Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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After being spotted in a stolen car, Sanders fled from the police. He led them on a car chase, then on a foot chase. An officer eventually caught up to Sanders, who continued to struggle. An officer then commanded a police dog to bite Sanders’s leg. Sanders was finally subdued and charged with resisting arrest. Sanders ultimately pled “no contest” and filed a civil rights action alleging the use of the police dog was excessive force.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims barred by Heck v. Humphrey, under which a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim must be dismissed if a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence unless the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. While a defendant cannot be convicted of resisting arrest if an officer used excessive force at the time of the acts resulting in the conviction, Sanders could not stipulate to the lawfulness of the dog bite as part of his plea and then use the same act to allege an excessive force claim under section 1983. View "Sanders v. City of Pittsburg" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Demetrulias was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of Miller. Demetrulias claimed that he killed Miller in a struggle initiated by Miller when Demetrulias visited his home to collect a $40 debt. The prosecution maintained that Demetrulias stabbed Miller in the commission of a robbery.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas corpus relief. Even if Demetrulias’s argument that the trial court violated his due process rights by allowing the prosecution to introduce victim character evidence in a preemptive attack on Demetrulias’s assertion of self-defense. is not barred by procedural default, the admission of the statements did not amount to constitutional error. The challenged testimony was brief and non-inflammatory and did not seek to portray Demetrius as evil but portrayed the victims as non-violent, Demetrulias also argued that if the court had given a claim-of-right instruction, the jury would have had a legal basis for finding that Demtrulias intended to collect a debt, not to rob Miller, thereby negating the specific intent to prove robbery, and would have acquitted Demetrulias of the sole special circumstance charge. Any error in failing to give the instruction was harmless as was any error in failing to give a requested instruction of voluntary manslaughter based on heat-of-passion. The California Supreme Court could reasonably have concluded that trial counsel made a reasonable strategic decision in not presenting evidence of organic brain damage and mental health diagnoses. View "Demetrulias v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Google, as required by 18 U.S.C. 2258A(f), reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that Wilson had uploaded images of apparent child pornography to his email account as attachments. No one at Google had opened or viewed Wilson’s attachments; its report was based on an automated assessment that the images Wilson uploaded were the same as images other Google employees had earlier viewed and classified as child pornography. Someone at NCMEC then, also without opening or viewing them, sent Wilson’s email attachments to the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, where an officer viewed the attachments without a warrant. The officer then applied for warrants to search Wilson’s email account and Wilson’s home, describing the attachments in detail in the application.The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of Wilson’s motion to suppress. The government’s warrantless search of Wilson’s email attachments was not justified by the private search exception to the Fourth Amendment. The government search exceeded the scope of the antecedent private search because it allowed the government to learn new, critical information that it used first to obtain a warrant and then to prosecute Wilson; the government agent viewed email attachments even though no Google employee had done so. The government has not established that what a Google employee previously viewed were exact duplicates of Wilson’s images. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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In 2006, a California death row inmate sued, arguing that California’s execution protocol violated the Eighth Amendment. The district court stayed the execution. After the state promulgated a new execution protocol, the District Attorneys of three counties unsuccessfully sought to intervene. While the District Attorneys’ appeal was pending, Governor Newsom withdrew California’s execution protocol and placed a moratorium on executions. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their suit subject to conditions.The Ninth Circuit first held that this appeal was not mooted by Governor Newsom’s Order or by the stipulated dismissal. Nothing prevented Governor Newsom, or a future Governor, from withdrawing the Order and proceeding with preparations for executions. The suit could be revived upon the occurrence of any of three events specified in the Stipulation.The district court properly denied intervention as of right under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a) because the District Attorneys had not shown a significant protectable interest in the litigation. California law does not authorize them to defend constitutional challenges to execution protocols. The litigation concerned only the method by which the state may perform executions. The District Attorneys have neither the authority to choose a method of execution nor to represent the state entity that makes that choice. The district court properly denied permissive intervention under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(b): there was no common question of law or fact between the District Attorneys’ claim or defense and the main action; intervention would delay the already long-drawn-out litigation. View "Cooper v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff and Thunder Studios filed suit against defendants in federal district court, the jury found that defendants committed the tort of stalking under California Civil Code 1708.7. In this case, defendants hired protestors, organized leafletting, hired a van to drive around Los Angeles with a message on its side, and published emails online to make the public aware of their views of plaintiff’s business practices.The Ninth Circuit held that defendants' speech and speech-related conduct was protected under the First Amendment and was therefore excluded from section 1708.7. The panel explained that the First Amendment applied to the speech and speech-related conduct of defendants, who were outside the United States at all relevant times, because their speech and speech-related conduct were directed at and received by California residents. The panel need not, and did not, here consider under what other circumstances a noncitizen living abroad has standing to claim the protections of the First Amendment. The panel also held that none of defendants' conduct constituted a "true threat" outside the protection of the First Amendment. Therefore, because defendants' conduct in California was constitutionally protected under section 1708.7(b)(1), there is no "pattern of conduct" that can support a judgment based on a violation of the California statute. Accordingly, the panel reversed and remanded with instructions. View "Thunder Studios, Inc. v. Kazal" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's jury conviction for two counts of first-degree murder and his capital sentence. The panel applied the deferential standard of review in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and held that the district court properly denied petitioner's claims that his trial counsel was ineffective in not renewing a motion to change venue based on pretrial publicity and in failing to develop additional mitigating evidence. Furthermore, petitioner did not show that the California Supreme Court's denial of his claim that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to renew the change of venue motion after jury selection was an unreasonable application of Strickland v. Washington.The panel granted petitioner's request to expand the certificate of appealability to include his claim that counsel acted ineffectively in not seeking a further continuance to develop additional mitigating evidence for the penalty phase. However, the panel concluded that petitioner has not shown he is entitled to relief under Strickland for counsel's investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence at the penalty phase or for counsel's related determination not to seek a further continuance. Furthermore, even assuming that counsel's performance was constitutionally defective, petitioner cannot show prejudice under AEDPA's deferential standard of review. View "Bolin v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment following a jury trial in an action brought by plaintiff, a California state prisoner, under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against a prison doctor and nurse, alleging claims of deliberate indifference to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from defendants' termination of his prescription for morphine pills without tapering, despite the risk of withdrawal.The panel concluded that the district court's deference instruction, which instructed the jury to defer to defendants' asserted security justification, violated established law under the facts presented and was not harmless. In this case, plaintiff introduced substantial evidence that the prison did not act pursuant to a security-based policy and that the prison had several less drastic alternatives available, including Direct Observation Therapy. Accordingly, the panel remanded for a new trial. View "Coston v. Nangalama" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's first degree murder conviction and death sentence. The panel concluded that the California Supreme Court's conclusion that the Double Jeopardy Clause did not bar further prosecution of petitioner was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law or an unreasonable determination of the facts within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 2254(d).The panel also concluded that the state court's conclusion that petitioner's rights to due process and a reliable penalty determination were not violated by the admission at trial of a videotaped conditional examination of the victim's boyfriend was not an unreasonable determination of facts within the meaning of section 2254(d)(2). The panel further concluded that the state court's conclusion that petitioner's constitutional rights were not violated by testimony at trial regarding certain out-of-court statements was not an unreasonable determination of the facts or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law; the state court's conclusion that petitioner's constitutional rights were not violated by the trial court's exclusion of his videotaped confession at the penalty phase does not warrant relief under section 2254(d); the state court's conclusion that petitioner was not denied his constitutional right to a fundamentally fair sentencing hearing was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent; the state court concluded that petitioner's rights to due process, a fair penalty trial, and a reliable sentence were not violated by the admission of evidence concerning his prior incidents of violence; the state court's rejection of petitioner's challenge to the instructions given to the jury in his case was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law; the state court's rejection of petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on his attorney's concession that petitioner intentionally killed the victim was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying petitioner's request for evidentiary development, discovery, and an evidentiary hearing. View "Jurado v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment denying petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition seeking relief from his first degree murder conviction and death sentence. In light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Flowers v. Mississippi, 139 S. Ct. 2228 (2019), which summarized the factors courts should consider when evaluating a challenge under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), the panel remanded so the district court can apply in the first instance the Supreme Court's guidance in Flowers. The panel resolved remaining issues in a concurrently filed memorandum disposition. View "Ervin v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when, as a condition of his supervised release and while his appeal of his conviction was pending, he was required to complete a sex offender treatment program, and then was discharged from the program and given a limited jail sanction for refusing to admit to the conduct underlying his conviction, a required part of his treatment.The panel held that it was bound by the rule adopted by six justices in Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760, 770 (2003) (plurality opinion), as enunciated in this court's precedent, and consistent with the rule adopted by sister circuits—that the Fifth Amendment is not violated unless and until allegedly coerced statements are used against a suspect in a criminal case. The panel concluded that because plaintiff did not make a statement that was used in a criminal proceeding, he may not bring a civil action against the government under section 1983 for a violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this claim. The panel also affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's claims alleging that the government officials involved in this incident violated plaintiff's Sixth Amendment right to counsel and his First Amendment right to bring a civil lawsuit against the government. View "Chavez v. Robinson" on Justia Law