Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeal consolidated two appeals of two jury trials for defendant Adolfo Rodriguez Bermudez. The first trial involved the possession of a concealed dirk. The second involved an assault with a deadly weapon with a vehicle done to benefit a gang. Defendant was sentenced to a 21-year four-month aggregate term. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) the statute defining a dirk (Pen. Code sec. 16470) was unconstitutionally vague; (2) the trial court erred in allowing two officers to testify to the legal definition of a dirk; (3) a gang expert provided improper opinion testimony that defendant committed a crime to benefit a gang; and (4) insufficient evidence established the existence of a criminal street gang under Penal Code section 186.22 because testimony concerning the predicate felonies was admitted in violation of California v. Sanchez, 63 Cal.4th 665 (2016). In supplemental briefing, defendant contended: (5) remand was required so the trial court could consider exercising its discretion under Senate Bill No. 1393; and (6) the imposition of fines and fees violated his right to due process and freedom from excessive fines under California v. Duenas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019). Finally, in a petition for rehearing, defendant contended: (7) his one-year prior prison term enhancement should have been struck in light of Senate Bill No. 136. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the dirk statute was not unconstitutionally vague. Second, the Court concluded the knowledge element rendered the statute definite enough to provide a standard for police enforcement and ascertainment of guilt. Furthermore, the Court held that a gang expert’s testimony about gang enhancement predicate offenses did not violate Sanchez so long as the predicate offenses did not involve defendant or individuals involved in the defendant’s case. "Such predicate offenses are chapters in a gang’s biography and constitute historical background information, not case-specific information." The Court struck the one-year prior prison term enhancement and remanded to allow the trial court to consider exercising its discretion under SB 1393. During that remand, as the State conceded, defendant could request a hearing on his ability to pay. In all other respects, the Court affirmed. View "California v. Bermudez" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a trial court's order: (1) granting Raheen Johnson's motion to dismiss the petition to revoke parole filed by the Division of Adult Parole Operations of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DAPO); and (2) transferring Johnson from parole supervision to postrelease community supervision (PRCS). The State, through the San Diego County District Attorney, contended, among other things, the trial court did not have the authority, in the context of a parole revocation proceeding, to transfer Johnson's supervision to PRCS. According to the State, a parolee could challenge his classification as an offender subject to parole supervision only by exhausting his administrative remedies with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and then, if necessary, filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The State also contended that even if the trial court had authority to transfer Johnson to PRCS, the transfer was barred by Penal Code section 3000.08(l), which permitted a transfer to PRCS only if the parolee had not yet served 60 days on parole supervision. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court had the authority to transfer Johnson's supervision to PRCS, and concluded the trial court properly concluded that the transfer was not barred by the 60-day time limit in section 3000.08(l). View "California v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Law enforcement learned that Lee was distributing large quantities of ice methamphetamine and arranged a controlled buy. The source purchased over 83 grams of ice methamphetamine. Days later, officers conducted a planned traffic stop. Lee consented to a K-9 walkaround. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs. Troopers searched the car and found over seven pounds of ice methamphetamine and $19,170 in cash, including $900 of marked money used in the controlled buy. Lee stated that he had been dealing ice methamphetamine in the area for three years. In the seven months before his arrest, Lee distributed approximately 100 pounds. Agents executed a search warrant at Lee’s residence and discovered ice methamphetamine, 12 firearms in close proximity to the drugs, scales, drug paraphernalia, and ammunition. Lee pled guilty to possessing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and was sentenced to 210 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, rejecting Lee’s argument that he should not have received two extra criminal history points under U.S.S.G. 4A1.1(d) for dealing methamphetamine while on supervision for a drunk driving offense. The court vacated a term of supervised release that would have prohibited him from interacting with known felons unless he receives the probation officer’s permission; that term violates the rule against delegating Article III power. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law

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In 2014, William Berry, who was at the time a deputy of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, obtained several firearms from the office evidence locker, gave one away, attempted to sell another, and kept two for himself. For this, Berry was convicted of embezzlement of public property in violation of section 18-8-407, C.R.S. (2019), and first-degree official misconduct in violation of section 18-8-404, C.R.S. (2019). The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was one of first impression for each of these statutory provisions: (1) does “public property” include property that is in the government’s possession but not owned by the government?; and (2) what is an act “relating to [an official’s] office” for purposes of the crime of official misconduct? The Supreme Court held the statute prohibiting embezzlement of public property criminalized only the embezzlement of property that was owned by the government. Furthermore, the Court concluded the prohibition on official misconduct should be broadly construed to include circumstances, like those in this case, in which an official used the opportunities presented by his or her office to engage in improper conduct. View "Colorado v. Berry" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Marsalis appealed a district court’s decision summarily dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2009 rape conviction. Marsalis alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to: (1) challenge the testimony of the State’s expert witness regarding his and the victim’s blood alcohol levels; (2) present favorable eyewitness testimony at trial; and (3) properly advise him of his speedy trial rights under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD). After review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed in part, and affirmed in part the district court's decision. The Court affirmed the district court’s summary dismissal of Marsalis’s claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call an allegedly favorable eyewitness at trial. However, it reversed and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on Marsalis’s claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the underlying methodologies supporting the State’s expert witness’s testimony and for failing to present an expert witness to discuss the scientific basis behind Marsalis’s blackout defense. The Court also remanded the case back to the district court so it could provide Marsalis with twenty days’ notice to respond to the court’s grounds for dismissing Marsalis’s claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to inform him of his speedy trial rights under the IAD. View "Marsalis v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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Glen Ward appealed an order and final judgment of the district court granting the State’s motion for summary dismissal and dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief. In 2014, Ward was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor under 16 years of age after he pleaded guilty to all elements of the crime except for the sexual intent element, to which he entered an Alford plea. He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment with a 7-year fixed term. Ward asked for, and was granted, appointment of counsel to represent him in the post-conviction relief proceedings. After granting the motion, the district court appointed a conflict public defender to represent Ward in the action. Although he had secured new counsel, Ward subsequently filed numerous pro se documents. Ward argued the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion to proceed pro se as moot. Ward also argued the district court erred in denying his motion to proceed pro se because a post-conviction petitioner has a right to proceed pro se. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated in part and affirmed. The Court held that the district court should have refused to entertain Ward’s independent filings in the first place; to the extent that the district court entertained the filings made by Ward as opposed to by his attorney, it was error to do so. However, having come to the conclusion that the district court erred, not by ruling incorrectly on Ward’s purported motion, but by ruling on it at all, the Supreme Court did not need to reverse the district court’s separate order and final judgment granting summary dismissal. "Because we hold that there was no motion properly before the district court to be ruled upon in the first place, the district court’s denial of the purported motion has no impact on the propriety of its final decision and judgment dismissing Ward’s post-conviction petition on the merits." View "Ward v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors filed suit against Vizaline to enjoin its business and disgorge its profits. Vizaline then filed suit against the Board, alleging that as applied to its practice, Mississippi's surveyor-licensing requirements violate the First Amendment. The district court dismissed Vizaline's suit. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court's ruling -- that Mississippi's licensing requirements for surveyors do not trigger any First Amendment scrutiny -- was inconsistent with the Supreme Court's recent decision in Nat'l Inst. of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra [NIFLA], 138 S. Ct. 2361, 2375 (2018). NIFLA disavowed the notion that occupational-licensing regulations are exempt from First Amendment scrutiny. Therefore, the district court erred by categorically exempting occupational-licensing requirements from First Amendment scrutiny. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Vizaline, LLC v. Tracy" on Justia Law

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Hamid Sow, a citizen of Guinea, sought review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) denial of his motion to remand based upon ineffective assistance of counsel, and motion to reopen based upon new evidence. In December 2016, Sow entered the United States and immediately applied for asylum because he was a homosexual, and the stigma of being a homosexual in a devout Muslim community in his homeland meant danger for himself and his family. Sow only spoke French, and relied on other detainees to relate information to his attorney. Without a translator, Sow's counsel did not fully understand Sow’s concerns: Sow tried to communicate to his counsel that the content of affidavits counsel “did not match up with what happened.” When asked about discrepancies in facts from the affidavits presented, Sow responded he could not explain them because he did not have an opportunity to read them. In his oral decision, the IJ said that he “unfortunately” had to deny Sow’s application based solely on an adverse credibility finding. In coming to this conclusion, the IJ specifically highlighted the inconsistencies in statements made in affidavits. He noted that, if it were true that Sow were a homosexual, then he “clearly should get” asylum. Sow, represented by new counsel, appealed to the BIA. He argued that the IJ erred in failing to assess Sow’s well-founded fear of future persecution. The BIA denied Sow’s motion to remand. It held that the IJ did not clearly err in making an adverse credibility determination and the record did not establish that Sow was entitled to relief “independent of his discredited claim of past harm.” It also denied Sow’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, reasoning that counsel “reasonably relied on, and submitted the evidence provided by, the respondent and his friends.” The Eleventh Circuit concluded the BIA abused its discretion in denying Sow’s motion to remand based on ineffective assistance of counsel. It therefore granted Sow’s petition for review, vacated the BIA’s decisions, and remanded to the BIA with instructions to remand to the IJ for reconsideration of Sow’s asylum application. View "Sow v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Clifford Mecham took his computer to a technician for repairs. The technician discovered thousands of images showing nude bodies of adults with faces of children superimposed. The technician reported the pornography to the Corpus Christi Police Department. Unlike virtual pornography, this “morphed” child pornography used an image of a real child. Like virtual pornography, however, no child actually engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the circuits disagreed about whether morphed child pornography was protected speech. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the majority view that morphed child pornography did not enjoy First Amendment protection, so it affirmed defendant's conviction for possessing child pornography. "But the fact that the pornography was created without involving a child in a sex act does mean that a sentencing enhancement for images that display sadistic or masochistic conduct does not apply," so defendant's case was remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Mecham" on Justia Law

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Clarence Roy, a Christian street preacher, was issued a summons outside a nightclub in Monroe, Louisiana, after a woman accused him of following her and making inflammatory remarks. The summons, which was issued by Sergeant James Booth of the Monroe Police Department, cleared the way for formal charges under the city of Monroe’s “disturbing the peace” ordinance. Roy was tried and ultimately acquitted by a municipal court judge. Shortly thereafter, he filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which he argued Booth and the city deprived him of numerous constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Two district court judges denied relief, first in part and then in whole, respectively. Finding no reversible error, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Roy v. City of Monroe" on Justia Law