Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the family court convicting Defendant of cruelty to or neglect of a child and sentencing her to a one-year suspended term of imprisonment, with probation, holding that a new trial was required.On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial justice erred by proceeding with a bench trial without obtaining a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of Defendant's right to a jury trial and erred in finding habitual neglect in this case. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that because there was nothing in the record indicating that the trial justice was assured by Defendant that her waiver of a jury trial was made intelligently and with full knowledge of the consequences of her waiver, the case must be remanded for a new trial. View "State v. Michaud" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of second-degree murder, receiving stolen goods, conspiracy, operating a vehicle on a suspended license, and carrying a knife greater than three inches in length, holding that there was no error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial justice did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress the fruits of his third interrogation; (2) the trial justice did not err by declining to redact certain prejudicial statements Defendant made while he was alone in the interrogation room; (3) Defendant's argument that his detention was extensive and that he was denied prescription medication during detention was waived; and (4) Defendant's argument that the trial justice abused his discretion by failing to suppress a witness's out-of-court identification was also waived. View "State v. Baribault" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction and commitment entered in the superior court reflecting the fact that Defendant was found guilty of second-degree murder, holding that the trial justice did not err when she denied Defendant's motion to suppress.Before trial, Defendant filed a motion to videos located on a digital camera, arguing that the detectives who seized the camera improperly expended the scope of the judicially-approved warrant. The trial justice denied the motion. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not clearly err in denying the motion to suppress because, in seizing the camera, the police did not exceed the scope of the warrant. View "State v. Depina" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint alleging that Defendant, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), failed to compensate her for past workplace injuries, holding that the trial justice properly dismissed the complaint.The trial justice found that the superior court did not have jurisdiction over certain claims because they were committed to the Workers' Compensation Court, that Plaintiff did not properly articulate other claims, and that the complaint failed adequately to inform Defendant of the nature of Plaintiff's claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff's claims on appeal were without merit. View "Barnes v. Rhode Island Public Transit Authority" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of eighteen counts of financial fraud crimes and sentencing him to a total of seven years to serve in prison, with the balance of the eighteen concurrent sentences suspended with probation, holding that the trial justice did not err or abuse her discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in admitting evidence related to Defendant's character; (2) the trial justice did not err by permitted a Rhode Island State Police detective to provide expert opinion testimony as a lay witness; (3) the trial justice was not clearly wrong in allowing a waiver of the attorney-client privilege; (4) the trial justice did not err when she denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence he claimed was illegally obtained by state action; (5) the trial justice did not err by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial; and (6) Defendant waived his remaining allegations of error. View "State v. Doyle" on Justia Law

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In this case challenging the City of Providence's ordinance suspending annual cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) for retired members of its police and fire departments until the pension fund achieved a seventy percent funding level the Supreme Court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and reversed in part the trial court judgment in favor of the City, holding that the pension ordinance was unenforceable as to certain plaintiffs.After the City enacted its ordinance in retiree groups and union groups initiated litigation to bar enforcement of the ordinance. Most retirees entered into a settlement that ripened into a consent judgment. Several individuals who opted out of the settlement agreement brought this suit. The trial justice entered judgment for the City. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the superior court correctly entered summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims under the Takings Clause and for promissory estoppel; (2) with respect to the plaintiffs who were also a party in prior litigation regarding their COLA benefits and who were included in an earlier consent judgment or individual settlement agreement, the pension ordinance was unenforceable; and (3) with respect to Plaintiffs' challenge to the pension ordinance based upon the Contract Clause, the judgment is vacated. View "Andrews v. Lombardi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant on two counts of first-degree child molestation sexual assault, holding that the trial justice did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress statements made to the state police, denying Defendant's motion for a mistrial, and denying Defendant's motion to dismiss counts one and two of the indictment pursuant to Rule 29(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant's waiver of his Miranda rights was made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, and therefore, the trial justice properly denied Defendant's motion to suppress; (2) the trial justice did not err when she denied Defendant's motion for a mistrial based on an alleged discovery violation by the State; and (3) the trial justice did not err when she credited the complaining witness's testimony in denying Defendant's Rule 29(b) motion to dismiss the first two counts of the indictment relating to first-degree child molestation sexual assault. View "State v. Alvarado" on Justia Law

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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