Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court suppressing the DNA results of a buccal swab taken from Defendant pursuant to a valid search warrant while he was incarcerated, holding that the trial justice erred in suppressing the buccal swab evidence. Three years after the murder of Robert Bullard Defendant was apprehended and taken into custody. A criminal complaint was filed, and Defendant was held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI). Thereafter, a detective obtained search warrants to collect Defendant's DNA at the ACI using a buccal swab. When Defendant refused to comply with the search warrants law enforcement officers used force to obtain the buccal swab. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the DNA evidence, which the trial court granted. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's order, holding that the use of force was objectively reasonable because the intrusion into Defendant's Fourth Amendment interests was minimal and was far outweighed by countervailing government interests. View "State v. Querido" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of one count of felony assault and one count of simple assault, holding that none of the trial justice's rulings challenged on appeal was erroneous. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) because Defendant never questioned the trial justice's impartiality when it was appropriate to do so Defendant waived his argument that he was deprived of his right to trial by a neutral and detached arbiter; (2) the trial justice’s finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on each count did not constitute an impermissible pyramiding of inferences; (3) Defendant's argument that he was deprived of his right to fair notice of the crime for which he was convicted and prejudiced by the timing of the introduction of the theory of aiding and abetting was without merit; and (4) because each of the individual allegations of error lacked merit, the cumulative effect doctrine did not apply. View "State v. Parrillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding that an amendment to the City of Providence's zoning ordinance that restricted the number of college students who may live together in single-family homes in certain residential areas in Providence did not violate Plaintiffs' right to equal protection or due process under the Rhode Island Constitution. Plaintiffs, a real estate investment company, and four individuals who were college students and housemates leasing the real estate investment company's property, filed a declaratory judgment action against the City seeking to invalidate the amendment, arguing that the City had violated the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution. The hearing justice entered judgment in favor of the City. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the amendment was rationally related to the legitimate state purpose of preserving the residential character of certain neighborhoods and that there was no constitutional violation. View "Federal Hill Capital, LLC v. City of Providence" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in favor of the State and Lieutenant Scott Raynes and the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), the Council on Postsecondary Education, and Captain Timothy Poulin, holding that the superior court did not err. Plaintiff brought a complaint alleging that Defendants terminated him in violation of the Rhode Island Whistleblowers' Protection Act and that Lieutenant Raynes and Captain Poulin violated 42 U.S.C. 1983 when they took action against Plaintiff from being continuously employed due to his whistleblowing activity. The hearing justice dismissed Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his complaint and the denial of his motion to amend his complaint. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the hearing justice correctly concluded that Plaintiff failed to state a valid claim under the Act because Plaintiff's actions did not qualify as protected activity; and (2) the hearing justice did not err in denying Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint on the ground that his claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 was barred by the statute of limitations. View "Crenshaw v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's judgment of conviction on one count of first-degree child molestation sexual assault and remanded the case to the superior court for a new trial, holding that the trial justice erred in denying Defendant's motion to pass the case after the prosecutor's statements during closing argument about Defendant's courtroom demeanor and behavior toward the complainant. Specifically, the Court held (1) the prosecutor's statements regarding Defendant's courtroom demeanor had the potential for unfair prejudice, and a curative instruction could not overcome the prejudice in this case; (2) the trial justice erred in admitting some, but not all, of the evidence pertaining to a police investigation into Defendant for possession of child pornography; and (3) Defendant's claim that the trial justice erred in failing to safeguard Defendant's right to a fair trial based on various claims related to the presence of members of a motorcycle group known as Bikers Against Child Abuse in the courtroom during trial was not properly before the court. View "State v. Bozzo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint against Child and Family Services of Newport County (CFS) alleging defamation, constructive termination, discrimination, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, holding that the hearing justice properly dismissed Plaintiff's claims. Specifically, the Court held (1) where the complaint did not allege that CFS made any false statements about Defendant, Plaintiff did not sufficiently allege a claim for defamation; (2) Plaintiff did not properly plead a claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (3) the complaint did not include sufficient facts to allege a prima facie case of either employment discrimination or a civil rights violation; and (4) the hearing justice did not err in dismissing the amended complaint with prejudice. View "Ferreira v. Child and Family Services of Rhode Island" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss one count of first-degree sexual assault on the grounds of double jeopardy and prosecutorial misconduct, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims. Defendant was found guilty of assault and battery and acquitted as to several offenses, but as to the charge for first-degree sexual assault based upon anal penetration, the jury deadlocked and did not reach a verdict. When it became evident that the State would retry Defendant on the deadlocked count, Defendant filed several pretrial motions. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the sole remaining count, arguing that double jeopardy barred a retrial of acquitted conduct that arose from the same set of facts previously decided by the jury and that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct. Defendant further sought to exclude any reference to acquitted conduct from the first trial. The trial justice denied Defendant's motions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's first argument conflated a double jeopardy contention with one that was evidentiary, and whether Defendant's acquitted conduct was admissible under R.I. R. Evid. 404(b) at his retrial was an issue not properly before the court; and (2) Defendant's prosecutorial misconduct argument was not preserved for appeal. View "State v. Forlasto" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Petitioner's appeal from a decision of a drug court magistrate upholding a determination by the Sex Offender Board of Review classifying Petitioner as a Level II, moderate-risk sex offender, holding that Petitioner's classification was lawful and proper. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the Board violated his rights to due process, to the presumption of innocence, and to be protected from double jeopardy by relying on alleged impermissible hearsay allegations for conduct for which he was eventually acquitted. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner failed to demonstrate that his right to procedural due process was violated; (2) the Board considered numerous factors in making its determination; and (3) Petitioner's classification did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, and the Board's actions were not in the context of a criminal trial and did not implicate Petitioner's right to a fair trial. View "DiCarlo v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of assault of a police officer, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct, holding that the trial justice did not err in determining that Defendant had waived his constitutional right to counsel. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial justice erred in concluding that he made a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of his constitutional right to counsel. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the trial justice did not err in (1) determining that Defendant voluntarily waived his right to counsel prior to trial; and (2) finding that Defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel. View "State v. Souto" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder by use of a firearm he was not licensed to carry, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his allegations of error. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial justice did not err by denying Defendant's pretrial motion to suppress statements he gave to the police in the first of two interrogations; (2) Defendant failed to show that his trial counsel had an actual conflict of interest throughout her representation of him; (3) Defendant waived his argument that the trial court erred in admitting testimonial and photographic evidence suggesting Defendant's affiliation with known gangs; and (4) Defendant waived direct appellate review of challenged jury instructions. View "State v. Andrade" on Justia Law