Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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Defendant believes that the statute criminalizing reentry into this country after removal violates his equal-protection rights. See 8 U.S.C. Section 1326(a), (b). He did not raise this issue before the district court. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and denied the pending motion for judicial notice.   The court explained that even constitutional arguments can be forfeited. Forfeiture occurs when a party has an argument available but fails to assert it in time. The court wrote that failure to raise an equal-protection challenge before the district court is a classic example of forfeiture. During the six months before he pleaded guilty, Defendant filed more than a dozen motions raising all sorts of issues, but not one of them questioned the constitutionality of the illegal-reentry statute or mentioned equal protection. Had he done so, the district court would have had an opportunity to potentially correct or avoid the alleged] mistake in the first place.   The court explained that under these circumstances, Defendant’s constitutional argument receives, at most, plain-error review. Here, to succeed, Defendant’ had to show, among other things, that there was a clear or obvious error under current law. In this case, there is one district court case on his side, see Carillo-Lopez, 555 F. Supp. 3d at 1001, but at most it shows that the issue is subject to reasonable dispute. The court explained that picking one side of a reasonable dispute cannot be clearly or obviously wrong. View "United States v. Salvador Nunez-Hernandez" on Justia Law

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Nebraska requires persons who enter the State to register as sex offenders in Nebraska if they are obliged to register as sex offenders by another jurisdiction. This requirement applies to persons who committed their offenses as juveniles. Four Nebraska residents who committed sex offenses in other States as juveniles brought this action. They alleged that the registration requirement violated their rights to travel and to equal protection of the laws, because Nebraska does not impose a comparable requirement for persons who committed offenses as juveniles in Nebraska. The district court concluded that the registration requirement did not implicate the sex offenders’ right to travel, and that the requirement was rational and consistent with equal protection.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Nebraska has a legitimate interest in public safety and in limiting the number of potentially dangerous sex offenders who can avoid its registry. In furtherance of this interest, Nebraska requires offenders who must register in another State to register in Nebraska. The Does suggest that Nebraska should be required to conduct a “substantial equivalence” analysis for offenders who are required to register in another jurisdiction, and to eliminate the registration requirement for those whose offenses are not substantially equivalent to a Nebraska registration offense. But in opting to perform an intensive “substantial equivalence” inquiry only for offenders who are not required to register in another jurisdiction, the State permissibly chose to limit the resources devoted to individualized consideration. View "John Doe, I v. Doug Peterson" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed after a jury convicted him of abusive sexual contact of a minor. Defendant contends the evidence was insufficient to establish the offense occurred in Indian Country, that the district court erred by admitting uncharged conduct as propensity evidence, and that the use of acquitted conduct to increase his sentence violated his constitutional rights.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained Major Crimes Act gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over certain crimes committed by an Indian within Indian Country, including abusive sexual contact. Here, the deputy superintendent of the trust for the BIA’s Yankton Agency with nearly 32 years of experience, testified that the tract was part of the Yankton Sioux Reservation in 2006. Accordingly, the court held that it would not disturb the conviction because the deputy’s testimony provided a reasonable basis for the jury to find the offense occurred in Indian Country. Further, the court wrote that in affording great weight to the district court’s balancing, it found no abuse of discretion in admitting the evidence under Rules 413 and 414. View "United States v. Frank Sanchez" on Justia Law

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The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation took full custody of a young girl, A.A.R., from her parents and placed her at the Dakota Boys & Girls Ranch, a private psychiatric facility. After only a few months there, A.A.R. committed suicide. Her parents sued the Ranch and its employees under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The district court dismissed the Complaint, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to state a plausible claim that the Defendants were state actors under Section 1983.   The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court held that when North Dakota took custody of A.A.R., it had a constitutional duty to provide adequate medical care to her. The court explained that Plaintiffs were legally required to comply with DJS’s choices and could not remove her from the Ranch The district court violated the motion-to-dismiss standard when it concluded that the Complaint, read in conjunction with the May 2018 Order, contains “no factual allegations that the only medical care A.A.R. could have received was that provided by the State of North Dakota.” Further, assuming North Dakota’s constitutional obligation to provide A.A.R.’s medical treatment, the Ranch became a state actor. Thus Plaintiffs state a plausible claim against it under Section 1983. The court further explained that Plaintiffs also state a plausible claim against the Ranch’s employees. Defendants do not contest that a finding of state action by the Ranch establishes state action by its employees. Because Plaintiffs plausibly allege the Ranch was a state actor, its employees were too. View "Manda Roberson v. The Dakota Boys & Girls Ranch" on Justia Law

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Defendant drove drunk through the White Earth Indian Reservation. Local residents tried to stop him, but he struck and pinned one of them, N.V., under his car. A jury convicted Defendant of assault with a dangerous weapon and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. The district court varied upward from the Guidelines and sentenced Defendant to 80 months on each count, to run consecutively.   Defendant appealed, arguing that: (1) he was too drunk to have the specific intent to assault N.V.; (2) he ran over N.V. in self-defense; (3) his convictions violate the Double Jeopardy clause; and (4) his sentence was substantively unreasonable. Because those arguments are meritless.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that there was enough evidence for a reasonable factfinder to conclude that Defendant intended to assault N.V. The jury’s verdict was supported by evidence that: Defendant aimed his car at local residents; he attempted to jump the curb three times; he stomped on N.V.’s head after hitting him with his car, and police described his responses afterward as logical. Further, the court wrote that the jury had significant evidence that Defedenadnt was not acting in self-defense. Moreover, the court explained that Defendant’s Double Jeopardy clause argument is foreclosed by both Supreme Court and Eighth Circuit precedent. Finally, the court saw no abuse of discretion in the district court’s sentence. View "United States v. Kevin Doerr" on Justia Law

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Appellant filed a pro se motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 2255, asserting that his 2000 Illinois state conviction could not qualify as a prior felony drug offense under 21 U.S.C. Section 851. The district court denied Appellant the requested post-conviction relief because of his untimely filing, but it granted a certificate of appealability on the issue of whether Appellant’s Section 2255 motion is time-barred under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).The Eighth Circuit affirmed finding that Appellant failed to demonstrate the diligence required for equitable tolling. The court concluded that Appellant’s Section 2255 motion is time-barred and equitable tolling is not appropriate because Appellant failed to allege facts showing that circumstances beyond his control at the prison prevented him from timely seeking relief. The court explained it need not address whether the motion is procedurally defaulted. The court also rejected Appellant’s argument that finding his motion time-barred under Section 2255(f) poses a problem under the Suspension Clause. View "Clifton Odie v. United States" on Justia Law

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Brothers and Sisters in Christ, LLC (BASIC) allege that Zazzle, Inc. sold a t-shirt that infringed on BASIC’s federal trademark. The district court granted Zazzle’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that BASIC bears the burden of establishing a prima facie showing of jurisdiction. Further, where the applicable federal statute, here the Lanham Act, does not authorize nationwide personal jurisdiction the existence of personal jurisdiction depends on the long-arm statute of the forum state and the federal Due Process Clause.   Here, the court looked to Zazzle’s contacts with Missouri related to BASIC’s claims. Aside from the single t-shirt sale, BASIC fails to allege a connection between Zazzle’s other contacts with Missouri and the underlying suit. BASIC does not allege that Zazzle’s other activities in Missouri involved trademark infringement or that Zazzle sold additional trademark-infringing goods into the state. Further, BASIC has not alleged that Zazzle took such purposeful, targeted action toward Missouri or Missouri consumers. Although Missouri has an interest in this litigation because the allegedly injured plaintiff is a Missouri company, the convenience of the parties is neutral, as Zazzle would be inconvenienced by litigation in Missouri and BASIC would likely be inconvenienced in an alternate forum. In sum, BASIC has failed to allege that Zazzle could reasonably anticipate being haled into court in Missouri. View "Brothers and Sisters in Christ v. Zazzle, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was severely injured when his motorcycle crashed into a police SUV while he was fleeing from police. Plaintiff sued the City of Plumerville, Arkansas (the “City”), and its police officer for use of excessive force. The district court granted summary judgment to the City and the officer.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that claims against local police for excessive force during a seizure are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness standard. The court wrote it consistently held deadly force is not unreasonable where an officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or others. The court held that the undisputed evidence reveals that the police officer had probable cause to believe Plaintiff’s flight threatened the lives of innocent bystanders as well as police. Accordingly, the court held that the officer’s actions were reasonable. Moreover, the court found that the severity of the officer’s use of force was mitigated by the opportunity the officer gave Plaintiff to avoid the collision.   Finally, the court explained that it assesses the reasonableness of deadly force for Fourth Amendment purposes from the seizing officer’s perspective at the time of the incident. The court found that based on the police officer’s knowledge at the time when he was forced to make a quick judgment, the court concluded the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness standard gave the officer more leeway than would have the Morrilton police officers. View "Christopher Lankford v. City of Plumerville, Arkansas" on Justia Law

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This case involves allegations that a teacher restrained, secluded, and abused her students as a teacher in a special education classroom. The students’ parents sued the teacher, along with Aberdeen School District (“ASD”) and a host of its administrative officials, on their children’s behalf under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The district court denied the teacher’s assertion of qualified immunity from claims for infringing the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of three students, identified as A.A., B.B., and C.C.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of qualified immunity for the teacher on the students’ Fourth Amendment claims to the extent held above. In all other respects, the court reversed the denial of qualified immunity for the teacher and the remaining ASD officials. The court explained that it found four violations of clearly established Fourth Amendment rights: (1) secluding A.A. in the little room before February 4, 2016; (2) secluding B.B. in the calm-down corner using dividers; (3) grabbing B.B.’s arms to push him into the swimming pool; and (4) pinning C.C. down to strip his clothes off. The teacher is not entitled to qualified immunity for those violations but is for all other unreasonable seizure allegations. However, the court wrote, the remaining generalized assertions of physical and verbal abuse fail to meet the high bar required for a substantive due process violation. View "Jane Doe v. Becky Guffin" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sections  841(a)(1) and 846. He appealed the district court’s denials of his motion to suppress evidence, his motion to strike a juror for cause, and his motion to admit a portion of a video recording.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions. Defendant argued that the seizure and detention of the lockboxes was unreasonable under United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696 (1983). But “Place had nothing to do with the automobile exception and is inapposite.” See Acevedo, 500 U.S. at 578 (noting that the Supreme Court has consistently “explained that automobile searches differ from other searches” and has denied the applicability of cases that “do not concern automobiles or the automobile exception” to cases involving the automobile exception). Therefore, the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress. Further, the court wrote there was no abuse of discretion because the juror stated that she could remain fair and would listen to the detective’s testimony before deciding if she believed it. Finally, Defendant claimed that the “partial recording and the Government’s characterization of it . . . gave a misleading and unfair understanding of the meaning of Defendant’s statement to the jury.” But he offers no explanation of how the recording was misleading. View "United States v. Shaun Farrington" on Justia Law