Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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Appellant was indicted for transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, attempted production of child pornography, and commission of a felony involving a minor by a person required to register as a sex offender. After a bifurcated jury and bench trial, Appellant was convicted on all counts.   On appeal, Appellant brings three challenges to his convictions. First, he contends that the district court abused its discretion by admitting the government’s expert testimony concerning the approximate locations of Appellant’s and the transported minor’s cell phones on the night of their meeting. Second, Appellant argues that the government should have been required to prove not just that he transported a minor to engage in sexual activity, but that he knew she was underage. Third, Appellant challenges the constitutionality of the Act that required him to register as a sex offender.   The DC Circuit affirmed Appellant’s convictions. The court held that the district court, in this case, did not abuse its discretion in admitting the expert’s testimony under Rule 702. The court explained that the district court justifiably concluded that concerns about the specific distances the expert drove should be considered by the jury in assessing the weight of the expert’s testimony and not by the court in its threshold admissibility determination. Further, the court explained that in light of the probative value of the expert’s testimony and the deference the Circuit Court affords district courts in making determinations under Rule 403, it cannot say that the district court abused its discretion in allowing the jury to hear from the expert. View "USA v. Charles Morgan, Jr." on Justia Law

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Appellee, a member of the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve, pleaded guilty at a court-martial to the sexual assault of a civilian. In this collateral challenge to his sentence, Appellee argued that the statutory grant of military jurisdiction over Fleet Marine Reservists exceeds Congress’ authority under the “Make Rules Clause.” The district court held for Appellee and the DC Circuit reversed.   The court explained that whether a person may be subjected to court-martial jurisdiction turns “on one factor: the military status of the accused.” Solorio v. United States, 483 U.S. 435 (1987). Here, based on the Supreme Court’s precedents interpreting the Make Rules Clause as well as the original meaning of that Clause, the court held that a person has “military status” if he has a formal relationship with the military that includes a duty to obey military orders. As a Fleet Marine Reservist, Appellee was “actually a member or part of the armed forces,” and therefore amenable to military jurisdiction under the Make Rules Clause. The court further held that the Fifth Amendment’s Grand Jury Clause did not separately bar Appellee’s court-martial. View "Steven Larrabee v. Carlos Del Toro" on Justia Law

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Out of concern about the increasing use of drones and the effect they have on airspace, the FAA passed the Remote ID rule, which drones in flight to emit publicly readable radio signals reflecting certain identifying information, including their serial number, location, and performance information. Petitioners, a drone user and drone retailer, challenged the FAA Remote ID rule on several grounds, including under the Fourth Amendment.The D.C. Circuit denied petitioners' petition for review, finding that the Remote ID rule does not violate the Fourth Amendment because it does not authorize warrantless searches in violation of a reasonable expectation of privacy. View "Tyler Brennan v. Stephen Dickson" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered a guilty plea to travelling across state lines to sexually abuse a child. Defendant was arrested when after he communicated with an undercover officer purporting to be a man who was offering their child for illicit sexual activities. At sentencing, the district court applied an enhancement under U.S.S.G. Sec. 2A3.1(b)(2)(A) because “the victim had not attained the age of twelve years.” Rather than challenge the applicability of the enhancement, trial counsel asked for a downward variance to recognize that the “victim was not real. The court declined counsel's request and Defendant was sentenced to 108 months of imprisonment and 120 months of supervised release.Defendant appealed his sentence, claiming that counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the applicability of the U.S.S.G. Sec. 2A3.1(b)(2)(A) enhancement. The court determined that, because Defendant intended to sexually assault a young child, the sentencing enhancement applied. Thus, counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to its application. View "USA v. Rodney Davis" on Justia Law

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Acting under the Export Control Reform Act of 2018 (ECRA) the Department of Commerce has maintained a so-called Entity List to restrict designated foreign parties from receiving United States exports.   Plaintiff, Changji Esquel Textile Co, operates a spinning mill in Xinjiang. The United States has determined that China abuses the human rights of Uyghurs and other religious or ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, including imprisonment and forced labor. Changji and its parent company filed a lawsuit alleging that the Department, in adding Changji to the Entity List, violated ECRA and its implementing regulations, the APA, and the Due Process Clause. They moved for a preliminary injunction on the theory that the alleged ECRA and regulatory violations were ultra vires. The district court denied the motion on the ground that Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on this claim.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that to prevail on an ultra vires claim, Plaintiff must establish three things: “(i) the statutory preclusion of review is implied rather than express; (ii) there is no alternative procedure for review of the statutory claim; and (iii) the agency plainly acts in excess of its delegated powers and contrary to a specific prohibition in the statute that is clear and mandatory.   The court explained that the canons invoked by Plaintiffs can resolve statutory ambiguity in close cases, but they do not allow the court to discern any clear and mandatory prohibition on adding entities to the List for human-rights abuses, particularly given the breadth of section 4813(a)(16) and the deference owed to the Executive Branch in matters of foreign affairs. View "Changji Esquel Textile Co. Ltd. v. Gina Raimondo" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, an Army veteran, arrived at the Tampa International Airport to pick up two of his children who were visiting for the holiday. After a swab of Petitioner’s hands tested positive for traces of explosive material, screening personnel from the Transportation Security Administration attempted to perform a full-body pat-down. Citing medical reasons, Petitioner repeatedly refused to be patted down and was subsequently escorted away from the checkpoint by law enforcement.   The agency assessed Petitioner a civil penalty for “interfer[ing] with screening personnel in the performance of their screening duties[.]” 49 C.F.R. Section 1540.109. Petitioner petitioned the DC Circuit to overturn the penalty on the ground that his refusal to submit to a pat-down, particularly in light of his medical justifications, did not constitute interference under the regulation. The court denied the petition finding that the agency lawfully applied its interference regulation to Petitioner’s conduct.   The court explained that it has recently defined the “ordinary meaning” of interfere as “to interpose in a way that hinders or impedes: comes into collision or be in opposition.” Here, in light of the established meaning, the TSA logically concluded that Petitioner’s conduct interfered with TSA personnel engaged in screening operations. TSA policy requires that whenever an individual triggers a positive explosives alarm, he or she must undergo a full-body pat-down. Petitioner’s repeated resistance to being patted down was “in opposition” to and “r[a]n at cross-purposes” with that policy.   Further, the court found that TSA’s conduct did not approach the level of egregiousness or outrageousness needed to establish a violation of substantive due process. View "Rohan Ramsingh v. TSA" on Justia Law

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Federal Express Corporation—commonly known as FedEx—challenged the Department of Commerce’s authority to hold it strictly liable for aiding and abetting violations of the 2018 Export Controls Act.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of FedEx’s complaint, holding that Commerce’s regulation, 15 C.F.R. Section 764.2(b), and its strict-liability interpretation of it are not ultra vires. The court concluded that the statutory text, circuit precedent, and deference to the Executive Branch in matters of national security and foreign affairs all support Commerce’s interpretation.   The court explained that the first barrier to FedEx’s ultra vires challenge is that Commerce’s interpretation of its regulation to allow for strict liability in civil enforcement actions does not contravene any clear statutory command. Next, FedEx’s ultra vires argument runs into a second headwind—relevant circuit precedent. The court wrote that given that the DC circuit has already specifically held that Commerce can attach strict liability to the first term in the string of verbs “cause or aid, abet, counsel, command, induce, procure, permit, or approve[,]” 15 C.F.R. Section 764.2(b), there is no basis for the court to hold that Commerce acted ultra vires in attaching that same strict-liability reach to the next two verbs. Further, since FedEx has not shown that its asserted mens rea requirement for aiding and abetting liability was truly settled in the common law at the time the statute was promulgated, or that its common-law meaning fits within this specialized national-security scheme, FedEx’s argument does not come close to satisfying the strict standard for an ultra vires claim. View "Federal Express Corporation v. U.S. Department of Commerce" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the decision of the district court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss this complaint alleging, among other things, an Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs or for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, holding that dismissal was warranted.While he was incarcerated in federal prison and suffering from Hepatitis C, Plaintiff applied to receive treatment with Harvoni. Dr. Jeffrey Allen, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Medical Director, denied the request under BOP's then-operative protocol. Pursuant to later-revised protocol, Plaintiff received treatment, and his Hepatitis C was cured. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Defendant inflicted cruel and unusual punishment upon him by failing to grant his initial treatment request. The district court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss or for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that qualified immunity protected Defendant from Plaintiff's claims. View "Bernier v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Manuel Reynoso was convicted by jury on a gun-possession charge and two drug charges. On appeal, Reynoso challenged his convictions on several grounds. On the same day the district court sentenced Reynoso, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), which established that the felon-in-possession statute required the government to show not only that the defendant knew he possessed a gun but also that he knew he had previously been convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year of imprisonment. Reynoso contended on appeal that his felon-in-possession conviction had to be overturned due to the government’s failure to make the additional showing Rehaif required. Because Reynoso did not raise that argument in the district court, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reviewed his claim for only plain error. After the appellate court heard oral argument in this case, the Supreme Court granted review in another case to consider whether a person might be entitled to plain-error relief on appeal in a case involving a Rehaif error, Greer v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 2090 (2021). Greer held that Rehaif errors at trial normally will not qualify as plain errors of a kind warranting relief in appeals from felon-in-possession convictions. In accordance with Greer, the Court of Appeal concluded the district court’s Rehaif error in this case did not amount to plain error. The Court also rejected Reynoso’s other challenges to his convictions, thus affirming the district court. View "United States v. Reynoso" on Justia Law

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Appellate was sentenced to life in prison in 1979 when he escaped prison and killed a federal officer. After serving more than 40 years of his sentence, he sought parole relief but was denied by the U.S. Parole Commission ("the Commission"). The Commission reasoned that Appellant was a high risk.Appellant sued the Commission, claiming that the Commission violated his due process rights and exceeded its statutory discretion when it denied him parole in 2016. Reaching the merits of Appellant's petition, the district court denied relief. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of Appellant's petition, finding that the district court's jurisdictional analysis was proper and that the Commission did not violate Appellant's rights. View "Artie Dufur v. USPC" on Justia Law