Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The Gestational Age Act, a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions, with limited exceptions, after 15 weeks' gestational age is an unconstitutional ban on pre-viability abortions. The Fifth Circuit held that states may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman's right, but they may not ban abortions. The court held that the law at issue is a ban on certain pre-viability abortions, which Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey does not tolerate and which presents a situation unlike that in Gonzales v. Carhart. The court explained that, with respect to bans like this one, the Supreme Court's viability framework has already balanced the state's asserted interests and found them wanting: Until viability, it is for the woman, not the state, to weigh any risks to maternal health and to consider personal values and beliefs in deciding whether to have an abortion. The court also held that the district court was within its discretion in limiting discovery of the issue of viability and excluding expert testimony regarding fetal pain perception. Finally, the court upheld the district court's award of permanent injunctive relief. View "Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Dobbs" on Justia Law

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Stephen Taylor was convicted by jury of numerous sex offenses against his adopted daughters, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. In total, the jury convicted him on 12 counts. The trial court sentenced him to prison for a one-year determinate term and an aggregate indeterminate term of 165 years to life. On appeal, Taylor argued the trial court erred by admitting expert testimony on child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, and instructing the jurors that they could use that evidence to evaluate the victims’ credibility. He also claimed the court made several sentencing errors: (1) by imposing two indeterminate terms under the former “One Strike” law for two offenses that occurred during a single occasion; (2) by imposing multiple punishments for four counts of aggravated sexual assault and four counts of lewd acts arising from the same facts; and (3) by imposing a restitution fine and court operations and facilities fees without an ability to pay hearing. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by imposing multiple punishments on four counts of aggravated sexual assault (counts 1 through 4) and four counts of forcible lewd acts (counts 5 through 8) that arose from the same conduct. Accordingly, Taylor’s sentence was stayed on counts 5 through 8. The Court also agreed the court should hold an ability to pay hearing, at least as to the court operations and facilities fees. Therefore, the Court reversed the order imposing those fees and remanded for a hearing on Taylor’s ability to pay them. As to the restitution fine, Taylor forfeited his contention. The Court otherwise rejected Taylor’s arguments and affirmed. View "California v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Feuu Fagatele appealed his 46-month prison sentence, arguing the district court erred in classifying Utah third-degree aggravated assault as a crime of violence under section 4B1.2 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.). Fagatele pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Based in part on Fagatele’s 2013 Utah conviction for third-degree aggravated assault, an offense the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) classified as a crime of violence, the PSR calculated a base offense level of 20. Fagatele objected, arguing in relevant part that third-degree aggravated assault did not constitute a crime of violence under the federal guideline 4B1.2(a)’s elements clause. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded third-degree aggravated assault “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” Accordingly, it affirmed Fagatele’s sentence. View "United States v. Fagatele" on Justia Law

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East Palo Alto Police Sergeant Simmont received an alert of shots fired in a high-crime neighborhood where Simmont had responded to murders. Simmont and other officers spoke with witnesses at the address, who reported seeing flashes from behind a boat in the driveway. Officers found spent shell casings near the garage. Simmont testified that he began “investigating whether or not we had a victim or a shooter [who] was hiding out.” He pounded on a garage door and announced police presence. No one responded. Officers spoke with people at the residence's front door. Simmont claims Rubio’s father granted permission to search the house and the garage. Rubio emerged from the garage, locking the door behind him, then approached, yelling for the officers to shoot him. After detaining Rubio, Simmont and another officer kicked the door open and entered the garage, which was a converted apartment. The officers observed an explosive device and a pistol on the shelf, then obtained a warrant, reentered, and found another handgun, bullets, body armor, spent shell casings, and methamphetamine. Surveillance video showed Rubio walking down the driveway, pulling out a revolver, and firing into the air. The court of appeal first affirmed Rubio’s convictions, relying on the community caretaking exception to uphold the search. Based on a subsequent California Supreme Court decision, the court granted rehearing and reversed. The need to render emergency aid justifies warrantless entry only where officers have “specific and articulable facts” showing that an intrusion into the home was necessary. It is not enough that officers seek to rule out “the possibility that someone . . . might require aid.” View "People v. Rubio" on Justia Law

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Prison Legal News (“PLN”) published a monthly magazine to help inmates navigate the criminal justice system. Between January 2010 and April 2014, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) rejected the distribution of 11 publications PLN sent to inmate subscribers at the BOP’s United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (“ADX”). PLN sued the BOP, claiming the rejections violated PLN’s First Amendment rights, its Fifth Amendment procedural due process rights, and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). ADX responded by distributing the 11 publications, revising its institutional policies, and issuing a declaration from its current Warden. Based on these actions, the BOP moved for summary judgment, arguing that PLN’s claims were moot or not ripe. PLN filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on its First and Fifth Amendment claims. The district court granted the BOP’s motion and dismissed the case as moot. The Tenth Circuit determined factual developments during the litigation indeed mooted PLN’s claims. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for the BOP and dismissing this case for lack of jurisdiction. View "Prison Legal News v. Federal Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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In October 2013, Jones was on a Pennsylvania prison bus, traveling to his post-conviction hearing. Jones talked with a fellow inmate. The driver “threaten[ed]” both men, then switched Jones’s property box with that of the other inmate. The box held Jones’s legal papers for the hearing. Weeks later, Jones was waiting for another prison bus. The same driver yanked him out of line, put him in the segregation cage, and berated him. Jones told other inmates to get the names of the transportation crew; they took off their name tags. The stress of this incident exacerbated his mental ailments. He had a nervous breakdown and stayed two days in the medical annex. Days later, Jones filed a grievance. For 10 months, he refiled, appealed, and sent follow-up letters. In September 2014, he was released, but the prison had not decided his grievance. Just under two years after his release, Jones filed a pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint. On remand, a magistrate recommended dismissing his claim as time-barred. She acknowledged that the limitations period is tolled for a prisoner who exhausts his administrative remedies before suing but reasoned that the rule does not apply to former prisoners who sue after their release. The Third Circuit vacated. A prisoner must exhaust the prison’s internal administrative remedies, whether he sues from prison or sues after his release. Jones’s claim for injunctive relief against the driver were moot but Jones may seek monetary relief against the remaining defendants. View "Jones v. Capozza" on Justia Law

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The victim and his friend “Craig” had previously purchased oxycodone from a supplier, “John.” On this occasion, John had no supplies, but referred the victim to defendant Earnest Williams. When Craig and the victim arrived at the appointed location, the victim took $900 in cash and followed defendant into the building. Craig heard gun shots and called the police, who found the victim dead from gunshots to his abdomen and to the back of his head, with $500 on his body. On the night of the shooting, defendant made a series of admissions to several of his cohorts: he never had any drugs to sell because his intent was to rob the victim; he carried the gun to the transaction; a scuffle ensued when he attempted to rob the victim; and he shot the victim in the leg, then in the head, took some of his money, and then ran. At issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether the trial court properly excluded evidence proffered by Williams at trial: he sought to buttress his defense with evidence of the victim’s prior, unrelated drug deal with another individual to establish the victim brought a handgun to the July 2012 transaction. The trial court precluded defendant from presenting such evidence. The jury ultimately convicted defendant of aggravated manslaughter and felony murder. The Appellate Division reversed, finding the trial court erred by not permitting defendant to present evidence of the victim’s prior drug purchase in a public place. Having remanded the case for a new trial, the Appellate Division did not address defendant’s sentencing issues. The Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division, finding defendant’s proffered evidence failed to meet the threshold requirement of admissibility: relevancy. View "New Jersey v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Vianney appealed the district court's summary judgment rulings on their Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) claims, Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Missouri RFRA) claim; and inverse condemnation claim under Missouri's Constitution. The Eighth Circuit affirmed as to the RLUIPA claims, holding that the city's lighting and sound regulations did not substantially burden, rather than merely inconvenienced, Vianney's religious exercise. In this case, Vianney has not demonstrated that a requirement that it avail itself of alternatives would substantially burden its religious exercise, and the record demonstrated that Vianney was not treated less favorably than other schools. The court also affirmed as to the inverse condemnation claim, holding that Missouri courts have held that the reasonable exercise of a city's police power does not constitute a taking and the regulations here did not impose unusually restrictive limitations. However, the court vacated as to the Missouri RFRA claim, because the district court abused its discretion in deciding this state law claim on the merits after granting the city summary judgment on the RLUIPA claims. Accordingly, the court remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss the claim without prejudice. View "Marianist Province of the U.S. v. City of Kirkwood" on Justia Law

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Defendant Andrew Stewart, Jr. pleaded guilty to assault and robbery with a deadly weapon based on allegations that during the evening of February 11, 2017, defendant held a gun to the complainant’s head in the parking lot of a restaurant, demanded her money, and took her bag, wallet, and phone. At the plea colloquy, Defendant stated, “I’m not denying I robbed anyone, sir. In my heart I know I robbed somebody. . . . Do I remember putting a gun to her head and telling her to give me money? No, sir, I do not. I don’t remember the incident.” He said that he had had sufficient time to discuss the plea agreement with his attorney and had no concerns with his attorney’s work for him. The trial court acknowledged it was “struggling somewhat with the defendant’s acknowledgement of the factual basis here.” But the court accepted defendant’s plea because defendant “repeatedly asserted” the following: the plea was voluntary; he had committed the crime and could not remember the incident only because he was intoxicated at the time; and he did not contest the State’s evidence. On appeal of his ultimate conviction, defendant argued the district court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Based on the trial court’s “struggle” with accepting defendant’s plea, and “given our liberal standard for granting a withdrawal of plea,” the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court abused its discretion in denying defendant’s motion. View "Vermont v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two African-American minimum-wage employees who work in Birmingham at a rate lower than the $10.10 prescribed by the City's minimum wage ordinance, filed suit alleging that Act No. 2016-18, which nullified the City's minimum-wage ordinance, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead of suing their employers, who were refusing to pay the $10.10 minimum wage, plaintiffs chose to file suit against the Alabama Attorney General. The Eleventh Circuit held that plaintiffs did not have Article III standing to sue the Attorney General, because they could not demonstrate that their alleged injuries were fairly traceable to his conduct, or that those injuries would be redressed by the declaratory and injunctive relief plaintiffs have requested. Because the employees lacked standing to sue, the court need not consider the merits of their equal protection claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and remanded to the panel. View "Lewis v. Governor of Alabama" on Justia Law