Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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Porter was convicted of capital murder in Virginia state court for killing a police officer in 2005. He was sentenced to death. After unsuccessfully pursuing direct and collateral review of his conviction and sentence in state court, Porter filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas petition in 2012, asserting claims of actual juror bias and that juror Treakle failed to disclose in response to voir dire questioning that his brother, Pernell was a law enforcement officer. The district court dismissed the petition without an evidentiary hearing or any further discovery. The Fourth Circuit remanded. The district court again dismissed without an evidentiary hearing or any discovery. The Fourth Circuit again remanded. Discovery following remand revealed that Juror Treakle also withheld information in response to other voir dire questions about being the victim of a violent crime and about whether relatives had ever been arrested or prosecuted.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, deferring to the district court’s finding that the juror was credible when he testified that he did not intentionally withhold information in response to those questions. Porter did not establish that Juror Treakle would have been dismissed for cause if he had not withheld any information in response to the voir dire questions. View "Porter v. White" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254, seeking to apply retroactively a federal procedural rule first announced in 2019 to overturn the result of his state disciplinary proceedings that took place in 2015. At issue is whether the principles articulated in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), prohibiting the retroactive application of procedural rules on federal collateral review, apply to bar the inmate's effort in the circumstances of this case.The Fourth Circuit concluded that the retroactivity principles stated in Teague do indeed apply and that they preclude retroactive application of Lennear v. Wilson, 937 F.3d 257, 273–74 (4th Cir. 2019), to this case. The court concluded that Virginia made judicial relief available, even though no Virginia court addressed the relief claimed, and thus petitioner's assertion that the district court was his only "opportunity" for judicial review is a misstatement. Furthermore, defendant's argument that federal habeas review in this case is "direct review" in which new procedural rules apply is also not legally supportable. In regard to petitioner's alternative argument, the court concluded that, at bottom, petitioner's section 2254 petition is a federal collateral proceeding, not direct review of a state administrative proceeding, and therefore Teague's principle that a new procedural rule does not apply retroactively on federal collateral review governs. In this case, the court concluded that all the requirements of Teague have been met. The court rejected petitioner's remaining arguments and affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief. View "Wall v. Kiser" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief and petitioner's accompanying request for supplemental expert funding. The court granted a Certificate of Appealability (COA) on five issues.The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying petitioner's supplemental expert funding request. In regard to petitioner's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC), the court concluded that petitioner's jury sentencing claim was without merit and there is no flaw in the district court's conclusion that the record establishes that petitioner was fully advised of his rights to a jury trial and sentencing, as well as the possibility that a jury could sentence him to life; the district court did not err in denying relief on petitioner's mitigation evidence claim where petitioner could not overcome the procedural bar for his defaulted subclaims and the evidence does not fundamentally alter his claim; counsel's performance in investigating and presenting mitigation evidence was not deficient and petitioner failed to establish prejudice; the record leaves no doubt that petitioner admitted to two aggravating circumstances in his guilty plea and knowingly and voluntarily waived any challenge to judicial factfinding by the trial court and that challenge would have been futile; and petitioner procedurally defaulted his guilty plea claim. View "Mahdi v. Stirling" on Justia Law

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After an explosion at Massey’s West Virginia coal mine killed 29 miners, Blankenship, then Massey’s Chairman of the Board and CEO, was convicted of conspiring to willfully violate federal mine safety and health standards, 30 U.S.C. 820(d) and 18 U.S.C. 371. The evidence indicated that Blankenship had willfully failed to address numerous notices of mine safety violations that Massey had received, favoring production and profits over safety. Following the trial and in response to Blankenship’s ongoing requests, the government produced documents to Blankenship that it had not produced before trial and that it should have produced under applicable Department of Justice policies. The suppressed documents fell broadly into two categories: memoranda of interviews conducted of seven Massey employees and internal emails and documents of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) showing, among other things, some MSHA employees’ hostility to Massey and Blankenship.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Blankenship’s 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his conviction. While the documents were improperly suppressed, they were not material in that there was not a reasonable probability that they would have produced a different result had they been disclosed before trial. The verdict that Blankenship conspired to willfully violate mandatory mine standards was supported by ample evidence. View "United States v. Blankenship" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Davison began to publicly criticize Louden school policies, alleging violations of federal law, misleading budget information, and flouting Virginia’s Conflict of Interest Act. Davison frequently chastised school board members in many forums and during board meetings. He routinely emailed individual board members and made multiple social media posts about his complaints. Davison also commented on board members’ social media platforms. Davison mentioned weapons; there were concerns about the welfare of his children. Board members voiced personal safety concerns, which led to the 2015 no-trespass letters that prohibited his presence on school property and attendance at any school-sponsored activities unless authorized. Davidson’s previous state-court challenge has been dismissed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Davison’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, citing res judicata. Davison agreed to dismiss his state petition, which included federal claims, with prejudice, despite having the opportunity to withdraw his petition. The board’s policy, which prohibits all personal attacks, regardless of viewpoint, because they cause “unnecessary delay or disruption to a meeting,” is a constitutional policy for a limited public forum because it is viewpoint neutral, and the restriction is reasonable in light of the purpose of the board. The district court correctly determined that Davison did not experience retaliation. With respect to claims against individuals and claims based on reports to protective services concerning Davison’s children, the court cited qualified immunity. Davison was not deprived of procedural due process. View "Davison v. Rose" on Justia Law

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Moss filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that while he was a pretrial detainee, jail officials put him in disciplinary confinement without a hearing, in violation of his procedural due process rights, and that they delayed his access to urgent medical care, again violating his due process rights. Moss claims that he informed the intake officer that he was taking a medication for a thyroid condition, Vyvanse for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Zoloft for PTSD and alleges delays in providing him with those medications while he was detained.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that Moss failed to exhaust available administrative remedies for his procedural due process claim and that any delay in the provision of medical treatment did not rise to the level of deliberate indifference. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Moss argued that jail officials made administrative remedies unavailable by denying him access to the grievance system while he was in disciplinary confinement but undisputed record evidence establishes that Moss was able to use the grievance system during that time, compelling the conclusion that administrative remedies were available to him. There is no evidence that the defendants knew of but deliberately ignored a substantial risk to Moss’s health. View "Moss v. Harwood" on Justia Law

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Burr was convicted for the 1991 murder of an infant, “Susie.” Burr was living with Susie’s mother, Bridges, and was physically abusive to Bridges. Bridges had returned home to find Susie unconscious, having seizures, bruised, and with broken bones. Burr was sentenced to death. Burr has pursued habeas remedies before the state and federal courts. In 2020, the district court declined to grant habeas relief on the basis of claims under "Brady" and "Napue," related to transcripts of interviews with two witnesses, Susie’s brother, Scott, and Bridges.The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Burr has not demonstrated that the state court’s decision was “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts,” 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(2). The state court did not unreasonably apply Brady when it concluded that “any inconsistencies between the trial testimony of [Bridges and Scott] and their pre-trial comments to the prosecutors are of de minimis significance.” Burr did not explain how the transcript would have allowed him to impeach that testimony. The jury could make its own determination of how much weight to give the statements of a young child who repeatedly stated that he could not remember key details. Burr has not pointed to any “false impression” about Scott’s testimony that prosecutors should have been aware of and flagged but that the jury would not also have been aware of after listening to that testimony. View "Burr v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Section 3-506 of Maryland's Election Law, which provides that a list of Maryland registered voters (the List) may be given to an applicant who is himself a registered Maryland voter (Access Provision), so long as the applicant attests that he will use the List for purposes that are related to the electoral process (the Use Provision). On remand from the Fourth Circuit, the district court awarded summary judgment to Maryland state officials on plaintiff's Use Provision-based free speech and vagueness claims.The Fourth Circuit applied the Anderson-Burdick balancing test and concluded that plaintiff's claim that — as applied to him — the Use Provision contravenes the Free Speech Clause was without merit. The court explained that, when weighed against the State's interests — that is, safeguarding the List, protecting Maryland's election system, and shielding Maryland registered voters from harassment — the burden imposed on plaintiff is modest. The court also found plaintiff's as-applied vagueness claim unavailing where plaintiff understands the Use Provision's reach. Finally, the court found meritless plaintiff's facial challenges to the Use Provision which argued that the Use Provision facially contravenes the Free Speech Clause and that the phrase "related to the electoral process" is facially vague. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Fusaro v. Howard" on Justia Law

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During an automobile stop in Richmond, Virginia, Ball struggled with a Virginia law enforcement officer, pulled out a gun, and shot the officer in the forehead at close range, killing him. Virginia prosecutors charged him with capital murder. Pursuant to a plea agreement, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with all but 36 years suspended. Following community outrage over the sentence, federal prosecutors charged Ball with possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The district court sentenced Ball to the statutory maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment and, as a variance, required that the 10 years be served consecutive to the state sentence.The Fourth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the federal indictment should have been dismissed because that prosecution violated the Double Jeopardy Clause, was unnecessarily delayed within the meaning of FRCP 48(b), having been initiated more than two years after the shooting, and constituted vindictive prosecution under the Due Process Clause because the federal prosecution and sentence were “intended to punish him for negotiating a favorable deal with state prosecutors.” The federal government articulated valid federal interests in prosecuting Ball for his violation of federal law, pointing to its prioritization of felon-in-possession cases, and the serious nature of Ball’s conduct. View "United States v. Ball" on Justia Law

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Walters entered his ex-girlfriend’s home, struck her with a hammer, and left with her cell phone and $700. Walters was arrested and charged in West Virginia state court with first-degree robbery, malicious assault, and burglary. Public defender Stanley represented him. In March, the state extended a plea offer. Stanley’s office timely received the offer, set to expire in April, but failed to communicate it to Walters until July. Despite Walters’s requests for a new attorney, Stanley continued to represent Walters. In July, the state extended another plea offer. Stanley communicated that offer to Walters and secured a 30-day extension. The July plea offer lapsed.Walters filed an ethics complaint. Stanley explained that Walters refused to respond to the July plea offer and had indicated that he would only “plead[] guilty to a misdemeanor, serve a year in jail, and make restitution." After negotiating a plea with new representation Walters pleaded guilty to reduced charges. The court sentenced Walters to 43-65 years’ incarceration, citing Walters’ criminal history, the seriousness of the offense, and the danger he posed to the community,After exhausting state remedies, Walters sought federal habeas relief. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of his petition, which alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. The state court appropriately concluded that Walters failed to show a reasonable probability that he would have accepted the March plea offer had Stanley timely communicated it. Walters cannot demonstrate prejudice. View "Walters v. Martin" on Justia Law