Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions for one count of conspiracy and one count of structuring the export of monetary transactions, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Defendant's convictions arose from his role in assisting the leader of conspiracy in smuggling cash through the Logan International Airport in Boston and onto a plane headed to Portuguese islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The First Circuit affirmed the convictions, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress certain evidence against him; (2) the district court did not err by admitting into evidence certain statements that the leader made to undercover agents and to admit records of Defendant's phone contacts with the leader; (3) there was no merit to Defendant's argument that the district court erred by refusing to issue certain jury instructions that Defendant argued he requested; and (4) Defendant's remaining allegations of error were without merit. View "United States v. Melo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioners' Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law, Rule 59(a) motion for a new trial, and Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the judgment, as provided for by the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure, holding that the circuit court did not err. Respondent filed a complaint alleging that Petitioners, two correctional officers, used excessive force against him. The jury found that Petitioners used excessive force on Respondent and committed the civil tort of battery on Respondent. The jury award compensatory damages of $0 and punitive damages of $4,500. Petitioners filed a Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law and motions pursuant to Rules 59(a) and (e) for a new trial and/or to alter or amend the judgment, arguing that there was no reasonable relationship between the compensatory damages and punitive damages award. The circuit court denied the motions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in (1) allowing punitive damages to be recovered by Respondent without an accompanying award of compensatory or nominal damages; and (2) failing to apply the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e, to Petitioners. View "Lunsford v. Shy" on Justia Law

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Craig was involved in a high-speed shootout in the streets of Akron, Ohio and was apprehended wearing a shoulder holster and with gunshot residue on his hands. His DNA was identified on a firearm discovered in the backseat of one of the vehicles. Craig was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Craig admitted that he possessed a firearm while being a felon but testified that he possessed the gun only long enough to defend himself and his friends during the firefight. On cross-examination, the prosecution played for the jury a video depicting a masked individual (allegedly Craig) rapping and wielding a firearm that was similar to the gun for which he was charged. Craig denied that he was the individual in the video. The prosecution did not attempt to introduce the video into evidence. The district court never issued a limiting instruction about whether or how to consider the video. The prosecution referenced the video in closing arguments. The Sixth Circuit vacated Craig’s conviction. The prosecution had no legal basis to publish the unadmitted and unauthenticated exhibit to the jury, and the error was not harmless. The prosecution did not have a “‘good faith basis’ for cross-examination under Rule 608(b).” View "United States v. Craig" on Justia Law

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Recover Agents went to the home of Jiries and Yasmeen Abu-Joudeh to repossess their car. An altercation ensued. According to Yasmeen, an agent pushed her. The agents say that Jiries asked Yasmeen to get a gun and hit her when she refused. The agents called the police. The Abu-Joudehs moved their car into the garage and shut the door. Capac Police Chief Schneider and Michigan State Trooper Sebring arrived. Yasmeen let the officers into the house. More police cars arrived. One officer, whom Yasmeen called the “third officer,” entered the house and kept her seated. Schneider’s police report suggests that this third officer was Memphis Police Chief Sheets. Yasmeen’s physical description of the third officer fit Sheets. The third officer, with the repossession agents, attempted to pry open the garage's main electric door, then went around to the side door, which one of them opened. The agents loaded the vehicle onto their tow truck and hauled it away. AbuJoudeh filed suit, claiming Sheets broke into the garage, violating his right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Sheets submitted an affidavit saying he “did not open Plaintiff’s garage without consent, did not enter Plaintiff’s garage without consent, and did not enter Plaintiff’s vehicle or participate in its repossession.” The district court granted Sheets summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The evidence suggesting that Sheets was the officer who broke into his garage creates a genuine issue of material fact. View "Abu-Joudeh v. Schneider" on Justia Law

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The maternal grandparents of C.P. argued that the absolute statutory bar to placement of the child in their custody, either through approval as a resource family pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 16519.5 or on an emergency basis pursuant to section 361.4, was unconstitutional as applied to them. The bar was triggered in this case by a disqualifying misdemeanor criminal conviction the grandfather had dating to 1991. The child (born 2011) was removed from mother’s custody in May 2017, after he was sexually abused by a maternal uncle; at the time of removal, mother, child, and uncle all resided in the home of the grandparents. The uncle is now incarcerated on a 20-year sentence for child molestation. Mother has been out of contact with CFS, and reportedly has moved out of state. The child was initially placed with a foster family, but in June 2017 he was moved to a group home capable of addressing his special health care needs related to autism. Mother failed to reunify with the child. The child was ordered to remain in the group home under a planned permanent living arrangement, with the goal of identifying an appropriate placement for legal guardianship. The grandparents started the resource family approval process, with the goal of having the child placed in their care, almost immediately after the child was removed from mother’s custody in May 2017. A social worker characterized grandparents as the “only constant” in the child’s life. The Court of Appeal agreed with grandparents that the absolute statutory bar to placement of the child in their custody would have been unconstitutional as to them if they could establish they had a parental relationship with the child, not just a grandparental relationship. The case was therefore remanded to the trial court to make the predicate factual findings and for consideration of the issue anew from that perspective. View "In re C.P." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a petition for federal habeas relief brought by petitioner, challenging his California state murder conviction and death sentence. Petitioner alleges that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel at the penalty phase because his lawyers failed to present additional evidence of his family history and social background. The panel held that reasonable jurists could conclude that admission of this evidence would not have led to a reasonable probability of a different sentence and thus petitioner was not prejudiced by any deficiency in counsel's performance. The panel granted petitioner's motion to expand the certificate of appealability as to four additional claims. The panel held that the state court reasonably concluded that a mens rea defense theory would not have been reasonably probable to persuade the jury to acquit. Even assuming that counsel rendered deficient performance in failing to conduct further investigation, it was eminently reasonable for the court to conclude that petitioner failed to show that the omission of this argument adversely affected the outcome. Finally, the panel held that petitioner was not prejudiced by his counsel's failure to obtain a transport order and funding authorization for EEG tests and a PET scan during the guilt or penalty phase. View "Berryman v. Wong" on Justia Law

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Appellant sought habeas corpus relief, arguing that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel because the defense lawyer who represented him in his child molestation trial in Arizona state court was ineffective. After the jury reported that it was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial, the jury requested permission to resume deliberations. Appellant's counsel did not object and the jury convicted appellant on all grounds. The Ninth Circuit held that appellant's counsel was not ineffective because, on the facts of this case, it was a reasonable prediction that appellant had a better chance of a more favorable verdict from the existing jury on the existing trial record than he would from a retrial. View "May v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against UND Law under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), alleging that UND Law discriminated against him because of his mental illness when it rejected his admission application. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to UND Law, holding that plaintiff failed to show that UND Law's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for rejecting plaintiff's application was pretext for discrimination. The court reasoned that UND Law's holistic approach to application reviews did not discriminate against plaintiff in determining that he would not be a good fit for UND Law. In this case, plaintiff had dropped out of law school three times, had a very low undergraduate GPA, and submitted out-of-date recommendation letters. View "Power v. University of North Dakota School of Law" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Defendant's appeal of the denial of his plea in bar, holding that because Defendant's plea in bar did not present a colorable double jeopardy claim this Court lacked appellate jurisdiction. Defendant was charged with one count of first degree sexual assault and one count of third degree sexual assault of a child. The alleged victim of both crimes was T.K. Defendant filed a plea in bar asserting that he entered guilty pleas to certain criminal charges as part of an agreement in which the State agreed not to bring any charges alleging that he sexually assaulted T.K. Defendant argued that by filing criminal charges it had previously agreed not to bring the State violated his double jeopardy protections. The district court overruled the plea in bar. The Supreme Court dismissed Defendant's appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that Defendant did not present a colorable double jeopardy claim, and therefore, the order overruling his plea in bar was not a final, appealable order. View "State v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's sentence for witness tampering but otherwise affirmed Defendant's convictions and the sentence imposed for Defendant's sexual assault conviction, holding that Defendant's sentence for witness tampering should have been an indeterminate rather than a determinate sentence. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the Court will not consider Defendant's assignment of error alleging ineffective assistance of counsel because Defendant failed to comply with this Court's pronouncement regarding the specificity required for assignments of error alleging ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) when a defendant challenges a sentence imposed by the district court as excessive and the State believes the sentence to be erroneous but has not complied with Neb. Rev. Stat. 29-2315.01 or 29-2321, the State may not assert such error via a cross-appeal; (3) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress, failing to grant his motion for mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct, and failing to grant a directed verdict; (4) the sentence for the sexual assault conviction was not sentence; and (5) the trial court plainly erred by imposing a determinate sentence for witness tampering. View "State v. Guzman" on Justia Law