Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
by
Travis Lester, a convicted felon, was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm after law enforcement officers found a stolen .40 caliber pistol in his motel room. The arrest occurred after Lester violated the terms of his supervised release from a previous conviction for possessing ammunition as a felon. During the arrest, officers found a baggie of crack cocaine and $869 in cash on Lester's person. Lester admitted to having marijuana in his motel room. Based on this information, officers obtained a search warrant for the room, where they found the pistol, a digital scale, and a small bag of marijuana.Prior to his trial, Lester filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the officers' protective sweep of his motel room and his admission about the marijuana, arguing that these violated his Fourth Amendment and Miranda rights. The district court denied this motion, finding that the officers had not violated Lester's rights. At trial, the jury convicted Lester, and the district court sentenced him to 120 months in prison. The court also imposed an additional seventeen-month prison sentence to be served consecutively due to Lester's violation of the supervised-release conditions from his earlier conviction.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Lester argued that his Miranda and Fourth Amendment rights were violated, that there were evidentiary errors, and that there were mistakes in his sentencing. The appellate court disagreed with Lester's claims and affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the officer's question during Lester's arrest was not an interrogation under Miranda, and that the protective sweep of Lester's motel room did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights. The court also found no error in the district court's evidentiary rulings or in its sentencing of Lester. View "United States v. Lester" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around Gregory Rogers, who was convicted of various drug and firearm-related crimes. The evidence leading to his conviction was obtained from his girlfriend's car, where he was found alone in the passenger seat. Rogers claimed that the evidence was collected in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, arguing that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the vehicle.Previously, the trial court had denied Rogers' motion to suppress the evidence. The court ruled that Rogers lacked a legitimate expectation of privacy in the vehicle as he was neither the owner nor the driver of the car and failed to show that he had permission to occupy it. The court also determined that the search was a valid inventory search. After trial, a jury convicted Rogers on all six counts.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision. The court agreed with the trial court that Rogers had no legitimate expectation of privacy in the vehicle. The court noted that Rogers had not exhibited a subjective expectation of privacy. He was neither the owner nor the driver of the vehicle, and he had not shown that he had "complete dominion and control" over the car. The court also noted that Rogers had twice informed the police that the car was not his and had loudly disclaimed his authority over the vehicle. Therefore, the court concluded that Rogers could not establish that the police had violated his Fourth Amendment rights. View "United States v. Rogers" on Justia Law

by
The plaintiffs, Reverend Kenneth Simon, Reverend Lewis W. Macklin, II, and Helen Youngblood, collectively known as the "Simon Parties," filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Redistricting Commission and several of its members. They alleged that Ohio's congressional districts violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Fifteenth Amendment. The Simon Parties requested a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2284, which the Ohio Redistricting Commission opposed, and moved to dismiss the complaint.The district court denied the motion to convene a three-judge court and granted the motions to dismiss. The court also denied all other pending motions. The Simon Parties appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The court found that the district court incorrectly determined that the Simon Parties' Fourteenth Amendment claim did not raise a substantial federal question for jurisdictional purposes. The court stated that the Simon Parties' allegations on this claim were sufficient to establish federal jurisdiction. The court concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction as a single judge to adjudicate any other pending motion because it was required to convene a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2284.The court reversed the district court's order denying the motion for a three-judge court, vacated the district court's orders granting the motions to dismiss and denying the motion for temporary restraining order and motion for class certification, and remanded the case to the district court with instructions for it immediately to initiate the procedures to convene a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2284. View "Simon v. DeWine" on Justia Law

by
In this case, James R. Fouts, the former mayor of Warren, Michigan, brought a lawsuit against defendants including the Warren City Council and the City Election Commission. He claimed that they violated his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by applying a new term-limit provision retroactively, which prevented him from running for a fifth term as the city's mayor. The term-limit provision was part of an amendment to the city’s charter, passed by voters, that limited the eligibility of certain city offices to three complete terms or twelve years. Despite having already served four terms as mayor, Fouts attempted to run for a fifth term in 2023, but was disqualified.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Fouts’ claims. The court held that Fouts did not have a fundamental right to run for public office, and thus his First Amendment rights were not violated. The court also ruled that the term-limit provision did not apply retroactively, as it only prohibited Fouts from running for a fifth term, and did not impose new obligations or deprive him of any existing rights based on his past conduct. Therefore, his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were not violated. Lastly, the court found that Fouts failed to demonstrate that he was intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated without any rational basis, and thus his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights were not violated. View "Fouts v. Warren City Council" on Justia Law

by
The case involved Ricardo Alvarado, who was convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). His crime was reported by officers who responded to a call that a man was carrying what appeared to be a machine gun in a mobile home park. Alvarado was found with a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle, and upon investigation, officers discovered that he had two prior felony convictions. He was sentenced to 104 months' imprisonment, including a four-level sentencing enhancement for reckless endangerment.Alvarado appealed his conviction and sentence. He contended that his conviction violated the Second Amendment based on the standard articulated in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, an issue he raised for the first time on appeal. He also argued that the evidence did not support a sentencing enhancement for reckless endangerment.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed Alvarado’s conviction but vacated his sentence and remanded the case to the district court for resentencing. The court found that the constitutionality of § 922(g)(1) under Bruen was subject to reasonable dispute and would not disturb Alvarado’s conviction on plain error review. However, the court found that the district court erred in applying a sentencing enhancement for reckless endangerment. Without record evidence of anyone in proximity to Alvarado’s line of fire, or otherwise facing an imminent risk of harm, the Government could not satisfy Tennessee’s zone of danger requirement. Consequently, Alvarado's sentence was vacated. View "United States v. Alvarado" on Justia Law

by
In the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Alison Kareem brought a case against the Ohio Secretary of State, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, and the Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney. Kareem challenged two Ohio state election laws, which prohibited her from displaying her marked ballot to others as a violation of her First Amendment rights. Kareem refrained from displaying a photograph of her marked ballot online due to these laws. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, arguing that Kareem lacked Article III standing.The Appeals Court, however, reversed the district court's order and remanded it for further proceedings. The court held that Kareem had demonstrated a credible threat of enforcement of the Ohio laws, which constituted an injury in fact, a requirement for Article III standing. The court found that Kareem's fear of enforcement, given the possible criminal punishment, the defendants' public statements that displaying marked ballots was illegal, and past instances of enforcement, was not merely subjective or self-imposed. The court also found that Kareem's alleged violation of her First Amendment rights was fairly traceable to the defendants and that the relief she requested was likely to remedy her alleged injury, thus meeting the causation and redressability requirements of Article III standing. The court did not rule on the merits of Kareem's First Amendment claims, leaving that for the district court to decide. View "Kareem v. Cuyahoga County Board of Elections" on Justia Law

by
In November 2018, Marlon Johnson was arrested after a vehicle he was driving crashed during a police pursuit. The police found over 1,000 grams of pure methamphetamine and a loaded semiautomatic pistol in the vehicle. A jury convicted Johnson of firearm and drug trafficking offenses, and he was sentenced to 300 months’ imprisonment. Johnson appealed his convictions and sentence on four grounds.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed Johnson's convictions and sentence. Firstly, the court rejected Johnson's claim that his jury was not drawn from a fair cross-section of the community, in violation of the Sixth Amendment and the Jury Selection and Services Act. The court found that Johnson failed to show that the underrepresentation of African Americans in the jury pool was due to systematic exclusion.Secondly, the court dismissed Johnson's claim that his felon-in-possession conviction violated the Second Amendment. The court noted that there was no precedent explicitly holding that the law under which Johnson was convicted, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), was unconstitutional.Thirdly, the court upheld the district court's decision to admit testimony about Johnson's prior drug sales as "res gestae" evidence. This type of evidence is considered to be part of the story of the charged offense and is not subject to Rule 404(b), which generally prohibits the admission of evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts.Finally, the court found that Johnson's sentence of 300 months’ imprisonment was not substantively unreasonable. Johnson had argued that the district court erred in using a 10:1 weight ratio between methamphetamine mixtures and actual methamphetamine to determine the offense level. The court noted that a district court’s use of the 10:1 ratio is a discretionary decision and cannot, by itself, render a criminal sentence invalid. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

by
In the case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the defendant, Robert Whipple, appealed the denial of his motions to suppress evidence. Whipple was charged with bank robbery for three incidents that occurred in March 2020. He claimed that law enforcement violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they subpoenaed Walmart for his purchase history, searched his phone after the expiration of the warrant for his phone, and unlawfully seized his car.The court affirmed the district court's denial of Whipple’s motions to suppress evidence, finding no merit in his claims. The court held that the subpoena for Whipple's specific purchase at Walmart, which was linked to the robbery, did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights. The court concluded that Whipple did not demonstrate a legitimate or reasonable expectation of privacy in his specific purchase and subscriber information. His information was not automatically disclosed; instead, he actively and voluntarily disclosed his information to Walmart, and thus the third-party doctrine applied.Regarding the seizure and subsequent search of his car, the court applied the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, which allows law enforcement to seize and search an automobile where there is probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime will be found in the car. The court held that there was probable cause to believe that Whipple used his car during the bank robberies and that it contained evidence of those crimes.Lastly, the court held that the search of Whipple’s cellphone was not in violation of the Fourth Amendment, despite being conducted after the initial warrant had expired. The court noted that the federal rules of criminal procedure permit law enforcement to conduct searches of lawfully seized phones after they are seized, and a warrant's execution date does not apply to off-site investigation and analysis of a cellphone's contents. View "United States v. Whipple" on Justia Law

by
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the defendant, Thomas O’Lear, was convicted of healthcare fraud, making a false statement in connection with healthcare services, and aggravated identity theft. O’Lear ran a company that provided mobile x-ray services to residents in nursing homes. However, he used the company to defraud Medicare and Medicaid programs by billing for fictitious x-rays using the identities of nursing-home residents. When an audit revealed the fraud, O’Lear attempted to conceal it by forging staff names and duplicating x-rays in the patient files.On appeal, O’Lear raised several questions. Firstly, he questioned whether his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury was violated by excluding individuals who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 from the jury pool. The court ruled that the unvaccinated do not qualify as a “distinctive group” that can trigger Sixth Amendment concerns. Secondly, O’Lear questioned whether the nursing-home residents were “victims” of his fraud under a “vulnerable victims” sentencing enhancement, even though the monetary losses were suffered by Medicare and Medicaid. The court ruled that the residents were indeed victims, as O’Lear had used their identities and health records without their permission, which constituted taking advantage of them.O’Lear also challenged his two aggravated-identity-theft convictions and objected to his 180-month sentence on various grounds, but these arguments were also dismissed by the court. Ultimately, the court affirmed O’Lear's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. O'Lear" on Justia Law

by
In this case, a prisoner named Lyle Heyward filed a complaint alleging that prison officials frustrated his attempts to celebrate Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). He also alleges that officials retaliated against him for filing grievances in violation of the First Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Heyward’s Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) claim, as RLUIPA does not permit money damages claims against state prison officials in their individual capacities, and his requests for injunctive relief were mooted by his transfer to a different prison facility.However, the court reversed the dismissal of Heyward’s First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Guise, finding that Heyward had adequately pleaded a retaliation claim. Specifically, Heyward alleged that after he filed a grievance against Guise, she threatened members of the Cultural Awareness Inmate Group to kick Heyward out of the organization or else the organization would be shut down. The court found these allegations sufficient to suggest that Guise's action was motivated at least in part by Heyward’s grievance-filing.The court also reversed the dismissal of Heyward’s Equal Protection Clause claim against Defendants Cooper, Smith, Davis, and Factor. Heyward alleged these officials treated members of other faith traditions differently than they treated Muslims. The court found that Heyward’s allegations of a facially discriminatory distinction between different religious groups sufficiently alleged an equal-protection violation.The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Heyward v. Cooper" on Justia Law