Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Ashley Brown and Jessica Baugh were roommates at the Bay Meadows Apartments in Ridgeland, Mississippi. They worked together at a local bar. One night after work, Brown and Baugh met up with friends, including Stephanie Mejia, another co-worker. Mejia arranged to spend the night at Brown’s and Baugh’s apartment. Because Mejia did not have a key to the apartment, Baugh told her that she would leave the door unlocked. Mejia then left Baugh to meet up with her friends. During the night, Jones woke up Baugh and advised that someone had come into the apartment. Baugh was not concerned because she assumed it was Mejia. Later that morning, Brown woke up Baugh and advised that her car was gone. Brown’s keys, along with her debit and credit cards, were also gone. Baugh began to look around the apartment and noticed that her iPad and Michael Kors bag were missing. The tips that Baugh had received from work were in the bag. Brown and Baugh called the police. The Ridgeland Police Department learned that Amonteel Pates had used Brown’s credit card to purchase a pair of shoes. Pates was later arrested. When questioned about the incident at Brown’s and Baugh’s apartment, Pates acknowledged his involvement and culpability and provided the names of the other suspects: Rahim Williams, Michael Tillman, Fabiyonne Peel, and defendant Jontavian Eubanks. According to Pates, Mejia instigated taking Baugh's tips; Pates was aware that Mejia had arranged to spend the night at Baugh’s and Brown’s apartment and that Baugh would leave the door unlocked. Eubanks, Pates, Peel, Williams, and Tillman were indicted on burglary of a dwelling, conspiracy to commit burglary of a dwelling, motor-vehicle theft, and conspiracy to commit motor-vehicle theft. Pates pleaded guilty and was sentenced to twenty-five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), with ten years to serve. As part of his plea agreement, Pates testified against Eubanks at trial. Eubanks was convicted of burglary of a dwelling, and conspiracy to commit burglary of a dwelling, and was sentenced to serve twenty-five years in the custody of the MDOC on Count I and five years on Count II, with the sentences to run concurrently to each other, but consecutively to any and all other sentences. He was further ordered to pay $698.50 in court costs, fees, and assessments. Eubanks appealed, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) denying his motion for funds to retain an expert for trial; (2) denying his motion for funds to retain an expert for a Daubert hearing; (3) overruling his Batson challenge; and (4) permitting hearsay testimony to establish essential elements of the charged offenses. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Eubanks' conviction. View "Eubanks v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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The State alleged Ibrahim Ahmed Mohammed knocked on E.W.’s apartment door, and when she opened it, forced himself inside. He appealed after a bench trial found him guilty of gross sexual imposition, arguing the district court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for acquittal because the “force” element of the crime was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and the district court improperly reduced the standard for “force” based on the view that E.W. was a vulnerable adult. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "North Dakota v. Mohammed" on Justia Law

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Blain Ovind appealed after a jury found him guilty of two counts of construction fraud, two counts of acting as a contractor without a license, and one count of disobedience of a judicial order. On appeal, Ovind argued the district court erred by denying his requests for court-appointed counsel, and his convictions should have been reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "North Dakota v. Ovind" on Justia Law

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In 1979, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of San Juan created a trust to administer a pension plan for Catholic school employees. In 2016, active and retired school employees filed suit, alleging that the Trust had terminated the plan, eliminating the employees’ pension benefits. They named as defendants the “Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church of Puerto Rico” (Church), which they claimed was a legal entity with supervisory authority over all Catholic institutions in Puerto Rico, the Archdiocese, the Superintendent, three schools, and the Trust. Following a remand, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court reinstated orders requiring payment. The court held that the Treaty of Paris recognized the “legal personality” of “the Catholic Church” in Puerto Rico, and that the only defendant with separate legal personality, and the only entity that could be ordered to pay the pensions, was the Church. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated, declining to address issues under the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses. The Court of First Instance lacked jurisdiction to issue the payment and seizure orders. After the remand, the Archdiocese removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Trust had filed for bankruptcy and that this litigation was sufficiently related to the bankruptcy to give rise to federal jurisdiction. The Bankruptcy Court dismissed the Trust’s bankruptcy proceeding before the Court of First Instance issued the relevant payment and seizure orders but the district court did not remand the case to the Court of First Instance until five months later. Once a notice of removal is filed, the state court loses all jurisdiction over the case. The orders were void. View "Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Juan v. Feliciano" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal concluding that a defense counsel's failure to object at trial, before People v. Sanchez, 63 Cal.4th 665 (2016), was decided, forfeited a claim that a gang expert's testimony related case-specific hearsay in violation of the confrontation clause, holding that a defense counsel's failure to object under such circumstances does not forfeit a claim based on Sanchez. Sanchez held that an expert cannot relate case-specific hearsay to explain the basis for her opinion unless the facts are independently proven or fall within a hearsay exception. Defendants in the instant case were each convicted of two counts of first degree special circumstance murder and other crimes. Before Defendants' appeals were resolved, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Sanchez. On appeal, one of the defendants argued that a gang expert testified to case-specific hearsay in violation of the confrontation clause. The court of appeal held that the defendant's failure to object to case-specific hearsay in expert testimony at trial forfeited any Sanchez claim on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeal erred in finding that the defendant forfeited his claim on appeal based on Sanchez by failing to object at a trial that occurred before Sanchez was decided. View "People v. Perez" on Justia Law

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Henry Marcum appealed following a bench trial found him guilty of a lesser included offense of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. On appeal, Marcum argued the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence from what he argued was an unconstitutional arrest, and the evidence was insufficient to convict him. Marcum requested that the verdict be reversed or that the North Dakota Supreme Court vacate the verdict and reverse the district court order denying his motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed denial of the motion to suppress because law enforcement acted in good faith on the arrest warrant and representations about its validity. Furthermore, the Court affirmed the criminal judgment because sufficient evidence supported finding Marcum had a prior conviction for an equivalent offense, and the residue in the pipe found supported the conviction for possession of methamphetamine. View "North Dakota v. Marcum" on Justia Law

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On March 3, 2018, a man called 911 to report that he witnessed two men in a Honda shoot at another car. The caller followed the Honda and dialed 911 within “two to three minutes” of observing the gunfire. During the approximately thirteen-minute 911 call, the caller discussed the shooting, his continuing observations of the Honda and its occupants, and his safety, often in response to the 911 operator’s questions. Shortly thereafter, responding police officer Levi Braun (“Officer Braun”) located a Honda matching the caller’s description. With Officer Braun in pursuit, the Honda slowed down and Defendant Daniel Lovato jumped out of the passenger’s side of the moving car. Officer Braun stopped to detain Defendant, who volunteered that he had a gun on him. Officer Braun then retrieved a .22 caliber pistol from Defendant’s waistband, along with thirty-two rounds of .22 caliber ammunition from Defendant’s left front pants pocket. At the time of this incident, Defendant had prior felony convictions. The government ultimately charged Defendant with three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition: one each for possessing the .22 caliber pistol, thirty-two rounds of .22 caliber ammunition, and canister full of additional ammunition. At trial, Defendant objected to the admission of the 911 call on hearsay grounds. The district court overruled the objection and admitted the 911 call into evidence under the present sense impression exception to the rule against hearsay. A jury convicted Defendant as charged, and the district court sentenced Defendant to 100 months’ imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. On appeal, Defendant alleged the district court abused its discretion in admitting the 911 call. Finding no reversible error as to Defendant's conviction, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Court vacated a special condition and remanded on that issue for further proceedings. View "United States v. Lovato" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought after the death of Arizona Senator John McCain, challenging the constitutionality of an Arizona statute that governs appointments and elections in the aftermath of a vacancy in the United States Senate. Plaintiffs argued that the November 2020 vacancy election date and the 27-month interim appointment duration violate the time constraints implicit in the Seventeenth Amendment. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this challenge based on failure to state a claim, because there was no authority for invalidating the state statute on this basis. Although the panel found plaintiffs' interpretation a possible one based on the text and history of the Seventeenth Amendment, the panel concluded that it was foreclosed by binding precedents. Plaintiffs also argued that the November 2020 vacancy election date impermissibly burdens their right to vote as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this challenge based on failure to state a claim, because important state regulatory interests justify what was a reasonable and nondiscriminatory restriction on plaintiffs' right to vote. Finally, plaintiffs challenge Arizona's statutory mandates that the Governor must make a temporary appointment and must choose a member of the same party as the Senator who vacated the office. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this challenge based on failure to state a claim, and rejected plaintiffs' interpretation of the relevant Seventeenth Amendment language. The panel also affirmed the district court's dismissal of the challenge based on lack of standing where there was no harm on the basis of representation by a Republican and no redressability where the Republican Governor would appoint a Republican anyway. View "Tedards v. Ducey" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying defendant's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims under the Equal Pay Act (EPA). The en banc court held that plaintiff's prior rate of pay was not a "factor other than sex" that allows Fresno County's Office of Education to pay her less than male employees who perform the same work. The en banc court also held that only job-related factors may serve as affirmative defenses to EPA claims. The en banc court wrote that the express purpose of the Act was to eradicate the practice of paying women less simply because they are women, and that allowing employers to escape liability by relying on employees' prior pay would defeat the purpose of the Act and perpetuate the very discrimination the EPA aims to eliminate. Therefore, the en banc court held that an employee's prior pay cannot serve as an affirmative defense to a prima facie showing of an EPA violation. The en banc court overruled Kouba v. Allstate Ins. Co., 691 F.2d 873 (9th Cir. 1982), which held that prior pay could qualify as an affirmative defense if the employer considered prior pay in combination with other factors and used it reasonably to effectuate a business policy. View "Rizo v. Yovino" on Justia Law

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Kelvin McAllister was convicted by jury of assault. On appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, McAllister claimed his right to an impartial jury was violated. He argued the district court erred when it denied various challenges for cause he made because jurors either knew the prosecuting attorney or had been the prosecuting attorney’s clients. He also claimed that due to the aggregate effect of the jurors’ familiarity with the prosecutor the court should have granted his motion for a mistrial. McAllister also claimed multiple errors with respect to the trial court’s admission of certain evidence, and in instructing the jury. The Supreme Court determined there was no evidence in the record that any of the jurors were clients of the prosecuting attorney at the time of trial. The jurors who stated they knew the prosecuting attorney or were familiar with him all affirmed they would be impartial. Furthermore, the Court determined McAllister did not show a material departure from “the forms prescribed by law in respect to the drawing and return of the jury, or on the intentional omission of the sheriff to summon one or more of the jurors drawn.” The Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied McAllister’s challenges for cause, for denying a mistrial, admitting evidence relating to restitution, or in instructing the jury. View "North Dakota v. McAllister" on Justia Law