Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

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After a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of one count of wanton endangerment and sentenced to a five-year term of imprisonment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not err by denying Petitioner’s motion to suppress evidence taken from his residence because, under the circumstances, the warrantless search of the residence was allowed under the emergency doctrine exception, and even in the absence of exigent circumstances, the police officers were entitled to conduct a protective search; and (2) the circuit court did not err in allowing the jury to hear testimony regarding the out-of-court identification of Petitioner made by the victim. View "State v. Kimble" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was a police officer, and later police chief, employed by the City of Montgomery. In 2011, Petitioner’s employment was terminated. Petitioner filed a complaint against the City and the Mayor (collectively, Respondents), asserting that he was discharged without a pre-termination hearing in violation of W. Va. Code 8-14A-1 and in contravention of public policy because he refused to place a GPS tracking device in another officer’s police car. The circuit court granted Respondents’ motion to dismiss, concluding (1) Petitioner was not entitled to a pre-termination hearing; and (2) Respondents were entitled to qualified immunity because Respondents’ alleged conduct did not violate clearly established laws of which a reasonable official would have known. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) the circuit court properly ruled that Petitioner was not entitled to a pre-termination hearing; but (2) Petitioner’s complaint alleged sufficient facts to support a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of a substantial public policy, and therefore, Respondents were not entitled to qualified immunity from Petitioner’s cause of action for wrongful discharge. View "Brown v. City of Montgomery" on Justia Law

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The West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) revoked the driver’s licenses of Respondents following their arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol. The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) reversed the revocation of Respondents’ driver’s licenses, concluding that the evidence did not establish that Respondents had been lawfully arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. The circuit court denied the DMV’s petitions for judicial review. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for reinstatement of the respective DMV orders revoking Respondents’ driver’s licenses, holding that Respondents were lawfully arrested, and the OAH’s findings to the contrary were clearly wrong. View "Dale v. Odum" on Justia Law

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The Charleston Gazette filed an action against the superintendent of the state police under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking the disclosure of public records from the state police concerning its internal review of complaints made against state police officers. The circuit court dismissed the complaint with prejudice, finding that the information sought by the Gazette was statutorily exempt from disclosure. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in determining that none of the information sought by the Gazette was subject to disclosure. Remanded to the circuit court to review the disputed documents and to determine what information was subject to disclosure under the FOIA. View "Charleston Gazette v. Smithers" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree robbery and conspiracy and sentenced to serve fifty-two to sixty years in prison. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress. The Supreme Court issued a Memorandum Decision holding Defendant's appeal in abeyance to permit the circuit court to enter an order on the issues of whether the Drug Enforcement administration (DEA) properly issued an administrative subpoena to obtain Defendant's cellular phone records and whether the DEA properly released that information with members of the police department. On remand, the circuit court entered an amended order denying Defendant's motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's amended order denying Defendant's motion to suppress, holding (1) the police department acted improperly toward the DEA in obtaining Defendant's phone records; (2) Defendant had no constitutionally protected legitimate expectation of privacy in his phone records, and thus, the exclusionary rule did not apply in this case; and (3) Defendant did not have standing to question the validity of the subpoena in a state court proceeding. View "State v. Clark" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and first degree arson involving a fire that killed his girlfriend. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility for parole on the murder conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence, holding, inter alia, that (1) no error was committed in the way the preliminary hearing was conducted; (2) the circuit court did not err in striking a witness' testimony; (3) the circuit court did not err in denying a mistrial after a witness' testimony was found to be incorrect; (4) the circuit court did not err in allowing into evidence Defendant's statements to law enforcement that were given without Miranda warnings; (4) the circuit court did not err in failing to dismiss the indictment because of spoliation of evidence; and (5) Petitioner's decision to testify on his on behalf was not coerced by the trial court. View "State v. Davis" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder. Petitioner appealed his conviction, but the Supreme Court refused the request to hear the appeal. Petitioner subsequently filed a request for habeas corpus relief, alleging that both his trial counsel and his appellate counsel were ineffective. The circuit court denied the requested habeas relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not err in finding that trial counsel effectively represented Petitioner; and (2) the circuit court did not err in denying habeas corpus relief on the ground of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. View "State ex rel. Adkins v. Dingus" on Justia Law

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Petitioners in these two consolidated appeals were convicted of sexual-related offenses. Both Petitioners were sentenced pursuant to section W. Va. Code 62-12-26, which provides for extended supervision of certain sex offenders. In each case, the lower courts modified Petitioners' supervised release and imposed additional sanctions pursuant to section 62-12-26(g)(3). The primary issue in the appeals was the constitutionality of the portion of section 62-12-26 that permits the revocation of supervised release and additional incarceration when a sex offender violates a condition of supervised release. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts' orders in each case, holding (1) section 62-12-26(g)(3) does not violate constitutional principles of due process, equal protection, and double jeopardy; and (2) Petitioners' post-revocation sanctions were not constitutionally disproportionate to their underlying convictions. View "State v. Hargus" on Justia Law

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Petitioners in these combined cases were former public employees who filed actions in the circuit court alleging violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act (WVHRA). The circuit courts dismissed the complaints for Petitioners' failures to exhaust their administrative remedies, concluding that the exhaustion of administrative remedies available pursuant to the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Procedure was a necessary precondition to the filing of a circuit court action. The Supreme Court reversed the rulings of the circuit courts, holding (1) a public employee, whose employment confers grievance rights before the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board, is not required to exhaust the administrative Grievance Procedure before initiating a complaint in the circuit court alleging violations of the WVHRA; and (2) the commencement of the Grievance Procedure does not preclude the institution of a circuit court action prior to exhaustion of the Grievance Procedure. Remanded. View "Weimer v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence, holding (1) Defendant's recorded confession was not obtained in violation of his right to be promptly presented before a magistrate following his arrest, and therefore, the trial court did not err by not suppressing the confession; (2) the trial court did not deny Defendant a theory of defense by refusing to give an insanity instruction; (3) W. Va. Code 62-3-15 is not unconstitutional; and (4) the trial court did not commit reversible error in instructing the jury on the use of notes and note taking. View "State v. Flournoy" on Justia Law