Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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In 2016 agents found Barrett with nearly 15,000 images and 2,450 videos of child pornography. A search of his computer also uncovered a “Pedophile’s Handbook.” Barrett pled guilty to possessing child pornography under a plea agreement with a provision waiving any appellate challenge “on any ground” to “all components” of his sentence. Barrett confirmed that he understood the waiver during his plea colloquy. The district court sentenced Barrett to 97 months’ imprisonment followed by 10 years of supervised release. Barrett brought a First Amendment challenge to “Condition 31” of supervised release that will prevent him from viewing any material depicting “sexually explicit conduct,” defined in 18 U.S.C. 2256(2) to include adult pornography.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Barrett’s sentence, citing its previously-announced “clear and precise rule” that such conduct constitutes waiver, rendering the challenge unreviewable on appeal. Barrett confirmed at sentencing that he received advance notice of all 34 proposed conditions of supervised release and discussed them with his counsel. The district court invited objections; Barrett responded with several. The objections resulted in a colloquy with the judge and ended with rulings on each challenge. Barrett expressed no reservation with and asked no questions about, Condition 31. That Barrett asserts the First Amendment is irrelevant. View "United States v. Barrett" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of fetal murder and affirmed his convictions of ten counts of murder, holding that hearsay was improperly admitted on the question of fetal viability.Defendant was convicted of murdering ten women and one viable fetus and sentenced to death. The primary issues on appeal were whether the trial court erred in admitting statistical evidence about the significance of DNA matches and in admitting hearsay testimony about the fetus's viability. The Supreme Court reversed the fetal murder conviction and otherwise affirmed, holding (1) the challenged testimony admitted in this case was hearsay, and the error in admitting the testimony was prejudicial; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining allegations of error. View "People v. Turner" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Sanders, age 15, forcibly entered his victims’ homes while they slept, suffocated and raped them, and then robbed them. His youngest victim lived in a foster home. Another had given birth only a few weeks earlier. Sanders admitted that he committed his crimes near the first of the month, believing the victims would have just received public assistance checks. Fingerprints recovered from three homes led the police to Sanders. Charged as an adult with five counts of sexual assault and one count of armed robbery, Sanders entered an Alford plea. Wisconsin courts rejected Sanders’s argument that his Alford plea was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, then denied post‐conviction relief, rejecting ineffective assistance claims.In 2011, Sanders, who will be eligible for parole in 2030, sought federal habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254, reviving his challenge to his Alford plea, and arguing that his sentence did not conform with the Supreme Court’s 2010 "Graham" holding, which requires that states give juvenile nonhomicide offenders “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,” and that the sentencing court violated the Eighth Amendment by not considering his youth in sentencing him. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Sanders, who will be eligible for parole in his early 50s, has not been denied a meaningful opportunity for release under the rule announced by the Supreme Court. View "Sanders v. Eckstein" on Justia Law

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On November 18, 2020, in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases, Kentucky Governor Beshear issued Executive Order 2020-969, prohibiting in-person instruction at all public and private elementary and secondary schools; elementary schools may, under certain circumstances, reopen for in-person instruction between December 7 and January 4, 2021; middle and high schools may reopen for in-person instruction no sooner than January 4, 2021. The order exempts “small group in-person targeted services” and “private schools conducted in a home solely for members of that household,” and exempts, by omission, preschools and colleges or universities. Kentucky “leads the nation in children living with relatives other than their parents – including grandparents and great-grandparents, who are especially vulnerable” and have high rates of comorbidities that can lead to severe cases of COVID-19, including heart and lung conditions.”In a challenge under the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the district court enjoined the Governor from enforcing the order against any private, religious school that otherwise adheres to Kentucky public health measures. The Sixth Circuit granted the Governor’s motion to stay the order pending appeal, stating that the plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their Free Exercise claim. The order is neutral and of general applicability. The court distinguished recent Supreme Court rulings concerning religious institutions. View "Danville Christian Academy Inc. v. Beshear" on Justia Law

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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