Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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An individual arrested in Philadelphia typically is brought before an Arraignment Court Magistrate for a preliminary arraignment. If an arrestee seeks review of the magistrate’s decision, an emergency municipal court judge is available to conduct an immediate review by telephone. The hearings are open to the public, but transcripts of the hearings are not made and audio recordings are not available to the public. Following a hearing, the public may obtain copies of court documents, including the bail bond, the criminal complaint, the bail hearing subpoena, and a bail appeal report if applicable. Those documents do not include the parties’ arguments or the magistrate’s reasoning. Bail Fund sends volunteers into Philadelphia bail hearings to observe and report on the proceedings and produces reports to educate Philadelphia citizens and officials. Bail Fund sought permission to create its own audio recordings, and later filed suit raising an as-applied First Amendment challenge to Pennsylvania Rules: Criminal Procedure 112(C); Judicial Administration 1910(B); and Philadelphia Municipal Court Arraignment Court Magistrate 7.09.4 The district court granted Bail Fund summary judgment.The Third Circuit reversed, declining to extend the First Amendment right of access to the courts into a right to make or require the creation of audio recordings. Bail Fund can attend bail hearings and take handwritten notes; that its volunteers may not be able to capture every word does not meaningfully interfere with the public’s ability to inform itself of the proceedings. View "Reed v. Devlin" on Justia Law

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In 1990, Johnson, who is schizophrenic, was convicted of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury. He served nine years in prison before being paroled as a mentally disordered offender (MDO). In 2000, he was civilly committed to Napa State Hospital under the MDO Act. He was twice released as an outpatient (2004-2008, and 2008-2014) but was returned to the hospital each time after he went absent without leave. Following several commitment extensions, in 2019, the trial court ordered Johnson’s MDO commitment extended for one year. Johnson was 69 years old.The court of appeal reversed, finding that the order was not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court’s only rationale for finding “that by reason of [his] severe mental health disorder, [Johnson] represents a substantial danger of physical harm to others,” was that “it does appear that the evidence shows that a high probability of decompression [sic] will occur which could result in a serious threat of substantial physical harm to others, harm to himself, and because of misperceptions and decompensation, he can be a substantial danger, and that he does not voluntarily follow his treatment plan.” The sole evidence of dangerousness was from decades earlier, with only friendly and nonconfrontational behavior ever since, even while Johnson was AWOL, off of his medications, and decompensating. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's first-degree murder conviction and remanded with instructions to conditionally grant the writ. In this case, the prosecutor told the jury at the end of his closing-argument rebuttal that the presumption of innocence no longer applied.The panel applied petitioner's claim pursuant to Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168 (1986), de novo, holding that the prosecutor's repeated statements, endorsed by the trial judge, that the presumption of innocence no longer applied violated due process under Darden. The panel stated that a holding of a due process violation under Darden necessarily entails a conclusion that the prosecutor's misstatements of the law were prejudicial. The panel also held that the Court of Appeal unreasonably concluded under Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967), that the prosecutor’s misstatements of the law were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Ford v. Peery" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of murder and aggravated assault. Because of petitioner's prior convictions at the time of the shooting, he was a felon in possession of a firearm. Therefore, the jury could consider petitioner's failure to retreat in evaluating the reasonableness of his actions. In this case, petitioner claimed that he fired the weapon in self-defense and that his lawyer did not tell him that the jury could consider his failure to retreat under Texas law.The court held, under the Strickland test, that counsel's performance fell outside the wide range of reasonable professional assistance when he was silent on a central component of the self-defense statute and thus petitioner could not appreciate the extraordinary risks of passing up the State's plea offer. However, under the Frye prejudice test, the court held that petitioner failed to carry his burden of proof by showing that the prosecution would not withdraw the plea or that the court would have accepted it. View "Anaya v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder and sentence of life imprisonment, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the trial court (1) did not err by refusing to remove six jurors for cause; (2) did not abuse its discretion in refusing a change of venue; (3) did not abuse its discretion in allowing testimony regarding Defendant's lack of remorse; (4) did not abuse its discretion in disallowing two defense exhibits; (5) did not err in limiting the evidence of Defendant's drug use; (6) did not err in allowing victim impact testimony; (7) did not abuse its discretion in admitting a certain witness's testimony; and (8) did not err in declaring another witness unavailable and allowing her prior trial testimony to be played for the jury. View "Hubers v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Louisville & Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) on Mark Hill's claims under the Whistleblower Act, Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.101 et seq., and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (KCRA), Ky. Rev. Stat. 344.010 et seq., holding that Hill's KCRA claims were correctly dismissed but that MSD was not subject to the Whistleblower Act.With respect to Hill's Whistleblower claim, the trial court found that MSD was not to be considered an "employer" under the Whistleblower Act. The court also found that Hill failed to present any affirmative evidence in support of his KCRA claims. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court as to Hill's KCRA claims but reversed as to Hill's Whistleblower claim. The Supreme Court reversed as to the Whistleblower claim, holding that MSD was not an "employer" for purposes of the Whistleblower Act. View "Louisville & Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit dismissed defendant's appeal of the district court's order that he claims denied him qualified immunity. The court held that the order is not appealable because the district court did not enter an appealable order denying defendant qualified immunity, but instead dismissed the complaint and granted plaintiffs leave to amend it. Therefore, a different finality rule applies: an order dismissing a complaint for leave to amend within a specified time becomes a final judgment if the time allowed for amendment expires. In this case, defendant filed his notice of appeal two days before the order granting plaintiffs leave would become final and there is no later judgment that could have cured defendant's premature notice of appeal. Therefore, defendant did not appeal from a final order of the district court and the court lacked jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291 over the appeal. View "Fuller v. Carollo" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in an action brought by plaintiffs under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law, alleging that her constitutional rights were violated when she was, among other things, subjected to a strip search upon arriving at a prison to visit her boyfriend.The panel held that the defendant who performed the strip search violated plaintiff's rights under the Fourth Amendment where defendant subjected plaintiff to the search without giving her the option of leaving the prison rather than being subjected to the search. However, the panel held that defendant is protected by qualified immunity because there has been no controlling precedent in this circuit, or a sufficiently robust consensus of persuasive authority in other circuits, holding that prior to a strip search a prison visitor—even a visitor as to whom there is reasonable suspicion—must be given an opportunity to leave the prison rather than be subjected to the strip search. Furthermore, because there is little to no likelihood that plaintiff might again be subjected to a strip search under comparable circumstances, prospective declaratory and injunctive relief are unavailable. Finally, plaintiff's other alleged causes of action all fail. View "Cates v. Stroud" on Justia Law

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After Sonny Lam was shot and killed inside his home by a police officer, Sonny's father filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law alleging that the officer used excessive deadly force. In this case, a jury specifically found that Sonny had stabbed the officer in the forearm with a pair of scissors prior to the first shot, that the officer had retreated after firing the first shot, and that Sonny did not approach the officer with scissors before the officer fired the fatal second shot.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and held that the district court properly denied the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law on qualified immunity as to plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim where the law was clearly established at the time of the shooting that an officer could not constitutionally kill a person who did not pose an immediate threat. Furthermore, the law was also clearly established at the time of the incident that firing a second shot at a person who had previously been aggressive, but posed no threat to the officer at the time of the second shot, would violate the victim's rights. Therefore, the facts as found by the jury adequately supported the conclusion that a Fourth Amendment violation had occurred.The panel reversed the district court's denial of the officer’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law on the Fourteenth Amendment claim of loss of a familial relationship with Sonny, because there was insufficient evidence in the record to show that defendant acted with a purpose to harm unrelated to a legitimate law enforcement objective. The panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not commit plain error in its evidentiary rulings. View "Lam v. City of Los Banos" on Justia Law

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Kidis, driving home, after drinking heavily, caused a minor accident, exited his vehicle, and fled. Officer Reid attempted to arrest Kidis; he fled with a handcuff attached to his wrist. He jumped barbed-wire fences before entering a wooded area. Eventually, Kidis surrendered, lying face down, his hands stretched out above his head. Kidis asserts that Officer Moran thrust his knee into Kidis, punching and strangling Kidis, yelling that he was going to “teach [him] to . . . run.” Kidis pleaded guilty to resisting and obstructing a police officer, operating a motor vehicle with high blood-alcohol content, and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.Kidis filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against both officers. Rejecting Kidis’s deliberate indifference claim, the court found that Kidis could not prove that either officer was aware of Kidis’s medical needs. The court rejected an excessive force claim against Reid. A jury found that Moran used excessive force but that Kidis did not prove that this force caused his injuries. The jury awarded Kidis $1 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages. The court rejected the officers’ motions for attorneys’ fees but awarded Kidis $143,787.97 in fees. The Sixth Circuit reversed the punitive damages award but otherwise affirmed. Measured against the harm and compensatory damage findings, the punitive damages award runs afoul of due process principles. On remand, the court is to reduce the award to no more than $50,000. View "Kidis v. Reid" on Justia Law