Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia

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Governor Terence McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring certain civil rights, including the right to vote, of approximately 206,000 Virginians who had been convicted of a felony but who had since completed their sentences of incarceration and supervised release. Petitioners filed a petition seeking writs of mandamus and prohibition seeking to cancel the voter registrations accomplished pursuant to the executive order and prevent further such registrations, asserting that the Governor’s executive order and any similar subsequent orders nullified the Virginia Constitution’s general prohibition against voting by convicted felons who had completed sentences of incarceration and supervision. The Supreme Court issued the requested writ and ordered the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the State Board of Elections, and the Virginia Department of Elections to take certain actions in response to this Court’s opinion, holding that the executive order violated Va. Const. art. I, 7 and Va. Const. art. II, 1. View "Howell v. McAuliffe" on Justia Law

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A pretrial detainee asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against guards and nurses at a regional jail. The jail authority had purchased a general liability insurance policy (the VaCorp Policy) from the Virginia Association of Counties Group Self Insurance Risk Pool (Risk Pool Association) and also elected to participate in a government-sponsored insurance program (the VaRISK Plan) managed by the Division of Risk Management (DRM). While the federal suit was pending, the detainee filed a declaratory judgment action against DRM and the Risk Pool Association seeking a determination of their respective liabilities for insuring the jail defendants. The Risk Pool Association and the DRM filed opposing third-party claims for declaratory relief. The detainee later settled with the jail defendants. The circuit court concluded (1) the VaRISK Plan was the sole primary coverage and that the DRM had the exclusive duty to defend the jail defendants, and (2) the Risk Pool Association had no duty to contribute toward the defense costs incurred by the jail defendants in the federal suit. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the VaCorp Policy and VaRISK Plan provided co-primary liability coverage to the jail defendants; and (2) VaRISK Plan’s $2 million coverage extension applicable to medical malpractice claims did not apply to the section 1983 civil rights claim alleging violations of federal constitutional law. Remanded. View "Commonwealth, Div. of Risk Mgmt. v. Va. Ass'n of Counties Group Self Ins. Risk Pool" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of three felony drug offenses. Defendant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of a traffic stop, arguing that the stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights. A panel of the Court of Appeals ordered reversal and remand to the circuit court for a new trial, ruling that the facts and circumstances available to the arresting officer at the time of the stop did not support a reasonable suspicion that Defendant was violating or about to violate the law. The full court reversed the panel decision and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the investigatory stop of the vehicle in which Defendant was a passenger was justified by reasonable suspicion that a violation of the law was occurring, and therefore, Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated. View "Mason v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The City filed a petition for condemnation asking for a determination of just compensation for property taken and damages to the residue. The circuit court awarded Dominion SecurityPlus Self Storage, LLC $44,141 for the value of the fee take and more than $2.1 million for the damages to the residue, including loss of visibility and loss of direct access. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court awarding Dominion damages to the residue and entered final judgment in favor of the City on that claim, holding that Dominion failed to present any evidence by which any of over $2.1 in damages that the circuit court awarded could be apportioned to the City’s take of a utility easement and a temporary construction easement outside the area of reservation. View "City of Chesapeake v. Dominion SecurityPlus Self Storage, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendants, two sixteen-year-old males, were convicted of multiple felonies for breaking into the townhouse of a college student and raping her at knifepoint. On appeal, Defendants challenged the constitutionality of their sentences and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the convictions for breaking and entering while armed with a deadly weapon. The court of appeals denied the petitions regarding the issues before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court consolidated the cases for appeal and affirmed, holding (1) the aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on Defendants did not violate the Eighth Amendment; and (2) the evidence was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that both Defendants committed the crime of breaking and entering while armed with a deadly weapon. View "Vasquez v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to thirty-three counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. Defendant later filed an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that he was deprived of his right to effective assistance of counsel because his counsel failed to “prosecute” his appeal. After a hearing, the circuit court dismissed the petition for writ of habeas corpus, ruling that counsel was not deficient for failing to file a petition for appeal on Defendant’s behalf. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court’s finding was not plainly wrong or unsupported by credible evidence. View "Velasquez-Lopez v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with first-degree murder, maliciously shooting into an occupied vehicle, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and reckless handling of a firearm, a misdemeanor. After a trial on the misdemeanor charge and a preliminary hearing on the felonies, the general district court dismissed the misdemeanor reckless handling of a firearm charge and refused to certify Defendant’s felony charges to the circuit court for lack of probable cause. The Commonwealth subsequently obtained direct indictments charging Defendant with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of the charges. The Court of Appeals reversed Defendant’s convictions and dismissed the indictments, holding that the Commonwealth was collaterally estopped from prosecuting Defendant for murder or attempted murder after Defendant’s acquittal of reckless handling of a firearm. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Defendant’s misdemeanor acquittal and subsequent felony convictions were based on the same issue of ultimate fact, the felony convictions were barred by the prohibition of double jeopardy. View "Commonwealth v. Davis" on Justia Law