Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Moran was convicted of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm for a 2006 Calumet City, Illinois shooting. After the trial, the prosecution learned that exculpatory evidence, including a ballistics report linking the gun used in the Calumet City shooting to a different shooting, had not been turned over to the defense as required by Brady v. Maryland. Moran sought postconviction relief. A state court vacated his conviction. Moran was retried and acquitted in 2017.Moran then filed a federal suit (42 U.S.C. 1983) against the city, two detectives who investigated the shooting, and a crime scene technician who mishandled the ballistics report, seeking redress for the decade he spent incarcerated. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, noting that Moran’s allegation that an Assistant States Attorney knew about the report was a judicial admission that negated an essential element of the claim; prosecutorial knowledge of exculpatory evidence blocks civil liability for police officers. The court stated that even without that judicial admission, the record could not allow a reasonable jury to find that the evidence had been suppressed. Moran moved for leave to amend his complaint. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of that motion. Moran unduly delayed seeking to amend his complaint; he should have known that his complaint contained factual errors at the outset. View "Moran v. Calumet City, Illinois" on Justia Law

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New Jersey permits candidates running in primary elections to include beside their name a slogan of up to six words to help distinguish them from others on the ballot but requires that candidates obtain consent from individuals or incorporated associations before naming them in their slogans. Candidates challenged this requirement after their desired slogans were rejected for failure to obtain consent. They argued that ballot slogans are, in effect, part of the campaign and that the consent requirement should be subject to traditional First Amendment scrutiny.The district court disagreed, holding that, though the ballot slogans had an expressive function, the consent requirement regulates the mechanics of the electoral process. The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test. The Third Circuit affirmed. The line separating core political speech from the mechanics of the electoral process “has proven difficult to ascertain.“ The court surveyed the election laws to which the Supreme Court and appellate courts have applied the Anderson-Burdick test, as opposed to a traditional First Amendment analysis, and derived criteria to help distinguish which test is applicable. New Jersey’s consent requirement is subject to Anderson-Burdick’s balancing test; because New Jersey’s interests in ensuring election integrity and preventing voter confusion outweigh the minimal burden imposed on candidates’ speech, the requirement passes that test. View "Mazo v. New Jersey Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Ariz. Rev. Stat. 23-1043.01(B), which limits workers' compensation claims for mental illnesses to those that arise from an "unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress" situation, does not violate Ariz. Const. art. XVIII, 8 or equal protection guarantees under Ariz. Const. art. II, 13.Plaintiff, an officer with the Tucson Police Department, filed an industrial injury claim arising from an incident in June 2018, claiming that it exacerbated his preexisting post-traumatic stress disorder. An administrative law judge found Plaintiff's claims for mental injuries non-compensable because the June 2018 incident was not an "unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress" situation under section 23-1043.01(B). The court of appeals affirmed the denial of benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 23-1043.01(B) does not unconstitutionally limit recovery for stress-related workplace injuries. View "Matthews v. Industrial Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming both Defendant's judgment of conviction and the circuit court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence, holding that police officers' warrantless entry in Defendant's fenced-in back yard was not a valid "knock and talk" investigation and that the entry was not permissible under the exigency of hot pursuit.On appeal, Defendant argued that the police officers lacked an implicit license to enter his backyard, and therefore, the entry violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the decision of the court of appeals, holding (1) the "knock and talk" investigation was not valid because the officers did not have an implicit license to enter Defendant's backyard; and (2) because the officers did not immediately or continuously pursue Defendant from the scene of the crime, the officers' entry into Defendant's backyard was not permissible under the exigency of hot pursuit and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment. View "State v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of operating while intoxicated (OWI) sixth offense, in violation of Wis. Stat. 346.63(1)(a), holding that Defendant's constitutional right to be free from abusive governmental searches was satisfied in this case, and therefore, the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress.On appeal, Defendant argued that the warrant compelling him to submit to a blood draw was constitutionally defective because, when the affiant signed the affidavit that accompanied the warrant petition, the affiant was not placed under oath or affirmation. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the affidavit fulfilled the oath or affirmation requirement under the state and federal Constitutions; and (2) therefore the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. View "State v. Moeser" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's convictions and remanding the matter for a new trial, holding that the trial court did not violate Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial by partially limiting access to the courtroom after an altercation disrupted court proceedings.Defendant was indicted on two counts of murder. During a recess on the third day of trial, some of the people attending the trial were involved in an altercation outside the courtroom, which resulted in the court limiting attendees to only immediate family members. Defendant was subsequently found guilty of murder as a result of felonious assault. The court of appeals reversed, ruling that the trial court had committed structural error by failing to provide sufficient justification for the partial closure of the courtroom. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a public trial violation occurred in Defendant's trial but that the error did not rise to the level of a plain error that must be corrected. View "State v. Bond" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court ruled that the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) had jurisdiction to review the merits of Appellant's postconviction appeal even though the appeal was not properly taken from a final order, holding that the appeal's procedural defects stemmed from ineffective assistance of counsel.Appellant pled no contest to murder in the second degree and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The ICA dismissed Appellant's appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction because the appeal had not been taken from a final order. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's decision, holding (1) the order appealed from was not final, and the appeal did not give rise to appellate jurisdiction; and (2) this Court presumes prejudice to Appellant from his counsel's failure to take the procedural steps necessary to make the appeal that Appellant desired, and the appropriate remedy is consideration of the appeal on its merits. View "Suitt v. State" on Justia Law

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Kowalczyk was charged with felony vandalism, three felony counts of identity theft, misdemeanor petty theft of lost property, and one misdemeanor count of identity theft. The court set bail at $75,000 and denied a motion seeking release on his own recognizance with drug conditions and electronic monitoring. Kowalczyk was on probation and had 64 prior offenses, across several states. The court viewed Kowalczyk’s property crimes as a significant public safety issue. He received the maximum score of 14 on the Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument, and the pretrial services report indicated he failed to abide by conditions of supervision in the last five years. Kowalczyk was unhoused and unemployed. Different judges later denied additional motions to reduce bail.Kowalczyk filed a habeas petition. On remand from the California Supreme Court, the court of appeal addressed the state constitutional provisions governing bail in noncapital cases—Article I, section 12(b), (c); Article I, section 28(f)(3) and concluded that the provisions can be reconciled. Section 12’s general right to bail in noncapital cases remains intact, while full effect must be given to section 28(f)(3)’s mandate that the rights of crime victims be respected in bail and release determinations. Section 12 does not guarantee an unqualified right to pretrial release or necessarily require courts to set bail at an amount a defendant can afford. View "In re Kowalczyk" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction this case brought by Plaintiffs, two religious leaders, challenging restrictions that the Governor imposed on houses of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic, holding that Plaintiffs failed to show any basis for relief.Plaintiffs asserted that they suffered harm as a result of the challenged restrictions and that the restrictions triggered, but could not survive, strict scrutiny. Plaintiffs sought as a remedy a declaration that the challenged restrictions were unconstitutional and a permanent injunction prohibiting the Governor from implementing similar restrictions in the future. The Court of Chancery granted the Governor's motion to dismiss, holding that Plaintiffs did not establish a reasonable apprehension that the Governor would engage in conduct that would warrant a permanent injunction and therefore did not make the necessary showing. View "In Re Covid-Related Restrictions On Religious Services" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision granting summary judgment to Defendants, Norman Sylvester and the Town of Bourne, Massachusetts and dismissing Plaintiff's lawsuit alleging that the discipline he faced as a firefighter violated his constitutional rights, holding that the district court did not err.In his complaint, Plaintiff claimed that he refused to sit for a "promotional" photograph in violation of his religious beliefs and that he was disciplined as a result of his refusal. Plaintiff brought this complaint against Sylvester, in his role as Fire Chief of the Bourne Fire Department, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, for violation of his rights under the Free Exercise Clause, and against the Town and Sylvester under the Massachusetts Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch,. 149, 148. The district court granted summary judgment to Sylvester on qualified immunity grounds on the section 1983 claim and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly concluded that Sylvester did not violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights, as required by the first prong of the qualified immunity analysis; and (2) there was no abuse of discretion in the district court's decision declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claim. View "Swartz v. Sylvester" on Justia Law