Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Georgia district attorney and others under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that defendants conspired to violate his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff, employed as the director of the police department's crime lab, was terminated from his position after the district attorney contacted the police chief to express his concerns that plaintiff had written an expert report for and planned to testify on behalf of the defense in a criminal case. The Eleventh Circuit held that prosecutors were not entitled to absolute immunity for their alleged actions in this case because those actions were not taken in their role as advocates. However, the prosecutors were entitled to qualified immunity because they were acting within the outer perimeter of their discretionary skills in expressing concerns about plaintiff's outside work, and the law was not clearly established at the time. Accordingly, the court reversed the denial of the prosecutors' motion for judgment on the pleadings based on qualified immunity and remanded. View "Mikko v. Howard" on Justia Law

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The district court granted in part petitioner's motion to vacate his drug-related conviction and sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court ordered the government to reoffer an earlier plea deal. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court clearly erred in finding that petitioner suffered from mental illness that impaired his ability to understand legal advice and make reasoned decisions; the district court erred in finding that counsel should have known that petitioner was not able to understand legal advice or make reasoned decisions; the district court's finding that counsel's communication style did not mesh well with petitioner's difficulties did not provide a basis for ineffective assistance of counsel; the district court did not err in finding counsel deficient in failing to explain the safety-valve exception; and the district court erred in directing the government to reoffer the five-year deal. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for the district court to determine whether petitioner was prejudiced by the safety-valve advice. View "Davis v. United States" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his criminal sentence. Petitioner was sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), based on predicate offenses for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and two Nebraska felony convictions for making terroristic threats (one as a juvenile and one as an adult). The Eighth Circuit affirmed and held that the Nebraska statute qualifies under the ACCA force clause; an act of juvenile delinquency cannot qualify as a violent felony under any clause of the ACCA, including the residual clause, unless the court first determines that it involved the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device; that question is completely separate from the question of whether the juvenile conviction is an enumerated offense or qualifies under the force clause; the court sua sponte determined that petitioner's claim that his juvenile offense did not involve the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device is procedurally defaulted; and even if the theoretical possibility exists that the Nebraska statute could encompass threats only to property, petitioner has not demonstrated a realistic probability that Nebraska would apply the statute in that manner. View "Fletcher v. United States" on Justia Law

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Anita drove her son, Omar, to Lowe’s, to pick up his last paycheck. When the assistant manager approached, Omar “started talking a lot of gibberish” and eventually began throwing paint cans. Officers, responding to a 911 call, stopped Anita’s car. Omar was evasive but compliant. During the pat-down, officers discovered pills in a container, which they returned to Omar’s pocket after handcuffing him. Omar stated that he had not taken his medication, for a psychiatric condition, for weeks. Anita stated that Omar, who began ranting incoherently, was bipolar, that the pills were Seroquel, and that he had not taken his medication. At the jail, Omar would calm down periodically, then return to rambling, talking to himself, and engaging in strange behavior. Released without handcuffs to make a phone call, Omar threw an officer to the floor and began choking him. Officers rushed into the jail and pulled Omar into the restraint chair and noticed something wrong. Omar’s pulse was weak. They tried to resuscitate him and called the rescue squad. At the hospital, Omar was pronounced dead “as a result of a sudden cardiac event during a physical altercation in association with bipolar disease.” In Anita’s suit, alleging deliberate indifference, the court denied the officers qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed. There was no violation of a clearly established constitutional right. The officers did not act with recklessness that would permit them to be liable under Ohio law. View "Arrington-Bey v. City of Bedford Heights" on Justia Law

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In this case involving substantial consequences for alleged violations of campaign finance laws, the same individual issued the initial decision finding violations and ordering remedies, participated personally in the prosecution of the case before an administrative law judge, and then made the final agency decision that would receive only deferential review. The court of appeals concluded that because Appellants made no showing of actual bias their due process rights were not violated by the individual’s role as both advocate and adjudicator. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals, holding that, although Appellants did not allege actual bias, the circumstances of this case deprived them of due process, as Appellants were entitled to a determination by a neutral decisionmaker. Remanded. View "Horne v. Polk" on Justia Law

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Appellant appealed his conviction of five counts of possessing child pornography. Appellant argued (1) there was insufficient evidence to prove that he knowingly possessed child pornography; (2) S.D. Codified Laws 22-24A-3, the statute defining possession of child pornography, is unconstitutionally vague; and (3) he was convicted multiple times for a single act or course of conduct in violation of double jeopardy protections. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that Appellant knowingly possessed the five images of child pornography for which he was charged; (2) there was no plain error for the court to notice with regard to the constitutionality of section 22-24A-3; and (3) there was no plain error for the court to notice with regard to double jeopardy. View "State v. Linson" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed in substantial part the district court's issuance of a nationwide injunction as to Section 2(c) of the challenged Second Executive Order (EO-2), holding that the reasonable observer would likely conclude EO-2's primary purpose was to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs. Section 2(c) reinstated the ninety-day suspension of entry for nationals from six countries, eliminating Iraq from the list, but retaining Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Determining that the case was justiciable, the Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs have more than plausibly alleged that EO-2's stated national security interest was provided in bad faith, as a pretext for its religious purpose. Because the facially legitimate reason offered by the government was not bona fide, the court no longer deferred to that reason and instead may look behind the challenged action. Applying the test in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court held that the evidence in the record, viewed from the standpoint of the reasonable observer, created a compelling case that EO-2's primary purpose was religious. Then-candidate Trump's campaign statements revealed that on numerous occasions, he expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as his intent, if elected, to ban Muslims from the United States. President Trump and his aides have made statements that suggest EO-2's purpose was to effectuate the promised Muslim ban, and that its changes from the first executive order reflect an effort to help it survive judicial scrutiny, rather than to avoid targeting Muslims for exclusion from the United States. These statements, taken together, provide direct, specific evidence of what motivated both executive orders: President Trump's desire to exclude Muslims from the United States and his intent to effectuate the ban by targeting majority-Muslim nations instead of Muslims explicitly. Because EO-2 likely fails Lemon's purpose prong in violation of the Establishment Clause, the district court did not err in concluding that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim. The court also held that plaintiffs will likely suffer irreparable harm; the Government's asserted national security interests do not outweigh the harm to plaintiffs; and the public interest counsels in favor of upholding the preliminary injunction. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a nationwide injunction was necessary to provide complete relief, but erred in issuing an injunction against the President himself. View "International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump" on Justia Law

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A Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ordinance prohibits persons to “knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a health care facility.” Individuals purporting to provide “sidewalk counseling” to those entering abortion clinics claimed that the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights to speak, exercise their religion, and assemble, and their due process and equal protection rights. The court determined that the ordinance was content-neutral because it did not define or regulate speech by subject-matter or purpose, so that intermediate scrutiny applied, and reasoned that it must accept as true (on a motion to dismiss) claims that the city did not consider less restrictive alternatives. The claims proceeded to discovery. In denying preliminary injunctive relief, the court ruled that plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. The Third Circuit vacated. In deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs normally bear the burden of demonstrating likelihood of prevailing on the merits. In First Amendment cases where the government bears the burden of proof on the ultimate question of a statute’s constitutionality, plaintiffs must be deemed likely to prevail for purposes of considering a preliminary injunction unless the government has shown that plaintiffs’ proposed less restrictive alternatives are less effective than the statute. View "Reilly v. City of Harrisburg" on Justia Law

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The district court granted Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that resulted in a criminal complaint charging Defendant with operating under the influence, concluding that a police officer violated the Fourth Amendment when he ordered Defendant to leave his house in order to complete a traffic stop due to defective license plate lights. The district court concluded (1) the officer did not have probable cause to suspect any criminal activity, and no exigent circumstances existed when he ordered Defendant to exit his house; and (2) the officer’s verbal order to come outside amounted to an unlawful seizure of Defendant. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order of suppression, holding (1) the police officer had probable cause to arrest Defendant for the crime of failure to stop his vehicle on request or signal of a uniformed law enforcement officer and pursued him immediately and continuously from the scene of the crime into the curtilage of his home; and (2) therefore, the seizure of Defendant did not amount to unlawful seizure or arrest. View "State v. Blier" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s conviction for domestic abuse assault, third offense, and remanded this case for a new trial, holding that Defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to request a jury instruction defining “household member.” The court thus vacated the decision of the court of appeals, which affirmed the conviction over a dissent. The majority concluded that defense counsel had breached an essential duty by failing to request the definition instruction but that Defendant failed to show prejudice because the State had presented sufficient evidence of cohabitation. The Supreme Court held (1) because the central issue at trial was whether Defendant and the victim had been cohabitating, the jury should have been given the definition instruction, which accurately set forth the factors bearing on that issue; and (2) therefore, defense counsel’s failure to request the instruction was prejudicial, necessitating a new trial. View "State v. Virgil" on Justia Law