Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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Akron police stopped Patterson for a traffic violation. They noticed an open container of alcohol and found a pistol in the driver’s door. Patterson stated that he had bought the gun on “the street.” Police learned that it had been stolen. Patterson pleaded guilty in September 2014 to receiving stolen property and to driving under suspension under state law. In August 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Patterson as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Patterson had pleaded guilty in 2001 to two counts of aggravated robbery and aggravated robbery with a firearm specification, arising from armed robberies at three different businesses. The district court rejected Patterson’s motion to dismiss the federal charge on double jeopardy grounds, but declined to treat his robbery convictions as violent felonies under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The presentence report calculated Patterson’s base offense level as if aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon qualified as a crime of violence under U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a); because the three convictions counted as a single sentence, only one of the convictions impacted Patterson’s base offense level. The Sixth Circuit affirmed denial of the motion to dismiss, but remanded for resentencing. Patterson’s prior convictions meet the requirements of the Sentencing Guidelines and the Armed Career Criminal Act. View "United States v. Patterson" on Justia Law

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Based on evidence that someone was downloading child pornography, agents executed a search warrant for a Halls, Tennessee home. Agents spoke to the homeowner, his wife, and their 21-year-old, live-in son, Lindell. During general questioning Lindell indicated that he had used a peer-to-peer file sharing network and had viewed child pornography when he was younger. He told agents that a friend downloaded files onto his laptop and gave them a thumb drive with child pornography. The laptop was not in the house because it was being repaired. Lindell allowed agents to look at his online activity. During a search of Lindell’s bedroom, agents found a laptop that the family failed to disclose. Lindell changed his story, stating he had viewed child pornography recently. Agents advised him of his Miranda rights. He dictated a statement. Lindell claims to have no memory of the search because of medications he was taking. Lindell was indicted for distributing and possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), (a)(4)(B). The court denied a motion to suppress and a motion to require the government to stipulate that the images recovered from his laptops depicted child pornography, obviating the need to show them to the jury. Convicted, Lindell was sentenced to 78 months in prison. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding denial of the motion to require the government to stipulate to the evidence. View "United States v. Luck" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Breeden was found dead in the Kentucky River. King was a suspect because of her sporadic relationship with Breeden, because she had bullet holes inside her home, and because, after Breeden’s disappearance, King had shared premonitions of “Breeden being found in water.” Officers unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a search warrant for King’s residence. In 2006 Detective Harwood obtained a warrant. His affidavit omitted that Breen’s bullet wounds were non-exiting and could not have caused bullet holes in King’s floor and that King had one leg and weighed 100 pounds, while Breeden weighed 187 pounds. There was no evidence that King had destroyed evidence; gunshot evidence at her home did not match bullets recovered from Breeden. King entered an “Alford plea,” maintaining her innocence. In 2012, a serial murderer (Jarrell) confessed that he had killed Breeden and recounted the crime with specific details that had not been released. Harwood visited Jarrell in jail. King alleges that Harwood intimidated Jarrell into recanting. In 2014, charges against King were dismissed. The district court dismissed King’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 as time-barred and citing qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed as to King’s malicious-prosecution claim against Harwood. King raised genuine issues of material fact: whether Harwood set King’s prosecution in motion by applying for warrants and an indictment despite the lack of probable cause; whether Harwood's false statements, together with his material omissions were material to King’s prosecution; and whether any false statements, evidence, and omissions were “laying the groundwork for an indictment," not “preparatory activity” for a grand-jury hearing that would provide absolute immunity. View "King v. Harwood" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Louisville police discovered the bodies of a male victim with nine stab wounds and a pregnant female victim, dead as a result of manual strangulation and stabbed after her death. Wheeler, ultimately convicted of the murders and sentenced to death, changed his story several times. The Sixth Circuit held that a writ of habeas corpus must issue as to the death sentence because the trial court erroneously struck from the jury Kovatch, an eligible juror who may have been in favor of sparing Wheeler’s life. The court, after examination of Kovatch, found him not to be “problematic” as a juror but one who “could consider the entire range” of penalties. The next day the court excused him because the judge mistakenly remembered him saying he would not consider the death penalty. After the Supreme Court reversed, the Sixth Circuit reinstated the death penalty, rejecting claims: that admission of evidence as to the availability of prison furloughs in the future; concerning penalty-phase jury instructions that, allegedly, improperly instructed jurors that they were required to be unanimous regarding the presence of mitigating factors; concerning prosecutorial misstatements: and that Kentucky’s proportionality review violates the Eighth Amendment View "Wheeler v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Mosley's Wickliffe, Ohio Motel needed a tenant for its lounge. Miller's nightclub in neighboring Willoughby had drawn the ire of law enforcement. The two executed a lease; Miller applied for permits. Miller claims that the city was initially receptive, but, after informing it of his plan to host a “Hip Hop night, [catering] to African American[s],” the city allegedly changed its position. Miller’s occupancy permit application was denied pending revised parking plans. Miller needed a liquor license from the state. The city did not oppose Miller’s application, but religious organizations did. The city passed a resolution, supporting that opposition. The state denied Miller’s application, citing the objections of the religious organizations and “the peace and good order of the neighborhood.” Miller did not appeal. The city passed Ordinance 2009-49, requiring “nightclubs” to obtain a permit and delineating the health ad safety responsibilities; it restricted nightclub locations to buffer schools, churches, libraries, parks, taverns, bars, other nightclubs, and residential districts. Miller and Mosley never applied for nightclub permits. Miller became involved with Cirino in a proposed billiards hall, the temporary-occupancy permit for which was then revoked. The three sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 42 U.S.C. 2000A (racial discrimination) with state law and takings claims. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that Wickliffe had reached a final decision under the ordinance, or that they faced a credible threat of prosecution, and cannot show a particularized and concrete injury sufficient to confer jurisdiction. View "Mosley v. City of Wickliffe" on Justia Law

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ECM BioFilms manufactures an additive that it claims accelerates the rate at which plastic biodegrades. In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission filed an administrative complaint, claiming that several of ECM’s biodegradability claims were deceptive. The full Commission ultimately found that three of ECM’s claims were false and misleading under 15 U.S.C. 45. The Commission’s order prohibits ECM from representing that ECM plastic is biodegradable “unless such representation is true, not misleading, and, at the time it is made, respondent possesses and relies upon competent and reliable scientific evidence that substantiates the representation,” The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, rejecting claims that part of the Commission’s decision was unsupported by substantial evidence and that the Commission violated ECM’s rights under the First Amendment, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Due Process Clause. ECM had adequate notice and the order is not a prohibition on claims of biodegradability. View "ECM BioFilms, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law

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Mattox, a Michigan inmate, repeatedly complained of pain in his chest, neck, shoulders, and arms, and shortness of breath and dizziness. After visits to an emergency room, outside cardiologists recommended that Mattox undergo cardiac catheterization to determine whether he needed a stent or surgery to prevent a future heart attack. Doctors employed by the Department of Corrections health care contractor denied approval for the procedure. After three grievances were denied, Mattox’s chest pains returned. An outside cardiologist recommended the heart drug Ranexa. Ranexa was not on the prison’s formulary; prison doctors denied permission for Ranexa, and ordered Mattox to remain on medication that made him dizzy. Mattox’s chest pains continued intermittently for two and a half years, requiring multiple hospitalizations. Mattox eventually received cardiac catheterization, which ruled out heart disease, and suggested that he be treated with medication. Prison doctors denied another request for Ranexa; a fourth grievance was denied until, following another hospitalization, Mattox was given a six-month prescription for Ranexa. Mattox did not experience any cardiac symptoms during those six months. After the Ranexa prescription ran out, Mattox’s chest pains returned. Renewal was denied; a fifth grievance was denied. Mattox's suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Eighth Amendment was dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed as to a physicians' assistant, but reversed as to the three physicians. View "Mattox v. Edelman" on Justia Law

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Two victims were killed in 1999. Phillips was arrested. The primary witness was Phillips’ stepdaughter, a neighbor of the victim. She testified that she heard the confrontation, followed by shooting, and that Phillips was “intoxicated” that night. A jury convicted Phillips of both counts of first-degree murder. Judge Maricle asked whether the parties were prepared to proceed with sentencing. Phillips’s attorney, Charles, replied, “No,” but neglected to request a continuance, stating, "I don’t know anything about death penalty litigation.” Charles did not object to the prosecution's jury instructions, consulted with Phillips for less than an hour, and offered no opening statement nor evidence. The Commonwealth suggested that the aggravating factor prevented the jury from considering sentences with possible parol. Rather than clarifying the sentencing options or advocating for a particular sentence, Charles remarked: I don’t intend to take anymore of your time. The jury recommended life with no possibility of parole for 25 years. The court entered that sentence with minimal explanation. The state supreme court affirmed. Although Phillips's post-conviction attorney dropped a claim of ineffective assistance at sentencing, Maricle felt “compelled” to authorize relief on that basis. Phillips complied with Maricle's request and submitted information about evidence relevant sentencing, but Maricle was indicted and no state judge decided Phillips’s claims, which were pending for over six years. The district court dismissed his federal habeas petition, finding that Phillips had not shown prejudice. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the deferential standard is inapplicable because no Kentucky court ever decided Phillips's claims, that Phillips’s counsel was ineffective, that prejudice is presumed, and counsel’s performance actually prejudiced Phillips under Strickland. View "Phillips v. White" on Justia Law

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In 1997, a Memphis armored truck driver was shot while working; he died two years later, as a result. The shooter took the cash and left in a getaway car. Authorities identified Thomas as the shooter and Bond as the getaway driver. In a federal trial before Day’s death, Thomas was convicted of interfering with interstate commerce, carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm, and was sentenced to life in prison. After Day died, Thomas was convicted of felony murder in state court, was sentenced to death, and exhausted state post-conviction remedies. Jackson, Thomas’s girlfriend, was the pivotal witness in both trials, placing Thomas at the scene of the shooting. After the federal trial, but before the state prosecution, the FBI paid Jackson $750 on behalf of the Task Force. Jackson testified that she did not receive any “reward” money and that she testified because it was the “right thing to do.” Thomas was never notified of this payment and discovered it during his federal habeas hearing. State prosecutors were provided with evidence of the payment, but later argued that they lacked “actual” knowledge. The Sixth Circuit granted habeas relief in the death penalty case, finding that the prosecutor had a duty to disclose the payment, but affirmed the denial of relief in the federal case. The state court Brady violation, failure to disclose that Jackson had received compensation after her federal testimony, occurred after Thomas’s federal trial. View "Thomas v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Day, a Memphis armored truck driver, was shot on the job. The shooter took the cash and left in a getaway car. Day died two years later, of complications from his injuries. Authorities identified Thomas as the shooter and Bond as the getaway car driver. In a federal trial before Day’s death, Thomas was convicted of interfering with interstate commerce, carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm, and was sentenced to life in prison. After Day died, Thomas was convicted of felony murder in state court and was sentenced to death. Thomas exhausted his Tennessee post-conviction remedies. Jackson, Thomas’s girlfriend, was the pivotal witness in both trials, placing Thomas at the scene of the shooting. After the federal trial, but before the state prosecution, the FBI paid Jackson $750 on behalf of the Safe Streets Task Force. Jackson testified that she did not receive any “reward” money and that she testified because it was the “right thing to do.” Thomas was never notified of this payment and discovered it years later during his federal habeas hearing. State prosecutors were provided with evidence of the payment, but later argued that they lacked “actual” knowledge. The district court denied Thomas habeas relief in the death penalty case, reasoning that the payment was not sufficiently “material.” The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the prosecutor had a duty to disclose the payment rather than allow Jackson to commit perjury. View "Thomas v. Westbrooks" on Justia Law