Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Thompson sold heroin to a confidential informant. After the second controlled buy, police obtained a warrant to search the apartment where the transactions occurred. On their way to execute the warrant, police encountered Thompson and a passenger driving away from the apartment, stopped the vehicle, and arrested Thompson. During their search of the vehicle, officers found multiple bags of heroin and cocaine. Officers later discovered a loaded handgun under the back seat’s folding mechanism. Thompson’s fingerprints were not found on the gun. A Michigan jury convicted him of three drug crimes and four gun crimes. The Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that a rational jury could infer Thompson constructively possessed the gun. Citing the “well-known relationship between drug dealing and the use of firearms as protection,” the court found that the gun’s proximity to both Thompson and the drugs sufficed to create a jury question.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Thompson’s federal habeas petition, rejecting his insufficient-evidence claim and claims of ineffective assistance and the denial of an impartial jury. Thompson, as the SUV’s driver “is held to a higher level of accountability" for its contents. Considering Thompson’s proximity to the gun and the evidence of his drug dealing, the Michigan Court of Appeals provided more than enough support for a fair-minded jurist to conclude that a rational jury could convict him of constructively possessing the gun. View "Thompson v. Skipper" on Justia Law

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While burglarizing a garage, Pollini was confronted by Zeigler and fled. Zeigler alerted Pruitt that a burglar was in the area. Pollini had left his tools in Zeigler’s garage. Plank drove him back to the garage. Pruitt approached their car with a flashlight. Pollini fired a gun into the dark, killing Pruitt. Plank’s attorney prepared a transcript of Plank’s statement to the police. The court admitted an audiotape of the statement but denied admission of the transcript. The jury, with access to only the audiotape, had difficulty understanding some of Plank’s statement and asked the judge for a transcript, Without communicating with the parties, the judge responded: “There’s none available.” This ex parte jury communication violated Kentucky Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.74. The jury found Pollini guilty. During the sentencing phase, the jury responded in the affirmative to: Was Pollini in the process of committing burglary when he killed Pruitt?Pollini argued that there was insufficient evidence to justify his life sentence because he was not committing a burglary when he killed Pruitt. The Kentucky Supreme Court remanded for resentencing without the inclusion of the aggravating circumstance. Pollini did not raise Rule 9.74.On collateral review, Pollini asserted ineffective assistance of counsel, citing the Rule 9.74 violation. The Sixth Circuit remanded the denial of relief. While Pollini’s claim fails the prejudice prong of Strickland, he did not procedurally default the claim. By the time of his collateral attack, Rule 9.74 violations were reviewed under a fundamental fairness standard, more favorable to the Commonwealth. The Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision to apply that standard was not “contrary to clearly established Federal law.” The court’s Implicit finding that the jury had the correct tape and that the tape was working was not an unreasonable determination of the facts View "Pollini v. Robey" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging discrimination under Government Code section 11135 based on a requirement that all San Diego County applicants eligible for the state's CalWORKs (welfare) program participate in a home visit. The County demurred, arguing there was no discriminatory effect on of the program, no disparate impact caused by the home visits, and the parties lacked standing to sue. The superior court granted the demurrer without leave to amend, and entered judgment. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that their complaint stated a viable cause of action. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding the complaint did not allege a disparate impact on a protected group of individuals and could not be amended to do so. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court. View "Villafana v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's two first-degree murder convictions and two corresponding sentences of death, holding that Defendant's assignments of error were unavailing.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err in instructing on and finding the CCP aggravator and the HAC aggravator; (2) the trial court did not err in instructing on and finding the HAC aggravator; (3) Florida’s death penalty statute is constitutional; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Defendant's two proposed impairment mitigators; (5) the trial court did not err in allowing victim impact evidence; (6) the prosecutor’s penalty phase closing argument did not violate Defendant's constitutional rights; and (7) competent, substantial evidence supported Defendant's first-degree murder convictions. View "Colley v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of simple assault on a law enforcement officer, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of her assignments of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not err when it denied Defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal; (2) the circuit court did not err by instructing the jury on facts not entered into the record; and (3) the circuit court did not violate Defendant's constitutional right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment by admitting a certified conviction from Codington County in the habitual offender trial. View "State v. McReynolds" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of eight counts of first-degree child rape and four counts of sexual contact with a child, holding that no prejudicial error occurred in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a bill of particulars and his motion to quash the indictment; (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in admitting internet searches and images on Defendant's cell phones and tablet; (3) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in admitting a witness's hearsay statements; (4) the circuit court did not err in failing to enter a judgment of acquittal on any of the charges; and (5) Defendant's sentences were not cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment. View "State v. Snodgrass" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment denying plaintiff's request for leave to amend and granting Aerospace's motion for summary judgment, in an action alleging that plaintiff was selected for a company-wide reduction in force (RIF) because of his age.The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend. In this case, plaintiff's original and first amended DFEH complaints cannot support class and disparate impact theories of recovery, and thus the new allegations in his second amended DFEH complaint are untimely. As a result, plaintiff cannot show he exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to his proposed class and disparate impact claims. The court also held that the trial court did not err in granting Aerospace's motion for summary judgment where the trial court properly sustained Aerospace's objections to certain exhibits and plaintiff failed to create a triable issue of fact to withstand summary judgment. Aerospace submitted evidence showing it instituted the company-wide RIF after learning it faced potentially severe cuts to its funding, and plaintiff failed to offer substantial evidence showing that Aerospace's reasons were untrue or pretextual. View "Foroudi v. The Aerospace Corp." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion for a new trial, holding that the government failed to show that the district court granted reversible error by granting the motion for a new trial upon finding when the court deemed to be a violation of the Confrontation Clause.Defendant was convicted of three counts charging her with wire fraud, honest services wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit both types of wire fraud. Defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal or for a new trial. The district court granted the motion, concluding that the Confrontation Clause was violated in the proceedings below and that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that there was no plain error in the district court's choice of the applicable standard of harmlessness. View "United States v. Ackerly" on Justia Law

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Dunn slapped Schuckman in a bar's parking lot, causing him to fall to the ground. Witnesses reported seeing Schuckman upright and apparently unharmed afterward. Hours later, Schuckman was found dead on the bar’s patio. Dunn and Crochet were charged with felony murder, battery, and theft from a corpse. Dunn’s counsel consulted with a forensic pathologist. After viewing the medical examiner’s report, the pathologist believed that Schuckman died immediately from his head injuries—suggesting that Dunn’s slap could not have caused his death. Before trial, defense counsel repeatedly, erroneously, stated that the medical examiner had concluded that Schuckman died immediately from a fatal blow and would testify to that at trial. The medical examiner’s report did not contain such conclusions and counsel never confirmed them. The prosecutor informed Dunn’s counsel that Crochet had retained experts, who were going to produce reports that bolstered Dunn’s no-causation defense. The prosecution considered the reports exculpatory. Dunn’s counsel did not ask for a continuance or attempt to view the reports. At trial, defense counsel did not call his forensic pathologist as a witness. The medical examiner testified that there was no reason to think that Schuckman would have died immediately from the fatal head injury, and it would have been possible for Schuckman to move after sustaining this injury.The Seventh Circuit upheld an order granting federal habeas relief. Dunn’s trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to investigate and offer evidence to support a no-causation defense and Dunn was prejudiced by that deficient performance. View "Dunn v. Jess" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Folajtar pled guilty to a federal felony: willfully making a materially false statement on her tax returns, which is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000, 26 U.S.C. 7206(1). She was sentenced to three years’ probation, including three months of home confinement, a $10,000 fine, and a $100 assessment. She also paid the IRS over $250,000 in back taxes, penalties, and interest. Folajtar was then subject to 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), which prohibits those convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison from possessing firearms.Folajtar sued, asserting that applying section 922(g)(1) to her violated her Second Amendment right to possess firearms. The district court dismissed, finding that Folajtar did not state a plausible Second Amendment claim because she was convicted of a serious crime. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting the general rule that laws restricting firearm possession by convicted felons are valid. There is no reason to deviate from this long-standing prohibition in the context of tax fraud. View "Folajtar v. Attorney General of the United States" on Justia Law