Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maine Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for intentional or knowing murder and sentence of forty years' imprisonment, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the trial court (1) did not err in determining that Defendant had waived the religious privilege in relation to a communication he made to church leaders; (2) did not err by declining to give Defendant's requested jury instruction that the State was required to prove that he intentionally or knowingly killed the victim and not just intentionally or knowingly killed another human being; (3) did not err when it denied Defendant's motion to continue the sentencing hearing; and (4) misapplied no legal principles and acted within its discretion in sentencing Defendant. View "State v. Gaston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment entered by the superior court denying in part Petitioner's petition for post-conviction review of his conviction on several sexual assault charges, holding that Petitioner was deprived of his right to the effective assistance of trial counsel.After a trial, the jury found Petitioner guilty of one count each of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact, and sexual abuse of a minor. The Supreme Court affirmed. Petitioner subsequently filed a postconviction petition arguing that he had been deprived of his right to the effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court granted the petition as to the convictions for unlawful sexual contact and sexual abuse of a minor and vacated Petitioner's convictions on those counts but denied Petitioner's petition as to the conviction for gross sexual assault. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment and remanded for entry of a judgment granting Petitioner's petition for post-conviction review and vacating the remaining conviction, holding that counsel's performance was deficient and that Petitioner was entitled to post-conviction relief from the remaining portion of the judgment of conviction. View "Hodgdon v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court affirming the Department of Public Safety's denial of Appellant's application for a professional investigator license, holding that Appellant's First Amendment rights were not violated by the application of statutory competency standards to his conduct on social media.The Department denied Appellant's application based on comments and posts that he had made on social media using an account bearing the name of his out-of-state private investigation business concerning a police lieutenant. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the circuit court's affirmation of the Department's decision, holding (1) intermediate scrutiny applies to the Department's application of the licensing statutes to Appellant's application; (2) the Department did not err in its findings; and (3) the Department's application of the licensing standards to Appellant did not violate the First Amendment. View "Gray v. Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of possession of sexually explicit material, holding that the superior court did not err by denying Defendant's motion to suppress on the grounds that Defendant, despite his diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), was capable of voluntary consent.Defendant sought to suppress his statements to police regarding sexually explicit material depicting minors found on his electronic tablet and any evidence of sexually explicit materials depicting minors discovered as a result. The superior court denied Defendant's motion to suppress, concluding that Defendant had the capacity to and did voluntarily speak to the police and consent to the search of his tablet. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's ASD did not render his statements or the search of his tablet involuntary. View "State v. Glenn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of domestic violence assault, holding that Defendant was not prejudiced.On appeal, Defendant argued (1) the trial court erred by allowing testimony from Defendant's fifteen-year-old daughter concerning Defendant's parenting practices, and (2) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct by commenting on admissible evidence during its cross-examination of her. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) because, in her opening statement, Defendant indicated her pursuit of the parental discipline justification found at Me. Rev. Stat. 17-A, 106(1), the court did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant's parenting; and (2) the State committed prosecutorial conduct by eliciting and commenting on evidence that other children had been removed from Defendant's home, but the error was not so prejudicial that it affected the outcome of the proceeding. View "State v. Pratt" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the district court dismissing with prejudice a complaint for protection from abuse that Plaintiff brought on behalf of her three minor children against the children's father (Father), holding that due process did not require that the court dismiss this matter with prejudice.After Plaintiff filed her complaint for protection from abuse on behalf of her children, Father was arrested. Father's bail conditions prohibited contact between Father and the children. Plaintiff moved to dismiss the complaint without prejudice given that Father's bail conditions protected the children. The court denied Plaintiff's motion and dismissed the case with prejudice, concluding that it did not have the discretion to grant Plaintiff's motion. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that the court erred as a matter of law when it determined that due process and Me. Rev. Stat. 4006(1) required it to either hold the hearing as scheduled or dismiss the complaint with prejudice and that, pursuant to Me. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2), the court had the authority and discretion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint without prejudice. View "Doe v. Hills-Pettitt" on Justia Law

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In this action brought by Plaintiff, an inmate, the Supreme Judicial Court vacated the portions of the superior court's judgment denying injunctive relief, restoring good-time credit for the period of Plaintiff's nondisciplinary segregation, and entering judgment for Defendants on Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C.S. 1983 claim, holding that restoration of Plaintiff's "good time" was not an available remedy through judicial review of the Department's disciplinary action against Plaintiff and that the Maine Constitution's mandate regarding separation of powers does not preclude an award of injunctive relief on a section 1983 claim against the Department of Corrections.Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking judicial review of a disciplinary decision of the Department and injunction for violations of his civil rights. The superior court vacated the disciplinary decision but concluded that it was prohibited from entering injunctive relief on the section 1983 claim. The court then restored good-time credit for the period of nondisciplinary segregation as a remedy for Plaintiff's Rule 80C claim and entered judgment for Defendants on the section 1983 claim. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment in part and remanded for the court to determine whether injunctive relief should be awarded, enter judgment in Plaintiff's favor on his section 1983 claim and ordered the restoration of good-time credit for the period of Plaintiff's nondisciplinary segregation as a remedy for the constitutional violations alleged in his section 1983 claim. View "Burr v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of intentional or knowing murder of a deputy sheriff, holding that there was no error, clear or otherwise, in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the State to introduce in-court demonstrations of the possible circumstances of the shooting and in allowing the demonstration to be presented to the jury over Defendant's Rule 403 objection; (2) the trial court did not err in partially denying Defendant's motion to suppress statements he made to detectives after his arrest; and (3) there was no error in the court's sentencing proceedings, and the court did not abuse its discretion in imposing a sentence of life imprisonment. View "State v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's convictions for trafficking in prison contraband, unlawful possession of a scheduled drug, and violating a condition of release, holding that the trial court erred in its handling of the void dire process and in admitting certain evidence.On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his race-related voir dire questions and erred in partially denying his motion to suppress statements he made to a corrections officer upon his arrival to jail after his arrest. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding (1) the voir dire process was not sufficient to disclose facts that would reveal juror bias; and (2) the trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress, and the error was not harmless. View "State v. Fleming" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant for failure to comply with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 1999 (SORNA of 1999), Me. Rev. Stat. 34-A, 11227(2), holding that, due to inadequate representation by Defendant's trial counsel, the court committed obvious error by not addressing the constitutionality of SORNA of 1999, as retroactively applied to Defendant.In 1990, Defendant was convicted of four counts of unlawful sexual contact, and in 1992, he was convicted of gross sexual assault. Neither offense required Defendant to register as a sex offender. After the Legislature enacted SORNA of 1999, Defendant 's two convictions became subject to SORNA of 1999. In 2018, Defendant was found guilty of failure to comply with a duty under SORNA of 1999. On appeal, Defendant argued that the retroactive application of SORNA of 1999 to require him to register for life violated the state and federal constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto laws. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding that it could not be said beyond a reasonable doubt that the retroactive application of SORNA of 1999 to Defendant's 1990 and 1992 convictions did not affect his substantial rights by virtue of a punitive alteration of his original sentences. View "State v. Proctor" on Justia Law