Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Petitioner appealed the denial of his habeas corpus petition, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request an alibi instruction. The Fifth Circuit held that the post-conviction relief court's decision was a reasonable application of Strickland v. Washington. Although the parties accept for purposes of appeal that trial counsel's performance was deficient, even if the instruction had been given, there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different. Therefore, because petitioner was not prejudiced by the error, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Maurice Hope v. Warden Cartledge" on Justia Law

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Illinois inmate Davis sued prison officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asking the court to recruit counsel. He stated that he had tried to secure counsel, referring to a letter from a law firm corroborating his efforts; no letter was attached. The district court screened Davis’s complaint, 28 U.S.C. 1915A, and allowed him to proceed on his excessive-force claim against one guard, but dismissed a conspiracy claim against others on the ground that Davis had no federal constitutional right to a grievance procedure. The court denied Davis’s motion for counsel, stating that he failed to demonstrate that he made a reasonable attempt to obtain counsel. Davis failed to respond to interrogatories and repeatedly renewed his request for recruitment of counsel, stating that he was unable to aid the inmate who was preparing his filings, reads at a 6th-grade level, and has a “paranoid delusional disorder.” He attached his “legal mail card,” which cataloged his incoming and outgoing mail to law firms. The court ultimately dismissed the case and denied Davis’s subsequent motions. The Seventh Circuit recruited counsel and reversed. The interrogatories that Davis failed to answer were above his comprehension. Davis did not have a fair opportunity to prosecute his case, given his severe intellectual handicaps, his apparently diligent efforts, his potentially meritorious claim, and “the irregularities" of the court’s handling of the case. View "Davis v. Moroney" on Justia Law

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In 1984, Ben-Yisrayl was convicted in Indiana state court of capital murder, rape, criminal confinement, and burglary. The case bounced back and forth for many years in the state courts as the death sentence and other issues were litigated on direct review and in postconviction proceedings, eventually resulting in a 60-year sentence on the murder conviction. In the meantime, Ben-Yisrayl pursued habeas relief in federal court under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Because he had not completed state post-conviction review, the district judge stayed the proceedings. When the state courts finally finished with the case, the judge lifted the stay and ordered the state to respond to the petition. Indiana did so. Ben-Yisrayl failed to file his reply within the allotted time, so the case proceeded to decision without a reply brief from him. The judge denied relief on all grounds without an evidentiary hearing and denied Ben-Yisrayl’s motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Ben-Yisrael had waived his only argument on appeal: that his resentencing counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to introduce “a veritable mountain of mitigation evidence.” View "Ben-Yisrayl v. Neal" on Justia Law

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A nolle prosequi constitutes a "favorable termination" for the purpose of determining when a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim accrues. In this case, plaintiff filed suit against defendant, a police officer, under section 1983, alleging malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court held that plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim accrued when the nolle prosequi was entered, and that as a result his suit was time‐ barred. The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that plaintiff's claim accrued when the charges against him were nolled. View "Spak v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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In this disability discrimination case, the Second Circuit certified the following question to the New York Court of Appeals: Do sections 8‐102(16)(c) and 8‐107(1)(a) of the New York City Administrative Code preclude a plaintiff from bringing a disability discrimination claim based solely on a perception of untreated alcoholism? View "Makinen v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, convicted of murder and related-offenses, sought review of the district court's denial of habeas relief, arguing that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call a medical expert both to interpret the portion of his medical records documenting his blood alcohol level and to expound upon the effects of that level of intoxication. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that the state trial court's determination that petitioner failed to establish prejudice was not unreasonable; it was not so lacking in justification as to be beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement; and thus the district court erred in second-guess that determination and substituting its own judgment. View "Waiters v. Lee" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the District Court of the Fifth Circuit finding Defendant guilty of simple trespass and harassment, holding that the record on appeal did not indicate a valid waiver of counsel. Defendant elected to proceed pro se at trial. On appeal, the Supreme Court engaged in a plain error to review to determine whether Defendant’s constitutional right to counsel may have been affected during the proceedings below. The court held that, based on the totality of the circumstances in this case, there was no valid waiver of counsel under the test set forth in State v. Phua. View "State v. Erum " on Justia Law

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Section 1915A of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. 1915A, applies only to claims brought by individuals incarcerated at the time they file their complaints. Plaintiff, a former prisoner, filed suit against defendants, alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment and various state laws for injuries he suffered, and the medical treatment he received, after he was struck by shotgun pellets that officers fired. The district court dismissed the complaint. In this case, plaintiff was not incarcerated at the time he filed the complaint and thus should not have been subjected to Section 1915A screening. Therefore, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded. View "Olivas v. Nevada" on Justia Law

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Georgia law by its terms does not provide for negligence actions directly against dogs. In this case, plaintiff filed suit against a police canine, Draco, and others after Draco inflicted serious damage to plaintiff when Draco refused to release his bite. The Eleventh Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because no binding precedent clearly established that their actions in allowing Draco to apprehend plaintiff violated defendant's Fourth Amendment rights; the County and Chief Ayers in his official capacity have sovereign immunity; and Defendants Fransen, Towler, Ross, and Ayers were entitled to official immunity for the claims against them in their individual capacities View "Jones v. Officer S. Fransen" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant of two alternative counts of capital murder based on either the rape or the kidnapping of eight-year-old A.I., an alternative count of premeditated first-degree murder, and rape. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment with the exception of Defendant’s rape conviction, which the court reversed. The court held (1) there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s determination that Defendant premeditated A.I.’s killing; (2) prosecutorial error in closing argument did not require reversal; (3) the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress his confession; (4) there was no error in the omission of additional unanimity language in the jury instructions; and (5) because rape is an element of Defendant’s conviction for capital murder, he is punished for it to the extent the capital conviction stands. View "State v. Davis" on Justia Law