Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal 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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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 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

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The First Circuit vacated Defendant's convictions for nine counts of wire fraud and six counts of aggravated identity theft for his participation in an alleged health insurance fraud scheme, holding that the verdict form that was submitted to the jury violated Defendant's federal constitutional right to a jury trial, and the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the district court invaded the jury's over fact-finding by overemphasizing certain of the government's evidence in a manner that was contrary to Appellant's interests, in violation of Appellant's Sixth Amendment right; and (2) there was a reasonable possibility that the constitutional violation at issue influenced the jury in reaching its verdicts in this case, and therefore, the verdicts could not stand, and remand was required. View "United States v. Moffett" on Justia Law

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Hewittel was convicted of armed robbery and related offenses based solely on the testimony of the victim. Three witnesses—one of them having little relationship with anyone in the case—were prepared to testify in support of Hewittel’s alibi that he was at home, almost a half-hour from the crime scene when the crime occurred. Hewittel’s attorney failed to call any of those witnesses at trial, not because of any strategic judgment but because Hewittel’s counsel thought the crime occurred between noon and 12:30 p.m. when Hewittel was at home alone. The victim twice testified (in counsel’s presence) that the crime occurred at 1:00 or 1:30 p.m.—by which time all three witnesses were present at Hewittel’s home. Counsel also believed that evidence of Hewittel’s prior convictions would have unavoidably come in at trial. In reality, that evidence almost certainly would have been excluded, if Hewittel’s counsel asked. Throughout the trial, Hewittel’s counsel repeatedly reminded the jury that his client had been convicted of armed robbery five times before.The trial judge twice ordered a new trial. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, based in part on the same mistake regarding the time of the offense. The federal district court granted a Hewittel writ of habeas corpus. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, calling the trial “an extreme malfunction in the criminal justice system.” View "Hewitt-El v. Burgess" on Justia Law

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Wellpath contracted with the jail to provide on-site medical staff and services. Wellpath assigned Dr. Cogswell, to work at the jail. While there, he sexually assaulted three inmates during their visits to the medical clinic. None of the women called out for help or otherwise indicated to the jail staff that anything untoward was occurring. One inmate, Bills recounted seeing an unidentified officer “glance through the little crack of the white curtain [and give] kind of like a head nod,” which Bills interpreted as the officer saying to Cogswell “I got your back.” Wellpath had a policy that if there was a sensitive exam going on, there would be a chaperone. During Cogswell’s tenure, Macomb Officer Horan reported to Wellpath’s nursing director and a Wellpath paramedic that Cogswell was potentially violating this policy by seeing patients unchaperoned, using a privacy screen. At Horan’s request, the nursing director “pop[ped] [her] head in” and saw “nothing out of the ordinary[ or] suspicious.”Days after their assaults, inmates reported the incidents to the jail. Wellpath learned of the reports the same day and immediately informed Cogswell not to report to work. Following an investigation, his employment was terminated. Cogswell was later convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. In the inmates’ suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, citing the lack of evidence that the defendants knew of Cogswell’s assaults before they were reported. View "Buetenmiller v. Macomb County Jail" on Justia Law