Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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In 1984, Ashmus was charged with offenses including first-degree murder and rape. On Ashmus’s pretrial motion, the Sacramento County court transferred venue to San Mateo County. After Ashmus was convicted, the San Mateo County Superior Court imposed a death sentence. In 2014, Ashmus filed a second habeas petition in the California Supreme Court to exhaust certain claims raised in his federal habeas petition. In 2019, the California Supreme Court transferred Ashmus’s petition to the sentencing court as called for by Proposition 66, the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016, Under Penal Code section 1509, added by Proposition 66, “any petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by a person in custody pursuant to a judgment of death” should be transferred to “the court which imposed the sentence . . . unless good cause is shown. For petitions filed before Proposition 66 went into effect, section 1509(g) provides, “the court may transfer the petition to the court which imposed the sentence.” The Attorney General successfully moved to transfer the petition to Sacramento County Superior Court. The court of appeal concluded the trial court misapplied section 1509. The meaning of “the court which imposed the sentence,” is clear and unambiguous; there is no dispute that the San Mateo County Superior Court imposed Ashmus’s sentence. View "Ashmus v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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After plaintiffs filed a malicious prosecution action against defendant, who was the attorney for the opposing party in a prior litigation, defendant filed an anti-SLAPP motion. The Court of Appeal held that the evidence did not demonstrate a reasonable probability plaintiffs would prevail on the merits of their claim, because plaintiffs' action was time-barred. In this case, the four-year provision of the statute of limitations expired prior to the filing of the complaint, and a later discovery could not extend that period. Finally, the court noted that plaintiffs' plea for justice did not fall on deaf ears, but that the court was constrained to follow the law and to enforce the statute of limitations. View "Garcia v. Rosenberg" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of police officers in an action brought by a victim of domestic abuse under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law. The panel held that the officers' conduct violated plaintiff's constitutional right to due process by affirmatively increasing the known and obvious danger plaintiff faced. However, the panel held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clear at the time that their conduct was unconstitutional. The panel held that the state-created danger doctrine applies when an officer reveals a domestic violence complaint made in confidence to an abuser while simultaneously making disparaging comments about the victim in a manner that reasonably emboldens the abuser to continue abusing the victim with impunity. The panel also held that the state-created danger doctrine applies when an officer praises an abuser in the abuser's presence after the abuser has been protected from arrest, in a manner that communicates to the abuser that the abuser may continue abusing the victim with impunity. View "Martinez v. City of Clovis" on Justia Law

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Harnishfeger published a book under a pseudonym, Conversations with Monsters: Chilling, Depraved and Deviant Phone Sex Conversations, concerning her time as a phone‐sex operator. A month later, Harnishfeger began a one‐year stint with the Indiana Army National Guard as a member of the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, a federal anti-poverty program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). When Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor discovered Conversations and identified Harnishfeger as its author, she demanded that CNCS remove Harnishfeger. CNCS complied and ultimately cut her from the program. Harnishfeger filed suit alleging First Amendment and Administrative Procedure Act violations. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The book is protected speech; it was written and published before Harnishfeger began her VISTA service. Its content is unrelated to CNCS, VISTA, and the Guard. It was written for a general audience, concerning personal experiences and is a matter of public concern. A jury could find that Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor infringed her free-speech rights by removing her from her placement because of it. The supervisor’s actions were under color of state law, so 42 U.S.C. 1983 offers a remedy, and she was not entitled to qualified immunity. There is no basis, however, for holding CNCS or its employees liable. Harnishfeger failed to show a triable issue on any federal defendant’s personal participation in a constitutional violation. View "Harnishfeger v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the circuit court suppressing the victim's identification of Defendant, holding that State v. Dubose, 699 N.W.2d 582 (Wis. 2005), was unsound in principle and is thus overturned and that the State satisfied its burden that the identification was reliable. The identification in this case began with law enforcement showing a single Facebook photo to the victim. Defendant argued on appeal that his suppression motion was correctly granted on the ground that the police utilized an unnecessarily suggestive procedure in violation of his due process rights as explained in Dubose. The Supreme Court overturned Dubose and held (1) due process does not require the suppression of evidence with sufficient indicia of reliability; (2) if a criminal defendant meets the initial burden of demonstrating that a showup was impermissibly suggestive, the State must prove under the totality of the circumstances that the identification was reliable even though the confrontation procedure was suggestive; and (3) under the totality of the circumstances of this case, the State satisfied its burden. View "State v. Roberson" on Justia Law

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Anjela Greer, an employee for the City of Wichita who worked at the Wichita Art Museum, contended her employer denied her a promotion because of her military service in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. She applied for a promotion but didn’t get an interview. Greer simultaneously served in the Navy Reserves and worked as a security guard at the Wichita Art Museum. After about five years as a security guard Greer learned of a vacancy for the museum’s “Operations Supervisor.” She and one other person applied. A city employee screened the applications and decided not to advance Greer to the next stage, where she would have been interviewed. The Museum attributed the denial of an interview to Greer’s lack of qualifications: the new job required at least one year of prior supervisory work in particular fields. The application called for Greer to state how many people she supervised. She answered “2,” but identified her job title only as “Security” and didn’t list any supervisory duties. Based on the job title and the absence of any listed supervisory duties, the Museum maintained Greer’s application had shown a lack of supervisory experience. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on two grounds: (1) any reasonable factfinder would determine that the defendants had declined to advance Greer to the interview stage because her application showed a lack of supervisory experience; and (2) the defendants had proven that they wouldn’t have advanced Greer to an interview regardless of her military status. The Tenth Circuit rejected both grounds. The first was invalid because a factfinder could reasonably infer that Greer’s military status was a motivating factor in defendants’ denial of an interview. The second ground was also invalid because a factfinder could have reasonably found Greer would have obtained an interview if she had not been serving in the military. The Court thus reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants. View "Greer v. City of Wichita, Kansas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed, as modified in this opinion, the judgments of the trial court convicting James David Beck and Gerald Dean Cruz of four counts of first degree murder and entering judgments of death based on the murders, holding that certain true findings as to Defendants' convictions of conspiracy to commit murder were unauthorized. Defendants were convicted of four counts of first degree murder and of conspiracy to commit murder. The jury also found true a multiple murder special circumstance allegation and allegations of personal use of a deadly weapon. The trial court entered judgments of death. The Supreme Court vacated the multiple murder special circumstances true findings as to conspiracy to commit murder, as well as the death sentences imposed for that count, and otherwise affirmed, holding (1) the trial court erred in imposing a death sentence based upon Defendants' conspiracy convictions because conspiracy to commit murder alone cannot make a defendant death eligible; and (2) there was error but no prejudice in some of the trial court's instructions, the prosecutor's argument during the penalty phase, the imposition of the death penalty for the convictions of conspiracy to commit murder, and in the admission of certain testimony, but these errors were not prejudicial when considered individually or cumulatively. View "People v. Beck" on Justia Law

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The State appealed the district court's grant of federal habeas relief to petitioner, a state prisoner sentenced to death for the sexual assault, abuse, and felony murder of a four year old girl. The Ninth Circuit held that 28 U.S.C. 2254(e)(2), which precludes evidentiary hearings on claims that were not developed in state court proceedings, did not prohibit the district court from considering the evidence adduced at the Martinez v. Ryan hearing to determine the merits of petitioner's underlying ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) claim. The panel explained that when a district court holds an evidentiary hearing to determine whether a petitioner's claim is excused from procedural default under Martinez, it may consider that same evidence to grant habeas relief on the underlying claim. The panel also held that the district court did not err in determining that the assistance provided by petitioner's counsel was constitutionally deficient where he failed to perform an adequate pretrial investigation into whether the victim's injuries were sustained during the time she was with petitioner, and petitioner has demonstrated prejudice due to counsel's failures. In regard to Count Four, this failure only affected the jury's determination that petitioner had acted intentionally or knowingly, but not his underlying guilt on the lesser included offense of reckless misconduct. Therefore, the panel affirmed the grant of habeas relief, but vacated the district court's remedy, remanding for further proceedings. View "Jones v. Shinn" on Justia Law

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Sepling, represented by SC, pled guilty to importing GBL, a controlled substance analogue, 21 U.S.C. 952; Sepling’s sentence would be calculated without consideration of the Guidelines career offender section. Sepling was released on bond pending sentencing and became involved in a conspiracy to import methylone, another Schedule I controlled substance. He was charged under 21 U.S.C. 963. A search uncovered three kilograms of methylone. Subsequent investigation revealed that the conspiracy involved approximately 10 kilograms. A Public Defender (APD) represented Sepling on the new charges. The prosecution agreed to withdraw the new charge; in exchange, Sepling’s involvement in the conspiracy would be factored into his GBL sentence as relevant conduct. The APD ceased representing Sepling. Sepling’s unmodified Guideline range for the GBL was 27-33 months. The methylone relevant conduct dramatically increased his base offense level. The PSR analogized methylone to MDMA, commonly called “ecstasy,” and held him responsible for 10 kilograms, resulting in responsibility equivalent to that for conspiring to distribute five and a half tons of marijuana, for a sentencing range of 188-235 months. SC did not object to that calculation, nor did he file a sentencing memorandum. Rather than researching the pharmacological effect of methylone, SC relied upon Sepling to explain the effects of methylone. SC, the government, and the court all confessed that they did not possess any substantive knowledge of methylone The Third Circuit vacated the 102-month sentence. Sepling was prejudiced by his counsel’s ineffectiveness. View "United States v. Sepling" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the officer formed a reasonable, articulable suspicion to make the traffic stop that led to Defendant's arrest. The officer informed Defendant that he had been stopped because the car's windshield was cracked and because it did not appear that Defendant had been wearing his seat belt. Defendant was subsequently charged with driving while impaired and violating his driver's license restriction. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the stop, alleging that the stop was unconstitutional. The district court denied the motion to suppress. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the officer was not justified in stopping Defendant for the crack in his windshield but that the evidence supported a conclusion that the officer had reasonable suspicion that Defendant was not wearing his seat belt. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, even if the officer's observation that Defendant was not wearing his seat belt was mistaken, the mistake was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. View "State v. Poehler" on Justia Law