Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Two appeals were filed before this court five hours before Ledell Lee's scheduled execution. Lee challenged the district court's alleged denial of his motion requesting funds under 18 U.S.C. 3599(f) for "ancillary services to assist in the preparation of clemency and potential additional litigation." The court denied Lee's motion for stay of execution, concluding that Lee has failed to make a showing that there is a significant possibility that he will succeed on the merits of a claim that would deprive Arkansas of the authority to execute him. The court explained that, even if he succeeded on his section 3599(f) claim, Arkansas would still have the authority to execute him. View "Lee v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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Four Arkansas death-row inmates appealed the denial of their motions for a preliminary injunction prohibiting their executions and moved the court for a stay of execution. The court concluded that, to the extent the inmates argued that Arkansas law, regulations, and policy during the clemency process violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, this argument failed under well-established law; even if the inmates are correct that the Board failed to comply with Arkansas law, regulations, and policy, this in and of itself is insufficient to demonstrate a significant possibility of success on the merits; the district court was correct in determining that, despite the procedural shortcomings in the clemency process, the inmates received the minimal due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment; and the court rejected the inmates' claim that the district court abused its discretion in determining that their procedural impossibility claim "evaporated" at the moment the Board recommended against granting clemency. Accordingly, because the inmates have failed to show a significant possibility of success on the merits, the court denied the motion for a stay. View "Lee v. Hutchinson" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a police shooting of John Lincoln. John was shot and killed in front of his daughter, Erin. Erin and her aunt Kelly subsequently filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the Cities of Colleyville and North Richland Hills, Texas, and several officers involved in the incident, including Officer Barnes. On appeal, Barnes challenged the district court's denial of qualified immunity. Erin asserted that officers violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure when they took her into custody without a warrant, probable cause, or justifiable reason and interrogated her against her will for many hours, refusing her access to her family. The court concluded that the police violate the Fourth Amendment when, absent probable cause or the individual's consent, they seize and transport a person to the police station and subject her to prolonged interrogation. Because the right was clearly established at the time of the violation, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Lincoln v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of the crime of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated - fourth offense. Defendant requested a new trial, arguing that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the prosecutor’s statements that Defendant had refused to submit to a breathalyzer test following his arrest for drunk driving. Specifically, Defendant claimed that he possessed a constitutional right to refuse to take a warrantless breathalyzer test such that the prosecutor was not permitted to seek an inference of guilt from the refusal, and therefore, his trial attorney should have objected to the prosecutor’s statements. The circuit court denied the postconviction motion with a hearing. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) upon Defendant’s arrest for drunk driving he had no constitutional or statutory right to refuse to take the breathalyzer test; (2) therefore, the State could comment at trial on Defendant's improper refusal to take the test; and (3) accordingly, Defendant’s attorney did not render ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to argue contrary to controlling precedent. View "State v. Lemberger" on Justia Law

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After Brown was charged with sexually abusing his children, before trial, the court three times allowed Brown’s appointed counsel to withdraw because Brown would not cooperate. Brown appeared pro se but after “multiple outbursts” and attempts “to intimidate the victim‐witnesses,” the court held that he had “forfeited his right to represent himself.” Brown was convicted. The Public Defender’s Office appointed attorney Rosen to represent Brown on appeal. Brown objected, arguing Rosen was acting without his “consent or participation.” Brown sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of “his constitutional right to represent himself on appeal” and that a lawyer had deprived him of legal documents and prevented him from requesting legal help from a nonprofit organization. The district court screened Brown’s complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915A and concluded that his claim that Rosen had been ineffective in representing him was barred because it implied that his conviction may have been invalid and there is no constitutional right to self‐representation on appeal. The Supreme Court has held that in an appeal the state’s “interest in the fair and efficient administration of justice” outweighs the defendant’s interest in autonomy because there is no longer the presumption of innocence and because the Sixth Amendment does not refer to appellate proceedings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, held that Brown’s appeal was frivolous, and imposed two strikes on him under 28 U.S.C. 1915(g). View "Brown v. Milwaukee County Public Defender's Office" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping. Defendant received concurrent, mandatory life sentences for the convictions. Defendant was fourteen years old when he committed the offenses. After the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Miller v. Alabama, Defendant filed a motion in circuit court to correct an illegal sentence. The circuit court granted the motion. Following a resentencing hearing, the sentencing court resentenced Defendant to concurrent, 200-year sentences for first-degree murder and kidnapping. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant failed to establish that his sentence is cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and (2) the sentencing court did not abuse its discretion when it imposed concurrent, 200-year sentences. View "State v. Jensen" on Justia Law

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After Henry B. was admitted to Pen Bay Medical Center (PBMC), PBMC staff applied to involuntarily commit Henry pursuant to the “white paper” procedures of Me. Rev. Stat. 34-B, 3863(5-A). After a commitment hearing, the district court ordered that Henry be submit to involuntary hospitalization for up to 120 days. The superior court affirmed the district court’s judgment of involuntary commitment. Henry appealed, arguing that he was not provided with effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) individuals subject to involuntary commitment proceedings in Maine have the right to effective representation of counsel, and the Strickland standard applies for courts reviewing claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in involuntary commitment proceedings; and (2) Henry was not deprived of the effective assistance of counsel in this case. View "In re Henry B." on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Donald Lenneth Banks was found guilty of first-degree murder. The jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of ten to two. Following the jury’s recommendation, the trial court sentenced Banks to death. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed Banks’ conviction and sentence. Thereafter, Banks filed a motion under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 to vacate his murder conviction and sentence of death, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The postconviction court denied the motion. Banks appealed the denial of his Rule 3.851 motion and petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Banks’ postconviction guilt phase claims, denied his habeas petition, but vacated his death sentence, holding (1) trial court provided effective assistance of counsel; but (2) Banks’ death sentence violated Hurst v. State, and the Hurst error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Remanded for a new penalty phase. View "Banks v. State" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of first-degree premeditated and felony murder. The jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of ten to two. The trial court followed the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Defendant to death. The Supreme Court affirmed the convictions but vacated the death sentence, holding (1) the trial court did not err by admitting, for purposes of impeachment, collateral crime evidence that Defendant signed a sworn statement in which he admitted to concealing a metal shank inside his pants while in jail awaiting trial for the victim’s murder; (2) the State did not improperly comment on Defendant’s right to silence; (3) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s conviction; but (4) Defendant’s death sentence violated Hurst v. State, and the Hurst error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Remanded for a new penalty phase. View "Brookins v. State" on Justia Law

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Petitioner pleaded guilty to armed burglary of a dwelling, armed kidnapping, attempted first-degree murder, and sexual battery using force or a weapon. Petitioner was sentenced to six concurrent life sentences. Petitioner’s sentences were based on offenses he committed when he was seventeen years old. After the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Graham v. Florida, the trial court set aside Petitioner’s life sentences and, after an evidentiary hearing, resentenced Petitioner to 100 years in prison for the first count and forty years on each remaining count, to run concurrently. The Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed Petitioner’s sentence, concluding that Graham does not apply to term-of-years sentences. The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Fifth District, holding that Petitioner’s 100-year sentence violates Graham and the Supreme Court’s decisions in Henry v. State and Kelsey v. State. Remanded. View "Johnson v. State" on Justia Law