Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arkansas Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court of Arkansas reviewed four acts passed by the Arkansas General Assembly that were challenged by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas and other appellees. The acts in question were Acts 736, 973, 249, and 728 of 2021, which pertained to various aspects of the election process, including the verification of voter signatures on absentee ballots, the deadline for in-person delivery of absentee ballots, the requirement for voters to present valid photographic identification, and the prohibition of certain activities within 100 feet of a voting location. The circuit court had previously ruled these acts unconstitutional and permanently enjoined their enforcement.The circuit court's decision was based on the argument that the acts violated various provisions of the Arkansas Constitution and would burden lawful, eligible voters in the exercise of their right to vote. The appellants, including John Thurston in his official capacity as Secretary of State for the State of Arkansas and members of the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners, appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed the circuit court's decision, holding that the acts were not clearly incompatible with the sections of the Arkansas Constitution as alleged by the appellees. The court found that the acts were neutral on their face and did not contain any discriminatory classifications. The court also found that the acts did not add voter qualifications beyond those contained in the constitution, nor did they violate the free and equal election clause of the Arkansas Constitution. The court concluded that the circuit court erred in its application of strict scrutiny to the acts and in its finding that the acts violated various constitutional provisions. The court's decision resulted in the reversal and dismissal of the circuit court's ruling. View "THURSTON V. THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF ARKANSAS" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Arkansas reviewed a case involving four acts passed by the Arkansas General Assembly concerning the election process. The League of Women Voters of Arkansas and other appellees challenged the constitutionality of these acts, which were subsequently deemed unconstitutional by the circuit court and permanently enjoined. The appellants, including John Thurston in his official capacity as Secretary of State for the State of Arkansas and members of the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners, appealed this decision.The circuit court had ruled that the acts violated various provisions of the Arkansas Constitution and would burden lawful, eligible voters in the exercise of their right to vote. The appellants argued that the acts were enacted to protect the integrity of Arkansas elections by preventing fraudulent voting and to promote public confidence in election security. The circuit court applied strict scrutiny to the acts, finding that they failed to advance a compelling government interest or were not the least-restrictive infringement on the rights guaranteed by the Arkansas Constitution.The Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed the circuit court's decision, holding that the acts were not clearly incompatible with the sections of the Arkansas Constitution as alleged by the appellees. The court found that the acts were neutral on their face and did not contain any discriminatory classes, thus not invoking equal protection. The court also found that the acts did not violate the free and equal election clause, the voter qualifications clause, or the free speech and free assembly clauses of the Arkansas Constitution. The court concluded that the circuit court had erred in its application of strict scrutiny and in its findings that the acts violated these constitutional provisions. The case was dismissed. View "THURSTON V. THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF ARKANSAS" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Raymond Bailey, a probationer who signed a waiver allowing law enforcement to conduct warrantless searches of his person, residence, and vehicle. In June 2020, North Little Rock Police observed Bailey engaging in suspicious activities indicative of illegal drug transactions. They discovered that Bailey was on probation and had signed a search waiver. Upon detaining Bailey, they found a key to a motel room, which they subsequently searched, finding heroin and drug paraphernalia. Bailey was charged, but he moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the police did not have probable cause to believe that the motel room was his residence.The Pulaski County Circuit Court granted Bailey's motion to suppress, ruling that law enforcement must have probable cause to believe that the place to be searched is the probationer's residence. The court found that the police did not have probable cause to believe that the motel room was Bailey's residence, and therefore, the warrantless search violated the Fourth Amendment. The State of Arkansas appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Arkansas disagreed with the lower court's ruling. The Supreme Court held that the correct legal standard requires law enforcement to have a reasonable suspicion, based on the totality of the circumstances, to believe the place to be searched is the probationer's residence if conducting a search under that provision. The court found that the police had a reasonable suspicion that Bailey was residing in the motel room, making the search permissible under the statute and consistent with the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the decision to suppress the evidence and remanded the case back to the circuit court. View "STATE OF ARKANSAS v. BAILEY" on Justia Law

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In Arkansas, attorney Chris Corbitt and other plaintiffs sought to challenge the prohibition of firearms in courthouses. Corbitt had previously attempted to bring a firearm into the Pulaski County District Courthouse and the Juvenile Justice Complex, but was denied. He filed a complaint, which was dismissed by the circuit court and later affirmed by the Supreme Court of Arkansas. Despite this, Corbitt and other plaintiffs filed another complaint after encountering firearm restrictions in a different courthouse. This complaint was also dismissed.The circuit court ruled that Corbitt was not entitled to injunctive relief, declaratory judgment, or a writ of mandamus. The court also found that even if issue preclusion were not applicable, it would rule similarly to Judge Wright’s decision regarding the interpretation of Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-73-122. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument, stating that it was based on a flawed premise that misread the plain meaning of the statute and ignored the importance of Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution. The circuit court emphasized that Amendment 80 gives the Arkansas Supreme Court the power to regulate court procedure, including the discretion to determine when weapons should be allowed in courtrooms.The Supreme Court of Arkansas held that Corbitt was collaterally estopped from pursuing his claims due to the previous litigation, but the remaining plaintiffs could proceed. The court further held that attorneys, as officers of the court, are authorized by statute to possess handguns in courthouses. The court reversed the circuit court’s denial of the petition for a declaratory judgment as it pertains to the remaining plaintiffs and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "CORBITT v. PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled in favor of the county assessor and other similarly positioned defendants, affirming the lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Ronald and Mitzi Kimbrough. The plaintiffs, representing themselves and other similarly situated taxpayers, had argued that the county assessor's method of calculating property tax assessments for homeowners over 65 or who are disabled violated the Arkansas Constitution's Amendment 79. In their view, the amendment should freeze the assessment on a homeowner's principal residence at the time of purchase. However, the defendants argued that the plaintiffs had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, as required by law, before taking the case to court.The Supreme Court agreed with the defendants, noting that the plaintiffs' complaint must be handled by the County Court according to the Arkansas Constitution due to its relation to county taxes. The Court held that the plaintiffs had failed to exhaust the necessary administrative remedies before bringing the case to court, which deprived the court of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court dismissed the plaintiffs' arguments about the potential policy implications of its ruling, noting that public policy is declared by the General Assembly, not the courts. Thus, the Court affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the case and dismissed the defendants' cross-appeal as moot. View "KIMBROUGH V. GRIEVE" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed a lower court's decision dismissing Floyd Sagely's claim that Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-73-103, which prohibits a person who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution from owning or possessing a firearm, is unconstitutional. Sagely was involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment facility in 2010, and in 2019, was charged with a misdemeanor for possessing a firearm in his car due to his previous commitment.Sagely argued that the statute violated both the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the precedent set by the Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen. He contended that the law treated felons and persons involuntarily committed to a mental health facility differently, as felons could petition to have their gun rights reinstated, while those who were involuntarily committed could not.The Supreme Court of Arkansas found that Sagely's equal protection claim failed because he could not demonstrate that he and persons convicted of a felony offense were similarly situated. The court stated that civil litigants like Sagely are not similarly situated to criminal defendants for equal-protection purposes. The court further held that the statute is presumptively constitutional under Supreme Court precedent. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Sagely's complaint. View "SAGELY v. HUTCHINSON" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Arkansas reviewed an appeal from Lemuel Whiteside, who was challenging the denial of his petition for postconviction relief under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1. Whiteside was previously convicted of capital felony murder, aggravated robbery, and a firearm enhancement, receiving respective sentences of life, thirty-five years, and fifteen years. He argues that his constitutional rights were violated and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.Whiteside claimed that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated due to the jury's consideration of a life-sentence option on the aggravated-robbery charge. However, the court noted that this argument could have been raised during his direct appeal and, as such, was ineligible for consideration in a Rule 37 proceeding.Whiteside further claimed ineffective assistance of counsel, alleging that his attorneys failed to preserve his Eighth Amendment claim and failed to offer the testimony of a co-defendant as mitigating evidence. The court rejected these allegations, noting that failure to make a meritless argument is not deficient performance and that the decision to call a witness is typically a matter of trial strategy.Whiteside also argued that his counsel failed to investigate or offer evidence regarding his mental state and history of psychiatric treatment for mitigation purposes. The court upheld the trial counsel's strategic decision not to introduce this evidence due to the potentially damaging counter-evidence the state could have presented. The court affirmed the denial of postconviction relief, rejecting Whiteside's claims. View "WHITESIDE v. STATE OF ARKANSAS" on Justia Law

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In September 2021, Aaron Welch died intestate, leaving behind a widow, Kristin Welch, and two minor children from his previous marriage. Kristin Welch, appointed as the administratrix of Aaron Welch's estate, filed an application for reservation of homestead & dower with the Pope County Circuit Court, claiming a homestead interest in the mortgaged home she had lived in with her late husband. Katelyn Gipson, the natural guardian of the minor children, argued that Kristin Welch did not have such an interest based on Arkansas Code Ann. § 28-39-201. This statute requires a surviving spouse to have been continuously married to the deceased for more than a year to have a homestead interest. Kristin Welch challenged the constitutionality of this statute, but the circuit court found it constitutional and ruled that she did not have a homestead interest in the property.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed the lower court's decision. The Supreme Court noted that the Arkansas Constitution's provision on homestead rights was gender-based and had been previously declared unconstitutional for violating the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Consequently, the statutory provision, Ark. Code Ann. § 28-39-201(d), which is gender-neutral and requires the continuous marriage condition, stands as the controlling law. The court found no error in the circuit court's application of this statute and concluded that Kristin Welch, having been married to the decedent for less than a year, did not have a statutory homestead interest in the property. View "WELCH ex rel. ESTATE OF AARON WELCH v. GIPSON" on Justia Law

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Rodney Dale Harmon was convicted of multiple drug-related felonies and sentenced to forty years in prison. During the execution of a search warrant at Harmon's residence, an HBO documentary film crew was present. The footage of the search, however, could not be obtained. Harmon, in his appeal, claimed that the presence of the film crew violated his Fourth Amendment rights. He filed a petition for postconviction relief under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37, which was denied by the circuit court.The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed the circuit court’s decision. The court stated that although Harmon argued that the presence of the HBO documentary film crew violated his Fourth Amendment rights, a constitutional violation alone does not trigger the application of Rule 37. The court also stated that issues related to the legality of evidence obtained are not of such a fundamental nature as to void the judgment. The court further noted that Harmon's trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to raise this argument as the remedy for such a violation in the context of a criminal trial is not established law. The court concluded that Harmon's petition conclusively showed that he was entitled to no relief and therefore, the circuit court did not err by dismissing the petition without a hearing. View "HARMON v. STATE OF ARKANSAS" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of Arkansas, Rodney Dale Harmon, who was convicted of multiple drug-related felonies and sentenced to 40 years in prison, appealed the denial of his petition for postconviction relief under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37. The appeal was mainly based on the presence of an HBO documentary film crew while a search warrant was executed at his home, and he argued that this violated his Fourth Amendment rights.The court ruled that claims related to the presence of the film crew during the search could not be used to void the judgment, as even constitutional violations are not in themselves enough to trigger application of Rule 37. The court further noted that issues of evidence, including those possibly obtained by illegal search or seizure, are not of such a fundamental nature as to void the judgment.Harmon also claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the Fourth Amendment violation as an independent ground to suppress the evidence obtained in the search. The court disagreed, stating that even though the violation was established law, the remedy was not, and that counsel was not deficient for failing to raise a novel argument.Thus, the court affirmed the circuit court's denial of Harmon's petition for postconviction relief. View "HARMON v. STATE OF ARKANSAS" on Justia Law