Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Officer Dickens submitted an affidavit, seeking a search warrant for 10318 Dove Avenue, a single-family Cleveland residence. Dickens averred that earlier that month a confidential informant disclosed to him that a dealer, Moore, was selling cocaine out of that residence. He described Moore’s race, height, weight, age, and date of birth and disclosed that Moore deployed an extensive electronic surveillance system. Moore had been charged with several past drug crimes, including one prior conviction for drug trafficking. Dickens also described a controlled drug buy between the informant and Moore that occurred earlier that month at the Dove residence, under surveillance. The state court issued the search warrant. Officers detained Moore and found two firearms, two kilograms of cocaine, 100 grams of cocaine base, and materials used to facilitate large-scale drug trafficking. An ATF officer arrived, advised Moore of his Miranda rights, and interviewed Moore.Moore was indicted on five federal counts involving conspiracy, possessing and intending to distribute cocaine and cocaine base, possessing firearms while a felon, and possessing firearms to further a drug trafficking crime. Moore unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the affidavit lacked indicia that the confidential informant was reliable. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Collectively, the information provided demonstrated a fair probability that evidence of drug trafficking would be found at Dove. View "United States v. Moore" on Justia Law

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In 1994, Jarvis was convicted of four counts of armed bank robbery, conspiracy, and five counts of using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 2113, 371, 924(c). The court determined that his first 924(c) firearm conviction generated a statutory minimum sentence of five years and that his other four 924(c) convictions, repeat offenses, were each subject to a statutory minimum of 20 consecutive years and sentenced Jarvis to 85 years plus 11 years on his other convictions. In 2014, the Supreme Court clarified that for aiding-and-abetting liability under 924(c) a defendant must have “advance knowledge” that a firearm would be used. Jarvis successfully moved to have three 924(c) convictions vacated for insufficient evidence of advance knowledge. The district court resentenced Jarvis to five years for his first 924(c) conviction, 20 for his second, and 15 for his other convictions.The 2018 First Step Act amended 924(c), limiting the firearm convictions that count as repeat offenses. Were Jarvis sentenced today, his second 924(c) conviction would generate a statutory minimum of five years. Congress expressly chose not to apply this change to defendants sentenced before the Act's passage, Jarvis moved for a sentence reduction under the “compassionate release” statute, 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), citing as “extraordinary and compelling reasons” the COVID-19 pandemic and the amendments, The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. The statute excludes non-retroactive First Step Act amendments from the category of extraordinary or compelling reasons, whether a defendant relies on the amendments alone or in combination with other factors. View "United States v. Jarvis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court declared the issue of partisan gerrymandering a nonjusticiable political question in “Rucho,” in 2019. Michigan had already established its Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission by ballot initiative in the state’s 2018 general election. The Commission is composed of 13 registered voters: eight who affiliate with the state’s two major political parties (four per party) and five who are unaffiliated with those parties, who must satisfy various eligibility criteria designed to ensure that they lack certain political ties. Plaintiffs are Michigan citizens who allege that they are unconstitutionally excluded from serving on the Commission by its eligibility criteria, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of their complaint. Plaintiffs do not have a federal constitutional right to be considered for the Commission. While at least some of the partisan activities enumerated by the eligibility criteria involve the exercise of constitutionally protected interests, Michigan’s compelling interest in cleansing its redistricting process of partisan influence justifies the limited burden imposed by the eligibility criteria. Although claims of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering may be nonjusticiable, Michigan is free to employ its political process to address the issue head-on. View "Daunt v. Benson" on Justia Law

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In April 2017, a tax foreclosure action was commenced against the then-owner of the Cincinnati property, Davis. The city was named as a defendant. Notice of a May 2018 order for a sheriff’s sale was served on the city on June 1, 2018. During 2017-2018, a building on the property was also the subject of administrative condemnation proceedings. The condemnation decision, dated July 16, 2018, was sent by certified mail to the then-owner, Davis. After the public hearing, but before the decision to demolish the building was made, Plaintiff was the successful bidder at the July 5 sheriff’s sale. A decree confirming the sale entered on July 17. A sheriff’s deed was issued and was recorded in August.Plaintiff was not aware of the demolition decision. On November 14, 2018, the city sent letters to Plaintiff summarizing the public nuisance proceedings and the decision to raze the building, requesting that Plaintiff respond within 10 days The letters were sent via certified mail but were never delivered to Plaintiff. The city made no subsequent efforts to provide notice to Plaintiff.The building was demolished on April 8, 2019. The city demanded $10,515.00 from Plaintiff for the costs of the demolition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of Plaintiff’s claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and for trespass. Plaintiff was provided with “notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances,” of the pendency of the condemnation proceedings. The city did not need to obtain a warrant to demolish a vacant building that had been condemned by administrative proceedings which met due process requirements. View "Keene Group, Inc. v. City of Cincinnati" on Justia Law

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Jacob and Genetta Clark, fundamentalist Christians, believe that their religion requires them to use corporal punishment with their children, ages 16, 14, and 12. Their son went to school with marks from being hit with a belt and reported being abused. Social workers from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) investigated. The children confirmed the use of corporal punishment but stated that they were not abused and felt safe at home.The Clarks allege that they were not timely informed of the first hearing, at which the judge issued an order: “no physical discipline, parents to cooperate w/ CHFS” without making findings of abuse. A judge later told Jacob that he did not have a Fourth Amendment right to stop the CHFS visits and that if he failed to cooperate, the children could be removed. Jacob alleges that the abuse charges continued as retaliation for his videotaping of a home visit. After several months the abuse cases were dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Clarks's Substantive Due Process, Fourth Amendment, First Amendment, and Free Exercise claims. They failed to demonstrate false prosecution. Social workers have absolute immunity for initiating judicial proceedings. While there is a general right to use reasonable corporal punishment at home and in schools, the Clarks offered no authority that imposing corporal punishment that leaves marks is reasonable. Given the existence of a court order, a reasonable social worker in the defendants' position would not have understood that he was violating the Clarks’ Fourth Amendment rights. The Clarks failed to state plausible First Amendment retaliation or Free Exercise claims. View "Clark v. Stone" on Justia Law

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Cuyahoga County planned for CCCC to house detainees and prisoners from nearby communities in exchange for significant payments. CCCC was already severely overcrowded and understaffed. In March 2018, Cleveland transferred inmates to CCCC. In May, the County Council agreed that CCCC’s issues were “mission-critical” but no action was taken.On June 20, 2018, Johnson was detained at CCCC, awaiting trial for petty theft. During intake, a nurse noted that he was “likely a suicide risk" having previously attempted self-harm. No protective action was taken. Days later, Johnson told a nurse that he was “suicidal.” No action was taken. CCCC correctional officers were aware that Johnson was a suicide risk. On June 29, Officers placed Johnson in solitary confinement for allegedly trying to steal food; no one checked on him. That evening, Johnson was found hanging in the cell. CCCC lacked a device for cutting him down. On July 1, Johnson died.The Department of Justice reviewed and reported CCCC's “appalling conditions,” including medical staff lacking proper licenses, mental health appraisals not being conducted in a timely manner, and deliberate use of food deprivation as punishment. CCCC housed 2,420 individuals; its capacity was 1,765. There were 96 correctional officer vacancies.Moderwell sued corrections officers and executives under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted the defendants judgment on Eighth Amendment claims and dismissed an excessive force claim against the executives but concluded that the complaint sufficiently alleged excessive force against the officers and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against the executives. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference claims against the officers rely on the same facts as the excessive force claims, so denying qualified immunity did not impose additional discovery burdens. Whether precedent clearly established a right that was violated by the executives requires factual development. View "Moderwell v. Cuyahoga County" on Justia Law

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Owens was convicted of five counts of possessing or aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm during a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)), one carjacking, four counts of bank robbery by force or violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. A single section 924(c) conviction carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. Each subsequent 924(c) conviction then (2004) triggered an additional 25 years, even if those convictions were part of a single indictment. If Owens had agreed to cooperate, the government would have allowed him to plead guilty to a single count. After Owens rejected the government’s offers, he was convicted and sentenced to 1260 months.Owens’s co-conspirators pleaded guilty and were sentenced, respectively, to 21 months, 33 months, 39 years, and 25 years of incarceration. In 2019, Owens sought resentencing, noting that he would not be subject to the same lengthy sentence if sentenced today because the First Step Act amended 18 U.S.C. 924(c), so that his sentence would be 25 years. Appointed counsel argued that Owens was punished for going to trial and emphasized his “remarkable” record of rehabilitation. Owens then moved for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1).The district court denied Owens’s motion, concluding that the disparity between Owens's sentence and the sentence that he would receive today was not an “extraordinary and compelling reason” for compassionate release. The court did not consider any other factors. The Sixth Circuit reversed, directing the court to consider whether Owens’s rehabilitative efforts and the lengthy sentence he received because of exercising his right to a trial may, in combination with the First Step Act’s changes, constitute an extraordinary and compelling reason for compassionate release. View "United States v. Owens" on Justia Law

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The Prison Litigation Reform Act’s “three-strikes rule,” 28 U.S.C. 1915(g), provides that a prisoner accrues a strike when he brings a frivolous lawsuit. After three strikes, the Act prohibits inmates from filing those lawsuits without paying the initial court fee. Simons, a Michigan prisoner, broke a prison window. Prison officials removed money from his commissary account to make repairs. Simons filed a pro se complaint, targeting this seizure of funds as a violation of state and federal law. The district court allowed Simons to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. 1915(b)(1), then screened Simons’s lawsuit under 28 U.S.C. 1915A and rejected Simons’s federal claims on the merits. The court stated the dismissal would count as a “strike.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Simon’s challenges to the underlying dismissal lacked merit. The court’s “opinion” calling the dismissal a strike is not a judgment, and will not, alone, prohibit Simons from filing a free lawsuit in the future. Section 1915(g) calls on a later court that has before it a civil action brought by the prisoner to engage in a backward-looking inquiry and determine whether the prisoner “on 3 or more prior occasions” has brought an action or appeal that was “dismissed on the grounds that [it was] frivolous, malicious, or fail[ed] to state a claim.” View "Simons v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The government uncovered substantial evidence that Sheckles was a Louisville distributor for a large drug trafficking ring. Sheckles pleaded guilty but reserved the right to appeal the district court’s refusal to suppress much of this evidence.The Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction, rejecting arguments that officers did not have “probable cause” for the warrants to track his phone and search his apartments, engaged in an “unreasonable” “seizure” when they stopped his car and detained him, and engaged in an “unreasonable” “search” when they looked through his storage unit. Information in the officers’ affidavit provided a “substantial basis” for the state judge’s finding that probable cause existed to obtain the phone’s location data. The totality of the circumstances permitted the state judge to find probable cause to search this apartment. Officers at least had a “reasonable suspicion” to initiate the stop, after seeing Sheckles leaving an apartment they were about to search, and the handgun they later discovered gave them probable cause to arrest Sheckles at that point. Handcuffing “does not affect the legitimacy of the Terry stop” as long as the facts justify the precaution. The court concluded that a third party had actual authority to consent to the search of the storage unit. View "United States v. Sheckles" on Justia Law

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Memphis previously maintained an email Media Advisory List to alert members of the media about newsworthy events and activities. The List included Thomas, the founder, editor, and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, an online news website covering issues at “the intersection of poverty, power, and public policy.” Thomas claims that in 2018, she was excluded from the List in retaliation for her news coverage of Mayor Strickland. Thomas alleges that she made multiple requests to be returned to the List and that, at one point, the City’s Chief Communications Officer (Madden) stated: “You have demonstrated, particularly on social media, that you are not objective when it comes to Mayor Strickland.” Thomas’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserted violations of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court dismissed Thomas’ claims against Strickland and Madden on other grounds, and later dismissed as moot her claims against the city, finding that the city had ceased relying upon the List to disseminate media advisories and that the process that led to the new media relations policy was “not ad hoc or discretionary.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The city demonstrated that there is no reasonable expectation that it will re-implement the List and established that its change in media relations policy completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the challenged conduct. The change in media relations policy was “legislative-like.” View "Thomas v. City of Memphis" on Justia Law