Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court concluded that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' (CCA) denial of petitioner's guilt-phase ineffective assistance claim was not an unreasonable determination of the facts or contrary to clearly established law; federal law does not clearly establish that Alabama's hearsay rules create a due process violation; and the CCA's determination that the prosecution did not shift the burden of proof to petitioner was neither unreasonable nor contrary to clearly established law.In this case, the Rule 32 court's determinations that petitioner's trial counsel's performance was not deficient, and that petitioner could not show prejudice, were not unreasonable. Furthermore, Alabama's application of its hearsay rules to exclude testimony at petitioner's state habeas evidentiary hearing did not violate his due process rights under clearly established federal law. Finally, the prosecutor's comments appeared to concern the failure of the defense to counter the evidence presented by the government, not petitioner's failure to show evidence of his innocence. View "Broadnax v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for premeditated first-degree murder, along with his hard fifty sentence, holding that there was no reversible error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err by telling the venire that the trial was "not a capital punishment case"; (2) the jury instruction on aiding and abetting was both legally and factually appropriate, and therefore, there was no error in submitting this instruction to the jury; (3) the prosecutor committed error in several portions of closing arguments, but the errors did not require reversal, either individually or cumulatively; and (4) the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to depart from the presumptive hard fifty sentence. View "State v. Blevins" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and dismissed in part Defendant's convictions of first-degree felony murder, aggravated kidnapping, abuse of a child, aggravated endangering a child, aggravated assault, and criminal damage to property, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in providing to the jury Instruction No. 15, the jury instruction on aggravated kidnapping with intent to facilitate a crime; (2) Instruction No. 9, the aiding and abetting instruction, did not misstate the law, was legally appropriate, and was constitutional; (3) Defendant's argument that his convictions for felony murder and aggravated child endangerment must be reversed because his convictions for those crimes were logically impossible was without merit; (4) Defendant's constitutional challenge to Kan. Stat. Ann. 22-2302(c) was without merit; (5) assuming without deciding that the prosecutor erred in saying that the victim's eyes were gone, the error was harmless; and (6) Defendant's challenge to the constitutionality of Kan. Stat. Ann. 21-5408(a)(3) is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "State v. Bodine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Defendant's appeal challenging his guilty plea to theft in the second degree, holding that Defendant's challenge to the constitutionality of new legislation limiting his ability to appeal was unavailing.The legislation at issue limits the ability of a defendant to appeal as a matter of right from a conviction following a guilty plea and directs that ineffective assistance of counsel claims be presented and resolved in the first instance in postconviction relief proceedings. On appeal from his conviction of theft in the second degree Defendant argued that the new legislation violated his right to equal protection of then laws and the separation of powers doctrine. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's constitutional challenges failed. View "State v. Tucker" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dissolving the marriage of Daniel Cornwell and Melanie Cornwell, holding that the district court did not err in using the immediate offset method of valuation to value the martial portion of Daniel's pension.Both parties appealed in this case. Daniel argued that the district court erred in using the immediate offset method to value his pension. On cross-appeal, Melanie argued that the district court erred in not awarding her attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion by using the immediate offset method of valuation and to accordingly value and divide the estate; and (2) did not err in not awarding Melanie attorney fees and costs. View "Cornwell v. Cornwell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the allowance of Defendant's motion for a new trial, holding that the evidence supporting the charge of armed home invasion was insufficient to allow a finding beyond a reasonable doubt on each element of the offense.Defendant was convicted of armed home invasion, armed burglary, robbery while armed and masked, and other charges. Defendant later filed a motion for a new trial on the charge of armed home invasion, arguing that there was insufficient evidence that he was armed when he entered the building. The superior court allowed the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed and vacated and set aside Defendant's conviction of armed home invasion, holding that because there was no evidence that Defendant armed himself with a weapon before he entered the building, he could not be convicted of armed home invasion. The Court remanded the matter to the superior court for reconsideration of the sentencing scheme on the remaining convictions. View "Commonwealth v. Tinsley" on Justia Law

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Owens was convicted of five counts of possessing or aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm during a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)), one carjacking, four counts of bank robbery by force or violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. A single section 924(c) conviction carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. Each subsequent 924(c) conviction then (2004) triggered an additional 25 years, even if those convictions were part of a single indictment. If Owens had agreed to cooperate, the government would have allowed him to plead guilty to a single count. After Owens rejected the government’s offers, he was convicted and sentenced to 1260 months.Owens’s co-conspirators pleaded guilty and were sentenced, respectively, to 21 months, 33 months, 39 years, and 25 years of incarceration. In 2019, Owens sought resentencing, noting that he would not be subject to the same lengthy sentence if sentenced today because the First Step Act amended 18 U.S.C. 924(c), so that his sentence would be 25 years. Appointed counsel argued that Owens was punished for going to trial and emphasized his “remarkable” record of rehabilitation. Owens then moved for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1).The district court denied Owens’s motion, concluding that the disparity between Owens's sentence and the sentence that he would receive today was not an “extraordinary and compelling reason” for compassionate release. The court did not consider any other factors. The Sixth Circuit reversed, directing the court to consider whether Owens’s rehabilitative efforts and the lengthy sentence he received because of exercising his right to a trial may, in combination with the First Step Act’s changes, constitute an extraordinary and compelling reason for compassionate release. View "United States v. Owens" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the Court of Appeals’ decision to affirm Kelvin Taylor's two convictions for murder and his conviction for felonious possession of a firearm. Taylor argued the circuit court erred by denying his motions to suppress. Taylor also claimed the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Office obtained an invalid waiver of his Fifth Amendment right to counsel. Though the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court further granted certiorari to correct a statement of the law surrounding waiver of the Fifth Amendment right to counsel contained in the Court of Appeals’ opinion. The Court also briefly addressed a procedural bar to Taylor’s argument that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. View "Taylor v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute between Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (Liberty Mutual), Hill Brothers Construction Company (Hill Brothers) and the Mississippi Transportation Commission (the Commission) regarding a fuel-adjustment clause (the FAC) in a highway-construction contract. In 2019, the Commission successfully moved to alter or amend the circuit court's judgment. The circuit court vacated its prior entry of partial summary judgment in favor of Liberty Mutual on the issue of liability, effectively denying Liberty Mutual's motion for summary judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted Liberty Mutual's petition for interlocutory appeal. The company argued the 2019 order was entered in violation of the Supreme Court's mandate in Hill Brothers I. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred in denying Liberty Mutual's motion on liability. The circuit court's judgement was thus reversed and summary judgment reinstated in favor of the insurance company on the issue of liability. View "Liberty Mutual Insurance Company v. Mississippi Transportation Commission" on Justia Law

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A Milpitas Fire Department captain responded to Nunes’s house one afternoon based on a report of a “whole structure fire.” He saw no fire and no smoke. Neighbors standing outside stated they had recently seen smoke coming from the backyard. A police officer “pounded” on the house’s door. No one answered. The fire captain opened a gate and entered the backyard, where he smelled smoke in the air. He found no active fire but saw test tubes, chemistry equipment, and a homemade toy rocket that looked burned on the ground. The captain noticed a closed shed. No smoke was coming from it, nor did the smell of smoke seem to originate there. He opened the shed “to make sure everything is clear,” and saw a metal cabinet. The captain admitted there was nothing specific about the cabinet that made him think he should look inside: He opened the cabinet, saw unfamiliar bottled chemicals, and called the hazardous materials team.The police ultimately obtained a search warrant, based in part on those chemicals. After the search warrant was executed, Nunes was charged with numerous offenses for possessing explosives and explosive materials. Denying Nunes's motion to suppress evidence, the trial court concluded that the search was valid under the exigent circumstances exception. The court of appeal reversed. Opening the cabinet inside the shed, however prudent and well-intentioned, was not an action necessary to prevent imminent danger. View "People v. Nunes" on Justia Law