Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Kentucky Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court vacated the interlocutory orders of the trial court concluding that Defendants' individual psychological assessments provided further support for the exclusion of the death penalty as to Defendants individually, holding that the constitutional issue in this case was not a "justiciable cause" before the circuit court and was not properly before the Supreme Court. At issue in these consolidated cases was whether evolving standards of decency require that the Eighth Amendment prohibit imposition of the death penalty as to a defendant under twenty-one years old at the time of his offense. Defendants argued before the circuit court that the current national consensus and scientific research supported raising the age for death-penalty eligible from age eighteen to twenty-one. At this stage in the proceedings, none of the defendants had been convicted or sentenced. The circuit court declared Kentucky's death penalty statute unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment insofar as it permits capital punishment for offenders under twenty-one years old at the time of their offense and that two of the defendants should not receive the death penalty. The Supreme Court vacated the interlocutory orders, holding that none of the defendants had standing to raise an Eighth Amendment challenge to the death penalty. View "Commonwealth v. Bredhold" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree sodomy, and related crimes, and sentencing Defendant to seventy years in prison, holding that the trial court improperly admitted certain Ky. R. Evid. 404(b) evidence, but neither of those instances rose to the level of palpable error. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in finding that Defendant failed to present sufficient evidence to merit an in camera review of the juvenile records of some of the alleged victims; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for an independent evaluation and to continue the trial; (3) the trial court did not err by allowing two of the juvenile victims to testify in chambers and outside of Defendant's presence; and (4) there were two instances of improperly admitted Rule 404(b) evidence, but Defendant was not prejudiced by the admission of the evidence. View "Howard v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of first-degree rape and imposing a twenty-year term of imprisonment, holding that the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's motion for a directed verdict and by denying his motion to suppress his statements to police. Defendant's rape sentence was enhanced pursuant to the jury finding Defendant guilty of being a first-degree persistent felony offender (PFO 1), which was based on an out-of-state statutory rape conviction. Defendant filed a motion for a directed verdict on the PFO 1 charge asserting that the Commonwealth failed to prove Defendant committed a prior sex crime against a minor. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) while it is better practice to introduce a minor victim's age into evidence as part of the PFO proof, "statutory rape" is commonly understood to be the offense of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and therefore, the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a directed verdict on the PFO charge; and (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress because Defendant's Fifth Amendment rights were not violated. View "Bullitt v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of several sex-related crimes, holding that the trial court erred by not striking one of the jurors for cause. A jury found Defendant guilty of three counts of first-degree sexual abuse, two counts of third-degree rape, four counts of third-degree sodomy, and other crimes. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment or, in the alternative, to disqualify the Commonwealth Attorney's Office and Sheriff's Department; (2) the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion to remove Juror 277 for cause during jury selection was an error that mandated reversal; (3) there was no reversible error from the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress; and (4) the trial court did not err in refusing to admit a social worker's conclusions about the victim's credibility stemming from past allegations of sexual abuse. View "Ward v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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In this action seeking a declaration that the University of Kentucky is not an agency within the executive branch the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision that sovereign immunity did not bar this action against the University but reversed the court's holding that the University is not within the executive branch. The University referred Plaintiff's delinquent UK HealthCare accounts to the Commonwealth, Department of Revenue for collection. The Department's collection efforts included imposition of a twenty-five percent collection fee and interest and garnishment of Plaintiff's paychecks, bank accounts, and tax refunds. Plaintiff petitioned for a declaration that the University was not an agency within the executive branch, as required by Ky. Rev. Stat. 45.237(1)(a), and therefore was not authorized to refer its accounts to the Department. The circuit court trial court granted Plaintiff's motion for declaratory judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the University is within the executive branch of the state government for purposes of Ky. Rev. Stat. 45.237 et seq.; and (2) sovereign immunity did not bar this declaratory judgment action. View "University of Kentucky v. Moore" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning discrimination against individuals because of their actual or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity the Supreme Court dismissed the matter, holding that the original party to bring this action before the Lexington Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission lacked statutory standing to assert a claim against Hands On Originals. Hands On, a closely-held corporation, was a small business that prints promotional materials. Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO), a Kentucky not-for-profit corporation, represented and advocated for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and allied community. When Hands On refused to print t-shirts promoting the Pride Festival, GLSO filed a complaint with the Commission. A determination of probable cause and charge of discrimination was filed declaring that Hands On had violated the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government public accommodation ordinance, section 2-33. The hearing commission granted summary judgment in favor of GLSO and the Commission. The circuit court reversed, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that GLSO cannot bring a claim under section 2-33 and therefore lacked statutory standing. View "Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands-On Originals" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence for first-degree sexual abuse and of being a first-degree persistent felony offender (PFO1), holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant's argument that he was denied a unanimous verdict because the jury was only instructed on one count of sexual abuse when two separate allegations were introduced at trial was not subject to appellate review; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to a new trial because the jury pool was not tainted due to a social media post. View "Rudd v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals concluding that the searches and seizures leading to Defendant's conviction were illegal under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and section 10 of the Kentucky Constitution, holding that the circuit court's suppression order was insufficient for appellate review. Defendant entered a conditional Alford plea to one count of possession of a controlled substance, third degree, and a conditional Alford plea to one count of possession of marijuana. On appeal, Defendant challenged the denial of his motions to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a traffic stop. The court of appeals upheld the denial of his motions to suppress. The Supreme Court remanded the case for entry of sufficient findings of fact, holding (1) the court of appeals erred in analyzing Defendant's claim that the searches and seizures were illegal under the state and federal constitutions; but (2) the circuit court's order of suppression was factually insufficient for appellate review of Defendant's claim that his detention was unlawful and that the evidence must be excluded as fruit of the poisonous tree. View "Warick v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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In this dependency, neglect, and abuse proceeding the Supreme Court vacated the order of the court of appeals reversing the family court's decision denying an indigent mother's request for expert funding and finding the child to be a neglected child, holding that the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction. After the family court made a finding of neglect, the mother failed timely to file her notice of appeal. The family court, however, permitted a belated appeal, citing excusable neglect. In reversing the family court's expert funding decision, the court of appeals found that the mother's due process rights were impacted by her inability to hire an expert. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' order, holding that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the mother's appeal because the mother failed timely to file her appeal, and there was no excusable neglect in this case. View "Commonwealth v. H.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's opinion reversing Defendant's murder conviction and ordering a new trial, holding that there was not a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different but for any of defense counsel's purported deficiencies. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed Defendant's conviction and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial, concluding that Defendant's counsel was ineffective in representing Defendant during his murder trial. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that while defense counsel did make some mistakes at trial, those mistakes did not render his assistance ineffective. View "Commonwealth v. Ferguson" on Justia Law