Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Defendant appealed his conviction on 47 counts related to his role in smuggling aliens into the United States. Defendant raised five discrete issues on appeal: (1) whether the Government’s delay in securing his extradition violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial; (2) whether the indictment was multiplicitous and insufficiently specific; (3) whether the district court erroneously admitted evidence of an uncharged alien-smuggling venture and his sexual abuse of migrants; (4) whether the evidence was insufficient to convict on a charge of smuggling an alien previously convicted of an aggravated felony; and (5) whether the district court erred in applying sentencing enhancements because the Government didn’t offer credible testimony supporting them.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the Defendant’s conviction. The court held that Defendant’s speedy-trial claim fails because he can’t establish that all of the first three Barker factors weigh heavily against the Government, and he hasn’t argued actual prejudice.Next, Defendant’s indictment wasn’t impermissibly multiplicitous in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Further, Defendant’s indictment was not insufficiently specific. Moreover, the court held that the district court didn’t plainly err in admitting evidence of Defendant’s abuse of migrant women and evidence of an uncharged alien-smuggling conspiracy. The court wrote that, notwithstanding Federal Rule of Evidence 403, Defendant’s abuse of the migrants was probative of his intent to smuggle them into the United States. Finally, the court held that the district court properly applied the dangerous-weapon enhancement. View "USA v. Michael Stapleton" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. After pulling Defendant over in a rental vehicle for running a stop sign and arresting him for resisting, the Tampa Police Department (“Tampa PD”) conducted an inventory search of the vehicle and located a loaded firearm belonging to him. Defendant challenged the constitutionality of the search in the district court and moved to suppress the gun, but the court found that Defendant did not have Fourth Amendment standing to do so because his license was suspended and he was not an authorized driver on the rental car agreement.   On appeal, Defendant argued that driving with a suspended license does not prohibit him from establishing Fourth Amendment standing. He further asserted that the inventory search violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the government failed to demonstrate that the search complied with department policy.   The Eleventh Circuit concluded that Defendant has standing to challenge the inventory search; nonetheless, it affirmed the district court’s denial of his suppression motion on the basis that the inventory search was lawful. The court explained that Defendant’s conduct of operating a rental vehicle without a license and without authorization from the rental company, without more, did not defeat his reasonable expectation of privacy giving rise to Fourth Amendment standing to challenge the search. However, the district court did not err in finding that the Tampa PD performed a permissible impound and inventory of Defendant’s vehicle because the record supports that it was conducted in accordance with the Department’s standard operating procedures. View "USA v. Devon Cohen" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was imprisoned at Hays State Prison after he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. While he lived there, Plaintiff killed another inmate by stabbing him with a knife during a fight. Plaintiff disagreed with prison policy regarding shower security. Plaintiff believed that the restrictions infringed his constitutional rights.   To challenge these policies and raise a host of other complaints, Plaintiff sued several prison officials under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. Section 2000cc–1, and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, seeking declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. In his complaint, Plaintiff claimed that the shower policies intruded on his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment to the prison officials on his shower policy claims.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The court explained to test whether a state prison regulation violates an inmate’s constitutional rights, courts ask whether the regulation is reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. That inquiry is intended to ensure that prison officials respect constitutional boundaries without frustrating their efforts to fulfill the difficult responsibility of prison administration.   Here, although the inmate suggests ways the prison could make an exception to accommodate his religious requests, he does not show that the policies were unconstitutional in the first place. And even if they were, qualified immunity would protect the officials because the types of shower rights the inmate seeks are not clearly established. View "Hjalmar Rodriguez, Jr. v. Edward H. Burnside, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff wanted to share his religious message on the public streets and sidewalks of Fort Myers Beach, Florida (“the Town”). However, to reduce visual blight and increase traffic safety, Chapter 30 of the Town’s Land Development Code (hereinafter, “the Ordinance”) prescribed an elaborate permitting scheme for all signs to be displayed within the Town. Among other things, the Ordinance has entirely prohibited some categories of signs, including portable signs. Plaintiff carried a portable sign to spread his message and, after receiving a written warning, the Town issued him a citation. He sued the Town and the officers who cited him in their individual and official capacities for declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, alleging violations of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and Florida’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The district court denied Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding that the Ordinance’s ban on portable signs was content-neutral and narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the judgment. The court explained that the Town’s complete ban on all portable signs carried in all locations almost surely violates the First Amendment. The court wrote that the most natural reading of the Ordinance leads to the conclusion that all portable signs are banned--regardless of whether they are political, religious, advertising a garage sale, or an open house. The Ordinance’s ban on portable signs is content-neutral. But portable, handheld signs still are a rich part of the American political tradition and are one of the most common methods of free expression. The ban on these signs leaves the residents without an effective alternative channel of communication. View "Adam Lacroix v. Town of Fort Myers Beach, Florida, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs accused the City of Doraville, Georgia, of violating their right to due process. Each of the four Plaintiffs received citations from the City for traffic or property code violations and were ordered to pay fines and fees by the municipal court. They allege that this process presented an unconstitutional risk of bias because the City’s budget heavily relies on fines and fees, and this reliance could encourage the judge, prosecutor, and law enforcement agents—all paid by the City—to overzealously enforce the law. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that Doraville’s prosecutor has a financial incentive to bring more cases because, like the judge, his income supposedly depends on his ability to generate revenue for the City.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City finding that Plaintiffs have not raised a genuine issue of material fact concerning the bias of Doraville’s judge, its prosecutor, its police, or its code enforcement agents. The court held while unwise for a government to rely on fines and fees to balance its budget, the importance of fines and fees to a city’s budget does not make its procedures for imposing fines and fees unconstitutional.   The court explained that the fact a judge works for a government, which gets a significant portion of its revenues from fines and fees, is not enough to establish an unconstitutional risk of bias on the part of the judge. Further, given the relaxed standard of impartiality for prosecutors, Plaintiffs have presented inadequate evidence that the prosecutor had a personal financial interest. View "Hilda Brucker, et al. v. City of Doraville" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 action against several DeKalb County, Georgia investigators, alleging that they violated his constitutional rights during his arrest. Plaintiff claimed that S.D. used excessive force when he shot him three times, that V.J. used excessive force when he pistol-whipped him, and that all three Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on every claim.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for V.J. on the pistol-whip claim. But affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for S.D. on the shooting claim and for all Defendants on the deprivation of medical care claim.   The court held that V.J. used excessive force in pistol-whipping Plaintiff and that Plaintiff’s right to be free of V.J.’s use of force was clearly established at the time. Further, viewing the facts through the appropriate lens, V.J. could not have reasonably believed that Plaintiff was resisting when he tried to sit up after communicating that he needed to do so to breathe. And because “a handcuffed, non-resisting [suspect’s] right to be free from excessive force was clearly established” at the time, V.J is not entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff’s excessive force claim against him.   Finally, even though Plaintiff met his burden that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights, the court concluded that there was no established law on how long before officers must request medical care for a suspect that has been shot to constitute deliberate indifference. View "Nicholas C. Wade v. Solomon Daniels, et al." on Justia Law

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In Defendant’s presentence investigation report (“PSI”), the probation officer determined that Jackson’s prior criminal history qualified him for an Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) sentencing enhancement. ACCA applies to a conviction under 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g) for firearm possession by a prohibited person if the defendant has three qualifying convictions for “a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another.” 18 U.S.C. Section 924(e)(1). Based on that conclusion, it sentenced Defendant to ACCA’s mandated fifteen-year minimum.   The Eleventh Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence. The court held that due-process fair-notice considerations require the court to apply the Controlled Substance Act Schedules in place when Defendant committed the offense for which he is being sentenced. At the times of Defendant’s cocaine-related prior offenses for which he sustained convictions under Fla. Stat. Section 893.13, the cocaine-related activity Section 893.13 criminalized categorically included activity involving ioflupane. Further, At the times of Defendant's prior cocaine-related state convictions, Fla. Stat. Section 893.13(a)(1)’s controlled-substance element was broader for cocaine-related offenses than ACCA’s “serious drug offense” definition, so Defendant’s 1998 and 2004 cocaine-related convictions do not qualify as “serious drug offense[s].” The two Smith cases, Shular, and McNeill do not require the conclusion that Defendant’s prior cocaine-related convictions qualify as “serious drug offense[s].” Thus, because Defendant’s cocaine-related Section 893.13 offenses do not qualify as “serious drug offenses” under ACCA, the court vacated his sentence and remanded to the district court for sentencing without the ACCA enhancement. View "USA v. Eugene Jackson" on Justia Law

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The appeals at issue involve two conceptually different causes of action against separate Defendants. These claims were pled together and tried to a jury empaneled for each claim. In one claim, Plaintiff, an at-will employee of a sheriff’s office, sued the sheriff, alleging that he made false and stigmatizing statements in terminating her employment that deprived her of a liberty interest in her reputation without affording her a post-termination hearing to clear her name in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the other claim, Plaintiff alleged that a sheriff’s office co-employee, whom she supervised, defamed her in violation of state tort law. The jury found for Plaintiff on both claims. Defendants’ appealed the judgments entered pursuant to the jury’s verdicts in No. 18-14808. In No. 19-13269, the sheriff appealed the judgment awarding Plaintiff an attorney’s fee on the claim brought against him.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the judgment in No. 18-14808 and vacated and remand for further proceedings the judgment for attorney’s fee in No. 19-13269. The court held that because the defamation claim and the due process claim are unrelated, it was an error for the district court to consider the hours expended on the defamation claim in determining the lodestar. The court explained that Plaintiff had the burden of establishing the hours her attorneys spent in preparing for and prosecuting her due process claim against the Sheriff. Thus on remand, the district court must hold Plaintiff to her burden of proof so that it can identify the non-compensable hours and adjust the lodestar accordingly. View "Jacquelyn Johnston v. Gary S. Borders, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant was arrested and indicted under 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(5)(A), which prohibits an alien who "is illegally or unlawfully in the United States" from possessing a firearm. Defendant did not dispute that he possessed a firearm, but filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, claiming Section 922(g)(5)(A) violated his Second Amendment rights. The district court denied Defendant's motion, ultimately convicting him after a bench trial.Defendant appealed, arguing that because he lived in the United State prior to his arrest, he was among "the people" protected by the Second Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit rejected Defendant's argument, holding that the Second Amendment does not apply to all citizens. Under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Second Amendment confers the right to gun ownership to individuals, not collectively. Thus, certain groups of people are constitutionally deprived of the right to own or possess a gun. Based on the Eleventh Circuit's "'examination of a variety of legal and other sources' from the Founding era," aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States are among those who are constitutionally restricted from owning or possessing a firearm. View "USA v. Ignacio Jimenez-Shilon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (together, “NetChoice”)—are trade associations that represent internet and social-media companies. They sued the Florida officials charged with enforcing S.B. 7072 under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. They sought to enjoin enforcement of Sections 106.072 and 501.2041 on a number of grounds, including, that the law’s provisions (1) violate the social-media companies’ right to free speech under the First Amendment and (2) are preempted by federal law.   The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it preliminarily enjoined those provisions of S.B. 7072 that are substantially likely to violate the First Amendment. But the district court did abuse its discretion when it enjoined provisions of S.B. 7072 that aren’t likely unconstitutional.   The court reasoned that it is substantially likely that social-media companies—even the biggest ones—are “private actors” whose rights the First Amendment protects, that their so-called “content-moderation” decisions constitute protected exercises of editorial judgment and that the provisions of the new Florida law that restrict large platforms’ ability to engage in content moderation unconstitutionally burden that prerogative. The court further concluded that it is substantially likely that one of the law’s particularly onerous disclosure provisions—which would require covered platforms to provide a “thorough rationale” for each and every content-moderation decision they make—violates the First Amendment. However, because it is unlikely that the law’s remaining disclosure provisions violate the First Amendment, the companies are not entitled to preliminary injunctive relief with respect to them. View "NetChoice, LLC, et al. v. Attorney General, State of Florida, et al." on Justia Law