Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Kentucky Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing Defendant’s convictions for possession of a controlled substance, first degree, first offense, and for tampering with physical evidence, holding that traffic stop in this case was unreasonably prolonged, and therefore, the incriminating evidence must be suppressed. Defendant’s convictions were based on evidence discovered after a canine sniff search of Defendant’s vehicle conducted during a traffic stop. The court of appeals concluded that the sniff search prolonged the traffic stop and that the incriminating evidence should have been suppressed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the free air sniff of Defendant’s vehicle impermissibly extended the duration of the stop. View "Commonwealth v. Lane" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Appellant’s conviction of first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance, felony possession of a firearm, and being a first-degree persistent felony offender and sentence of twenty years’ imprisonment, holding that Defendant’s arguments on appeal were unavailing. Specifically, the Court held (1) any minor discrepancies in the search warrant did not require suppression of the evidence; (2) Appellant’s right to be free from double jeopardy was not violated because the trial court instructed the jury on two counts of trafficking instead of one; (3) it was not clearly unreasonable for the jury to convict Appellant of trafficking in heroin and methamphetamine; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Appellant’s request for expert funding; and (5) the length of Appellant’s sentence did not violate Ky. Rev. Stat. 532.110(1)(c) or 532.080(6)(b). View "Johnson v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Ky. Rev. Stat. 532.130(2), which contains what the Court determined was an “outdated test” for ascertaining intellectual disability, is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Nearly twenty years ago, Defendant was convicted for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a teenage girl. Defendant was sentenced to death. Here, Defendant filed a postconviction motion under section 532.130(2) requesting that the trial court declare him to be intellectually disabled, which would preclude the imposition of the death penalty. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that any rule of law that states that a criminal defendant automatically cannot be ruled intellectually disabled and precluded from execution simply because he or she has an IQ of 71 or above is unconstitutional. The Court remanded the case to the trial court to conduct a hearing, make findings, and issue a ruling on the issue of Defendant’s potential intellectual disability following this Court’s and the United States Supreme Court’s guidelines on such a determination, especially as set forth in Moore v. Texas, 137 S.Ct. 1039 (2017). View "Woodall v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the circuit court, which denied Defendant’s Ky. R. Crim. P. 11.42 motion without a hearing. Defendant pled guilty to second-degree terroristic threatening, criminal attempt to commit kidnapping, and other offenses. Upon his release from prison, Defendant learned that he was obligated to register under Ky. Rev. Stat. 17.510 as a person who had committed sex crimes or crimes against minors. Defendant filed this Rule 11.42 motion, asserting that counsel had never discussed the sex offender registration requirement with him. The circuit court denied the motion without a hearing, concluding that counsel’s failure to inform his client of the post-conviction registration requirement and the circuit court’s failure to include registration notification in the sentencing order did not warrant action under Rule 11.42. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) counsel’s failure to advise Defendant of the sex offender registration requirement constituted deficient performance; and (2) the case must be remanded to the circuit court to evaluate whether Defendant’s counsel’s deficient performance caused him prejudice. View "Commonwealth v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the finding of the district court juvenile session that B.H. was incompetent to stand trial and dismissing the charges against him. B.H. was arrested for first-degree robbery and murder that occurred before he sustained severe injuries in an automobile accident. The Commonwealth moved to transfer B.H.’s case to circuit court. B.H. moved for a competency evaluation. The district court granted B.H.’s motion for a competency evaluation, conducted a competency hearing, and found B.H. incompetent to stand trial and unlikely to attain competency in the foreseeable future. The court then dismissed the charges without prejudice. On appeal, the court of appeals held that the Commonwealth had waived its right to contest any error by failing to object to the competency determination at any stage of litigation prior to discretionary review with the court of appeals. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the juvenile session of the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to conduct a competency hearing, and the Commonwealth waived its right to object to lack of particular case jurisdiction; and (2) the federal Constitution and the laws of the Commonwealth support holding competency hearings, if necessary, prior to transfer proceedings. View "Commonwealth v. B.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court’s denial of Appellant’s motion to suppress evidence discovered in his vehicle during a traffic stop, holding that the initial traffic stop was impermissibly prolonged to allow a canine search to proceed. Therefore, the dog sniff that followed was unreasonable and constitutionally impermissible and must be suppressed. Upon entered a conditional plea, Appellant was convicted of possession of a controlled substance, first degree, and carrying a concealed deadly weapon. Appellant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence found after a canine sniff search indicated the presence of drugs. The Supreme Court reversed the motion to suppress, holding that, under the totality of the circumstances, while the initial traffic stop was valid, the stop was unconstitutionally prolonged. View "Moberly v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of raping and murdering Pamela Armstrong and sentencing Defendant to death. The Court held (1) the trial court did not commit reversible error when it allowed the Commonwealth to admit other bad acts evidence of Appellant as addressed by Ky. R. Evid. 404(b); (2) the trial court’s failure to define the terms “modus operandi” and “identity evidence” in the jury instructions did not violate Appellant’s due process rights; (3) there was no reversible error in the trial court’s refusal to suppress Defendant’s DNA sample; (4) there was no error in the trial judge’s refusal to disqualify himself from presiding over Appellant’s trial; (5) Appellant was not entitled to a new trial on the grounds that the trial court improperly admitted unreliable evidence; (6) any alleged prosecutorial misconduct did not require reversal; and (7) Appellant was not entitled to relief on his remaining claims of error. View "White v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of raping and murdering Pamela Armstrong and sentencing Defendant to death. The Court held (1) the trial court did not commit reversible error when it allowed the Commonwealth to admit other bad acts evidence of Appellant as addressed by Ky. R. Evid. 404(b); (2) the trial court’s failure to define the terms “modus operandi” and “identity evidence” in the jury instructions did not violate Appellant’s due process rights; (3) there was no reversible error in the trial court’s refusal to suppress Defendant’s DNA sample; (4) there was no error in the trial judge’s refusal to disqualify himself from presiding over Appellant’s trial; (5) Appellant was not entitled to a new trial on the grounds that the trial court improperly admitted unreliable evidence; (6) any alleged prosecutorial misconduct did not require reversal; and (7) Appellant was not entitled to relief on his remaining claims of error. View "White v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Section 115 of the Kentucky Constitution bars the Commonwealth from appealing a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case. Here, the Commonwealth appealed Defendant’s judgment of acquittal on the charge of failing to register a change of address with the Sex Offender Registry. The Commonwealth argued that its appeal was not barred by section 115 because Defendant’s judgment of acquittal was based not on the jury’s verdict but on the trial court’s issuance of a judgment of acquittal. The court of appeals allowed the appeal to proceed and reversed the trial court’s judgment of acquittal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 115 prevents the Commonwealth from appealing a judgment of acquittal. The Court overruled any precedent stating that section 115 derives itself from section 13 of the Kentucky Constitution and that the Commonwealth may appeal a judgment non-obstante verdicto (n.o.v.). View "Maupin v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Section 115 of the Kentucky Constitution bars the Commonwealth from appealing a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case. Here, the Commonwealth appealed Defendant’s judgment of acquittal on the charge of failing to register a change of address with the Sex Offender Registry. The Commonwealth argued that its appeal was not barred by section 115 because Defendant’s judgment of acquittal was based not on the jury’s verdict but on the trial court’s issuance of a judgment of acquittal. The court of appeals allowed the appeal to proceed and reversed the trial court’s judgment of acquittal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 115 prevents the Commonwealth from appealing a judgment of acquittal. The Court overruled any precedent stating that section 115 derives itself from section 13 of the Kentucky Constitution and that the Commonwealth may appeal a judgment non-obstante verdicto (n.o.v.). View "Maupin v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law