Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

By
After the Party failed to meet the deadline for recognition as an official political party on the 2014 Arizona ballot, it challenges the constitutionality of Arizona’s filing deadline for new party petitions, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The Party claims that by requiring "new" parties to file recognition petitions 180 days before the primary, Arizona unconstitutionally burdens those parties’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court concluded that, without evidence of the specific obstacles to ballot access that the deadline imposes, the Party did not establish that its rights are severely burdened. Moreover, the court concluded that, at best, any burden is de minimus. Finally, after the court balanced the impact of the 180-day filing deadline on the Party's rights against Arizona's interests - administering orderly elections - in maintaining that deadline, the court concluded that the Party has not demonstrated an unconstitutional interference with ballot access. View "Arizona Green Party v. Reagan" on Justia Law

By
In 2005, the County adopted the Lauren Book Child Safety Ordinance, Fla., Code of Ordinances ch. 21, art. XVII, which imposes a residency restriction on “sexual offenders” and “sexual predators.” The Ordinance prohibits a person who has been convicted of any one of several enumerated sexual offenses involving a victim under sixteen years of age from “resid[ing] within 2,500 feet of any school.” Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the County’s residency restriction. The district court dismissed the ex post facto challenge. Plaintiffs argue that they pleaded sufficient facts to state a claim that the residency restriction is so punitive in effect as to violate the ex post facto clauses of the federal and Florida Constitutions. The court concluded that Doe #1 and Doe #3 have alleged plausible ex post facto challenges to the residency restriction where they alleged that they are homeless and that their homelessness resulted directly from the County’s residency restriction “severely restricting available, affordable housing options.” Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "John Doe #1 v. Miami-Dade County" on Justia Law

By
Croft appealed the superior court's order denying their petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the City to return fees it collected when Croft applied for building permits. As an initial matter, the court concluded that Croft's facial challenge is time barred pursuant to Government Code section 65009, subdivision (c)(1)(B)-(C) where Croft raised its challenge more than 90 days after the City enacted the Ordinance and adopted the fee schedule. The court also concluded that Croft’s as-applied challenge improperly places the burden on the City and incorrectly states how the fee must be reasonable. In this case, the reasonableness test applies to the creation of the fee schedule, not its application. Croft mischaracterizes the nature of the reasonableness inquiry and does not present evidence relating to the correct inquiry; even if it had, the claim related to such an inquiry would be facial and time barred. Finally, the court concluded that the City correctly calculated the parks and recreation fee; Croft abandoned its traffic fees claim on appeal; and the City collected the fees at an appropriate time. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "616 Croft Ave., LLC v. City of West Hollywood" on Justia Law

By
Urbana police officers responded to a domestic dispute. In their report, the officers noted that Hamilton called Wright a “pedophile” during the altercation. No arrests were made. The following morning, McNaught, who specializes in crimes against children, reviewed the report as a matter of course, and called Hamilton. Hamilton granted permission to search the couple’s apartment and computers for evidence of child pornography. McNaught seized a desktop computer from the living room; forensic analysis revealed images of child pornography on the hard drive. Wright was charged with possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252A, and sexually exploiting a minor. He moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that Hamilton lacked authority to consent to the warrantless search. McNaught testified that Hamilton had stated that Wright used his cellphone to visit a website called “Jailbait,” which McNaught recognized as featuring pornographic images of underage girls. Hamilton also mentioned seeing a video with a disturbing title on the computer. McNaught testified that he had “previewed” the hard drive by connecting it to his laptop, a standard procedure. Hamilton described the living arrangements at the apartment, which was leased in her name. The district judge denied the motion. Wright pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of suppression. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although Wright owned the computer, Hamilton was a joint user who enjoyed virtually unlimited access to and control over it. View "United States v. Wright" on Justia Law

By
An Illinois inmate sued a corrections officer, Liszewski, with whom he had had an altercation almost a decade ago, alleging excessive force. On remand after an initial dismissal, a jury determined that Liszewski had used excessive force, but awarded Moore only one dollar on the ground (one of the options given in jury instructions) that the excessive force had not caused injury, so there was nothing to compensate. After exploring the justifications for awarding nominal damages as opposed to simply rejecting the suit, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. “By making the deprivation of such rights . . . actionable for nominal damages without proof of actual injury, the law recognizes the importance to organized society that those rights be scrupulously observed; but at the same time, it remains true to the principle that substantial damages should be awarded only to compensate actual injury or, in the case of exemplary or punitive damages, to deter or punish malicious deprivations of rights.” The court noted evidence that Moore’s the injury was attributable to having fallen and hit his head on a table, an accident not caused by Liszewski. View "Moore v. Liszewski" on Justia Law

By
Kubsch was twice convicted of the 1998 murders of his wife, her son, and her ex-husband and was sentenced to death. No eyewitness, DNA evidence, fingerprints, or other forensic evidence linked Kubsch to the murders. After exhausting state remedies, he filed an unsuccessful petition for federal habeas relief. The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed, rejecting Kubsch’s arguments that the Indiana trial court wrongfully excluded evidence of a nine-year-old witness’s exculpatory but hearsay statement to police; that he was denied effective assistance of counsel with respect to that witness’s statement; and that his decision to represent himself at sentencing was not knowing and voluntary. On rehearing en banc, the Seventh Circuit reversed. The case concerns the total exclusion of relevant evidence, not with a limitation on the way the evidence can be used; the defendant’s interest in the evidence was at its zenith. The excluded evidence was easily the strongest evidence on Kubsch’s only theory of defense—actual innocence. It was not cumulative, unfairly prejudicial, potentially misleading, or merely impeaching. It was unusually reliable. The Indiana Supreme Court’s conclusion that Supreme Court precedent (Chambers) did not require the admission of this critical evidence was either contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, the Chambers line of Supreme Court precedent. View "Kubsch v. Neal" on Justia Law

By
In addition to removing the names of the deceased, adjudicated incompetents, and felons from its voter rolls, Ohio removess voters who are no longer eligible to vote because they have moved outside their county of registration, Ohio Rev. Code 3503.21.1 The “NCOA Process” mirrors the National Voter Registration Act, 52 U.S.C. 20507(c), description of ways in which states “may” comply with their obligation to remove voters who are no longer eligible. The Secretary of State’s office compares names and addresses from Ohio’s Statewide Voter Registration Database to the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address database, then provides each county’s Board of Elections (BOE) with a list of voters who appear to have moved. The BOEs send a confirmation notice. Recipients are removed if they do not respond or update their registration and do not subsequently vote during four consecutive years, including two federal elections. Ohio’s “Supplemental Process” begins with each BOE's list of registered voters who have not engaged in “voter activity” for two years, followed by a mailed notice: a voter is removed after six years of inactivity. During the litigation, the Secretary revised the confirmation notice, so that voters can confirm their address by signing and returning a postage-prepaid form, without including extensive personal information previously required. The Sixth Circuit concluded that claims regarding Ohio’s confirmation notice are not moot, and that the court erred by concluding that Ohio need not provide out-of-state movers with information on how they can continue to be eligible to vote. View "A. Philip Randolph Inst. v. Husted" on Justia Law

By
On November 29, 2012, a vehicle sped by Cleveland Police Officers and emitted a loud bang. Thinking that it was a gunshot, the officers radioed their dispatcher, stating that they were shot at by two African-American men in a vehicle. Officers responded and attempted a traffic stop. The subsequent 25-minute pursuit, reached speeds of 100 miles per hour, involved 62 police vehicles, and ended in a school parking lot. With the car contained, Officer Diaz exited his vehicle. Believing that he saw the passenger reach for a gun, Diaz fired his weapon. The vehicle then accelerated toward Diaz; 13 officers fired 139 shots. The vehicle occupants were killed. The media framed the incident as one Hispanic and 12 Caucasian officers killing unarmed African-Americans. Community response was significant. Under department policy, the officers were assigned to restricted duty status, which they call “demeaning.” After the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation released its report to the county prosecutor, but before the prosecutor finished his review, the officers were returned to transitional duties. The state grand jury declined to issue criminal charges. The officers returned to full duty. Nine officers sued, claiming that because of the racial implications and community response, they were assigned to restricted duty for a longer period than their African-American colleagues who have also been involved in deadly force incidents with African-Americans (42 U.S.C. 1981, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2, 42 U.S.C. 1983). The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment rejecting the claims. “While we should heed history’s lesson about protecting civil liberties in times of crisis, history alone is not evidence of civil rights violations.” The officers did not complain to the department about their assignments; they did not show that the decision to keep them on restricted duty pending the investigation’s outcome was a pretext for discrimination. View "O'Donnell v. City of Cleveland" on Justia Law

By
Shimel pled guilty to second-degree murder and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the shooting death of her husband. After sentencing, the trial court conducted a “Ginther” hearing and concluded that Shimel’s attorney was ineffective for failing to investigate a battered spouse self-defense theory and granted her motion to withdraw her plea. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, stating that the trial court impermissibly substituted its judgment for that of counsel on a matter of strategy. On collateral review, the federal district court denied Shimel’s claims that counsel was ineffective for failing to spend sufficient time consulting with her and for advising her to plead guilty rather than taking the case to trial and presenting a battered spouse self-defense theory. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Shimel did not establish prejudice. A reasonable defendant in Shimel’s situation, charged with open murder, would have accepted the plea, in light of the prosecutor’s stance that, even with expert testimony on battered spouse syndrome, he would not have reduced the charge to manslaughter. Shimel failed to establish a reasonable probability that expert testimony would have improved her result. Michigan law only permits a defendant to plead battered spouse syndrome as part of a self-defense claim. Shimel’s husband suffered nine gunshot wounds. Seven entered his body through his back. There was evidence that the shooting was precipitated by financial problems View "Shimel v. Warren" on Justia Law

By
Crangle agreed to plead guilty to rape with a recommended sentence of life imprisonment and parole eligibility after 10 years. Crangle acknowledged, “I have been informed that . . . after my release from prison I [May__ or Will__] be supervised under post-release control, R.C. 2967.28, which could last up to 5 years,” with a checkmark after “Will.” At the sentencing hearing, the judge and Crangle’s attorney incorrectly informed him that he would be subject to “straight parole” and not post-release control. The sentencing entry did not refer to post-release control. The Ohio Court of Appeals rejected an argument that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by encouraging him to plead guilty rather than no contest. Because Crangle did not appeal, his conviction became final in December 2008. In June 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered a trial judge who “failed to include in the sentencing entry any term of postrelease control,” to issue a judgment in compliance with the statute. In November 2010, the court denied Crangle’s motion to withdraw his plea based on that case and ordered a correction to the judgment, which was backdated to Crangle’s initial sentencing. The court of appeals affirmed denial of the motion in November 2011. The Ohio Supreme Court denied leave to appeal on April 4, 2012 and in January 2013. Crangle placed a federal habeas petition in the prison mail on March 28, 2013, which was docketed on April 15, 2013, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and due process violations. The district court dismissed Crangle’s petition as untimely. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the state-court order imposing post-release control was a new judgment, that reset AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations. View "Crangle v. Kelly" on Justia Law