Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Appellant, a Canadian citizen not legally present in the United States, was arrested and charged with various firearms offenses following the execution of an administrative warrant at his trailer. Appellant unsuccessfully litigated a motion to suppress, claiming that agents exceeded the scope of the administrative warrant by arresting him not in a public place -- in the threshold of his trailer. The district court concluded that Appellant was not seized until after he had exited the trailer and that he was not located on any curtilage of the trailer.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court's resolution of Appellant's motion to suppress was not clearly erroneous. “[A] person standing in the doorway of a house is ʻin a “public” place,’ and hence subject to arrest without a warrant permitting entry of the home.” Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 335 (2001). The Fifth Circuit also held that the district court did not err in finding that Appellant consented to the search of his trailer following his arrest. View "USA v. Malagerio" on Justia Law

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Sittenfeld, a former Cincinnati City Council member, was charged with honest-services wire fraud, bribery, and attempted extortion under color of official right. The jury trial comprised nine days. The court did not sequester the jurors but admonished them repeatedly against discussing the case or considering extraneous information. On the third day of jury deliberations, a court employee informed the judge that “Juror X” had been posting to her private Facebook page, which was visible only to Juror X’s Facebook friends, of whom the court employee was one. The court obtained printouts of Juror X’s private posts and comments and called the parties to chambers to discuss the situation. In the meantime, the jury reached a verdict. The parties and court accepted the verdict with the possibility of a post-verdict “Remmer” hearing on possible extraneous influences on the jury. The jury convicted Sittenfeld on two counts. The court discharged the jury, questioned Jurors X and Y in chambers, denied Sittenfeld’s motion for a forensic examination of Juror X’s electronic devices, and concluded that Sittenfeld was not prejudiced by the Facebook postings.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A court’s inherent or statutory authority in conducting a Remmer hearing does not include an unlimited, inquisitorial power to order jurors to surrender their personal possessions, such as their electronic devices, or to divulge their passwords; the district court had no power to order a forensic examination of the juror’s devices. View "In re: Sittenfeld" on Justia Law

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In New Jersey for a family party, Saint-Jean was driving home to Massachusetts with his uncle. Palisades Interstate Park Police stopped the vehicle for driving too slowly and for having tinted windows. In response to questions, Saint-Jean stated that he was originally from Haiti but was a U.S. citizen. Officers ordered the men out of the car, frisked them, and requested to search the vehicle. Saint-Jean signed a consent-to-search form. In a compartment between the front seats, they found small plastic bags containing heart-shaped objects that looked like Valentine’s Day candies. The officers suspected that the items were actually MDMA or ecstasy. Saint-Jean stated that they were Valentine’s Day candies from his coworker and offered her contact information. The officers declined, arrested Saint-Jean, and took him to a police station. The objects were not tested. The officers issued a traffic summons and a criminal summons for possessing a controlled substance, later downgraded to a disorderly persons offense. Many weeks later, the objects were determined to be candy. The prosecution continued for four more months.In Saint-Jean’s subsequent civil rights suit, the district court rejected the officers’ request for qualified immunity for Fourth Amendment claims but dismissed one constitutional claim against the officers and all of the claims against the prosecutor and the governmental entities. Before the officers appealed, Saint-Jean amended his complaint. The Third Circuit dismissed the appeal. Due to the prior amendment, the district court’s order was not final and there was no basis for appellate jurisdiction. View "Saint-Jean v. Palisades Interstate Park Commission" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed their convictions and the ensuing sentences on multiple counts arising out of their conspiracy to commit access device fraud. On appeal they argued that: (1) law enforcement agents violated their Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering their house after arresting them; (2) the district court impermissibly lowered the government’s burden of proof during voir dire; (3) the district court erred in applying two-level enhancements to their base offense levels for possessing device-making equipment; (4) the district court erred in applying two-level aggravating-role enhancements; (5) their total sentences were procedurally unreasonable; and, finally, (6) their sentences, overall, were substantively unreasonable.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court the record demonstrates Defendants’ deep involvement in the planning and organization of the fraudulent scheme and their vital role in the commission of the offenses, as well as their involvement in decision-making and recruitment, all of which was far more extensive than the role played by the co-conspirator. To the extent Defendants argue that they could not both receive aggravating-role enhancements since they were equally involved, a defendant eligible for an aggravating-role enhancement “does not have to be the sole leader of the conspiracy for the enhancement to apply.” The district court did not clearly err in applying the aggravating-role enhancements to the brothers’ offense levels. Further, the court wrote that the district court imposed an otherwise substantively reasonable total sentence for each defendant. View "USA v. Igor Grushko, et al." on Justia Law

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Cortez Watts argued that the failure of two jurors to properly respond to questions asked during voir dire deprived him of the right to intelligently participate in the jury selection process. Therefore, Watts contended the trial court erred by denying his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, alternatively, for a new trial. The Mississippi Supreme Court found the trial court did not clearly err by finding that the jurors lacked substantial knowledge of the information sought to be elicited during voir dire. Therefore, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Watts v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Kendrick Scott was on trial for robbery. While the State and his defense lawyer were selecting a jury, Scott proclaimed to the courtroom that he was “guilty as hell[!]” After hearing testimony from the robbery victims and listening to Scott’s recorded confession, the jury agreed. Scott had previously been convicted for robbery four other times. So based on these convictions, the judge sentenced Scott as a habitual offender to a mandatory term of life in prison. Scott appealed, arguing he was substantially and irreparably prejudiced by his own outburst during voir dire. Scott insistd the trial judge abused his discretion by denying his attorney’s request for a mistrial. To this, the Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed: "Because it was Scott who made the unprovoked outburst, from which he suffered no substantial prejudice, the trial judge did not abuse his discretion by denying a mistrial." View "Scott v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the order of the district court granting Defendant's motion to suppress evidence found as a result of and during a protective sweep, holding that a protective sweep does not require a prior arrest.In granting Defendant's motion to dismiss, the district court determined that the officers did not have an appropriate basis for the protective sweep and that the sweep was per se unconstitutional because it was not preceded by an arrest. The district court concluded that the search was not a lawful protective sweep because it was not based on articulable facts supporting a reasonable belief that the premises harbored a dangerous individual. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding that because the district court did not indicate the specific evidence that was improperly seized as a result of the protective sweep or as its fruit, remand was required for clarification of the evidence that fell within the scope of the suppression order and which items were properly seized by law enforcement. View "State v. McCall" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court denying and dismissing Appellant's pro se petition to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. 16-90-111, holding that Appellant failed to demonstrate that his sentences were illegal.After a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced as a habitual offender to eighty years' imprisonment. In his petition to correct an illegal sentence, Appellant asserted that the application of Ark. Code Ann. 5-4-501(c) to enhance his sentence was illegal and that the enhanced sentence violated the prohibition against the ex post facto application of criminal statutes. The trial court denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant failed to demonstrate that his enhanced sentence was an illegal sentence pursuant to section 16-90-111. View "Rainer v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for two counts of first-degree murder and other crimes and his sentence of consecutive terms of life in prison for each murder, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims of error.On appeal, Defendant argued that the testimony of surviving victim Lajhonta Collier identifying Defendant as the perpetrator was erroneously admitted and that the State presented insufficient evidence to support the convictions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) substantial evidence supported the jury's verdict; and (2) the circuit court did not clearly err in determining that Defendant's pretrial identification was not constitutionally improper. View "Wilson v. State" on Justia Law

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In 1993, Kastman was charged with misdemeanor offenses based on acts of public indecency involving children and disorderly conduct. The state’s attorney initiated a civil commitment proceeding against Kastman under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act (725 ILCS 205/0.01). Evidence indicated that Kastman suffered from pedophilia, antisocial personality disorder, exhibitionism, and alcohol dependency. Kastman was found to be a sexually dangerous person, and the circuit court granted the petition. In 2016, Kastman was granted conditional release from institutional care.In 2020, he sought financial assistance. Kastman asserted that he was unemployed, disabled, and could not afford his $300 monthly treatment costs and the $1800 monthly rent for housing that complied with the Sex Offender Registration Act. The circuit court of Lake County ordered the Department of Corrections to pay a portion of Kastman’s monthly expenses. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The statutes indicate that a sex offender’s ability to pay is a relevant consideration in deciding who should bear the expense of treatment costs; without a clear statutory directive, the legislature is not presumed to have intended that only financially stable individuals are eligible for conditional release. Financial instability and the need for supervision to protect the public are not the same things. View "People v. Kastman" on Justia Law