Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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Defendant appealed the district court’s judgment revoking his term of supervised release and sentencing him to a total term of 28 months imprisonment for violations of multiple conditions of his supervised release. On appeal, Defendant challenged his revocation on Specification Four, which alleged that, on May 12, 2019, Defendant committed the state crime of second-degree assault in violation of New York Penal Law Section 120.05(2) by striking his ex-girlfriend (“J.D.”) with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument—namely, a glass bottle.The Second Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Defendant committed Specification Four by a preponderance of the evidence or by finding good cause to admit the out-of-court statement under Rule 32.1(b)(2)(c). In addition, the majority disagreed with the dissent’s conclusion that because the charged supervised release violations subjected Defendant to imprisonment for more than one year based on new conduct for which he was never federally indicted, the violation proceedings constitute a new prosecution that violated Defendant Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. Finally, as to Specification Nine, the court agreed with the parties that the written judgment conflicted with the district court’s oral ruling that the alleged violation had been proven, and that the oral ruling controls. View "United States v. Peguero" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Nassau County (the “County”) and five “John Doe” law enforcement officers (the County and the individuals together, “Defendants”) for alleged constitutional violations arising from their enforcement of New York Penal Law Section 400.00(11)(c). Plaintiff alleged that the County’s policy interpreting and applying Section 400.00(11)(c) is broader than the law itself and unconstitutional as it was applied to him. The district court disagreed finding that the County acted to enforce a mandatory provision of state law and as a result was not a proper defendant under Vives v. City of New York, 524 F.3d 346 (2d Cir. 2008). It granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s First, Second, and Fourth Amendment claims, related Monell claims, and Section 1983 conspiracy claim.   The Second Circuit affirmed in part, except to the extent that it failed to reach an adequate determination on the County’s longarms possession policy, the district court’s order granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court reasoned that in requiring Plaintiff to surrender his longarms after his conviction, Nassau County was reasonably applying state law, not crafting its own independent firearm surrender policy untethered to the Penal Law.  Further, Plaintiff’s Fourth and Second Amendment claims fail because the County is not the proper defendant to Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim and even if the County were the proper defendant to this challenge, it is uncertain that the County “seized” his longarms within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, much less unreasonably seized them. View "Juzumas v. Nassau County" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted of manslaughter for administering a fatal dose of prescription medication to her son. The courtroom was closed to spectators for fifteen minutes, during which the prosecutor addressed a website and an email detailing complaint by Petitioner that her trial was unfair. Petitioner moved to set aside her conviction on the ground that her Sixth Amendment right to a public trial had been violated. The district court, on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, concluded that the Appellate Division had unreasonably applied clearly established federal law in holding that there was no Sixth Amendment violation.   The Second Circuit reversed the district court’s order granting Petitioner’s writ and remanded with instructions to the district court to deny the petition. The court held that the ruling of the New York Appellate Division was not "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”  The court reasoned that Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") claims are "adjudicated on the merits" if the state court ruled on the substance of the claim rather than on a procedural ground. Further, a writ cannot be granted "simply because . . . the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly." The court concluded that based on the relevant Supreme Court decisions, there are at least reasonable arguments supporting the Appellate Division's ruling, which is enough to preclude habeas relief. View "Jordan v. Lamanna" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a federal action against the State of Connecticut, a colonel in his official capacity, and a retired detective in her individual capacity, alleging three constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. Plaintiff alleged that those provisions of Connecticut’s sex offender registration statute that required him to disclose his email address and other internet communication identifiers and periodically to verify his residence violated the First Amendment and the Ex Post Facto Clause. Plaintiff further alleged that the detective engaged in malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment by seeking an arrest warrant for Plaintiff’s alleged failure to disclose one of his email addresses. The district court dismissed all of Plaintiff’s claims.The Second Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of his Post Facto Clause and malicious prosecution claims. The court concluded that the burden of demonstrating that the disclosure requirement satisfied intermediate scrutiny fell on the government and the government must show that the challenged law advances important governmental interests and is narrowly tailored to those interests. The court found that the government did not make the showing.The court further found that because the residence verification provision has not been applied to Plaintiff retroactively, the Ex Post Facto Clause is not implicated. Finally, although the history between Plaintiff and the Sex Offender Registry Unit suggests a motivation to harass him, an officer cannot be liable for a vexatious motivation as long as she acts with arguable probable cause. View "Cornelio v. Connecticut" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder and other offenses in New York state court. During jury selection, Petitioner’s lawyer exercised peremptory strikes against two male jurors, but the prosecutor raised a “reverse-Batson” challenge; which is a claim that the defendant (rather than the prosecution) was using strikes in a discriminatory manner. The state court disallowed the two strikes, and Petitioner was convicted. Petitioner petitioned unsuccessfully for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254 in the United States District Court. On appeal, Petitioner renews his challenge to the state court’s reverse-Batson ruling.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held that it need not determine whether the state court properly applied Batson or erred in disallowing the two peremptory strikes because those claims are not cognizable under Section 2254. The court reasoned that the Supreme Court has held that a state defendant has no freestanding federal constitutional right to peremptory strikes, and so a state court’s mistaken disallowance of such a strike does not, standing alone, form a basis for federal habeas relief. Thus,  any procedural error by the state court in following the three-step Batson framework would not, without more, constitute a violation of a federal constitutional right. View "Murray v. Noeth" on Justia Law

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The court addressed Defendants' appeal of the District Court’s Rule 33 Order. On appeal, the court addressed the district court’s ruling that the information withheld by the prosecution was neither “suppressed” within the meaning of Brady, nor prejudicial, and therefore denied Defendants’ motions. Defendants argue that the withheld information would have supplied impeachment evidence against the government’s witness.The Second Circuit rejected Defendant's claim, finding that there was significant additional evidence against both Defendants, such that simply impeaching the government's witness would not have sufficed to upset the trial verdict. Further, the court found that impeachment based on the withheld information would have been cumulative, and thus non-prejudicial. The court reasoned that “strictly speaking, there is never a real ‘Brady violation’ unless the nondisclosure was so serious that there is a reasonable probability that the suppressed evidence would have produced a different verdict.”The court affirmed the district court’s order denying Defendants’ Rule 33 motions for a new trial. View "U.S. v. Hunter et al." on Justia Law

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A jury convicted defendants for various offenses for their role in a crime syndicate. The court sentenced each defendant to 198 months’ imprisonment. On appeal, the defendants raised various arguments including challenges to the admissibility of certain trial testimony, the correctness of the jury charge, the sufficiency of the Government’s proof, and the lawfulness of their sentences.The court found that the district court did not clearly err in permitting a witness to identify one of the defendants at trial nor did it abuse its discretion in denying defendant's request for an evidentiary hearing. Further, the court declined to address the defendant’s double jeopardy claim. Moreover, the court affirmed the defendants’ RICO convictions and RICO conspiracy convictions. The court further affirmed defendants’ arson and conspiracy to commit arson convictions. Additionally, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in fashioning the defendants' sentences. In sum, the circuit court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "United States v. Gershman" on Justia Law

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Defendants-Appellants the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), the United States Department of State (“DOS”), and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) appealed from three orders of the district court for the Southern District of New York requiring they produce certain documents in response to FOIA requests filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University (“Knight”). The court reasoned that FOIA is premised on “a policy strongly favoring public disclosure of information in the possession of federal agencies.” Halpern v. F.B.I., 181 F.3d 279 (2d Cir. 1999). However, in some circumstances, Congress determined that other interests outweigh the need for transparency. These circumstances are embodied by a limited set of four statutory exemptions from FOIA’s disclosure requirements.Here, the court found that DOS established that the document includes specific guidance to DOS employees on detecting ties to terrorism. Thus, DOS and USCIS properly withheld the first two sets of documents under FOIA Exemption 7(E). However, the court remanded on the ICE issue because the record was unclear regarding whether ICE complied fully with the district court’s order. View "Knight v. USCIS et al." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment as to absolute and qualified immunity in an action raising Fourth Amendment claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court agreed with the district court that absolute prosecutorial immunity did not apply to appellants' participation in obtaining the arrest warrant for plaintiff. The court explained that long-standing precedent makes clear that swearing to an arrest warrant affidavit and executing an arrest are traditional police functions, and performing such functions at the direction of a prosecutor does not transform them into prosecutorial acts protected by absolute immunity.The court also concluded that the district court correctly determined that summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity was unwarranted given the factual disputes here. In this case, the district court identified relevant and exculpatory omissions from the arrest warrant affidavit related to plaintiff's intent and credibility that, construing the evidence in a manner most favorable to plaintiff, could have materially impacted a magistrate judge's determination as to whether probable cause existed for plaintiff's arrest, and such factual issues preclude summary judgment for appellants on the ground of qualified immunity at this stage of litigation. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Napolitano" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint, alleging violations of regulations promulgated pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Plaintiff, who uses a wheelchair and is disabled, did not assert in the complaint that he visited West Point Realty's website with the intention of visiting the hotel run by West Point Realty; rather, he alleged that he frequently visits hotel websites to determine whether those websites comply with ADA regulations. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to allege a concrete injury in fact and therefore lacked standing to assert a claim under the ADA. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by considering only the allegations in plaintiff's complaint when deciding West Point Realty's motion to dismiss. View "Harty v. West Point Realty, Inc." on Justia Law