Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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Officers responded to a shooting in an apartment building's parking lot. Three victims were transported to the hospital. Officers observed a security camera in the window of apartment 1, pointed toward the parking lot. After interviewing two witnesses, Detective Dunn viewed video footage from a business across the street, which corroborated their account. He learned that Haney, an occupant of unit 1, was involved in a dispute with the sister of two shooting victims. Dunn obtain a warrant to search Unit 1; other officers executed the warrant. An officer moved clothes in the bedroom closet and saw a sawed-off shotgun. He also seized a baggie of white powder, a laptop, and cell phones from the bedroom. Other officers seized cameras, a computer monitor, a Kindle, shotgun shells, pieces of a scale with traces of drug residue, photographs, and documents bearing the names of Haney and Saddler.Saddler later unsuccessfully moved to suppress all evidence seized during the search and an incriminating statement she later made concerning the shotgun. The Eighth Circuit affirmed her subsequent conviction as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The affidavit described facts that connected Haney to the shooting and created a fair probability that evidence that would aid in a particular apprehension or conviction would be found. Dunn’s reliance on the issuance of the warrant was objectively reasonable. In addition, the seizure of the shotgun satisfied the “plain view” exception. View "United States v. Saddler" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of bail-jumping, one count for each scheduled trial he missed, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in granting the State's Gillham motion to allow his former attorney to testify and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the District Court did not err by allowing Defendant's former attorney to testify as a state witness in his bail-jumping trial, and the testimony did not violate Defendant's right to effective assistance of counsel; and (2) Defendant's remaining ineffective assistance of counsel claims were unavailing. View "State v. Payne" on Justia Law

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In 2007, a Louisiana jury found Edwards guilty of armed robbery, rape, and kidnapping. Louisiana law then permitted non-unanimous jury verdicts if at least 10 of the 12 jurors found the defendant guilty; 11 of 12 Edwards jurors returned a guilty verdict as to some crimes, and 10 of 12 jurors returned a guilty verdict as to others. After Edwards’s conviction became final, Edwards filed a federal habeas corpus petition. The district court rejected his argument that the non-unanimous jury verdict violated his constitutional rights as foreclosed by “Apodaca.” The Fifth Circuit denied a certificate of appealability.While Edwards’s petition for a writ of certiorari was pending, the Supreme Court repudiated Apodoca and held (“Ramos”) that a state jury must be unanimous to convict a criminal defendant of a serious offense.The Supreme Court affirmed with respect to Edwards. The Ramos jury-unanimity rule does not apply retroactively on federal collateral review. New rules of criminal procedure apply to cases on direct review, even if the defendant’s trial has already concluded but, historically, did not apply retroactively on federal collateral review unless a new rule constituted a “watershed” rule of criminal procedure. The Supreme Court has never found that any new procedural rule actually satisfies the “watershed” exception and acknowledged that the exception is “moribund.” Continuing to articulate a theoretical exception that never actually applies "offers false hope to defendants, distorts the law, misleads judges, and wastes" resources. View "Edwards v. Vannoy" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit resolved a portion of Appellant's appeal in this opinion addressing the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Town of Brookline, Massachusetts, the Brookeline Board of Selectmen, the Town's counsel and Human Resources director, and select members of the board, holding that the summary judgment is affirmed in part, vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings.Plaintiff, black man, brought this suit alleging that during his employment as a firefighter, he had been discriminated against and retaliated against for reporting discriminatory conduct. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The First Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part the summary judgment granted in favor of Defendants, holding that the district court erred in granting summary judgment as to Plaintiff's retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the Town, the Board, and certain members of the Board, in their personal and official capacities. The Court then remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Alston v. Town of Brookline, Mass." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion to suppress physical evidence and statements based on a police officer's alleged promise of leniency, holding that there was no improper promise of leniency.The officer at issue initiated a Terry stop on a public stop after observing Defendant make a possible drug buy. The officer told Defendant if he cooperated he would not be arrested that day but may be arrested later. Three months after Defendant handed over crack cocaine and marijuana the officer charged him with possession. The trial court granted Defendant's motion to suppress, concluding that the evidence obtained after the officer promised leniency was fruit of the poisonous tree. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the officer did not improperly promise leniency. View "State v. Hillery" on Justia Law

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Dunn slapped Schuckman in a bar's parking lot, causing him to fall to the ground. Witnesses reported seeing Schuckman upright and apparently unharmed afterward. Hours later, Schuckman was found dead on the bar’s patio. Dunn and Crochet were charged with felony murder, battery, and theft from a corpse. Dunn’s counsel consulted with a forensic pathologist. After viewing the medical examiner’s report, the pathologist believed that Schuckman died immediately from his head injuries—suggesting that Dunn’s slap could not have caused his death. Before trial, defense counsel repeatedly, erroneously, stated that the medical examiner had concluded that Schuckman died immediately from a fatal blow and would testify to that at trial. The medical examiner’s report did not contain such conclusions and counsel never confirmed them. The prosecutor informed Dunn’s counsel that Crochet had retained experts, who were going to produce reports that bolstered Dunn’s no-causation defense. The prosecution considered the reports exculpatory. Dunn’s counsel did not ask for a continuance or attempt to view the reports. At trial, defense counsel did not call his forensic pathologist as a witness. The medical examiner testified that there was no reason to think that Schuckman would have died immediately from the fatal head injury, and it would have been possible for Schuckman to move after sustaining this injury.The Seventh Circuit upheld an order granting federal habeas relief. Dunn’s trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to investigate and offer evidence to support a no-causation defense and Dunn was prejudiced by that deficient performance. View "Dunn v. Jess" on Justia Law

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In 2014, a single Riverside County, California Superior Court judge signed 602 orders authorizing wiretaps, which was approximately 17 percent of all wiretaps authorized by all the state and federal courts in the nation. In 2015, the same judge and one other authorized 640 wiretaps, approximately 15 percent of all wiretaps in the country. Plaintiff-appellant Miguel Guerrero was targeted by a wiretap that a Riverside County judge authorized in 2015. Guerrero, who had never been arrested or charged with a crime in connection with the wiretap, wanted to know why he was targeted, and he believed the sheer number of wiretaps in those years raised significant doubts about whether the wiretaps complied with constitutional requirements. Relying on California's wiretap statutes and the First Amendment, he asked a trial court to allow him to inspect the wiretap order, application and intercepted communications. The trial court denied this request. After review, the Court of Appeal determined the trial court applied the wrong standard in considering Plaintiff's application under wiretap statutes, which closely paralleled statutes under federal law. The matter was remanded so that the trial court could properly exercise its discretion, and the Court provided guidance on the appropriate standard. Given this holding on the statutory issue, the Court declined to address the contention, advanced by Guerrero and an amicus brief, that the public had a First Amendment right of access to the wiretap materials. View "Guerrero v. Hestrin" on Justia Law

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Baltimore filed suit against the Government, alleging that HHS's Final Rule, prohibiting physicians and other providers in Title X programs from referring patients for an abortion, even if that is the patient's wish, violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The Final Rule, instead, requires them to refer the patient for prenatal care. Furthermore, the Final Rule requires entities receiving Title X funds, but offering abortion-related services pursuant to another source of funds, to physically separate their abortion-related services from the Title X services. After the district court issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the Government from implementing or enforcing the Final Rule because the Final Rule is likely not in accordance with law, the Government appealed. While the appeal of the preliminary injunction was pending and after discovery, the district court issued a permanent injunction on different grounds.The Fourth Circuit consolidated the appeals and a majority of the full court voted to hear both cases en banc. The court upheld the district court's grant of the permanent injunction on two grounds: first, the Final Rule was promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious manner because it failed to recognize and address the ethical concerns of literally every major medical organization in the country, and it arbitrarily estimated the cost of the physical separation of abortion services; and second, the Final Rule contravenes statutory provisions requiring nondirective counseling in Title X programs and prohibiting interference with physician/patient communications. Accordingly, because the court affirmed the permanent injunction in Case No. 20-1215, the appeal of the preliminary injunction in Case No. 19-1614 is moot and the court dismissed it. View "Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Azar" on Justia Law

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In this case involving procedures and remedies for impermissible peremptory challenges the Supreme Judicial Court adopted the language of the Federal standard for the first step of a challenge pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), and retired the language of "pattern" and "likelihood" governing the first-step inquiry under Commonwealth v. Soares, 444 U.S. 881 (1979).While incarcerated, Defendant argued on appeal and in pursuing postconviction relief that the trial judge did not appropriately inquire as to whether the prosecutor unconstitutionally struck African-American men from the jury. The Appeals Court determined that the trial judge did not err in deciding not to continue past the first step of the Batson-Soares inquiry. In granting Defendant's petition for writ of habeas corpus, the First Circuit concluded that the trial judge unreasonably applied Federal law. Defendant then filed a motion for a new trial or, in the alternative, for a reduced sentence. The motion judge reduced the verdict under Mass. R. Crim. P. 25(b)(2) and resentenced Defendant. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order and remanded for retrial, holding (1) the judge improperly reduced the verdict, and the principles of double jeopardy did not preclude retrying Defendant; and (2) adopting the Federal formulation of the Batson-Soares test will better identify improper peremptory challenges. View "Commonwealth v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

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After four months of pretrial detention at the Madison County jail in 2007, Pittman attempted suicide by hanging himself with a blanket. The attempt left Pittman in a vegetative state. In his suicide note, he stated that the guards were “f***ing” with him and would not give him access to “crisis [counseling].” Banovz, an inmate housed near Pittman’s cell, substantiated the claim that Pittman had made in his suicide note. In a recorded interview with a county detective, Banovz stated that in the days leading up to Pittman’s suicide attempt, Pittman had asked officers Werner and Eaton to refer him to crisis counseling; neither of them followed through with their promises. On remand, in a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, a jury ruled in favor of the defendants. The Seventh Circuit ruled that the district court’s exclusion of the Banovz video interview was a reversible error. After a second trial, the jury again returned a verdict for the defendants.The Seventh Circuit again remanded. One of the jury instructions erroneously directed the jury to evaluate Pittman’s Fourteenth Amendment claim according to a subjective rather than objective standard. The jury was told to consider whether the defendants “consciously failed to take reasonable measures to prevent [Pittman] from harming himself.” View "Pittman v. Madison County" on Justia Law