Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2005, defendant-appellant Jorge Rodriguez pled guilty to unlawful intercourse by a person over 21 under Penal Code1 section 261.5(d). Defendant, as a person over 21, admitted to having sex with a person under the age of 16. The trial court sentenced defendant to formal probation for 36 months. Days later, defendant was taken into custody by the Immigration and Naturalization Service pending resolution by an immigration judge whether defendant would be removed from the United States. That same year, defendant was ordered removed. In 2007, defendant admitted to violating his probation. The trial court added 60 days to defendant’s sentence, to be served on a work release program to commence December 14, 2007, and reinstated defendant’s probation. On September 10, 2008, defendant admitted a violation of a term of his probation requiring defendant to report to probation. The court then reinstated probation. In 2016, filed a petition for dismissal under Penal Code section 1203.4, and a petition for a reduction of his felony conviction to a misdemeanor under section 17(b). As mitigation, defendant provided in his petition that he married the victim and had two children with her. Moreover, defendant noted that both violations of probation occurred because he was in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was deported so he was unable to meet his probation officer or check in for his weekend custody obligation. Both motions were denied, and defendant appealed. On January 1, 2017, Penal Code section 1473.7 went into effect. Among other things, section 1473.7 permitted a defendant to challenge a conviction based on a guilty plea where prejudicial error affected the defendant’s ability to understand the immigration consequences of the plea. On July 10, 2017, following the filing of the Court of APpeal's opinion in defendant’s first appeal, defendant, in pro. per., filed a motion to vacate his conviction under section 1473.7. The trial court denied defendant’s motion without defendant or defense counsel present. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court abused its discretion in denying defendant's section 1473.3 motion and reversed. View "California v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The State indicted defendant Keith Cuff for fifty-five offenses arising from five residential robberies and an additional incident in which defendant stole a vehicle while attempting to escape from a traffic stop. A jury convicted defendant of nineteen of those offenses, including three counts of first-degree kidnapping while in possession of a firearm. The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate ninety-eight-year sentence, with more than sixty-six years of parole ineligibility. The Appellate Division affirmed defendant’s conviction and sentence with respect to all but one of the offenses, and reduced his sentence to an aggregate ninety-year sentence, with more than sixty-four years’ parole ineligibility. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted defendant's petition for review, limited to two of the issues he raised on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed as to the trial court's imposition of consecutive sentences, finding the trial court should resentence defendant after considering whether certain offenses committed within the same criminal episode warranted concurrent rather than consecutive sentences, as well as whether the decision to make the sentences consecutive rather than concurrent made the aggregate sentence imposed on defendant an abuse of discretion. View "New Jersey v. Cuff" on Justia Law

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After drinking six to ten beers, defendant William Liepe drove his Ford Explorer at approximately 1:00 p.m. Traveling at about forty-five miles per hour, defendant struck the rear end of a Honda Accord waiting to make a left turn. The car was driven by a thirty-five-year-old man, M.G., who was driving his eleven-year-old son, M.J.G., and a nine-year-old family friend, R.S., to a softball game. The collision sent the Honda into the northbound lane, where it was struck by a Cadillac Escalade driven by a woman who was taking her mother, R.V., and her two children on a shopping trip. The second collision sent the car into the parking lot of the softball field. The accident killed R.S. M.J.G. was permanently paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the accident. He was confined to a wheelchair and requires continuous medical care for the rest of his life. M.G. also sustained very serious injuries: he broke many bones, had injured organs, and required a forty-five day hospitalization with multiple surgeries. The driver of the Cadillac and her children were unharmed in the accident; however, R.V. sustained back and neck injuries. Defendant was tried before a jury and was convicted on all counts. The Appellate Division affirmed defendant’s convictions but vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing, observing that defendant would be ineligible for parole until he reached the age of eighty-nine and found that sentence “shocking to the judicial conscience.” The State appealed, challenging the appellate court's holding that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing consecutive terms and that defendant's aggregate sentence so shocked the judicial conscience. The New Jersey Supreme Court did not share the Appellate Division's view that the trial court erred in arriving at defendant's sentence, and reversed. View "New Jersey v. Liepe" on Justia Law

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In 2015, defendant Charudutt Patel was charged in two separate instances with DWI. Patel had twice before been convicted of DWI. Because of the passage of more than ten years between the first and second convictions, Patel was sentenced as a first-time offender. The two 2015 DWI charges exposed Patel to potential third and fourth DWI convictions. Patel claimed that his 1994 conviction in the Piscataway Municipal Court was uncounseled and therefore could not be used for custodial enhancement purposes pursuant to New Jersey v. Laurick, 120 N.J. 1, 16-17 (1990). Thus, for Laurick purposes, Patel contended that he stood before the court as a second-time offender, and he moved to bar the use of his allegedly uncounseled 1994 DWI guilty plea to enhance any custodial sentence in the pending DWI cases. The court denied Patel’s Laurick motion. Patel filed a motion for reconsideration and a third certification to clarify his earlier certifications. He asserted that in 1994, “the judge never advised me that I had a right to retain an attorney nor did he advise me that I had a right to an appointed attorney at no charge. Therefore, I simply pled guilty.” The court denied the motion for reconsideration, stating that in the absence of municipal court records, Patel’s certifications were insufficient to prove that he was denied notice of his right to counsel twenty-two years earlier and that, in any event, he should have filed his Laurick motion in 2010 when he was charged with his second DWI. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed: "Although his certifications were far from ideal, Patel carried his burden of presenting sufficient proof -- unrebutted by the State -- that his 1994 guilty plea was uncounseled, whether he was indigent or non-indigent. Patel had no obligation to establish that he would not have pled guilty or been convicted at trial had he been represented by counsel." The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. Patel" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former special agent with the Virginia State Police, filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against the Commonwealth, seeking relief that includes compensatory damages, reinstatement, and back pay. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the ADA claim, because the Commonwealth has not waived its sovereign immunity from that claim. However, the court reversed the district court's decision that claim preclusion barred the Title VII claims, because the initial forum did not have the power to award the full measure of relief sought in this litigation. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Passaro v. Commonwealth of Virginia" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's race discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981. In this case, plaintiff was terminated from her position as deputy clerk with the City of Houston, Mississippi as part of a group of layoffs designed to offset the City's budget shortfall. The court held that plaintiff failed to present a genuine issue of material fact that her race was a motivating factor in her termination or that there was a causal connection between her EEOC complaint and that termination. View "Harville v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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An inmate representing himself sued the prison superintendent and chaplain for violating his religious rights by providing an inadequate halal diet, banning scented prayer oils, and not allowing him to have additional religious texts in his cell beyond the prison’s limit. He claimed these actions violated the Equal Protection Clause of both the Alaska Constitution and the federal Constitution, and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The inmate also sought reimbursement for scented oils that the prison had destroyed. The superior court granted the prison officials’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed all of the inmate’s claims. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed summary judgment on the inmate’s RLUIPA claim regarding the halal diet because the inmate did not receive adequate guidance on how to file affidavits in opposition to the summary judgment motion. The Court also reversed summary judgment on the RLUIPA claim regarding scented oils because the prison officials failed to satisfy their burden of proving that banning such oils was the least restrictive means to address their substantial interest in maintaining prison security and health. The Court affirmed dismissal of the inmate’s claims regarding the religious book limit because the issue was not yet ripe. And the Court vacated the award of attorney’s fees and costs. View "Leahy v. Conant" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review challenging the Commission's 2018 rule allowing investment companies to post shareholder reports online and mail paper copies to shareholders upon request. Petitioners argued that the SEC did not adequately consider the interests of shareholders who prefer reports in paper form. The court held, however, that the consumer organization lacked Article III standing. In this case, the organization could not reasonably have believed that its barebones affidavit, vaguely describing the preferences and burdens of unnamed members and others, sufficed to prove its representational standing; nor could it reasonably have believed that its standing was self-evident from the rulemaking record. The court also held that the paper-industry representatives asserted interests beyond those protected or regulated by the securities laws. Applying Hazardous Waste Treatment Council v. Thomas, 885 F.2d 918, 921–22 (D.C. Cir. 1989), the court held that the conflict between the interests of paper sellers and those of shareholders is likely to increase over time, and this suggests a systematic misalignment with shareholder preferences, which makes paper companies distinctly unqualified to advance the interests of shareholders. View "Twin Rivers Paper Co., LLC v. SEC" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Vowell pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, agreeing that his prior criminal history qualified for a sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) 18 U.S.C. 924(e). Vowell waived his right to collateral relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, except for claims asserting ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, or “that an applicable change in the case law renders the defendant’s conduct ... not a violation of federal law.” Vowell had Tennessee convictions for second-degree burglary, armed robbery, and aggravated burglary, and a 1983 conviction for Georgia burglary. The district court determined that Vowell qualified as an ACCA career offender and sentenced him to 180 months of imprisonment. Vowell did not appeal. In 2016, Vowell filed a section 2255 motion to set aside his sentence, asserting that his 1983 Georgia conviction did not constitute a predicate offense because it was broader than generic burglary and “portions of Georgia’s burglary statute could only have qualified as a violent felony under the ACCA’s now-void residual clause,” citing the Supreme Court’s Johnson and Mathis decisions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Vowell’s petition, first holding that Vowell’s appellate waiver did not prohibit him from raising his claims. The court determined that Georgia’s burglary statute was divisible and that because Vowell was convicted of burglarizing a “dwelling house,” Vowell was correctly designated as a career offender. View "Vowell v. United States" on Justia Law

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Boxill worked at Franklin County Municipal Court. Boxill alleges that the defendants, judges and an administrator, formulated a concealed policy that female employees asserting complaints about abusive and discriminatory treatment by judges would be discouraged and intimidated. She claimed that in 2011 O’Grady began making sexist and racist comments and that Brandt was “hostile and intimidating." Boxill reported this to administrators and judges in 2011-2013; “[n]o administrator or Judge acted ... each discouraged [her] from action.” They began removing her responsibilities. A week after others reported O’Grady’s behavior Boxill was demoted. She claims that O’Grady then recruited other judges to monitor her and her staff. The Defendants began bypassing her and going directly to the Caucasian male subordinate. She resigned and later filed suit, alleging that each Defendant retaliated against her in violation of the First Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1981 and contributed to a hostile work environment. The district court dismissed her claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Boxill offered no plausible, non-conclusory facts to show that O’Grady was aware of her complaints and cannot demonstrate that O’Grady’s adverse actions were motivated by her protected speech. Reversing as to the hostile work environment claim, the court stated Boxill’s complaint plausibly alleged that O’Grady made sexist and racist comments to her and others for years, she reported that behavior, and the harassment was sufficiently severe and/or pervasive that others found it necessary to memorialize their concerns in writing. View "Boxill v. O'Grady" on Justia Law