Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the defendant, Charles O’Neill, appealed the judgment of the district court. O’Neill was charged with sexually exploiting a minor and receiving or distributing child pornography. He pleaded guilty to both charges but reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from his home and a barn he owned. The evidence included large numbers of photographs of nude and partially nude minor boys on O’Neill’s phone and iPad, and a computer, camcorder, camera, digital storage devices, miscellaneous clothing, and a vibrator found in the barn.The district court found that although the affidavits from the police officers used to obtain search warrants contained false statements and lacked probable cause, the officers had not knowingly or recklessly misled the issuing magistrate, and their reliance on the warrants was objectively reasonable under the good-faith exception in United States v. Leon.On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, agreeing that none of the exceptions to the good-faith exception applied. The court found that the officers' errors in the affidavits were negligent rather than reckless, the affidavits weren't "bare bones" as they contained more than conclusory claims and were far from devoid of factual support, and the warrants weren't facially deficient. The court noted that the officers' reliance on the search warrants was objectively reasonable, and therefore the fruits of their searches shouldn't be suppressed. The court also noted that even if it shared the dissenting judge's view on the officers' state of mind, it would likely conclude that the district court's denial of the suppression motion was proper because the remaining content of the affidavit would likely establish probable cause. View "United States v. O'Neill" on Justia Law

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This case concerned an appeal by Matthew Ware, a former correctional officer, against the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Ware was convicted by a jury of two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 46 months of imprisonment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed this sentence.Ware was a correctional officer at the Kay County Detention Center in Oklahoma. The charges against him arose from two incidents where he was found to have abused his power and caused harm to inmates. In one incident, Ware ordered the transfer of two inmates to a different level of the detention center, despite knowing that this would likely result in a fight, which it did. In another incident, Ware ordered a detainee to be handcuffed in a painful position for an extended period of time.Ware appealed his sentence, arguing that the court did not give adequate weight to his personal history and lack of criminal record. However, the Court of Appeals found that the district court had thoroughly weighed each of the sentencing factors and detailed its reasoning. The Court of Appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Ware to 46 months of imprisonment, and affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Ware" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Ivan Cantu, who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2001, sought to authorize the district court to consider a successive petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244. He claimed a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and suppression of evidence by the state in violation of Brady v. Maryland. The Fifth Circuit denied his motion for authorization, holding that Cantu had failed to meet the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2)(B).The court found that Cantu failed to exercise due diligence to discover the evidence he was now relying on and that he failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found him guilty. The court also noted that Cantu's last-minute filing was an attempt at manipulation and did not serve the public interest or the interest of the victims in the timely enforcement of the sentence. Consequently, the court denied Cantu's motion for a stay of execution. View "In Re: Ivan Cantu" on Justia Law

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The case concerns an appeal by Brandon Cade against a ruling by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, before the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit. Cade was arrested by Chicago police officers who noticed an open bottle of alcohol in a sedan next to which Cade and another individual were standing. During a search of the car, officers found an unlicensed firearm and Cade admitted it was his. He was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. Cade argued to suppress evidence of the gun and his incriminating statements, but the district court denied his motion. Cade pleaded guilty but reserved his right to appeal the suppression ruling. He argued that his initial encounter with the officers was an unlawful seizure and that his incriminating statements should be suppressed because the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to seize him.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling. The court found that the initial encounter with the officers was consensual and did not constitute a seizure. The court also ruled that even if there was an unlawful seizure, Cade's incriminating statements were sufficiently attenuated from any allegedly unlawful conduct. The presence of the open alcohol bottle provided probable cause for the search, which led to the discovery of the firearm, and Cade's admission to owning the firearm occurred after he was read his Miranda rights. The court concluded that there was no evidence of bad faith by the officers, and that an evidentiary hearing was not needed as there were no material factual disputes. View "United States v. Cade" on Justia Law

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In the case of Commonwealth v. Rashad Shepherd, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the defendant’s conviction of murder in the first degree on the theory of felony-murder, with attempted unarmed robbery as the predicate felony. The case centered around a failed robbery attempt that ended in the shooting and death of the intended victim. The defendant, along with two co-conspirators, hatched a plan to rob the victim, who was known to sell marijuana from his apartment. However, when the plan was put into motion, the victim resisted, and in the ensuing altercation, was shot and killed. The prosecution's theory was that the defendant was the shooter.In his appeal, the defendant argued that the court’s decision in a prior case, Commonwealth v. Brown, which abolished felony-murder as an independent theory of liability for murder in the first and second degrees, should be applied to his case retroactively. He maintained that not doing so violated equal protection principles as more Black individuals were serving life sentences without parole for felony-murder than white individuals. However, the court rejected this argument, noting that the decision in Brown was applied to all equally, regardless of race or ethnicity.The defendant also claimed errors in jury instructions and conduct by the trial judge, but the court determined that there was no reversible error. Lastly, the defendant argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, but the court found that the decisions by the defense were not manifestly unreasonable. View "Commonwealth v. Shepherd" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, June Wolverine, was charged with six misdemeanor traffic violations, including a third offense of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI). Wolverine was unable to attend her trial due to being in federal custody. The State of Montana moved to continue the trial, but did not provide information on when Wolverine would be released from federal custody. Wolverine subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the charges due to a lack of a speedy trial, as required by Montana law. The Justice Court denied Wolverine's motion, and she pleaded guilty to the DUI charge while reserving her right to appeal the speedy trial issue. The District Court affirmed the Justice Court's denial of the motion to dismiss, ruling that Wolverine's federal incarceration had a clear causal impact on the trial delay.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the decision of the District Court. The Supreme Court held that the State had failed to demonstrate good cause for the delay in Wolverine's trial. The State knew Wolverine was in federal custody and had ample time to ask for Wolverine’s temporary release for trial or to notify the Justice Court about the looming deadline for a speedy trial. Yet, the State did nothing as the deadline passed. The Supreme Court concluded that the State did not fulfill its obligation to try the defendant in a timely manner, thus violating Wolverine's right to a speedy trial. The court reversed the District Court's decision and ruled in favor of Wolverine. View "State v. Wolverine" on Justia Law

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This case involves a federal habeas corpus petition by Darnell Dixon, who was convicted of home invasion and murder by an Illinois state court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Dixon's habeas petition primarily focused on claims of actual innocence and prosecutorial misconduct. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his habeas petition by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.The case involved a series of events including a drug-related robbery and subsequent murders. Dixon and Eugene Langston were implicated in the murders, with Langston identified in a police lineup by a witness, Horace Chandler. However, Chandler later recanted this identification. The state's case against Dixon relied heavily on a confession that Dixon later claimed was false. Dixon's confession and Chandler's identification of Langston were central to the state's theory of accomplice liability, arguing that Dixon was accountable for Langston's acts.In his habeas petition, Dixon argued that he was denied due process when the trial court excluded evidence that charges against his alleged accomplice, Langston, were dismissed. He also asserted that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the exclusion of that evidence. Furthermore, Dixon claimed that the state committed prosecutorial misconduct by presenting conflicting positions regarding Langston's involvement in the murders at trial and during post-conviction proceedings.However, the Seventh Circuit found that Dixon's claim of actual innocence, based on the state's post-conviction contention that Langston's involvement was irrelevant and evidence of abusive and perjurious conduct by the case's police detective, did not meet the high standard required to conclusively prove his innocence. The Seventh Circuit also rejected Dixon's arguments of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel, finding no clear error in the district court's factual findings on these issues. View "Darnell Dixon v. Tarry Williams" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, Joseph Hoskins was stopped by a Utah state trooper, Jared Withers, because his Illinois license plate was partially obscured. The situation escalated when Trooper Withers conducted a dog sniff of the car, which led him to search the car and find a large amount of cash. Mr. Hoskins was arrested, and his DNA was collected. Mr. Hoskins sued Trooper Withers and Jess Anderson, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and state law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that Trooper Withers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop because Utah law requires license plates to be legible, and this applies to out-of-state plates. The court also found that the dog sniff did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop, as Mr. Hoskins was searching for his proof of insurance at the time. The court ruled that the trooper's protective measures, including pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins, handcuffing him, and conducting a patdown, did not elevate the stop into an arrest due to Mr. Hoskins's confrontational behavior.The court further held that the dog's reaction to the car created arguable probable cause to search the car and that the discovery of a large amount of cash provided arguable probable cause to arrest Mr. Hoskins. The court found that Trooper Withers did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights by pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins in retaliation for protected speech or as excessive force. Lastly, the court found no violation of Mr. Hoskins's due process rights related to the handling of his DNA sample, as neither the Due Process Clause nor state law created a protected interest in a procedure to ensure the destruction of his DNA sample. View "Hoskins v. Withers" on Justia Law

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In the case of People v. Ramirez, Fernando Ramirez, the defendant, was convicted of causing a three-car collision while intoxicated, resulting in one death and four serious injuries. During the trial, which took place amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, safety protocols such as social distancing and mask-wearing were implemented. The defendant objected to these measures, claiming they impeded his ability to fully observe the facial expressions of prospective jurors, thereby infringing on his rights to be present at all material stages of his trial and to meaningfully contribute to his defense. The New York Court of Appeals disagreed, stating that neither a defendant's right to be present during jury selection nor due process requires that a defendant have a simultaneous, unobstructed view of the entirety of every prospective juror's face during jury selection. The Court affirmed that the safety protocols did not violate the defendant's right to be present and observe the jury selection process, and there was no violation of due process.The defendant also requested a mistrial after observing the deceased victim's surviving spouse crying in the courtroom. He argued that this could induce undue sympathy from the jury. However, the trial court denied the motion, as the crying was not conspicuous and there was no indication the jury was aware of it. The court further offered a curative instruction to prevent sympathy, which the defense counsel declined. The New York Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision, affirming that there were no grounds for a mistrial. View "People v Ramirez" on Justia Law

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This case involves an appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota filed by the defendant, Nathaniel Crawford. Crawford was involved in a domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend at an apartment complex, which led to concerned residents calling 911, reporting that Crawford was threatening to shoot a person or burn the complex. After officers arrived at the scene, Crawford fled but returned later to threaten his ex-girlfriend with a firearm. He fled again before officers could arrive; however, they found him and his vehicle in a nearby parking lot. Officers identified a wooden object protruding from the vehicle's center console, which they inferred to be a firearm. Crawford was subsequently charged with being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm due to his prior felony and misdemeanor domestic violence convictions.Crawford moved to suppress the firearm, arguing that officers lacked probable cause to search his vehicle. The district court denied his motion, leading to Crawford's appeal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, agreeing that the 911 calls, the ex-girlfriend's statements, and the wooden object established probable cause for the vehicle search. The court ruled that the officers' search was supported by probable cause based on the combination of these factors, establishing probable cause to search Crawford's vehicle for a firearm. The court also rejected Crawford's arguments that the search was unreasonable due to the officers' original investigation of him for a different crime and their lack of knowledge about his status as a prohibited person under federal law. The court maintained that the government can search for evidence of one crime and charge the suspect with a different crime based on what it later learns. The court concluded that the "fruit of the poisonous tree" was admissible because the tree in this case was not poisonous. View "United States v. Crawford" on Justia Law