Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The DC Circuit vacated the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining four plaintiffs from being executed. Plaintiffs claimed that the 2019 execution protocol and addendum violate the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 (FDPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Controlled Substances Act, and the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. Each member of the panel had a different view of what the FDPA requires. Plaintiffs' primary claim under the FDPA, on which the district court found they were likely to succeed, involves the requirement to implement federal executions in the manner provided by state law. Judge Katsas and Judge Rao both rejected that claim on the merits; Judge Katsas concluded that the FDPA regulates only the top-line choice among execution methods, such as the choice to use lethal injection instead of hanging or electrocution; Judge Rao concluded that the FDPA also requires the federal government to follow execution procedures set forth in state statutes and regulations, but not execution procedures set forth in less formal state execution protocols; and Judge Rao further concluded that the federal protocol allows the federal government to depart from its procedures as necessary to conform to state statutes and regulations. On either of their views, plaintiffs' claim was without merit and the preliminary injunction must be vacated. Plaintiffs contend in the alternative that the federal protocol and addendum reflect an unlawful transfer of authority from the United States Marshals Service to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Judge Katsas would reject the claim on the merits, and Judge Rao would hold that it was forfeited. Judge Katsas and Judge Rao resolved the notice-and-comment claim because it involves purely legal questions intertwined with the merits of the FDPA issues at the center of this appeal. Judge Katsas and Judge Rao concluded, on the merits, that the 2019 protocol and addendum are rules of agency organization, procedure, or practice exempt from the APA's requirements for notice-and-comment rulemaking. Therefore, judgment for the government must be entered on this claim. Finally, the court declined to reject plaintiffs' claims under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Controlled Substances Act. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: Federal Bureau of Prisons Execution Protocol Cases" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a trial court's order suppressing two statements made by defendant Dominic Carrier. The trial court ruled defendant was subject to custodial interrogation at the time he gave the first set of statements, and, because he was not given the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), those statements were obtained in violation of his right against self-incrimination. The court suppressed the second set of statements because it found that the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant gave them voluntarily. After review of the statements and the trial court record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Carrier" on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant Jeremiah Williams guilty of first degree robbery, four counts of making a criminal threat, two counts of forcible rape, sexual penetration by use of force, forcible oral copulation, burglary of an inhabited dwelling, battery and assault, as lesser offenses of sodomy by use of force, assault with a deadly weapon, and false imprisonment by violence. The first eight counts were committed against Jane Doe 1; the remaining counts against Jane Doe 2. The jury found defendant committed all counts but one: forcible sexual offenses against more than one victim. The trial court sentenced defendant to a term of 100 years to life plus 86 years two months. It also imposed a $10,000 restitution fine, and a matching suspended parole revocation restitution fine (and other fees and assessments). Defendant raised six enumerations of error at trial, but finding none, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Schillinger, a Wisconsin prisoner, was assaulted by another inmate as the prisoners were returning to their housing unit after recreation. He suffered a fractured skull, broken teeth, cuts, and other serious injuries. Schillinger sued three guards under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district judge screened the complaint and permitted Schillinger to proceed on a claim that the officers failed to take preventive action after learning of hostility between Schillinger and his attacker during the recreation period shortly before the attack. The judge later ruled that Schillinger had not exhausted his administrative remedies on that claim and entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Schillinger’s arguments that the judge should have gleaned from his complaint two additional factual grounds for a failure-to-protect claim: that the officers did not respond fast enough to an alarm about a medical emergency on his unit once the attack was underway and they stood by without intervening to stop the attack. Upholding the exhaustion ruling, the court reasoned that while Schillinger pursued a complaint through all levels of the prison’s inmate-complaint system, he never mentioned the claim he raised in litigation: that the officers were aware of threatening behavior by the attacker before the assault and failed to protect him. View "Schillinger v. Kiley" on Justia Law

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Russell Craig appealed a trial court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea to murder. In 2006, Craig was charged with murder. A year later, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Craig testified when he arrived at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) he received a case plan stating he was eligible for parole in 20 years based on his life expectancy of 67 years less his then-current age of 44. In 2007 Craig wrote a letter requesting reduction of his sentence. In the letter Craig wrote the district court “Currently on a life sentence [I] have to [s]erve 85 [percent] of 30 years. I would be able to see the p[a]role board in 26.5 years . . . .” The court treated the letter as a motion for reduction of sentence and denied the requested relief. In 2017, the district court clerk sent Craig a letter regarding a statutory change requiring a calculation of life expectancy for life sentences with the possibility of parole. In 2018, Craig filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea because he believed he was eligible for parole after 20 years as outlined on his DOCR case plan which calculated his remaining life expectancy at 23 years, and not 85 percent of his remaining life expectancy of 33.8 years under the State’s calculation based on N.D. Sup.Ct. Admin. R. 51. Craig argues his sentence was illegal, the district court violated the prohibition on ex post facto punishment, and the district court erred by denying Craig’s motion to withdraw his plea. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, finding the evidence established Craig understood his plea deal, including that he had to serve a minimum of 30 years less reduction for good conduct. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding a manifest injustice did not exist. View "North Dakota v. Craig" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Krogstad was convicted by jury of gross sexual imposition on a six-year-old victim. Krogstad argued on appeal that: (1) admission of video of the victim’s forensic interview violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation; (2) the district court abused its discretion in admitting the video under N.D.R.Ev. 803(24); and (3) there was insufficient evidence to sustain the guilty verdict. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "North Dakota v. Krogstad" on Justia Law

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Frank West appealed after he conditionally pled guilty to possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance. West moved to suppress evidence alleging it was obtained during an unconstitutional search. The district court denied his motion holding the search was a valid probationary search and West lost his opportunity to seek suppression because he did not object at the time of the search. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "North Dakota v. West" on Justia Law

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A deputy ran a license plate check and discovered that the truck belonged to Glover, whose driver’s license had been revoked. The deputy stopped the truck, assuming that Glover was driving. Glover was driving and was charged with driving as a habitual violator. The trial court granted his motion to suppress all evidence from the stop. The Kansas Supreme Court agreed that the deputy violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping Glover without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The Supreme Court reversed. When the officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is driving the vehicle, an investigative traffic stop made after running a vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner’s driver’s license has been revoked is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. An officer may initiate a brief investigative traffic stop when he has “a particularized and objective basis” to suspect wrongdoing. The level of suspicion required is less than necessary for probable cause and depends on “the factual and practical considerations of everyday life.” The deputy’s common sense inference that the owner of a vehicle was likely its driver provided reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop. Empirical studies demonstrate that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses frequently continue to drive. Officers, like jurors, may rely on probabilities in the reasonable suspicion context. The presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion but this deputy possessed no information to rebut the reasonable inference that Glover was driving his own truck. View "Kansas v. Glover" on Justia Law

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Marquez Martin was convicted by jury of felony murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting deaths of James Wood and Russell Jacobs. On appeal, Martin contended his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective by failing to object to the trial court’s omission of certain language trial counsel had requested for the jury charge on defendant’s good character. Because Martin has failed to establish that his trial counsel was deficient in not objecting to the omission of the requested language, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, but vacated in part to correct a sentencing error. The trial court sentenced Martin to concurrent life sentences on all four felony murder convictions. But because there were only two murders, it was error for the trial court to sentence Martin on four murder counts. View "Martin v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Gary Ensslin was convicted of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death of Stephen Wills. Ensslin contended on appeal that in denying his motion for new trial, the trial court erred by ruling that the improper admission at his trial of statements that investigators elicited from him after he invoked his right to remain silent was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed Ensslin's convictions. View "Ensslin v. Georgia" on Justia Law