Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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Adams Outdoor Advertising sought a permit to install a billboard near an interchange on U.S. Route 22 in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation denied the permit because Pennsylvania law prohibits “off-premise” billboards within 500 feet of a highway interchange. Adams challenged the provision as too vague and under the First Amendment because there is no time limit for PennDOT’s decisions on applications. The district court ruled in Adams’ favor on the time-limit claim and entered an injunction barring the enforcement of the permit requirement until PennDOT establishes reasonable time limits on its permit decisions. The court dismissed Adams’ vagueness challenge and First Amendment scrutiny challenge. The Third Circuit agreed that the permit requirement violates the First Amendment because it lacks a reasonable time limit for permit determinations and that the Interchange Prohibition communicates clearly what it prohibits and is not vague. The court reversed in part. While the Interchange Prohibition is not subject to strict scrutiny, the record is insufficient to establish the required reasoning for the prohibition. View "Adams Outdoor Advertising Ltd v. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Married criminal defendants, Hall and Blunt, were convicted of engaging in a scheme to collect unemployment compensation benefits from federal and state agencies by using the identities of military service people. They had been appointed separate defense counsel at the onset of their case, each of whom engaged in extensive motion practice at every stage of the trial proceedings. They sought to be re-tried separately so that they may each have an opportunity to present their cases without any unwarranted constraints. The Third Circuit reversed the denial of their motions for severance. The court noted that Blunt’s testimony resulted in “clear” prejudice against Hall, “both from an emotional and evidentiary standpoint.” Blunt clearly was compelled to waive her privilege and testify in her own defense at trial. She stated in her initial motion for severance that she was being made to choose between preserving her spousal privilege and providing exculpatory testimony on her own behalf. View "United States v. Blunt" on Justia Law

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Police officers kicked down doors of a Camden, New Jersey residence. Hours earlier, Forrest had finished work for a contractor across the street. He went to the residence to speak with acquaintances and was inside, waiting for a cab. According to Forrest, the officers beat threatened him, then took Forrest to the hospital. In the police report, Officer Parry wrote that he had observed Forrest engaging in a hand-to-hand drug transaction, that Forrest initiated the physical altercation with officers, and that Forrest was in possession of 49 bags of a controlled substance. Forrest filed an Internal Affairs complaint in July 2008 but had no response. Forrest pleaded guilty to possession with intent and served 18 months. He was released when Parry admitted that he had falsified the police report. Three officers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deprive individuals of their civil rights, disrupting over 200 criminal cases. Forrest’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1985 was among 89 lawsuits against Camden. Forrest opted out of a global settlement. The district court unilaterally divided Forrest’s municipal liability claim into three theories: failure to supervise through Internal Affairs, failure to supervise, and failure to train. The court associated certain evidence to only the first theory, granted Camden summary judgment on the failure to supervise and train theories, excluded evidence that was material to the remaining theory, and “effectively awarded summary judgment on the state law negligent supervision claim.” The jury instructions confused the relevant law. The Third Circuit vacated. The artificial line, drawn by the district court, between what were ostensibly theories with largely overlapping evidence resulted in erroneous rulings as to what was relevant, and instructions as to what law the jury was to apply. View "Forrest v. Parry" on Justia Law

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In 1993, three men broke into the Connor home. Connor and Ezekiel returned during the break-in; Ezekiel was shot and killed. The intruders fled. Roach was arrested and charged with first-degree murder under Virgin Islands law and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution under federal law. He testified that he did not commit the crime and did not know a possible co-conspirator, Simon. Roach was convicted. Simon was later arrested. The Virgin Islands charged him with burglary, conspiracy, and first-degree premeditated murder. One week before trial, it moved to amend to charge felony-murder, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Simon’s attorney unsuccessfully objected. Two days before trial, the court again permitted an amendment. At trial, the government presented Roach as its key witness. Roach indicated that Simon orchestrated the burglary and shot Ezekiel. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a stipulation to vacate and reduce Roach’s conviction to second-degree murder. The Third Circuit remanded the denial of Simon’s habeas petition. The Superior Court abused its discretion in declining to conduct an evidentiary hearing to address Simon’s claim that the government violated its Brady obligations by failing to disclose a prior agreement with Roach. The Appellate Division erred in dismissing Simon’s claim that his trial counsel was ineffective without remanding for an evidentiary hearing. Simon presented facts that, if true, tend to show his counsel had a conflict of interest by representing a co-conspirator at the time of his trial. View "Simon v. Government of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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Santarelli was convicted of multiple crimes, including mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, and was sentenced to 70 months of imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed. Santarelli’s conviction became final on December 12, 2014. On November 30, 2015, Santarelli timely sought habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2255, alleging ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel in a combined 130 ways, In August 2016, Santarelli sought to amend her initial habeas petition to “include” in the “multiple grounds and constitutional violations . . . that specifically relate to enhancements, sentencing[,] and [S]entencing [G]uidelines.” The district court denied the motion as “time-barred” because the new allegations did not “relate back” to the initial habeas petition pursuant to FRCP 15(c). The court also denied Santarelli’s habeas petition on the merits. The Third Circuit denied a certificate of appealability with respect to the denial of Santarelli’s initial habeas petition on the merits but held that the allegations contained in Santarelli’s Motion to Amend “relate back” to the date of her initial habeas petition under Rule 15(c) and that her Subsequent Petition is not a “second or successive” habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. 2244 and 2255(h). The court remanded for the district court to consider the merits of her initial habeas petition as amended. View "United States v. Santarelli" on Justia Law

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E.D., a female immigration detainee at the Berks County Residential Center Immigration Family Center (BCRC), brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against employee Sharkey, alleging that he violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to bodily integrity after the two had sexual relations. Sharkey’s co-workers and BCRC supervisor allegedly were deliberately indifferent to the violation and Berks County allegedly failed to implement policies to prevent the violating conduct. The District Court denied the defendants’ motion for qualified immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding that immigration detainees are entitled to the same constitutional protections afforded by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as pre-trial detainees and E.D.’s rights were clearly established. There is enough evidence to support an inference that the defendants knew of the risk facing E.D., and that their failure to take additional steps to protect her, acting in their capacity as either a co-worker or supervisor, “could be viewed by a factfinder as the sort of deliberate indifference” to a detainee’s safety that the Constitution forbids. View "E. D. v. Sharkey" on Justia Law

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Greene and his girlfriend, Manley, traveling in a van without its lights on, were stopped by Hanover Township Officer Stefanowicz. Manley was driving, but was unable to produce a driver’s license, vehicle registration, or proof of insurance. She gave Stefanowicz a rental car agreement in the name of Hurtudo-Moreno that listed no other authorized drivers. Stefanowicz smelled unburnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle. Greene was “repeatedly seeking to leave... and reaching for his waistband.” Stefanowicz executed a “Terry” pat-down, and felt a bulge, the seal of a plastic baggie, and the texture of its contents. Stefanowicz immediately recognized the bag as marijuana and placed Greene under arrest. Stefanowicz searched the van and found bullets in the glove box and in Manley’s purse. Walking to the squad car, Greene was bending over and walking in unusual ways. Another officer searched Greene further and located a loaded, stolen handgun in his groin area. The police arrested Manley. Greene expressed concern for Manley and volunteered that he would “take the hit” for the gun. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his suppression motions and his conviction (18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)). Stefanowicz’s response to Greene's question about the charges Manley faced did not constitute the functional equivalent of interrogation. Greene asked for the information; his response was unforeseeable. Stefanowicz’s answer was brief, accurate, and unrelated to the gun and bullets. Greene was not “emotionally upset or overwrought.” The “plain-feel doctrine” permits an officer to seize an object when, given his training and experience, he develops probable cause to believe it is contraband by the time he concludes it is not a weapon and “in a manner consistent with a routine frisk.” View "United States v. Greene" on Justia Law

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Beers was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric inpatient hospital in, 2005, after he told his mother that he was suicidal and put a gun in his mouth. Beers has had no further mental health issues. Beers challenged federal law prohibiting the possession of firearms by anyone who has previously been adjudicated as mentally ill or committed to a mental institution, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(4), arguing that, as applied to him, it violates the Second Amendment. Beers claimed that, although he was previously involuntarily institutionalized, he has since been rehabilitated, which distinguishes his circumstances from those in the historically-barred class. The Third Circuit rejected his arguments, noting that the traditional justification for disarming mentally ill individuals was that they were considered dangerous to themselves and/or to the public at large. Courts are ill-equipped to determine whether any particular individual who was previously deemed mentally ill should have his firearm rights restored. View "Beers v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Trant and Ashby had a heated encounter at a gas station in Bovoni, St. Thomas, that ended with each displaying his pistol. After law enforcement officers looked into these events, Trant was convicted as a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion by granting the government’s motion to re-open its case-in-chief because Trant was not prejudiced. The motion was made before Trant had the opportunity to present his evidence, thereby giving him the opportunity to respond and also limiting any disruption to the proceedings. The court rejected Trant’s argument that the court should have permitted him to question Ashby about his possession of a firearm, suggesting it was probative of Ashby’s character for untruthfulness and necessary for the jury to evaluate Ashby’s credibility. The implausible nature of Ashby’s having an ulterior motive for testifying hardly made it “obvious” that Trant had the right to ask Ashby about the latter’s illegal possession of a firearm. Trant’s conviction was supported by sufficient evidence. View "United States v. Trant" on Justia Law

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The Passaic County Sheriff’s Office hired Tundo and Gilgorri as corrections officers on a trial basis. They were often absent and were frequently reprimanded for insubordination and incompetence. They were fired as part of a mass layoff before they had completed their 12-month trial period. Months later, Passaic County needed more employees. The Civil Service Commission created lists of former officers whom it might rehire, including Tundo and Gilgorri. Passaic County tried to remove the two from the lists based on their work history. The Commission blocked this attempt, restored them to the eligible list, and ordered Passaic County to place them in “a new 12-month working test period.” Passaic County then offered to rehire the two and asked them to complete a re-employment application, which asked them to agree not to sue Passaic County. They refused to complete the application. The Commission then removed them from the list. The Third Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of their 42 U.S.C. 1983 due process claims. The Commission has many ways to take anyone off its lists and did not promise that the two would stay on the lists nor constrain its discretion to remove them. Because there was no mutually explicit understanding that they would stay on the lists, the men had no protected property interest in doing so. View "Tundo v. County of Passaic" on Justia Law