Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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In 2018, ATF promulgated a rule that classified bump stocks as machine guns, reversing its previous position. Bump stocks assist the shooter in “bump firing,” a technique that increases a semiautomatic firearm’s rate of fire. The district court held that the ATF’s interpretation was entitled to Chevron deference and that the classification of bump stocks as machine guns was “a permissible interpretation” of 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). The court denied a preliminary injunction.The Sixth Circuit initially reversed, reasoning that an agency’s interpretation of a criminal statute is not entitled to Chevron deference and that ATF’s rule is not the best interpretation of section 5845(b). On rehearing, en banc, the court divided evenly and, therefore, affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction. Chevron provides the standard of review, even though the law under consideration has criminal applications. Applying Chevron, Congress has not spoken to the precise question at issue and, after exhausting the traditional tools of statutory construction, section 5845(b) remains ambiguous. ATF’s interpretation of section 5845(b) is a permissible construction of the statute and is reasonable; it is entitled to Chevron deference. Even without applying deference, the Final Rule provides the best interpretation of section 5845(b). View "Gun Owners of America, Inc. v. Garland" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Davison began to publicly criticize Louden school policies, alleging violations of federal law, misleading budget information, and flouting Virginia’s Conflict of Interest Act. Davison frequently chastised school board members in many forums and during board meetings. He routinely emailed individual board members and made multiple social media posts about his complaints. Davison also commented on board members’ social media platforms. Davison mentioned weapons; there were concerns about the welfare of his children. Board members voiced personal safety concerns, which led to the 2015 no-trespass letters that prohibited his presence on school property and attendance at any school-sponsored activities unless authorized. Davidson’s previous state-court challenge has been dismissed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Davison’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, citing res judicata. Davison agreed to dismiss his state petition, which included federal claims, with prejudice, despite having the opportunity to withdraw his petition. The board’s policy, which prohibits all personal attacks, regardless of viewpoint, because they cause “unnecessary delay or disruption to a meeting,” is a constitutional policy for a limited public forum because it is viewpoint neutral, and the restriction is reasonable in light of the purpose of the board. The district court correctly determined that Davison did not experience retaliation. With respect to claims against individuals and claims based on reports to protective services concerning Davison’s children, the court cited qualified immunity. Davison was not deprived of procedural due process. View "Davison v. Rose" on Justia Law

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Washington was convicted of five sexually violent offenses that occurred in 1984. Before Washington’s 2014 release, the state sought to commit Washington as a sexually violent predator (SVP) under the Sexually Violent Predator Act, The trial court declared Washington to be an SVP and committed him to the California Department of State Hospitals for an indeterminate term.The court of appeal remanded, first rejecting Washington’s argument that the trial court violated the Act by failing to advise him of his right to a jury trial and to obtain a knowing and intelligent waiver of that right. The Act provides that trial will be “before the court without a jury” if the defendant or attorney “does not demand a jury trial.” The statute does not provide for advisement of the alleged SVP’s right to a jury trial. Washington also argued that failure to obtain a knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to a jury trial violated his right to due process, and the Act’s failure to provide protections for his jury trial right, unlike statutes governing other types of civil commitments, violated his equal protection rights. The court questioned whether the dangerousness of SVP’s is a constitutionally valid justification for differential treatment with respect to procedural protections of their jury trial right but remanded for evaluation of that challenge. View "People v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Officers responded to a shooting in an apartment building's parking lot. Three victims were transported to the hospital. Officers observed a security camera in the window of apartment 1, pointed toward the parking lot. After interviewing two witnesses, Detective Dunn viewed video footage from a business across the street, which corroborated their account. He learned that Haney, an occupant of unit 1, was involved in a dispute with the sister of two shooting victims. Dunn obtain a warrant to search Unit 1; other officers executed the warrant. An officer moved clothes in the bedroom closet and saw a sawed-off shotgun. He also seized a baggie of white powder, a laptop, and cell phones from the bedroom. Other officers seized cameras, a computer monitor, a Kindle, shotgun shells, pieces of a scale with traces of drug residue, photographs, and documents bearing the names of Haney and Saddler.Saddler later unsuccessfully moved to suppress all evidence seized during the search and an incriminating statement she later made concerning the shotgun. The Eighth Circuit affirmed her subsequent conviction as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The affidavit described facts that connected Haney to the shooting and created a fair probability that evidence that would aid in a particular apprehension or conviction would be found. Dunn’s reliance on the issuance of the warrant was objectively reasonable. In addition, the seizure of the shotgun satisfied the “plain view” exception. View "United States v. Saddler" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief following an evidentiary hearing, holding that there was no error.Defendant was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, three counts of use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, attempted intentional manslaughter, and possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited person. In his motion for postconviction relief, Defendant argued, in part, that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and present an alibi defense. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's appeal was without merit. View "State v. Newman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the gravity of a crime, by itself, does not establish an exigency empowering law enforcement officers to bypass the warrant requirement and that the State must articulate objective facts showing an immediate law enforcement need for the entry to support a warrantless home intrusion under the exigency exception.The State invoked the exigent circumstances exception to justify a warrantless home entry into Defendant's residence. Defendant was subsequently indicted for attempted murder in the second degree. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence found during the search of his residence, arguing that the police lacked exigent circumstances to enter his residence without a warrant. The trial court granted the motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the police entered Defendant's home without exigent circumstances, permission, or a warrant, and therefore, the circuit court properly suppressed the evidence. View "State v. Willis" on Justia Law

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Moss filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that while he was a pretrial detainee, jail officials put him in disciplinary confinement without a hearing, in violation of his procedural due process rights, and that they delayed his access to urgent medical care, again violating his due process rights. Moss claims that he informed the intake officer that he was taking a medication for a thyroid condition, Vyvanse for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Zoloft for PTSD and alleges delays in providing him with those medications while he was detained.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that Moss failed to exhaust available administrative remedies for his procedural due process claim and that any delay in the provision of medical treatment did not rise to the level of deliberate indifference. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Moss argued that jail officials made administrative remedies unavailable by denying him access to the grievance system while he was in disciplinary confinement but undisputed record evidence establishes that Moss was able to use the grievance system during that time, compelling the conclusion that administrative remedies were available to him. There is no evidence that the defendants knew of but deliberately ignored a substantial risk to Moss’s health. View "Moss v. Harwood" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder and attempted second-degree robbery and sentence of death, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) sufficient evidence supported the attempted robbery conviction; (2) the trial court did not err in admitting statements obtained during an undercover operation that law enforcement performed while Defendant was being transported and held in jail; (3) there was no error in the denial of defense counsel's request for a second continuance; (4) a wiretap application at issue in this case was not facially invalid; (5) any violation of Defendant's right to confrontation was harmless; (6) Defendant failed to establish either prosecutorial or judicial misconduct; (7) the trial court did not improperly restrict cross-examination or err in its remaining challenged evidentiary rulings; (8) Defendant failed to establish harmful error as to the admission of his statements at the penalty phase of his statements referencing other crimes; and (9) Defendant's challenges to the death penalty were unavailing. View "People v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court granting Defendant's motion for postconviction discovery under Cal. Penal Code 1054.9 giving Defendant access to the prosecutor's jury selection notes, holding that there was no error.In 1994, Defendant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Decades later, Defendant filed a habeas corpus petition claiming that the prosecution had used peremptory strikes to discriminate against prospective jurors, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) and People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258 (1978). Defendant also filed, in connection with the petition, a motion for postconviction discovery seeking access to the prosecutor's jury selection notes. The trial court granted the motion, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district attorney may not invoke the attorney work product protection to withhold information necessary to the fair adjudication of Defendant's Batson/Wheeler claim. View "People v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Davis, a former Congressman, mayoral candidate, candidate for governor of Alabama, and federal prosecutor, is Black. In 2016, he became Executive Director of LSA, a non-profit law firm serving low-income Alabamians. Davis experienced problems with some of his subordinates and colleagues; some complained to LSA’s Executive Committee. On August 18, 2017, as Davis left work, he was informed that the Executive Committee had voted to suspend him with pay pending an investigation of those complaints. A “Suspension Letter” cited spending decisions outside the approved budget, failure to follow LSA's hiring policies and procedures, creating new initiatives without Board approval, and creating a hostile work environment for some LSA employees. LSA posted a security guard in front of its building and hired Mowery, an Alabama political consultant, to handle public relations related to Davis’s suspension. Mowery had handled one of Davis’s failed political campaigns until their relationship soured; Mowery had worked for the campaign of Davis’s opponent in another race.Days later, Davis notified the Board of his resignation. He filed suit, alleging race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and under Title VII, and defamation. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Being placed on paid leave was not an adverse employment action and Davis did not raise a fact issue on his constructive discharge claim. LSA’s disclosures to Mowery did not constitute “publication”—an essential element of defamation. View "Davis v. Legal Services Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law