Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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New Jersey permits candidates running in primary elections to include beside their name a slogan of up to six words to help distinguish them from others on the ballot but requires that candidates obtain consent from individuals or incorporated associations before naming them in their slogans. Candidates challenged this requirement after their desired slogans were rejected for failure to obtain consent. They argued that ballot slogans are, in effect, part of the campaign and that the consent requirement should be subject to traditional First Amendment scrutiny.The district court disagreed, holding that, though the ballot slogans had an expressive function, the consent requirement regulates the mechanics of the electoral process. The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test. The Third Circuit affirmed. The line separating core political speech from the mechanics of the electoral process “has proven difficult to ascertain.“ The court surveyed the election laws to which the Supreme Court and appellate courts have applied the Anderson-Burdick test, as opposed to a traditional First Amendment analysis, and derived criteria to help distinguish which test is applicable. New Jersey’s consent requirement is subject to Anderson-Burdick’s balancing test; because New Jersey’s interests in ensuring election integrity and preventing voter confusion outweigh the minimal burden imposed on candidates’ speech, the requirement passes that test. View "Mazo v. New Jersey Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Range pleaded guilty to making false statements about his income to obtain $2,458 of food stamp assistance in violation of Pennsylvania law, a conviction that was classified as a misdemeanor punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Range was sentenced to three years’ probation, plus restitution, costs, and fines. Three years later, Range attempted to purchase a firearm but was rejected by the instant background check system. Range’s wife subsequently bought him a deer-hunting rifle. Years, later Range learned that he was barred from purchasing and possessing firearms because of his welfare fraud conviction. He sold his rifle to a firearms dealer and sought a declaratory judgment that 18 U.S.C. 922(g) violated the Second Amendment as applied to him. The section prohibits firearm ownership by any person who has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year—the federal definition of a felony.The district court rejected the suit, holding that the Second Amendment does not protect “unvirtuous citizens.” The Third Circuit affirmed. Based on history and tradition, “the people” constitutionally entitled to bear arms are “law-abiding, responsible citizens,” a category that properly excludes those who have demonstrated disregard for the rule of law through the commission of felony and felony-equivalent offenses, whether or not those crimes are violent. Even if Range fell within “the people,” the government demonstrated that its prohibition is consistent with historical tradition. View "Range v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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After completing a minimum sentence, Pennsylvania inmates are eligible to serve the rest of their sentence on parole. The decision to grant parole is discretionary. Most parolees first rely on halfway houses. Public houses have only 700 spaces, and private contract facilities have 2,100 spaces statewide but each year, about 9,000 Pennsylvania inmates are released on parole. The State Police must notify each resident, school district, day-care center, and college about nearby registered violent sex offenders, making it difficult to place sex offenders into community halfway houses because of community backlash. Sex offenders also tend to linger in halfway houses longer than other parolees because of the difficulties in finding alternate housing. The Department of Corrections considers 13 factors before placing a parolee in a halfway house, including community sensitivity to a criminal offense or specific criminal incident.In a class action challenge, the district court held that paroled sex offenders are similarly situated to other paroled offenders and that there could be no rational basis to delay their placement into halfway houses because of “community sensitivity.” The Third Circuit reversed. A discretionary grant of parole cannot erase the differences between sex crimes and other crimes. DOC’s halfway house policy considering “community sensitivity,” among many other factors, is rationally related to legitimate government interests. View "Stradford v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Langley was arrested in connection with a Newark drug trafficking operation. Langley agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 28 grams or more of crack-cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 846, which carries a mandatory five-year minimum sentence, agreeing that he would not argue for a sentence below five years’ imprisonment and that he would enter into an appellate waiver, applicable to any challenges to a sentence of five years or below. During his plea hearing, the district court engaged in a thorough colloquy and ensured that Langley had discussed his plea agreement with his counsel and that he understood the appellate waiver. The court considered his arguments concerning the pandemic, the effect of the crack/powder cocaine disparity on the Guidelines calculation, and the age of his criminal convictions. The court determined that the applicable guideline range was 110-137 months and sentenced Langley to 60 months’ imprisonment.In lieu of filing an appellate brief, Langley’s counsel moved to withdraw, asserting in his Anders brief that he identified “no issue of even arguable merit.” Langley submitted a pro se brief, arguing for a further sentencing reduction. The Third Circuit dismissed. Langley’s court-appointed counsel filed an Anders brief that, on its face, met the standard for a “conscientious investigation" of possible grounds for appeal. Counsel is not required to anticipate or address all possible arguments. There are no non-frivolous issues for Langley to raise on appeal. View "United States v. Langley" on Justia Law

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Gussie was charged with fraud. Virgin Islands prosecutors later learned one of the grand jurors might have been a victim of Gussie’s scheme. The government obtained a superseding indictment from a new grand jury about a year later. A jury convicted Gussie, who was sentenced to 45 months in prison.The Third Circuit affirmed. The superseding indictment cured any potential defect, making any error harmless. Gussie suffered no prejudice facing charges under the validly returned superseding indictment. The court rejected Gussie’s arguments that allowing an alleged victim to sit on the grand jury considering an indictment against her was “so prejudicial” that it caused the grand jury “no longer to be a grand jury,” requiring dismissal with prejudice and that the superseding indictment exceeded the statute of limitations because the original indictment was not validly pending when the superseding indictment returned. While Gussie claimed the government knew the juror was a possible victim and permitted the juror’s participation, the district court found no supporting facts for that assertion. View "United States v. Gussie" on Justia Law

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In August 2009, Kennedy and his father were arrested by Philadelphia police during an armed home invasion. In October 2013, after numerous delays, they went on trial. Both were convicted. Kennedy was sentenced to 10-15 years of imprisonment. After failing to obtain redress under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act, Kennedy’s appeal was rejected by the Pennsylvania Superior Court. In July 2019, Kennedy filed a pro se federal habeas petition, arguing that his right to a speedy trial had been violated. The district court denied Kennedy’s petition on grounds of procedural default and adopted the state-court finding that only 16 days of the 50-month delay in bringing Kennedy to trial were attributable to the Commonwealth. The court additionally held his petition to be “without merit."The Third Circuit reversed, concluding that Kennedy’s procedural default was excused and that his Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial Right was violated. The Commonwealth had, in the interim, conceded that Kennedy’s Sixth Amendment claim was exhausted. The court noted that a 50-month delay is exceptional and that the Commonwealth did not overcome the presumptive prejudice of a four-year delay, despite the strength of its case at trial. Kennedy has also identified prejudice stemming from loss of employment, anxiety, and incarceration. View "Kennedy v. Superintendent Dallas SCI" on Justia Law

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The Haistens sold discounted animal pesticides and drugs online from their South Carolina home. They operated in violation of multiple FDA and EPA regulations. They sold counterfeit DVDs of movies and television shows that they obtained from China. The Haistens ignored cease-and-desist letters from state regulators and animal pesticides companies. Department of Homeland Security agents began making undercover purchases from the Haistens. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized shipments of counterfeit DVDs. Agents then searched the Haistens’ home, which revealed unapproved animal pesticides and drugs, counterfeit DVDs, and business records. In the ensuing prosecution, Count 14 charged the Haistens with trafficking counterfeit DVDs that were seized by CBP officers in Cincinnati. Count 15 charged them with trafficking counterfeit DVDs, that were seized at their home. Defense counsel did not request a jury instruction on improper venue or move for acquittal on Counts 14 or 15 for lack of proper venue in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Haistens appealed, challenging an evidentiary ruling and a statement the government made during its summation. The Third Circuit affirmed.The Haistens then sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that their trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge venue on Counts 14 and 15. The Third Circuit remanded the denial of that motion for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on whether their counsel had a strategic reason for not raising a defense based on improper venue. View "United States v. Haisten" on Justia Law

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NJBA, a non-profit trade association representing 88 New Jersey banks, sought to make independent expenditures and contributions to political parties and campaigns for state and local offices. NJBA has not made these payments because of N.J. Stats. 19:34-45, which provides that, “[n]o corporation carrying on the business of a bank . . . shall pay or contribute money or thing of value in order to aid or promote the nomination or election of any person, or in order to aid or promote the interests, success or defeat of any political party.” NJBA brought a facial challenge on its own behalf and on behalf of third-party banks.The district court held that section 19:34-45’s prohibition on independent expenditures violates the First Amendment but that the ban on political contributions by certain corporations does not violate the First Amendment and passes intermediate scrutiny. The Third Circuit reversed, declining to address the First Amendment issues. The statute does not apply to trade associations of banks. NJBA is not “carrying on the business of a bank.” With respect to the facial challenge, NJBA does not satisfy the narrow exception to the general rule against third-party standing. View "New Jersey Bankers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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In New Jersey for a family party, Saint-Jean was driving home to Massachusetts with his uncle. Palisades Interstate Park Police stopped the vehicle for driving too slowly and for having tinted windows. In response to questions, Saint-Jean stated that he was originally from Haiti but was a U.S. citizen. Officers ordered the men out of the car, frisked them, and requested to search the vehicle. Saint-Jean signed a consent-to-search form. In a compartment between the front seats, they found small plastic bags containing heart-shaped objects that looked like Valentine’s Day candies. The officers suspected that the items were actually MDMA or ecstasy. Saint-Jean stated that they were Valentine’s Day candies from his coworker and offered her contact information. The officers declined, arrested Saint-Jean, and took him to a police station. The objects were not tested. The officers issued a traffic summons and a criminal summons for possessing a controlled substance, later downgraded to a disorderly persons offense. Many weeks later, the objects were determined to be candy. The prosecution continued for four more months.In Saint-Jean’s subsequent civil rights suit, the district court rejected the officers’ request for qualified immunity for Fourth Amendment claims but dismissed one constitutional claim against the officers and all of the claims against the prosecutor and the governmental entities. Before the officers appealed, Saint-Jean amended his complaint. The Third Circuit dismissed the appeal. Due to the prior amendment, the district court’s order was not final and there was no basis for appellate jurisdiction. View "Saint-Jean v. Palisades Interstate Park Commission" on Justia Law

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Canada, a Black man, worked for Grossi for 10 years. Canada suffered from back problems and claims that Grossi prevented him from accessing Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms and harassed him when he tried to use FMLA leave. Osorio, Grossi’s director of human resources, testified that she “let [Canada] take his FMLA” leave. Canada sued, alleging race discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 1981, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the FMLA.Canada was terminated a month later. Grossi based the termination on text messages found on Canada’s cell phone. Grossi claims that Canada was using a locker on the shop floor which was designated as a company tool locker. While Canada was on vacation, Grossi cut the padlock off of his locker because the lockers needed to be moved. Osorio testified that she believed that the phone might have been a company phone and guessed the phone’s password. Osorio found text messages from a year earlier in which Canada appeared to have solicited prostitutes “while at work and clocked in.”The district court granted Grossi summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed, in part. An employer’s motivation for investigating an employee can be relevant to pretext. There is a “‘convincing mosaic’ of circumstantial evidence,” which, taken as a whole and viewed in a light favorable to Canada’s case, could convince a reasonable jury that Canada was the victim of unlawful retaliation. There is also evidence that Grossi treated other employees more favorably. View "Canada v. Samuel Grossi & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law