Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The case involves William Alan Null, who was convicted of second-degree felony sexual assault. A DNA analyst testified that Null was linked to a previous sexual assault by comparing his DNA profile to profiles developed by a third-party laboratory. Null objected, arguing that the analyst's testimony was unreliable as she had no personal knowledge about the third-party laboratory or its data. The trial court overruled Null's objection, and he was sentenced to 60 years' confinement. Null appealed, and the court of appeals ordered a new punishment trial.The court of appeals had previously affirmed the trial court's decision, but later overturned part of its decision, granting a new punishment trial. The State petitioned for discretionary review, arguing that the court of appeals erred in its interpretation of the Texas Rules of Evidence and the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The court held that the DNA analyst's testimony was reliable under Rule 702 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, as she had relied on data produced by technicians and a forensic analyst employed by a well-known and accredited third-party forensic laboratory. The court also held that the court of appeals should not have decided the judicial notice issue, as it was moot given that Null had forfeited the arguments the issue was based on. View "Null v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Edmond Public Schools (the Petitioner) and the State of Oklahoma, the State Board of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (the Respondents). The Petitioner filed an application for the Supreme Court to prevent the enforcement of rules by the Respondents. These rules were to be used in enforcement proceedings against the school district before the State Board. The Petitioner argued that the State Board lacked the authority to supervise, examine, and control a local school board's discretion in supplying books for a school library that meet local community standards.The State Board of Education had publicized proposed rules for school library media programs, which included prohibitions on pornographic and sexualized content for books and other media. The Board adopted these rules, citing the Oklahoma Constitution and state statutes as their authority. However, the Oklahoma Attorney General issued an opinion stating that the proposed rules were not based on a specific grant of legislative authority, which was necessary for the Board to create these rules. The Legislature passed a resolution that did not expressly approve or disapprove the State Board's new rules. The Governor later issued a Declaration stating that the proposed rules for the State Department of Education were not subject to the joint resolution and approved these proposed rules as permanent rules for the State Department of Education.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma assumed original jurisdiction, in part, over the controversy. The court held that state statutes give a local school board power and a type of statutory discretion to supply books for a school library that meet local community standards. The court also held that no statute gives the State Board of Education, State Department of Education, and Superintendent of Public Instruction the authority to supervise, examine, and control a local school board's exercise of this discretion when the local school board applies local community standards for books it supplies for a local school library. The court issued a writ of prohibition to prevent additional enforcement proceedings against the school district based on the respondents' objection to the presence of certain books in the local school library. The court denied the petitioner's request for declaratory and injunctive relief. View "INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 12 v. STATE" on Justia Law

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The case involves two separate actions brought by B&L Productions, Inc., an operator of gun shows in California, against state officeholders tasked with enforcing various California statutes that bar the sale of guns on state property. B&L argued that these statutes violated its rights under the First and Second Amendments. In the first case, B&L challenged a ban on firearm sales at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. In the second case, B&L challenged bans on firearm sales at the Orange County Fairgrounds and on all state property.In the first case, the district court dismissed B&L’s lawsuit, holding that B&L had failed to state a claim that the ban violates its constitutional rights. In the second case, the district court granted B&L’s motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that B&L was likely to succeed on the merits of all its claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of B&L’s claims in the first case and vacated the district court’s order granting B&L’s motion for a preliminary injunction in the second case. The court held that the challenged statutes do not infringe on B&L’s constitutional rights. The court found that the statutes solely restrict nonexpressive conduct—contracting for the sale of firearms—and are not subject to First Amendment scrutiny. Furthermore, the court determined that the plain text of the Second Amendment does not cover B&L’s proposed conduct—namely, contracting for the sale of firearms and ammunition on state property. View "B & L PRODUCTIONS, INC. V. NEWSOM" on Justia Law

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In December 2017, Antoine Terry was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds in New Castle, Delaware. The police arrested Terry’s friend, Shaheed Matthews, for the murder. In 2019, Matthews was tried for murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The State's case relied on circumstantial evidence, including evidence from Matthews’s cellphone, witness testimony, video camera footage, and gunshot residue found on Matthews’s jacket. Matthews was convicted and sentenced to life plus three years in prison.Matthews appealed his conviction, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress evidence obtained from his cellphone. The Superior Court denied Matthews’s motion, concluding that Matthews had provided valid consent for the search of his cellphone and that the cellphone evidence had no bearing on the outcome of the case. Matthews appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of the State of Delaware.The Supreme Court of the State of Delaware reversed the Superior Court's decision. The court found that Matthews did not provide valid consent for the search of his cellphone and that the warrant obtained by police to search Matthews’s cellphone was an unconstitutional general warrant. The court also found that the cellphone evidence was material and significant to the State's case. Therefore, the court concluded that Matthews’s trial counsel’s failure to move to suppress the evidence obtained from his cellphone constituted deficient performance and prejudiced Matthews. The court vacated Matthews’s convictions and remanded the case to the Superior Court for a new trial. View "Matthews v. State" on Justia Law

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In October 2022, Starship Enterprises of Atlanta, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Gwinnett County, challenging a 2015 county ordinance regulating "Adult Establishments." Starship, which owns two stores in Gwinnett County, had previously filed a similar lawsuit in 2017, which it voluntarily dismissed. The county, however, maintained its counterclaim, and the trial court granted the county a permanent injunction restraining Starship from "regularly making more than 100 sexual devices available for sale" at each of its locations. Starship appealed the decision, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of a permanent injunction against Starship.In the second lawsuit, Starship invoked a constitutional amendment that waives sovereign immunity for certain lawsuits, including lawsuits against a county for declaratory judgment and related injunctive relief. The trial court dismissed Starship’s lawsuit, holding that it was barred by sovereign immunity and by res judicata. Starship appealed to the Court of Appeals, which transferred the case to the Supreme Court of Georgia due to the novel constitutional question involved.The Supreme Court of Georgia concluded that although the constitutional waiver of sovereign immunity applied to Starship’s lawsuit, the suit was barred by res judicata. The court found that Starship's lawsuit sought relief from the county's prospective acts of enforcement, which will occur after January 1, 2021, and therefore the county’s sovereign immunity was waived under the constitutional amendment. However, the court also found that the lawsuit was barred by res judicata because the constitutional matters Starship now sought to raise could have been raised in the previous lawsuit. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing the lawsuit. View "STARSHIP ENTERPRISES OF ATLANTA, INC. v. GWINNETT COUNTY" on Justia Law

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The case involves Nicholas Bernard Head, who was convicted for malice murder and other crimes related to the shooting death of Quintavia Wade. Head argued that his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment were violated when the State read into evidence prior testimony given about the murder weapon by Emily Bagwell, the State’s firearms expert. He also claimed that the trial court committed plain error in allowing another firearms examiner, Kyle Wheelus, to testify as a “verifier” of Bagwell’s analysis about the bullet recovered in Wade’s autopsy.Head was initially indicted for malice murder and other crimes in connection with Wade’s death in 2018. That indictment was nolle prossed. In 2021, a Clarke County grand jury indicted Head for the same crimes. The jury acquitted Head of the counts involving Williams and found him guilty on all remaining counts. The trial court sentenced Head to serve life in prison with the possibility of parole for malice murder and consecutive terms of imprisonment totaling fifteen years for two of the weapons charges. Head filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court.In the Supreme Court of Georgia, the court concluded that even if there was error with regard to the admission of Bagwell’s prior testimony about the murder weapon, any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt given the overwhelming evidence against Head, including the testimony of two police officers who witnessed the shooting. The court also found no plain error in allowing Wheelus’s testimony as it was based on his own ballistics analysis. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision. View "HEAD v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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Shanadore Harmon and Jermaz Lawson had an argument that escalated into a physical fight. During the altercation, Harmon fired a gun into the car Lawson was driving, killing Brittany Trantham, a passenger in the vehicle. Harmon was subsequently charged with malice murder of Trantham, aggravated assault of Lawson, and three firearms offenses. A Richmond County grand jury returned an indictment on all counts, and Harmon was found guilty by a jury trial.Harmon's conviction and sentencing were upheld by the trial court, despite multiple amendments to his motion for a new trial. Harmon appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of Trantham’s murder or the related firearms offenses, that the trial court erred by denying his motion for directed verdict on the aggravated assault and firearm offense related to Lawson, and that he received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel did not raise a hearsay objection to the admission of Lawson’s recorded statement to police.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed Harmon's convictions and sentence. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to support each of Harmon’s convictions related to the murder of Trantham and the denial of his motion for directed verdict on the counts related to the assault of Lawson. The court also concluded that Harmon failed to establish that he was prejudiced by counsel’s failure to object to the admission of Lawson’s statement to police. The court noted that even without Lawson’s statement, the evidence against Harmon was still very strong, including testimony from two witnesses who saw Harmon stand behind Trantham’s car and then heard gunshots, as well as evidence that Harmon was found soon after the shooting with the gun that fired both the fatal bullet and all the bullets collected from the crime scene. View "HARMON v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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The case involves three defendants, Saturnino Andre Lopez-Cardona, Wilmer Mendez, and Gerson Suruy, who were charged with crimes related to the stabbing death of Lucas Andres Cruz-Guzman. Each defendant filed pretrial motions to suppress statements they made during separate interviews with the same police officer. The trial court granted their motions, concluding that the defendants did not voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waive their rights under Miranda v. Arizona before they made the statements. The State appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court's conclusion regarding Lopez-Cardona’s and Mendez’s statements was incorrect and should be reversed. However, the State conceded that the trial court properly suppressed Suruy’s statement.The trial court had found that the defendants did not audibly answer when asked if they understood their rights, and that neither defendant was asked if they waived their rights or wanted to talk to the police. The court also noted that there was evidence of potential mistakes in the translation of the Miranda rights, but did not make specific findings on this point.The Supreme Court of Georgia vacated the trial court's orders suppressing Lopez-Cardona’s and Mendez’s statements and remanded the case back to the trial court for further, specific findings. The court held that the trial court's findings were not sufficiently detailed to permit meaningful review of its rulings suppressing Lopez-Cardona’s and Mendez’s statements. However, the court affirmed the trial court's order suppressing Suruy’s statement, deferring to the State’s discretion not to challenge that order. View "THE STATE v. LOPEZ-CARDONA" on Justia Law

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Rachel Hostetler was convicted of a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) and sentenced to 12 months in prison with 48 hours to serve. During her probation, she was involved in a single-vehicle collision and was charged with another count of DUI. She was convicted and sentenced to 12 months in prison with 48 hours to serve, but her sentence was suspended pending her appeal. Her motion for a new trial was denied by the trial court and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. Hostetler then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that her former counsel was constitutionally ineffective. However, before the habeas court ruled on her petition, she completed her sentence and the habeas court dismissed her petition as moot.The Supreme Court of Georgia granted Hostetler’s application for a certificate of probable cause to appeal the dismissal of her petition. The court was tasked with determining whether she continues to suffer from adverse collateral consequences of her challenged conviction, notwithstanding the completion of her sentence. The court concluded that Hostetler’s petition is not moot, as she could potentially receive an enhanced recidivist sentence for a subsequent DUI conviction, which constitutes an adverse collateral consequence of her conviction and a restraint on her liberty. The court vacated the order of the habeas court and remanded for further proceedings. View "HOSTETLER v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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Marcos Mendez was stopped for inspection at O'Hare International Airport after returning from a trip abroad. Customs agents, who had been alerted to Mendez due to his arrest record and travel history, searched his cell phone and found child pornography. Mendez was subsequently indicted on multiple counts related to child pornography. He moved to suppress the evidence found on his phone, arguing that the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights as it was conducted without a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion.The district court denied Mendez's motion to suppress the evidence, ruling that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment as customs agents had reasonable suspicion to look through Mendez's phone. Mendez pleaded guilty to one count of producing child pornography but preserved his right to appeal the district court's ruling on the suppression motion.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Mendez argued that the Supreme Court's decisions in Riley v. California and Carpenter v. United States required a warrant, probable cause, or at least reasonable suspicion for the searches of his phone. The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that searches at borders do not require a warrant or probable cause. The court held that the routine, manual search of Mendez's phone required no individualized suspicion. The court affirmed the district court's decision, joining the uniform view of other circuits that searches of electronics at the border do not require a warrant or probable cause. View "United States v. Mendez" on Justia Law