Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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In light of the surging community spread of COVID-19, California's public health and epidemiological experts have crafted a complex set of regulations that restrict various activities based on their risk of transmitting the disease and the projected toll on the State's healthcare system. California permits unlimited attendance at outdoor worship services and deems clergy and faith-based streaming services "essential," but has temporarily halted all congregate indoor activities, including indoor religious services, within the most at-risk regions of the state.South Bay challenges this restriction, along with others, under provisions of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States and California Constitutions. South Bay argues that the current restrictions on indoor services prohibit congregants' Free Exercise of their theology, which requires gathering indoors. The district court concluded that California's restrictions on indoor worship are narrowly tailored to meet its compelling—and immediate—state interest in stopping the community spread of the deadly coronavirus.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of South Bay's request to enjoin California's temporary prohibition on indoor worship under the Regional Stay at Home Order and Tier 1 of the Blueprint. The panel concluded that, although South Bay has demonstrated irreparable harm, it has not demonstrated that the likelihood of success, the balance of the equities, or the public interest weigh in its favor. The panel stated that California has a compelling interest in reducing community spread of COVID-19, and the Stay at Home Order is narrowly tailored to achieve the State's compelling interest in stemming the recent case surge. The panel also concluded that South Bay has not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits with respect to its challenge to California's state-wide ban on indoor singing and chanting. In this case, the State's ban on these activities is rationally related to controlling the spread of COVID-19. The panel could not, however, conclude that the 100- and 200-person attendance caps on indoor worship under Tiers 2 and 3 of the Blueprint survive strict scrutiny. The panel explained that the State has not shown that less restrictive measures, such as basing attendance limits on the size of the church, synagogue or mosque would cause any greater peril to the public. The panel remanded to the district court with instructions to enjoin the State from imposing the 100- and 200-person caps under Tiers 2 and 3 of the Blueprint. View "South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a preliminary injunction prohibiting the County of San Diego, its public health officer Wilma Wooten, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and Governor Gavin Newsom from enforcing COVID-19-related public health restrictions against any business offering restaurant service in San Diego County, subject to safety protocols. Two San Diego businesses that offer live nude adult filed suit claiming the State and County restrictions on live entertainment violated their First Amendment right to freedom of expression. The State and County eventually loosened their restrictions on live entertainment, but as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, they imposed new restrictions on restaurants. These new restaurant restrictions severely curtailed the adult entertainment businesses’ operations. But these new restrictions were unrelated to live entertainment or the First Amendment. Despite the narrow scope of the issues presented, the trial court granted expansive relief when it issued the injunction challenged here. "It is a fundamental aspect of procedural due process that, before relief can be granted against a party, the party must have notice of such relief and an opportunity to be heard." The Court of Appeal determined that because restaurant restrictions were never part of the adult entertainment businesses’ claims, the State and County had no notice or opportunity to address them. The trial court therefore erred by enjoining the State and County from enforcing COVID-19-related public health restrictions on restaurants. Because the procedure used by the trial court was improper, the trial court’s actions left the Court of Appeal unable to address the substance of this challenge to restaurant restrictions. View "Midway Venture LLC v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act, remanding for further proceedings. At issue is whether the First Amendment shields a publisher of supposedly independent product reviews if it has secretly rigged the ratings to favor one company in exchange for compensation. The panel ruled that this speech qualifies as commercial speech only, and that a nonfavored company may potentially sue the publisher for misrepresentation under the Lanham Act.In this case, Ariix alleges that NutriSearch rigged its ratings to favor Usana under a hidden financial arrangement. The panel held that Ariix plausibly alleges that the nutritional supplement guide is commercial speech, is sufficiently disseminated, and contains actionable statements of fact. However, the panel remanded for the district court to consider the "purpose of influencing" element under the Lanham Act. View "Ariix, LLC v. NutriSearch Corp." on Justia Law

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In 1997, Kelley Maves was convicted of two sexual assaults in Colorado. He moved to Alaska in 2015, where the Department of Public Safety required him to register for life as a sex offender under the Alaska Sex Offenders Registration Act (ASORA). Maves appealed the Department’s decision to the superior court, arguing that one of the two convictions could not be used as the basis for a lifetime registration requirement because it had been set aside; with one conviction he would be required to register for only 15 years. His argument on appeal included a challenge to a 1995 departmental regulation that defined “conviction” as including those that had been set aside. The superior court affirmed the Department’s decision requiring the Maves to register for life. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the 1994 version of ASORA was not plainly intended to apply to offenders whose convictions have been set aside, and that the 1995 regulation extending the Act’s reach to those convictions was not necessary to carry out the Act’s purposes. The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s decision upholding the requirement that Maves register under ASORA for life. View "Maves v. Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Hill pleaded no contest to felony possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (case CR940896). The court suspended imposition of sentence and placed Hill on three years' felony probation. In 2019, a Clearlake police officer noticed Hill outside of a liquor store, approached, obtained Hill’s name, and conducted a records check, which revealed that Hill was on postrelease community supervision. As the officer returned, Hill “produced” a knife and placed it on a pole. Hill said he needed the knife “for protection” and that he had it shoved down his sleeve. Hill pleaded no contest to concealing a dirk or dagger (case CR953084) and admitted a probation violation in case CR940896. The plea was open with a maximum possible sentence of 32t months.The trial court revoked his probation in case CR940896 and sentenced Hill in both cases to an aggregate term of 32 months. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Hill’s argument that his attorney was ineffective for failing to request a hearing on his eligibility for mental health diversion under Penal Code section 1001.36. Because Hill’s appeal did not attack the validity of his plea but challenged the court’s sentencing discretion relating to section 1001.36, no certificate of probable cause was required. Hill's counsel was not deficient in failing to request an eligibility hearing nor was Hill prejudiced by counsel’s failure to do so. View "People v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Cephus Terry was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to sell, possession of methamphetamine, possession of Tramadol, and two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon. He was convicted on all five counts, and the circuit court sentenced him as a habitual offender to serve forty-six years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The trial court denied his motion for a new trial, and the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed. A majority of the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the jury's verdict. Additionally, Terry’s argument that the trial judge erred by improperly instructing the jury as to the issue of constructive possession was subject to a procedural bar. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Terry v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Kadedria Hampton appealed her convictions for two counts of felony child abuse for burning and starving a minor child. She claimed on appeal that there constitutional right to be present at every stage of her jury trial was violated, and that the evidence was constitutionally insufficient to support either of her convictions. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no merit to Hampton's claim her right to be present at trial was violated. Nor did the Court find the State presented insufficient evidence to support a conviction for felonious starvation of a minor child. The Court did find, however, the State presented insufficient evidence to support Hampton's conviction of the felonious burning of a minor child. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hampton v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury found Harden guilty of conspiring to distribute heroin and found that Schnettler's death had “resulted from” the use of that heroin. He was sentenced to life in prison under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(B), which increases the maximum statutory term of imprisonment for a drug offense on a finding that “death or serious bodily injury result[ed] from the use of [the] substance.” After an unsuccessful appeal, Harden moved under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his sentence, asserting that his attorney was ineffective in agreeing to a jury instruction that repeated section 841(b)(1)(B) but did not elaborate that his heroin had to be the “but-for” cause of Schnettler’s death and failing to present expert testimony to rebut evidence that his heroin caused that death. The court denied his motion without an evidentiary hearing.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In this case, the instruction was a correct statement of the law; no evidence would have led the jury to find that heroin was merely a “contributing” cause of death, so competent counsel would not suspect that the instruction might be confusing. Schnettler died from the toxicity of a single drug; the only issue concerned the timing of his use of the heroin and his death. Given the evidence that counsel did consult an expert, the decision not to call that expert “is a paradigmatic example of the type of strategic choice.” View "Harden v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of felony driving under the influence (DUI) and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, holding that the exclusionary rule does not apply where law enforcement relied reasonably on then-existing precedent.In affirming Defendant's conviction, the court of appeals held that the police had the reasonable suspicion necessary to temporarily detain Defendant in his vehicle and ask him to step out of it. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court repudiates the sweeping language of its opinion in State v. James, 13 P.3d 576 (Utah 2019), and holds that the identity of the opener of a car door may affect the reasonableness of any given police encounter; but (2) the evidence here was not subject to exclusion because the police acted objectively reasonably in reliance on the Supreme Court's opinion in James. View "State v. Malloy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying Appellant's petition for postconviction relief filed pursuant to Ark. R. Crim. P. 37.5, holding that the circuit court failed to make specific written findings of fact and conclusions of law on Appellant's last claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.Appellant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court affirmed. Appellant later filed a petition for postconviction relief, alleging, among other things, that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing adequately to investigate and challenge aggravation factors. The circuit court denied the petition. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court failed to make findings of fact or conclusions of law addressing Appellant's last claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, as required under Rule 37.5(i). The Court remanded the case to the circuit court for entry of an order that complies with Rule 37.5(i). View "Gay v. State" on Justia Law