Justia Constitutional Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Ex parte Anthony Lane.
Anthony Lane was convicted for felony murder with the predicate offense of first-degree robbery. Although Lane initially lied to police about his involvement in the murder, he eventually told police that he had approached Frank Wright at a car wash to ask him the time, that Wright had used a degrading racial epithet to describe Lane, and that Lane had "blanked out" and shot Wright multiple times, killing him. Lane claimed that, after he shot Wright, he panicked and drove away in Wright's vehicle. A police officer testified that Wright's body, which was found at the car wash, was discovered with his pants pockets "turned out" and his wallet missing. Wright's wallet was discovered later in his vehicle, containing his personal identification documents but no money. An investigating police officer testified that, in his opinion, Wright's vehicle had been "ransacked," although the wallet, the stereo, and other valuable items had not been taken. Before he was sentenced, Lane argued to the trial court that he was intellectually disabled and therefore, under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), ineligible to be sentenced to death. The trial court rejected that argument and, following the jury's 10-2 recommendation, sentenced Lane to death. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Lane's conviction and sentence. The United States Supreme Court granted Lane's petition certiorari review, vacated the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment, and remanded for further consideration in light of Hall v. Florida, 134 S.Ct. 1986 (2014). On remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals again affirmed Lane's conviction and sentence. The State changed its position, now agreeing with Lane's argument, and conceded that the trial court should not have sentenced Lane to death. The remaining issue before the Alabama Supreme Court centered around whether Lane had the requisite deficits in adaptive skills necessary to render him intellectually disabled. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Hall afforded Lane no relief. The Supreme Court disagreed, vacating that court's order and remanding to the trial court for resentencing to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. View "Ex parte Anthony Lane." on Justia Law
Burnett v. Chilton County Health Care Authority and Chilton County
On January 21, 2014, House Bill 331 (H.B. 331) was introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives "to authorize the [Chilton] county commission to levy an additional one cent sales tax which shall be used exclusively for the construction, maintenance, and operation of a hospital in Chilton County; to provide for an expiration date for the tax; and to provide for a referendum and subsequent referendums." H.B. 331 was approved by both the Alabama House and Senate. The Governor signed the bill into law, designated as Act 2014-162. Notices had been placed in a county newspaper containing the full text of a second bill, introduced as Senate Bill 462 (S.B. 462), "to levy additional sales and use taxes to be used for the construction, maintenance, and operation of hospital facilities in Chilton County; to provide for certain matters relating to the administration, collection, and enforcement of such taxes; to provide for the effective date and termination of such taxes; to provide for an advisory referendum regarding the levy of the taxes; to provide that such taxes may not be abated pursuant to Chapter 9B, Title 40, Code of Alabama 1975, or otherwise; and to authorize the pledge of such taxes by Chilton County or a public corporation acting as its agent to secure indebtedness issued for the purposes for which the taxes are authorized." S.B. 462 was approved by both the House and Senate, and again forwarded to the Governor, who declined to sign it so that it be amended so that it repealed the earlier bill as a duplicative Act. The Legislature approved an amended version of S.B. 462, and the amended bill was signed into law as Act 2014-422. No notice of 2014-422 was ever published to Chilton County. An advisory referendum was held in Chilton County pursuant to Act No. 2014-422, and voters approved the tax. Roy Burnett filed a complaint on behalf of himself and others who paid the tax pursuant to 2014-422, arguing the act was unconstitutional because the bill was designed to raise revenue and did not originate in the House,and was not published after it was amended and signed into law. The Alabama Supreme Court determined 2014-422 was not unconstitutional because it was designed to "raise revenue" as that phrase was contemplated by section 70 of the Alabama Constitution. However, the Court found the Act violated section 107 of the Constitution because no published notice of the Act informed the people of Chilton County it was repealing Act 2014-162. Judgment was reversed that the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Burnett v. Chilton County Health Care Authority and Chilton County" on Justia Law
Ex parte State of Alabama.
In 2000, George Martin was convicted of murdering his wife, Hammoleketh. The jury found that Martin killed his wife to collect the proceeds from life-insurance policies he had taken out on her life. The jury recommended by a vote of 8-4 that Martin be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, but the trial court overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Martin to death. After his conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, Martin filed a Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition for postconviction relief in which he alleged, among other things, that the State had suppressed material exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court granted Martin's Rule 32 petition and held that he was entitled to a new trial. While preparing for a new trial, Martin moved to dismiss the indictment as both a sanction for the State's willful misconduct, and because the prejudice resulting from that misconduct could not be corrected with a new trial. The trial court ultimately dismissed the indictment with prejudice on the grounds that the State's misconduct was willful and that the prejudice to Martin resulting from that misconduct could not be corrected by a new trial. The State appealed. After review of the trial and appellate court records, the Supreme Court held the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in affirming the trial court's order imposing the extreme sanction of dismissing the indictment. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment was reversed and the case remanded for a new trial. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law
Ex parte Montgomery County Board of Education.
On January 7, 2018, John Doe, a minor, by and through his mother S.C., filed the underlying action against the Montgomery County Board of Education, seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages arising from an alleged assault on Doe by a school employee at the elementary school Doe attended, as a result of which Doe was injured. The complaint asserted a single count of negligence against the Board and other unidentified fictitiously named defendants. Specifically, Doe alleged the Board breached its duty "to not place him in harm or specifically harm him" and that the Board failed to properly train and supervise the employee allegedly responsible for the assault. The Board petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss Does' lawsuit, on sovereign immunity grounds. Finding the Board was an entity of the State, it enjoyed immunity from Doe's action under section 14 of the Alabama Constitution. Accordingly, the Board has demonstrated a clear legal right to a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to dismiss the lawsuit against it, and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Montgomery County Board of Education." on Justia Law
Ex parte Dionntez Byner.
Dionntez Byner petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to affirm dismissal of his petition for postconviction relief. Byner challenged his 2015 convictions for one count of first-degree robbery , and one count of obstructing justice using a false identity. The Supreme Court issued the writ of certiorari in order to determine as an issue of first impression whether robbery was a crime involving "dishonesty or false statement" for purposes of Rule 609(a)(2), Ala. R. Evid., thereby rendering evidence of a conviction for robbery admissible for impeachment purposes. The Court held robbery wass a crime involving "dishonesty or false statement" and that a prior robbery conviction was admissible for impeachment purposes under Rule 609(a)(2). Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment. View "Ex parte Dionntez Byner." on Justia Law
Ex parte Decatur City Board of Education.
On or about March 22, 2016, Carrie Cabri Witt, a school employee, was arrested and charged with engaging in sex acts with students who were under the age of 19 years. At that time, she was also placed on paid administrative leave. Later that year, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment that charged her with engaging in a sex act or deviate sexual intercourse with two students who were under the age of 19 years. The superintendent of education for Morgan County recommended to the Board that Witt's teaching contract be terminated based on the allegations that she had engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with one or more students in the Decatur City School System. According to the Board, that conduct violated Board policy and corresponding professional standards. The Board notified Witt that it had scheduled a termination hearing for March 2, 2017. Witt filed a petition seeking a preliminary injunction staying the termination proceeding until after the disposition of the underlying criminal case, arguing that, because the basis for the termination proceeding was the underlying criminal charges, she would be forced to choose between the risk of self-incrimination if she testified in the termination proceeding or of losing her teaching contract if she did not testify in the termination proceeding. The Board moved to dismiss or deny the petition for a preliminary injunction; the trial court granted the petition for a preliminary injunction. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Board established that circumstances changed since the trial court entered the preliminary injunction staying the termination proceeding on February 28, 2017, so that the preliminary injunction or stay was no longer appropriate. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and direct the trial court to dissolve its February 28, 2017, injunction and to dismiss the petition upon which it was based. View "Ex parte Decatur City Board of Education." on Justia Law
Ex parte the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama.
The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama ("the Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to dismiss for lack of subject- matter jurisdiction, based on Article I, section 14, Ala. Const. 1901, an action filed against it by Paul F. Castellanos, M.D. ("Dr. Castellanos"). Dr. Castellanos filed an action against six named defendants and other fictitiously named defendants asserting claims of intentional interference with contractual and business relations, civil conspiracy, and "intentional infliction of mental anguish -- outrageous conduct" and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court lacked the power to compel the Board to arbitrate Dr. Castellanos's claims against it. Instead, it was incumbent upon the circuit court to grant the Board's motion to dismiss the claims against it, as Dr. Castellanos himself conceded. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the circuit court to vacate its order insofar as it compelled arbitration with regard to the Board and to dismiss the claims against the Board based on section 14 immunity. View "Ex parte the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama." on Justia Law
Ex parte Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Director of Elections Ed Packard.
Defendants the Alabama Secretary of State, John Merrill, and a member of his staff, Ed Packard, the director of elections, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate a preliminary injunction and to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction the underlying action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. On December 7, 2017, plaintiffs Pamela Miles, Dan Dannemueller, Paul Hard, and Victoria Tuggle (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the plaintiffs") filed a civil action against Merrill and Packard, in their official capacities, alleging certain electronic voting machines used in Alabama elections created digital images of the paper ballots scanned and counted by the machines, and that defendants "do not and will not instruct election officials" to preserve the digital ballot images. Those images, it was argued, were public records that, under Alabama law, had to be preserved. Plaintiffs also appeared to allege that federal law, specifically, 52 U.S.C. 20701, required those images be retained. This failure "to require that all election materials" be preserved, the plaintiffs contended, "infringe[d] upon their right to a fair and accurate election." The Alabama Supreme Court determined plaintiffs' allegations did not demonstrate how the "challenged practices harm[ed]" plaintiffs in a concrete way; how they would personally suffer the threatened injury, which is itself described only as a mere speculative possibility; or how they would benefit in a "tangible way" by a judgment in their favor. Instead, the Court found they alleged only that they "could" be harmed." Therefore, because the complaint insufficiently alleged that plaintiffs have standing, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the action. The Court therefore directed that the case be dismissed. View "Ex parte Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Director of Elections Ed Packard." on Justia Law
Walker County Commission et al. v. Kelly et al.
Plaintiffs the Walker County Commission and Commissioners Keith Davis, Bobby Nunnelly, Steven Aderhold, and Billy Luster, individually and in their official capacities (referred to collectively as "the Commission"), appealed a circuit court judgment in favor of defendants David Kelly, individually and in his official capacity as chairman of the Walker County Civil Service Board, and board members Rufus Reed, Donald Baxter, Raymond Bennett, and Gary Davis, individually (referred to collectively as "the Board"), the defendants below. The Supreme Court concluded that the Commission filed this action seeking to get clarification, or an advisory opinion, as to whether the Board would be bound by the Open Meetings Act in the future. Because there was no justiciable controversy and the Commission sought only an advisory opinion in its complaint, the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over this action. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed this appeal with instructions that the circuit court vacate its judgment and dismiss the case, without prejudice. View "Walker County Commission et al. v. Kelly et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte State of Alabama.
The State of Alabama petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the presiding judge of the Montgomery Circuit Court to exercise his power of superintendence over the Montgomery District Court, and to order that court to vacate its order granting Kentory Brown's discovery request. In 2015, Brown was charged with third-degree burglary and second-degree theft of property. Brown filed a motion requesting the appointment of an attorney, a bond hearing, and a preliminary hearing. Thereafter, Brown moved for the State to turn over all discovery permitted by Rule 16.1, Ala. R. Crim. P.; the district court granted the discovery motion on the same day it was filed. However, the State failed to provide the requested discovery. In refusing to produce the requested discovery, the State argued (1) that the case was under active investigation and that nothing had been turned over to the district attorney's office by the Montgomery Police Department, (2) that the demand for discovery was premature because no indictment had been issued, and (3) that the district court had limited jurisdiction in felony criminal cases and, not being the trial court, could not order discovery. The district court indicated that it would issue an order requiring the State to produce the requested discovery, but the court proceeded with the preliminary hearing. On the same day as the preliminary hearing, the court found probable cause that the offenses had been committed and bound over both cases to the Montgomery County grand jury. When the district court issued the order to compel the State to produce the discovery, the State petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court granted the writ: “Simply, the jurisdiction granted district courts in felony cases is limited.” The district court here exceeded the scope of its authority when it entered a discovery order in this case, and the Montgomery Circuit Court erred in refusing to direct the district court to vacate its order. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law