Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff filed a handwritten, pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint against defendant, an assistant warden, alleging that he had received threats from "a sexually violent predator inmate" on his cell block. A committee, chaired by defendant, denied plaintiff's transfer requests and, about a month later, plaintiff was attacked by the inmate who had previously threatened him. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendant violated his Eighth Amendment rights by deliberately failing to protect him, seeking a preliminary injunction and damages.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the action and remanded to the district court for consideration of the merits of plaintiff's allegations in the first instance, as well as any response from the assistant prison warden. In this case, although the complaint did not specifically allege what defendant knew, it does allege that defendant called plaintiff a "snitch" and denied him a transfer for that reason. The court concluded that plaintiff was entitled to have his allegations addressed by the district court in the first instance. View "Alvarez v. Akwitti" on Justia Law

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An Illinois jury convicted Evans of the first-degree murder of Williams, who was killed in a Chicago drive-by shooting. Only one eyewitness, Jeffers, connected Evans to the shooting. Jeffers initially only provided a few general identifying details of the shooter and did not specifically identify any shooter. Eleven months later, the police approached him while he was incarcerated; Jeffers then identified Evans as the shooter. At trial, Jeffers recanted that identification: he testified that he did not see the identity of the shooter but had identified Evans because the police told him to. During closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that Jeffers’s trial testimony was false and the jury should disbelieve it because Jeffers only changed his story after being paid a visit by a defense investigator working for Evans’s co-defendant, who was a known gang member.The state appellate court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the prosecutor’s closing argument statements, so they were not improper. Evans unsuccessfully sought state post-conviction relief.The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order granting federal habeas relief. The state appellate court’s determination that the prosecutor’s statements were proper was objectively unreasonable. The facts compel the conclusion that Evans was deprived of his right to a fair trial. View "Evans v. Jones" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, the chairs of the California Assembly and Senate committees that consider election-related matters, prepared a formal letter to the Governor indicating they were working on legislation to ensure Californians could vote by mail in light of the emergency occasioned by COVID-19. The committee chairs encouraged the Governor to issue an executive order allowing all Californians to vote by mail. On June 3, 2020, the Governor signed the order at issue here, Executive Order No. N-67-20. The Executive Order identified statutory provisions that were displaced pursuant to its provisions. At the time the Governor issued the Executive Order, two bills pending in the Legislature addressed the substance of the Governor’s Executive Order: Assembly Bill No. 860 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.), which would ensure all California voters were provided ballots in advance of the election to vote by mail, and Senate Bill No. 423 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.), which would govern those remaining aspects of the election that were yet to occur. In June, real parties filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief seeking a declaration that the Executive Order “is null and void as it is an unconstitutional exercise of legislative powers reserved only to the Legislature, nor is it a permitted action” under the Emergency Services Act and an injunction against the Governor implementing the Executive Order. The complaint also sought an injunction. In Newsom v. Superior Court, 51 Cal.App.5th 1093 (2020), the Court of Appeal granted the Governor’s petition challenging a temporary restraining order suspending the Executive Order that the superior court issued in an expedited, “ex parte” proceeding. The Court held that there was no basis for the superior court to grant real parties’ ex parte application at a hearing conducted one day after the action was filed, without proper notice to the Governor or his appearance, and without the substantive showing required for an ex parte proceeding. Following the earlier Newsom decision, the case was reassigned to a different judge who conducted a trial and entered a judgment granting declaratory relief that the Executive Order was void as unconstitutional, and that the California Emergency Services Act did not authorize the Governor to issue the Executive Order. In this case, the Court of Appeal granted the Governor’s petition and directed the superior court to dismiss as moot real parties’ claim for declaratory relief: the Executive Order was superseded by legislation and was directed only at the November 3, 2020 general election, which had occurred before the judgment was entered. However, the Court found the declaratory relief and accompanying permanent injunction regarding executive orders issued under the Emergency Services Act raised matters of great public concern regarding the Governor’s orders in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The Court ruled the superior court erred in interpreting the Emergency Services Act to prohibit the Governor from issuing quasi-legislative orders in an emergency. The Court concluded the issuance of such orders did not constitute an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. View "Newsom v. Superior Ct." on Justia Law

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The veniremembers summoned for Appellant Jeffrey Spielbauer’s non-death, capital-murder trial were required to answer a questionnaire that asked, among other things, whether they had heard about Appellant’s case and formed an opinion about his guilt or innocence. Six veniremembers answered these questions yes, and the trial court, over Appellant’s objection, questioned them individually about their answers. Ultimately the trial court denied Appellant’s for-cause challenges to two of these veniremembers, and Appellant complained about those rulings on appeal. The court of appeals reversed, finding that Article 35.16(a)(10) required dismissal of the veniremembers based on their questionnaires. The State petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal, which reversed, finding the parties here agreed the questionnaires were answered before voir dire began. Thus, they were not part of formal voir dire, and the answers they prompted would not by themselves support a challenge for cause or compel Article 35.16(a)(10)’s injunction against further interrogation. Therefore, the Court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in personally questioning the veniremembers who answered yes to the two questions at issue here. View "Spielbauer v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Juan Raul Navarro Ramirez appealed a trial court’s denial of his motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Appellant was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004 for intentionally and knowingly causing the deaths of Jimmy Almendarez, Juan Delgado III, Jerry Hildalgo, Juan Delgado Jr., Ruben Castillo, and Ray Hidalgo by shooting them with a firearm during the same criminal transaction. Appellant argued the trial court erred in denying the motion. After review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded Appellant had not establish by a preponderance of the evidence he would not have been convicted in exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing. “Given the number of accomplices, murdered victims, party liability, testimony of the Aunt, admitted physical evidence, and Appellant’s confession, the hats could not have produced true exculpatory evidence in this case.” Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order denying the motion for forensic DNA testing. View "Ramirez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Defendant's conviction, entered after a second trial, for sexual intercourse without consent and bail jumping, holding that the district court abused its discretion in declaring and mistrial and erred in concluding that double jeopardy did not bar Defendant's retrial.Defendant was originally charged with incest and a jury was impaneled. Nearing the conclusion of the State's case the court reporter had either a heart attack or a stroke and was taken to the hospital. The court declared a mistrial, and a retrial was scheduled. Before the second trial, the State amended its charge to correct a deficiency in the original charging documents. Defendant was subsequently convicted. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Defendant's subsequent prosecution for sexual intercourse without consent and bail jumping for the same incident as his first prosecution was barred by the United States and Montana Constitutions protections against double jeopardy; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in declaring a mistrial. View "State v. Newrobe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of felony theft by possession of stolen property and four misdemeanor, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his claims of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court acted within its discretion in denying Defendant's motions for mistrial after two separate references to Defendant's "jail" status were made by State witnesses; (2) the district court did not err in declining to give a jury instruction on unauthorized use of a motor vehicle as a lesser-included offense of the charged theft by possession of stolen property; and (3) Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claims would more appropriately be addressed through a petition for postconviction relief. View "State v. Denny" on Justia Law

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Defendant Richard Soulia was convicted by jury on three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault. He appealed, arguing the superior court erred in denying his motions to strike for cause three prospective jurors, in violation of his right to an impartial jury under the New Hampshire and Federal Constitutions. He also argued the trial court may have erred when it failed to disclose certain confidential records following in camera review of those records. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment. View "New Hampshire v. Soulia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree on a theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty, holding that there was no error that would require reversal of Defendant's convictions.Defendant's first trial ended in a mistrial because the jury were unable to reach a verdict. After a retrial, Defendant was convicted of murder. On appeal, Defendant challenged the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress his cell site location information (CSLI) and any "fruits" derived from it. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) law enforcement infringed upon Defendant's reasonable expectation of privacy in his CSLI without a warrant, but the error was harmless; (2) trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to instruction to certain portions of the jury instructions; and (3) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining claims of error. View "Commonwealth v. Gumkowski" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of Hobbs Act robbery, murdering a person through the use of firearm during a crime of violence, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) under the circumstances of this case, the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress identification evidence; (2) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's convictions; and (3) the district court did not err in determining that Hobbs Act robbery qualifies as a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. 924(c). View "United States v. Seary-Colon" on Justia Law