Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for rape, criminal threat, sexual battery, and battery, holding that, even if Defendant was correct that rape is essentially a strict liability crime, he failed to establish that this would violate his due process rights.Before the Supreme Court, Defendant argued that the Kansas rape statute - and by extension the jury instruction mirroring the statute - effectively rendered rape a strict liability crime. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, even assuming Defendant was correct that Kan. Stat. Ann. 21-5503(e) effectively rendered rape a strict liability crime in Kansas, he failed to show that this was a violation of his right to due process or outside the legislature's authority to draft criminal laws. View "State v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that "a governmental unit's copyright infringement is not a taking" and that, therefore, the trial court erred in denying a plea to the jurisdiction, holding that the violation of a copyright, without more, is not a taking of the copyright.Plaintiff, a professional photographer, sued the University of Houston, alleging that the University's publication of his photograph was an unlawful taking. The University filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting immunity under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. After the trial court denied the plea, the University brought this interlocutory appeal. The court of appeals vacated the trial court's order denying the plea and dismissed the cause for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that a governmental unit's copyright infringement is not a taking. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) factual allegations of an infringement do not alone allege a taking; and (2) the court of appeals did not err in sustaining the jurisdictional plea and dismissing the case because the State retained its immunity in the absence of a properly pled takings claim. View "Jim Olive Photography v. University of Houston System" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court conditionally affirmed Defendant's drug-related convictions, second offense, holding that, consistent with this Court's opinion in State v. Wright, __ N.W.2d __ (Iowa 2021), filed today, law enforcement officers conducted an unreasonable seizure and search when they seized and searched garbage bags left out for collection without first obtaining a warrant.On appeal, Defendant argued that two sheriff's deputies violated his federal and state constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures when they seized and searched a trash bag outside Defendant's residence without first obtaining a warrant. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that remand was required in order for the district court to hold a hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress evidence without consideration of the evidence and information obtained during a trash pull used to support their warrant application. View "State v. Hahn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court rejected Defendant's constitutional challenge to Iowa Code 321J.16 and joining the majority of courts holding that it is not an unconstitutional penalty to admit into evidence Defendant's refusal to submit to a breath test, holding that the best course is to overrule State v. Pettijohn, 899 N.W.2d 1, 38-39 (Iowa 2017).After denying Defendant's motion in liming to exclude evidence of her refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test Defendant was convicted of driving while intoxicated. On appeal, Defendant challenged the constitutionality of section 321J.16, which allows into evidence a defendant's test refusal. Specifically, Defendant argued that Pettijohn, which held that a search warrant was required for a breathalyzer test of an intoxicated boater, should be extended to drunken driving cases. The Supreme Court (1) overruled Pettijohn and held that search warrants are not required for breathalyzer tests of either boaters or drivers when law enforcement has probable cause to believe that intoxicated boating or driving has occurred; and (2) it is not an unconstitutional penalty to admit into evidence a defendant's refusal to submit to a breath test. View "State v. Kilby" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court conditionally affirmed Defendant's convictions and remanded for the district court to hold a hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress evidence, holding that the peace officer in this case conducted an unreasonable search and seizure by taking a citizen's opaque trash bags left outside for collection, opening the trash bags, and rummaging through the papers and effects contained therein.Despite an ordinance making it unlawful for any person to take solid waste placed out for collection, Officer Brandon Heinz, without probable cause or warrant, took Defendant's garbage bags and searched through them during the dark of night. Heinz subsequently applied for and was granted a search warrant based on the evidence obtained from the warrantless seizure and search of Defendant's trash bags. Defendant was subsequently charged with several drug-related counts. The district court denied Defendant's motion to suppress, and Defendant was found guilty. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held that Heinz conducted an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of Iowa Const. art. I, 8 and that remand was required for a suppression hearing without consideration of the evidence obtained during the trash pulls used to support the warrant application. View "State v. Wright" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentences for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and for aiding and abetting a robbery, holding that the district court did not violate Defendant's right to confrontation when it allowed a witness to testify via two-way interactive video.The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions, holding that the district court did not err when it (1) overruled Defendant's confrontation objection to the testimony of the witness at issue, who had tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing symptoms; (2) determined that the foundation was sufficient to admit the witness's testimony regarding his translation of Spanish words spoken by Defendant; (3) admitted certain Facebook messages; and (4) sentenced Defendant. Lastly, there was sufficient evidence to support Defendant's convictions. View "State v. Comacho" on Justia Law

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T.O. and his parents appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims arising under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974. Plaintiffs' claims arose from a primary school disciplinary incident experienced by T.O.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the substantive due process claim, concluding that the facts simply do not suggest that T.O. was the subject of a random, malicious, and unprovoked attack, which would justify deviation from Fee v. Herndon, 900 F.2d 804. In this case, an aide removed T.O. from his classroom for disrupting class, and the teacher used force only after T.O. pushed and hit her. Even if the teacher's intervention were ill-advised and her reaction inappropriate, the court cannot say that it did not occur in a disciplinary context. Furthermore, the court has consistently held that Texas law provides adequate, alternative remedies in the form of both criminal and civil liability for school employees whose use of excessive disciplinary force results in injury to students in T.O.'s situation.The court also concluded that plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims fail because this court has not conclusively determined whether the momentary use of force by a teacher against a student constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure. In regard to the ADA and section 504 claims, the court concluded that the amended complaint failed to allege facts permitting the inference that either the teacher's actions or the school district's actions were based on T.O.'s disability. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's rulings. View "T.O. v. Fort Bend Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant Clark and Cox's motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity for claims of failure to treat and the wrongful death of Hirschell Wayne Fletcher, Jr., who died from previously sustained head trauma while in custody.The court agreed with plaintiffs that between when paramedics Clark and Cox arrived and allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, but before he was formally transported, a reasonable person in Fletcher's position—surrounded and confronted by five officers—may not have thought he was free to leave, and was therefore detained. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Clark, Cox, and the surrounding officers harassed and laughed at Fletcher until he was transported to the detention facility, all without any medical treatment. As alleged, the court concluded that such conduct supports that the paramedics may have been both subjectively aware of, and disregarded, Fletcher's serious risk of injury. Furthermore, it is undisputed that, at the time Clark and Cox allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, the law was clearly established that pretrial detainees have a Fourteenth Amendment right to medical care. View "Kelson v. Clark" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff's state criminal charge for animal cruelty was dismissed, plaintiff and his wife filed suit against the City and the Police Department under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims for wrongful arrest and excessive force, as well as various state law claims. The jury returned a verdict for defendants on all counts. The district court denied plaintiff's motion for a mistrial during the trial and later denied a post-trial motion for a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for mistrial based on its response to a potential juror's de minimis conduct. In this case, the district court properly dispatched its voir dire duties by probing whether the excused potential juror had made any additional statements which could have prejudiced plaintiff and by considering and rejecting the argument that brief departing comments in this instance required the empanelment of a new venire. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a continuance and properly exercised its discretion by limiting plaintiff's testimony to issues relevant to the substantive issues in the case being tried. The court further concluded that the district court did not err by allowing defendants to argue that the entire requested $975,000 damages award would come from Officer Horan personally. In any event, to the extent that these statements created confusion because of the temporal proximity between the accurate statements of the law and the references to the full amount requested, the district court allowed plaintiff's counsel on rebuttal to explain the issue. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's challenges to the district court's handling of the jury instructions. View "Farnik v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute entered after Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, holding that Defendant's argument that his plea was invalid was without merit.On appeal, Defendant argued that his plea was invalid because he entered it without knowing that he was waiving his right to appeal the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress the drugs, gun, and statements he had made following his arrest. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that, even if there was error, it was not clear or obvious. View "United States v. Casiano-Santana" on Justia Law