Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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This case stemmed from the adoption of "Baby Doe" by his adoptive mother, K.G.S., which was contested by Baby Doe's birth mother, K.R. ("the birth mother"). Details of that contested adoption were reported by the Huffington Post, a Web-based media outlet, and were also disseminated through a Facebook social-media page devoted to having Baby Doe returned to the birth mother. K.G.S. filed an action in Alabama circuit court seeking, among other things, an injunction against Facebook, Inc., and certain individuals to prohibit the dissemination of information about the contested adoption of Baby Doe. These appeals followed the entry of a preliminary injunction granting K.G.S. the relief she sought. In appeal no. 1170244, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the preliminary injunction entered against Facebook was void for lack of personal jurisdiction; therefore, Facebook's appeal of the preliminary injunction was dismissed and the trial court was instructed to dismiss K.G.S.'s claims against Facebook. In appeal no. 1170294, the Supreme Court reversed the order entering the preliminary injunction against defendant Renee Gelin was reversed for lack of notice, and the case was remanded with instructions to the trial court to dissolve the preliminary injunction issued against Gelin. In appeal no. 1170336, the Supreme Court reversed the preliminary injunction against Kim McLeod, and remanded this case with instructions to the trial court to dissolve the preliminary injunction issued against McLeod. View "Facebook, Inc. v. K.G.S." on Justia Law

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The State of Alabama petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a mandamus relief. The State sought the vacation of a circuit court order holding certain statutes and acts of Alabama unconstitutional, and to require the Mobile circuit clerk to withhold 10% of the funds collected as court costs and fees from litigants in Mobile County until such time the State adequately funds the clerk’s office. This matter arose out of a criminal proceeding in which a grand jury indicted Mandy Brady for trafficking methamphetamine. Brady posted bond on that charge and was released; however, she was subsequently arrested on a new charge, and the State moved to revoke her bond. The circuit court granted the State's motion and revoked Brady's bond. Despite the fact that Brady was in State custody when the circuit court revoked the bond, Brady did not appear at her scheduled trial on the trafficking charge. When Brady failed to appear, the circuit court issued a show-cause order to the circuit clerk, the Mobile County sheriff, "and/or" the warden of the Mobile County jail seeking an explanation as to why Brady was released from jail despite the fact that the circuit court had revoked her bond. The warden testified that he never received notice from the circuit clerk's office that Brady's bond had been revoked; the circuit clerk testified that an employee in her office had properly entered the circuit court's order revoking Brady's bond before Brady was released from the county jail but that employee apparently failed to send notice of the order to the county jail. The circuit clerk explained that this mistake occurred because she did not have the ability to fully train her employees before giving them the responsibility of managing a circuit judge's docket; ultimately the problem, according to the circuit clerk, was that she did not have adequate funding to retain well trained personnel. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its authority in the Brady matter, “purporting to award declaratory and injunctive relief no party had requested.” The State’s petition for mandamus relief was granted. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law

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Crystal Wayne petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision affirming, by an unpublished memorandum, a circuit court's revocation of Wayne's probation. Wayne was convicted of second-degree manufacturing of a controlled substance, a Class B felony. She was sentenced Wayne to 60 months' imprisonment, which sentence was split, and she was ordered to serve 18 months' imprisonment, followed by 36 months' supervised probation. The circuit court further ordered Wayne to pay $4,799 in various fees and costs. Four months later, Wayne's probation officer filed a delinquency report alleging that Wayne had violated the terms and conditions of her probation by failing to report to her probation officer as directed, by failing to pay supervision fees, by failing to pay court-ordered moneys, and by failing to report to the court referral officer ("CRO"). The Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider whether Wayne received adequate notice of the State's charge that Wayne had violated her probation by absconding. The Supreme Court determined Wayne's constitutional right to receive written notice of the charges against her was violated insofar as she did not receive notice that absconding was being alleged as a probation violation, and the circuit court exceeded its discretion in revoking her probation on the basis that she had absconded. The Court of Criminal Appeals' was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Crystal Joetta Wayne." on Justia Law

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In March 2004, Antonio Jones was convicted of capital murder for the intentional killing of Ruth Kirkland during the course of a burglary. The jury recommended, by a vote of 11 to 1, that Jones be sentenced to death. The trial court accepted the jury's recommendation and sentenced Jones to death. In January 2009, Jones filed a Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition to challenge conviction and sentence. In 2014, the trial court entered an order summarily dismissing Jones's Rule 32 petition. Jones appealed the dismissal of his Rule 32 petition, and the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Jones's appeal in accordance with that court's decision in Loggins v. Alabama, 910 So. 2d 146 (Ala Crim. App. 2005), and the Court of Civil Appeals' decision in K.P. v. Madison County Department of Human Resources, 243 So. 3d 835 (Ala. Civ. App. 2017). Jones then petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, arguing that the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissing his appeal of the dismissal of his Rule 32 petition conflicted with the Supreme Court's decisions interpreting Rule 29, Ala. R. Crim. P. The Supreme Court determined the record conclusively established a timely order reinstating Jones's Rule 32 petition was issued on September 7, 2010, two days before the trial court was to lose jurisdiction to rule on Jones's postjudgment motion to reinstate the petition. The order itself was dated and signed on September 7, 2010. When it was discovered that the circuit clerk had failed to timely enter the order reinstating Jones's Rule 32 petition, the same order was forwarded again to the circuit clerk to be entered, which the clerk did on September 29, 2010. "[T]he trial court's order granting Jones's Rule 29 motion in this case did not alter the date on which the order was rendered. . . . it simply corrects the circuit clerk's ministerial error in failing to timely enter the order, so that the record accurately reflects Justice Kennedy's original order reinstating Jones's Rule 32 petition as having been rendered on September 7, 2010." Accordingly, the trial court did not err in granting Jones's Rule 29 motion to reflect that the order rendered on September 7, 2010, reinstating Jones's Rule 32 petition was entered by the trial court effective on that same date. The Court of Criminal Appeals was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Antonio Devoe Jones." on Justia Law

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The Clay County Commission appealed a trial court decision in favor of Clay County Animal Shelter, Inc. In July 2017, the county commission and three individuals ("the plaintiffs") initiated an action in against the animal shelter and certain state officials seeking injunctive relief and a judgment, pursuant to section 6-6-220 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, declaring that part of Act No. 2017-65 directing an expenditure of a portion of Clay County's tobacco-tax proceeds to the animal shelter to be unconstitutional. The plaintiffs asserted that Act No. 2017-65 was improperly enacted without a sufficient number of legislative votes in violation of Article IV, section 73, Ala. Const. 1901. The plaintiffs also filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction to temporarily restrain distribution of Clay County's tobacco-tax receipts to the animal shelter. The animal shelter moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court held the plain meaning of the language in Act No. 2017-65 provided for an appropriation to the animal shelter of 18% of Clay County's tobacco-tax proceeds. The animal shelter did not dispute that it is a "charitable or educational institution not under the absolute control of the state" within the meaning of section 73, nor did it argue that an appropriation to it would be exempt from the voting requirements of section 73. Thus, the legislature's appropriation to the animal shelter had to receive "a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house" to comply with section 73. "It did not. That part of Act No. 2017-65 appropriating 18% of Clay County's tobacco-tax proceeds, i.e., Section 2(a)(3), is, therefore, unconstitutional." The trial court's judgment upholding Section 2(a)(3) was, therefore, reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Clay County Commission v. Clay County Animal Shelter, Inc." on Justia Law

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Taurus Carroll was convicted on one count of murder for intentionally causing the death of Michael Turner, a fellow inmate, after having been convicted of another murder within the preceding 20 years, and a second count of murder made capital for committing murder while Carroll was under a sentence of life imprisonment. Before he was sentenced, Carroll argued to the circuit court that he was intellectually disabled and therefore, under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), ineligible to be sentenced to death. The circuit court rejected that argument and, following the jury's unanimous recommendation, sentenced Carroll to death for each capital-murder conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Carroll's convictions and sentences. On May 1, 2017, the United States Supreme Court granted Carroll's petition for a writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, and remanded the case to that court "for further consideration in light of Moore v. Texas, 581 U.S. ___ (2017)." On remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals again affirmed Carroll's convictions and sentences. The Alabama Supreme Court granted Carroll's petition for a writ of certiorari, and concluded the circuit court did not exceed its discretion in determining that Carroll failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he suffered from significant or substantial deficits in adaptive functioning as an adult and that his current intellectual deficits arose during the developmental period. The Alabama Court further concluded the circuit court's final determination that Carroll was eligible for the death penalty did not violate Atkins, Moore, Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. 701 (2014), and Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. ___ (2015). View "Ex parte Taurus Jermaine Carroll." on Justia Law

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Aaron Smith, an officer employed by the City of Montgomery Police Department, petitions the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate its order denying Smith immunity pursuant to 13A–3–23(d), Ala. Code 1975, and to enter an order granting Smith immunity under that statute. In the alternative, Smith asked for mandamus relief directing the Montgomery County Circuit Judge enter an order recusing himself from the case. Smith requested a change of venue based on pretrial publicity. The Supreme Court surmised the issue of Smith's credibility would arise at trial because he appeared to be the only witness to the incident underlying these proceedings, and he might be called to testify at trial in support of a defense of self- defense. "The risk of prejudice under these circumstances is evident where the trial judge has already stated that he does not find Smith to be credible and that statement has been widely reported in the local community from which the jury pool would be drawn. Judge Griffin's comments were made and reported approximately six moths ago, in late July 2018. There is no dispute that this case has generated much attention in Montgomery County, and it seems likely to generate continued attention moving forward. It is reasonable to assume that Judge Griffin's comments regarding Smith's credibility will continue to be dispersed in the local media." Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded Smith could not have his case decided by a fair and impartial jury in Montgomery County. Because Smith demonstrated a clear legal right to the relief sought, the Supreme Court granted his petition as to the change-of-venue and recusal issues and directed that this case be transferred to another venue. The Court denied relief as to all other issues raised. View "Ex parte Aaron Cody Smith." on Justia Law

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The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to review the Court of Criminal Appeals' opinion reversing in part the Dale Circuit Court's order granting Emanuel Gissendanner, Jr. a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel and a violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). In 2001, Gissendanner was charged with three counts of capital murder in the death of Margaret Snellgrove: murder during a kidnapping in the first degree; murder during a robbery in the first degree; and murder during a rape. A separate indictment charged Gissendanner with possessing or uttering a forged check drawn on Snellgrove's bank account. He was convicted of two counts of capital murder -- murder during the course of a robbery and murder during the course of a kidnapping -- and of possession of a forged instrument. The jury recommended by a vote of 10-2 that he be sentenced to death on the capital-murder convictions. The Supreme Court determined the Court of Criminal Appeals applied the wrong standard of review to the disputed facts and failed to give considerable weight to the finding of prejudicial ineffective assistance of counsel by Judge Quattlebaum, the original trial judge who also presided over the Rule 32 proceedings. "Judge Quattlebaum did not exceed his discretion in ordering a new trial based on defense counsel's prejudicially ineffective pretrial investigation." Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals to the extent it reversed Judge Quattlebaum's order granting Gissendanner's petition for postconviction relief, and the Court directed the trial court to take the necessary action to reinstate Judge Quattlebaum's order granting Gissendanner a new trial. In light of this holding, the Court pretermitted discussion of the remaining issues raised in Gissendanner's petition. View "Ex parte Emanuel Aaron Gissendanner, Jr." on Justia Law

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Jessie Phillips was sentenced to death for the intentional killing of his wife and their unborn child. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Phillips's conviction but remanded the case for the trial court to address certain defects and errors in its sentencing order. The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review 13 issues raised in Phillips's petition related to jury instructions on transferred intent and intent and knowledge; the application of section 13A-1-6, Ala. Code 1975, known as "the Brody Act," to the facts of this case; the chain of custody of a urine sample taken during Erica's autopsy and used to conduct a pregnancy test and the requirements of the Confrontation Clause in regard to the sample; the trial court's consideration of nonstatutory aggravating circumstances; the use of peremptory strikes under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986); the admission into evidence of an autopsy photograph; the amendment of or material variance from the indictment; the comments that the jury's sentencing verdict was advisory; the "double counting" of capital offenses; and the disparate nature of Phillips's sentencing. After review, the Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Criminal Appeals, and affirmed its judgment. View "Ex parte Jessie Livell Phillips." on Justia Law

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Reginald Rogers petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari on an issue of first impression: whether the oral-pronouncement rule discussed in Ex parte Kelley, 246 So. 3d 1068 (Ala. 2015), applied where a Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint ("UTTC") has been filed and thereafter purportedly disposed of by a municipal court magistrate based on a guilty plea pursuant to Rule 19(C)(1), Ala. R. Jud. Admin. Rule 39(a)(1)(C), Ala. R. App. P., stated that the Supreme Court could grant a petition for writ of certiorari "[f]rom decisions where a material question requiring decision is one of first impression for the Supreme Court of Alabama." In light of the record before it, the question as framed by Rogers in his petition was not a material question requiring decision by the Supreme Court, but a hypothetical question based on facts contrary to the record. As such, the Court quashed Rogers' writ. View "Ex parte Reginald Deshone Rogers." on Justia Law