Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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After the district court concluded that the Governor and Director violated FFRF's First Amendment rights by requiring FFRF to take down a Bill of Rights nativity exhibit at the Capitol, the Governor and Director appealed. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court had jurisdiction to entertain this suit where FFRF sought prospective relief, and there was, and still is, a live controversy between the parties. However, the court held that the district court did not have jurisdiction to enter a retrospective declaratory judgment. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for the district court to consider FFRF's request for injunctive relief and enter appropriate prospective relief for FFRF. The court also reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment on FFRF's unbridled discretion claims, clarified the appropriate application of the unbridled discretion doctrine in the context of a limited public forum, and remanded for the district court to apply that standard in the first instance. View "Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals reversing Defendant's conviction of second-degree murder, holding that non-mutually admissible evidence was admitted at trial, prejudicing Defendant, and the seizure of a cell phone from Defendant's person exceeded the parameters of the Fourth Amendment and Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Defendant was tried in the circuit court along with a co-defendant for murder. Both defendants were convicted of second-degree murder. On appeal, Defendant argued that his trial should have been severed from that of his co-defendant since a substantial amount of the evidence against the co-defendant was not admissible against him. Defendant further argued that the trial court erred in failing to suppress a cell phone that was seized from his pocket. The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that (1) the trials should have been severed because the joint trial unfairly prejudiced Defendant, and the resulting prejudice could not be cured; and (2) in the absence of a valid search and seizure warrant for the search of Defendant's person or an applicable exception to the warrant requirement, the seizure of the cell phone was unlawful. View "State v. Zadeh" on Justia Law

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Gish pleaded guilty to first-degree reckless homicide for the 2012 stabbing death of Litwicki, the mother of his children. He appealed, claiming that his attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to investigate an involuntary intoxication defense. Police found Gish delirious on the night of the killing. He claimed that rare side effects from taking prescription Xanax affected his ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected the claim. Gish initiated federal habeas proceedings. The district court held an evidentiary hearing but denied relief, finding that defense was so unlikely to succeed that Gish still would have pleaded guilty. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While trial counsel admitted that he never assessed a Xanax-based involuntary intoxication defense, that defense had no reasonable prospect of success. Gish told a nurse that he sold his pills and no longer had any and told a detective that he last took Xanax “[a] couple days” earlier. The police found no trace of Xanax in Gish’s home. Even if Gish had taken Xanax the day of the homicide, it was unlikely that he was the rare patient who would have experienced such extreme effects; his expert on that point lacked credibility. Gish confessed to how he went about killing and abusing Litwicki and had a motive--he suspected Litwicki was cheating on him and would take his kids away View "Gish v. Hepp" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the United States and the Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (collectively, the Government) on Plaintiff's claims that the inclusion of the phrase "so help me God" at the end of the both of allegiance administered at United States naturalization ceremonies is unlawful and unconstitutional, holding that the district court correctly denied Plaintiff's claims. In her complaint, Plaintiff argued that the inclusion of "so help me God" as a means of completing the naturalization oath violates the First and Fifth Amendments and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-2000bb-4 (RFRA). The district court granted summary judgment on all claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the phrase "so help me God" in the oath does not violate the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, the RFRA, Equal Protection, or the Due Process Clause. View "Perrier-Bilbo v. United States" on Justia Law

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Folk was convicted of distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base, two counts of using a firearm to further a drug trafficking offense, and of felon in possession of a firearm. The PSR deemed Folk a career offender under U.S.S.G. 4B1.1 because he had prior felony convictions for “crimes of violence” and recommended enhancing Folk’s Guidelines range from 384-465 months to between 420 months and life imprisonment. The district court discussed Folk’s previous convictions: two robberies in 2001, simple assault in 2003, and terroristic threats in 2003, and adopted the PSR’s recommended range but sentenced Folk to 264 months’ imprisonment. His conviction was affirmed; Folk did not challenge his sentence or his career-offender designation. A subsequent 28 U.S.C 2255 motion argued that Folk's career-offender designation was invalid because the Supreme Court’s 2015 “Johnson” decision rendered section 4B1.2(a) void. The district court denied the motion. The Third Circuit affirmed. A challenge to an incorrect career-offender designation under the Guidelines is not an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure and is not cognizable under section 2255. An incorrect designation that results in a sentence within the statutory maximum is not a fundamental defect inherently resulting in a complete miscarriage of justice. The court denied Folk’s motion to expand the certificate of appealability because he does not satisfy the standard for a second 2255 motion. View "United States v. Folk" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, disability discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, and breach of fiduciary duty. The court held that plaintiff's discrimination claim failed because Mid Dakota offered a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its actions: his inability to get along with others; plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claims failed because he failed to show he was retaliated against for reporting racial slurs and racially charged comments; plaintiff's False Claims Act retaliation claim failed because there was no evidence, direct or otherwise, that his decision to report the allegedly fraudulent billing practices of a colleague caused—much less solely caused—Mid Dakota to force him out; and plaintiff's claim under the North Dakota Business Corporation Act failed because he was an at-will employee. View "Bharadwaj v. Mid Dakota Clinic" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that plaintiff failed to allege a claim that a state prosecutor retaliated against him for seeking unpaid overtime compensation. The court held that plaintiff waived his First Amendment retaliation claim by failing to brief the issue; because plaintiff is not an employee under section 215(a)(3) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the district court did not err in dismissing his claim; because plaintiff failed to point to any alteration or extinguishment of a right or legal status on appeal, he failed to state a due process claim; and because plaintiff failed to allege a conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. 1985(2), his sections 1985(3) and 1986 claims also failed. Finally, the court held that there was no error in dismissing plaintiff's state law claims and in denying him leave to file a third amended complaint. View "Liscomb v. Boyce" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's guilty plea to possessing a tool with the intent to use it in the unlawful removal of a theft detection device under Iowa Code 714.7B(3), holding that there was no factual basis to support Defendant's guilty plea to this charge. Defendant's conviction arose from his act of using bolt cutters to cut the padlock off of a steel cable wrapped around a riding lawn mower on display outside of a Mills Fleet Farm. Defendant pled guilty violating section 714.7B(3). On appeal, Defendant argued that the padlock-steel cable combination device he cut with bolt cutters was not a "theft detective device" under section 714.7B, and therefore, his trial counsel was ineffective for allowing him to plead guilty to this charge.The Supreme Court agreed and vacated Defendant's guilty plea, holding (1) the padlock-steel cable combination did not constitute a "theft detective device" under the statute, and therefore, there was no factual basis to support Defendant's guilty plea; and (2) Defendant's counsel was ineffective for allowing Defendant to plead guilty. View "State v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion for postconviction relief without an evidentiary hearing, holding that Defendant's postconviction claims were time barred. In his motion for postconviction relief, Defendant alleged that his death sentence was invalid because Nebraska's capital sentencing statutes violate his rights under the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal Constitution. Defendant's motion relied on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Hurst v. Florida, __ U.S. __ (2016). Citing State v. Lotter,, 917 N.W.2d 850 (2018), in which the Supreme Court held Hurst was not a proper triggering event for the one-year limitations period of the Nebraska Postconviction Act, the district court denied the motion, concluding that it was time barred. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly held that Defendant's postconviction claims were time barred; and (2) because there was not merit to Defendant's postconviction claims, the district court did not err in denying the postconviction motion without an evidentiary hearing. View "State v. Hessler" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, low-income African-American women whose children attend public schools in Mississippi, filed suit against state officials, alleging that the current version of the Mississippi Constitution violates the "school rights and privileges" condition of the Mississippi Readmission Act. The district court held that the suit was barred by the Eleventh Amendment and dismissed. Although the Fifth Circuit agreed that a portion of the relief plaintiffs seek is prohibited by the Eleventh Amendment, the court held that the suit also partially sought relief that satisfied the Ex parte Young exception to sovereign immunity. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, and vacated and remanded in part. View "Williams v. Reeves" on Justia Law