Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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House was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated kidnapping based on his participation in 1993 abductions and shooting deaths of two teenagers. House was 19 at the time of the crimes. He claimed that he had no idea of the larger plan when the victims were driven to the deserted location and that the victims were killed after he left. The circuit court sentenced him to a mandatory natural life term for the murder convictions and 60 years for each aggravated kidnapping conviction, to run consecutively.In 2001, House’s sentence for the kidnappings was reduced to consecutive 30-year terms. House filed a post-conviction petition, asserting actual innocence based on a witness’s recantation of her trial testimony; newly discovered evidence of police misconduct; ineffective assistance of counsel; and that his mandatory sentence of natural life violated the Eighth Amendment and the Illinois constitution's proportionate penalties clause. The appellate court vacated House’s sentence, finding that his mandatory natural life sentence violated the Illinois proportionate penalties provision as applied because it precluded consideration of mitigating factors, specifically House’s age, level of culpability, and criminal history.The Illinois Supreme Court directed the appellate court to vacate its judgment and to reconsider the effect of its 2018 Harris opinion. On remand, the appellate court denied an agreed motion seeking remand and again vacated House’s sentence. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed in part. The appellate court erroneously held that House’s sentence violated the proportionate penalties clause without a developed evidentiary record or factual findings on the as-applied constitutional challenge. The court vacated the dismissal of the actual innocence claim. View "People v. House" on Justia Law

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White, a white supremacist, is now in federal prison. His Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552, requests concern a conspiracy theory: that the racist movement he joined is really an elaborate government sting operation. Dissatisfied with the pace at which the FBI and Marshals Service released responsive records and their alleged failure to reveal other records, White filed suit.The court granted the agencies summary judgment and denied White’s subsequent motion seeking costs because the Marshals Service alone was delinquent in responding; the 1,500 pages held by that agency were an insubstantial piece of the litigation compared to 100,000 pages of FBI documents. The court stated that “the transparent purpose of White’s FOIA requests and lawsuit was to harass the government, not to obtain information useful to the public.” White then filed an unsuccessful motion to reconsider, arguing that the court should not render a final decision until the FBI had redacted, copied, and sent all the responsive records, which will take more than a decade. White next moved to hold the Marshals Service in contempt for telling the court in 2018 that it would soon start sending him records; by 2020 White had received nothing. The court admonished the agency but determined that no judicial order had been violated. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district judge “carefully parsed White’s numerous and wide-ranging arguments and explained the result." View "White v. United States Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court in this criminal case repudiated the sweeping language of its opinion in State v. James, 13 P.3d 576 (Utah 2000), and held that it can no longer be said that it makes no constitutional difference, as regards community caretaking concerns, whether a police officer opens a car door or asks a driver to do so.Defendant was charged with felony DUI and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence discovered after an officer looked inside his pickup truck, which was parked in a store parking lot, opened the truck door, and saw evidence of drug paraphernalia between Defendant's feet. The district court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed on alternative grounds, holding that the officer was justified in opening the car door incident to a lawful traffic stop under the standard in James. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the identity of the door-opener may well affect the reasonableness of a given police encounter; and (2) the denial of Defendant's motion to suppress was proper under the authority of Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229 (2011). View "State v. Malloy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the postconviction court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief as to the guilt phase of his trial and denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief.Defendant was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for two of the murders. The Supreme Court affirmed. Defendant later filed a motion for postconviction relief, raising sixteen claims. The trial court granted in limited part Defendant's motion for postconviction relief as to a new penalty phase under Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the postconviction court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for postconviction relief as to the guilt phase; and (2) Defendant failed to establish that he was entitled to a writ of habeas corpus. View "Smith v. State" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Crane was studying in a GED class at the High Desert State Prison. Inmate Dolihite approached Crane from behind and stabbed him in the neck with a pencil. Crane was taken to the prison’s emergency clinic. Crane alleges that after he was released from administrative segregation, he was assaulted by other prisoners and prison guards. He sued the correctional officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Crane contends the assaults were retaliation against him for previously suing the warden and two captains for denying outdoor exercise and staging assaults on inmates.Crane, self-represented, sued Dolihite. The suit was dismissed for failure to serve the summons and complaint within the time prescribed by Code Civ. Proc., 583.210(a). Dolihite had been transferred to Salinas Valley State Prison; for a time, Crane was unable to identify his location. The superior court advised Crane to use the sheriff’s office to effect service but the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office refused to serve the summons and complaint. The litigation coordinator at Salinas Valley refused to accept service on behalf of Dolihite.The court of appeal reversed the dismissal. The litigation coordinator’s refusal contradicts Penal Code 4013(a) and Code of Civil Procedure 416.90, which have been interpreted as authorizing state prison litigation coordinators to accept service on behalf of inmates. Crane’s statutory right to initiate and prosecute a civil action was infringed. View "Crane v. Dolihite" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court affirming Defendant's license suspension, holding that law enforcement officers did not deprive Defendant of his right to an independent chemical test of his blood alcohol content, and therefore, his statutory and due process rights were not violated.Defendant was arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol. Defendant submitted to a chemical breath test, which indicated that his blood alcohol concentration exceeded the legal limit. Defendant was advised of his right to obtain an independent chemical test at his own expense, and Defendant chose to exercise it. Defendant, however, never obtained the test. The Wyoming Department of Transportation suspended Defendant's driver's license for ninety days. Both the Office of Administrative Hearings and district court upheld the suspension. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) substantial evidence supported the finding that law enforcement officers did not interfere with Defendant's right to obtain an independent blood test; and (2) the relevant statutes and substantive due process did not require law enforcement officers to do more than allow Defendant to go to the nearest hospital or clinic to obtain a test. View "Johnson v. State ex rel., Wyoming Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Wood served time in Indiana state prison for methamphetamine‐related offenses. He was released on parole, subject to conditions, including that he was subject to "reasonable" searches, Wood violated his parole by failing to report to his supervising officer. The Parole Board issued an arrest warrant. Agents arrested Wood at his home. Agent Gentry secured Wood with wrist restraints, conducted a frisk search, and noticed Wood repeatedly turning toward his cellphone, which was lying nearby. Gentry picked up the cellphone and handed it to Agent Rains. Wood demanded that his cellphone be turned off and began to physically resist Gentry. Rains felt something “lumpy” on the back of Wood’s cellphone, removed the back cover, and found a packet of a substance which Rains believed to be methamphetamine. Wood admitted the substance was methamphetamine. A later search of the home revealed syringes and other drug paraphernalia.Seven days after Wood’s arrest, an Indiana Department of Correction investigator performed a warrantless search of Wood’s cellphone, which revealed child pornography. The investigator forwarded the information to the FBI, which obtained a search‐and‐seizure warrant for Wood’s cellphone and its contents. Charged under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), (a)(4)(B), Wood unsuccessfully moved to suppress the data extracted from his cellphone. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Given Wood’s diminished expectation of privacy and Indiana’s strong governmental interests, the search of Wood’s cellphone was reasonable. View "United States v. Wood" on Justia Law

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McGill was sentenced to death in 2004 for the murder of his former housemate, Perez. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed McGill’s conviction and sentence and the state trial court denied post-conviction relief.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief, rejecting McGill’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase. The post-conviction review court correctly identified and reasonably applied clearly established law in assessing professional norms and evaluating new mitigation evidence, did not apply an unconstitutional causal-nexus test, and did not need to consider the cumulative effect of nonexistent errors. Counsel’s preparation, investigation, and presentation of mitigation evidence was thorough and reasoned. The defense team uncovered a “not insignificant” amount of mitigation evidence that spanned decades of McGill’s life and presented a comprehensive picture to the jury. There is no evidence that counsel failed to uncover any reasonably available mitigation records. The court also rejected McGill’s uncertified claims that counsel was ineffective at the guilt phase by failing to retain an expert arson investigator and that his death sentence violated the Ex Post Facto Clause in light of Ring v. Arizona, in which the Supreme Court invalidated an Arizona statute that required the sentencing judge—not the jury—“to find an aggravating circumstance necessary for imposition of the death penalty.” View "McGill v. Shinn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court reversing the determination of an Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) administrative law judge (ALJ) that allegations of child maltreatment made against Steven Mitchell were true and that Mitchell should be listed on the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Central Registry, holding that the circuit court erred.In reversing the DHS's determination, the circuit court concluded that the agency decision was based on unlawful procedures and a violation of Mitchell's due process rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the DHS's failure to follow its own statutory notice procedures violated Mithcell's statutory rights when DHS placed his name on the maltreatment registry in 2004, but the DHS's earlier failures did not vitiate the 2018 agency decision at issue on review; and (2) substantial evidence supported the DHS's decision, and before the decision was made Mitchell received the required notice, he had an opportunity for a meaningful hearing, and his substantial rights were not prejudiced. View "Arkansas Department of Human Services Crimes Against Children Division v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The estate of a mentally ill and intellectually disabled prisoner who committed suicide while in Utah Department of Corrections (“UDC”) custody appealed the dismissal of its lawsuit against the UDC. Brock Tucker was seventeen when he was imprisoned at the Central Utah Correctional Facility (“CUCF”). At CUCF, Tucker endured long periods of punitive isolation. CUCF officials rarely let him out of his cell, and he was often denied recreation, exercise equipment, media, commissary, visitation, and library privileges. Tucker hanged himself approximately two years after his arrival at CUCF. Plaintiff-appellant Janet Crane was Tucker’s grandmother and the administrator of his estate. She sued on his estate’s behalf: (1) making Eighth Amendment claims against four prison officials (the “CUCF Defendants”); (2) making statutory claims for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act against UDC; and (3) making a claim under the Unnecessary Rigor Clause of the Utah Constitution against both the CUCF Defendants and UDC. The defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings. The district court granted the motion, holding the CUCF Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the federal constitutional claims and the federal statutory claims did not survive Tucker’s death. As a result, the district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state constitutional claim. Finding no reversible error in the district court's dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Crane v. Utah Department of Corrections, et al." on Justia Law