Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree in violation of W. Va. Code 61-2-1 and arson in the first degree. The trial court sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment for the murder conviction and five years imprisonment for the arson conviction. Defendant appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to support the first degree murder conviction; (2) section 61-2-1 is not unconstitutionally vague; (3) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress; and (4) Defendant's argument that the trial court erred when it denied his post-trial motions was without merit. View "State v. Horn" on Justia Law

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Joseph Jackson, an employee of the Department of Transportation, Division of Highways (DOH), was operating a dump truck and performing clean-up work pursuant to a state of emergency declaration, when he struck Joseph Belcher's automobile. Belcher filed this action against Jackson and the DOH (Defendants), alleging negligence and vicarious liability. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that because Jackson was working as an emergency service worker at the time of the accident, he was entitled to immunity under W. Va. Code 15-5-11(a). The circuit court denied Defendants' motion, concluding that section 15-5-11(a) contemplated exceptions to the immunity that the statute provided to emergency service workers. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 15-5-11(a) operates to provide a limited waiver of the emergency service worker immunity provided by the statute where the emergency service worker is an employee of the State and the recovery sought is confined to "the limits of the State's liability insurance coverage." View "Jackson v. Belcher" on Justia Law

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Respondent was employed by Petitioner. After Respondent was terminated, she filed a complaint with the West Virginia Human Rights Commission alleging that she was unlawfully discriminated against. The director of operations for the Commission issued a finding that no probable cause was found in Respondent's complaint and ordered it dismissed. After the assistant attorney general (Sheridan) conducted an administrative review hearing, the Commission found probable cause was alleged in the complaint. Sheridan then filed a notice of appearance on behalf of Respondent in proceedings before the Commission. Petitioner filed a motion to disqualify Sheridan, arguing that he was conflicted from representing Respondent because he had acted in a judicial capacity while conducting the administrative review. The administrative law judge denied the motion. Petitioner then filed a petition for writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court (1) declined to issue the writ insofar as it requested that Respondent's claims be dismissed; (2) declined to order that a subpoena be issued to allow Petitioner to access documents reviewed during the administrative review; but (3) issued the writ to state that Sheridan could not represent Respondent in proceedings before the Commission. View "State ex rel. Ten S. Mgmt. v. W. Va. Human Rights Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The cases underlying these consolidated appeals involved the purchase of an automobile. Plaintiffs purchased vehicles and signed retail installment contracts with three separate dealers. The dealers assigned their rights in the contract and vehicles to Credit Acceptance Corporation, who financed the purchases. All of the contracts contained arbitration clauses. Plaintiffs later commenced civil actions against Credit Acceptance in circuit court, alleging, inter alia, violations of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection act (WVCCPA). Credit Acceptance filed a motion to compel arbitration and dismiss, which the circuit court denied, finding that the arbitration agreements were unconscionable based upon the unavailability of some of the arbitration forums named therein and because Plaintiffs in the agreements waived their respective rights to a jury trial. The Supreme Court reversed in both of the cases, holding that because one of the arbitration forums named in the arbitration agreements remained available to arbitrate the parties' disputes, and because an arbitration agreement is not unenforceable solely because a party to the contract waives her right to a jury trial, the causes must be remanded for entry of orders compelling arbitration. View "Credit Acceptance Corp. v. Front" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of robbery and convicted to a term of incarceration of ten to twenty years. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court (1) did not err in admitting testimony solicited by the prosecution because the statements did not amount to an improper reference to Defendant's silence post-Miranda warning; (2) did not err in allowing W. Va. R. Evid. 404(b) evidence of a second uncharged bank robbery; (3) did not violate Defendant's Sixth Amendment rights by permitting a police officer to testify about statements made by a witness who did not take the stand at trial because the statements were not introduced to inculpate Defendant and were not testimonial; and (4) did not err in finding that the investigating officer's affidavit was sufficient to establish probable cause for a search warrant. View "State v. Bruffey" on Justia Law

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The grand jury returned an indictment against Defendant charging Defendant with several sexual offenses. Defendant filed a motion to suppress statements to police officers during an interrogation. Before the interrogation, Defendant requested that counsel be appointed to him after his arraignment. Before he had an opportunity to confer with his counsel, however, Defendant was approached by a police officer and asked to sign a waiver of his right to counsel. Defendant signed the waiver and then made inculpatory statements to the police. The circuit court denied the motion to suppress, finding that the interrogation was not conduct in violation of Defendant's right to counsel pursuant to Montejo v. Louisiana. Defendant subsequently pleaded guilty to sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian, or person in a position of trust. On appeal, the West Virginia Supreme Court faced the question of whether it would follow its existing precedent or adopt the conclusions of the U.s. Supreme Court in Montejo. The Supreme Court reversed after declining to adopt Montejo, holding that the circuit court erred by failing to suppress the inculpatory statements made by Defendant. Remanded. View "State v. Bevel" on Justia Law

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Craig Payne died after choking on a hot dog fed to him at a D.E.A.F. Education and Advocacy Focus (DEAF) day rehabilitation center. Following Payne's death, investigations revealed that DEAF suffered from serious deficiencies. DEAF's license was subsequently revoked. Thereafter, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR) issued DEAF a provisional license for six months, after which a regular renewal license was issued. Payne's parents (Respondents) filed suit against certain DHHR employees and agents, alleging the the DHHR defendants were negligent in their licensure of DEAF. The DHHR defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the DHHR defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on Respondents' claims. Remanded. View "W. Va. Dep't of Health & Human Servs. v. Payne" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's conviction on appeal, holding (1) Petitioner relinquished the right to have the jury instructed on the issue of self-defense in the manner he argued on appeal; (2) Petitioner waived his right to claim error in the admission of a prior statement given by Petitioner's son to the police; (3) the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction; (4) the substantial rights of Petitioner were not affected by improper remarks by the prosecutor, and accordingly, there was no plain error; and (5) the circuit court did not err in denying Petitioner's motion for a new trial based on juror misconduct. View "State v. White" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder without a recommendation of mercy. Defendant appealed, arguing that the circuit court committed error by failing to grant Defendant's motion to strike a prospective juror for cause. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Defendant's motion. In so holding, the Court took the opportunity to overrule State v. Phillips, which permitted a new trial whenever a criminal defendant used a peremptory strike to remove a prospective juror that should have been struck for cause, holding (1) a trial court's failure to remove a biased juror from a jury panel does not violate a criminal defendant's right to a trial by an impartial jury if the defendant removes the juror with a peremptory strike; and (2) to obtain a new trial for having used a peremptory strike to remove a biased juror from a jury panel, a criminal defendant must show prejudice. View "State v. Sutherland" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder without a recommendation of mercy and sentenced to life in prison without mercy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err in determining that Defendant's statement to law enforcement should not be suppressed because the prompt presentment statute had not been violated; (2) did not deny Defendant's due process rights when it denied counsel's motion to withdraw based on an asserted conflict of interest, as there was no actual conflict, and Defendant waived the alleged conflict of interest claim; and (3) did not deny Defendant's right to a fair trial based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct due to the prosecutor's comments during closing argument, as the prosecutor's remarks neither clearly prejudiced Defendant nor resulted in manifest injustice. View "State v. Rogers" on Justia Law