the grand jury for a redetermination of probable cause pursuant to Ariz. R. Crim. P. 12.9, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's Rule 12.9 motion.A grand jury indicted Defendant for attempted second degree murder and other crimes. Defendant subsequently filed the motion at issue, arguing that the State withheld clearly exculpatory evidence of a justification defense that it was obligated to present despite the evidence not being requested by the defense. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Arizona Constitution guarantees a person under grand jury investigation a due process right to a fair and impartial presentation of clearly exculpatory evidence, and a prosecutor has a duty to present such evidence to a grand jury even in the absence of a specific request; (2) where there is evidence relevant to a justification defense that would deter a grand jury from finding probable cause the prosecutor has an obligation to present such evidence; and (3) the State failed to present clearly exculpatory evidence in this case, denying Defendant a substantial procedural right. View "Willis v. Honorable Bernini" on Justia Law