Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

by
Plaintiff filed suit against the Douglas County Sheriff, in his official capacity, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Sheriff operates the jail with a policy that allows "cross-gender supervision of inmates without reasonable safeguards in place." Plaintiff alleged that a sheriff's deputy fondled her, kissed her, and watched her shower, all without her consent, when she was an inmate in the county jail. Plaintiff reasoned that the sheriff's deputy, who is male, could do these things because of the cross-gender supervision policy.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the Sheriff's motion to dismiss, concluding that the district court correctly held that the Sheriff was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity under Purcell ex rel. Estate of Morgan v. Toombs County, 400 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir. 2005). The court declined to overrule Purcell and Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304 (11th Cir. 2003) (en banc), based on the court's prior precedent rule. Furthermore, the court has categorically rejected any exception to that rule based on a perceived defect in the prior panel's reasoning or analysis as it relates to the law in existence at that time. View "Andrews v. Biggers" on Justia Law

by
About a year after High was released from state prison, where he had served 20 years for murder, he began trafficking in illegal drugs. In 2017-2018, he distributed at least 168 grams of crack cocaine, 6.61 grams of marijuana, and 10,325 grams of cocaine powder. He pleaded guilty to distributing crack cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and was sentenced to 84 months’ imprisonment, which represented a downward departure under U.S.S.G. 5K1.1 of over 60 months based on "substantial assistance." In May 2020, 16 months after his sentencing, High (age 42) sought compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A). He cited as “extraordinary and compelling reasons” the Covid-19 pandemic confronting the prison system and argued that he is not a danger to the community. High had been diagnosed with cardiovascular conditions. The government noted the absence of any infection at the institution where he was confined.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to reduce High’s term of imprisonment by approximately two-thirds, based on its consideration of the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. The court was aware of the arguments, considered the relevant sentencing factors, and had an “intuitive reason” for adhering to what was already a below-Guidelines sentence; its explanation for denying High’s motion for compassionate release was adequate. View "United States v. High" on Justia Law

by
In 2010, Lancaster was sentenced to 180 months’ imprisonment for conspiracy to traffic in crack cocaine and cocaine powder. In 2020 he sought a sentence reduction under the First Step Act of 2018, 132 Stat. 5194, to the sentence that would have been imposed, had the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 been in effect at the time of his offense. The district court denied Lancaster’s motion, concluding on the merits that it would have imposed the same sentence on him had the Fair Sentencing Act been in effect. The court did not recalculate Lancaster’s Guidelines range and apparently did not consider the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors in light of current circumstances. Lancaster argued that he no longer qualifies as a career offender for purposes of sentencing.The Fourth Circuit vacated. Additional analysis was required. Lancaster was convicted under 21 U.S.C. 846, a statute for which sentences were modified by the Fair Sentencing Act, and is eligible for discretionary relief under the First Step Act, which made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. The court was, therefore, required to consider that Lancaster no longer could be sentenced as a career offender and consider section 3553's factors. View "United States v. Lancaster" on Justia Law

by
Officer Richardson stopped a car driven by Davis because he believed that the vehicle’s windows were tinted too dark. Davis had a history of felony drug charges and convictions. Other officers arrived. About three minutes into the stop, while Richardson talked with the other officers, Davis drove off without his license or proof of insurance, which were in Richardson’s possession. The officers gave chase. Davis raced through a residential neighborhood until he reached a dead-end, drove between houses and into someone’s backyard, got out of his vehicle carrying a backpack, ran into a swamp, and got stuck. Richardson drew his service weapon and ordered Davis to come out.Davis returned to dry land, dropping the backpack, and lying down on his stomach. Richardson patted Davis down and found a large amount of cash. Richardson handcuffed Davis, placed him under arrest, then unzipped the backpack and discovered large amounts of cash and plastic bags containing what appeared to be cocaine. A search of Davis’s vehicle revealed a digital scale and bundles of cash. The officers also received a report that Davis tossed a firearm out of his car window, then recovered a handgun from Davis’s path through the residential area. The district court denied Davis’s motion to suppress.The Fourth Circuit vacated. Incident to an arrest, a vehicle may be searched without a warrant if it was reasonable for the police to believe that the arrestee “could have accessed his car at the time of the search.” The court extended that holding to the search of the backpack. Davis was handcuffed and lying on his stomach during the search. View "United States v. Davis" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against her former boss, the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff, for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for retaliatory discharge under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment against plaintiff.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, concluding that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the sheriff's proffered reason for firing plaintiff -- sleeping on the job -- is pretext for Title VII race discrimination and FMLA retaliation. In regard to plaintiff's Title VII claim, the court explained that plaintiff has produced substantial evidence of pretext based on disparate treatment. In this case, the sheriff treated plaintiff worse than a similarly situated white male who also was caught sleeping on the job. In regard to the FMLA claim, the court explained that the record reflects that "sleeping on the job" is not an infraction that results in termination, the sheriff tolerated "sleeping on the job" by at least one other dispatch supervisor, and the sheriff could not recall any dispatcher that he had ever fired for this reason. Furthermore, when combined with the discredited reason of "sleeping on the job," the near-immediate temporal proximity of the discharge to the protected activity leaves no room to doubt that plaintiff has carried her summary-judgment burden of producing substantial evidence that the sheriff would not have fired her but for her FMLA-protected activity. View "Watkins v. Tregre" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of sovereign immunity in an action brought by voters and political organizations against the Texas Secretary of State seeking to enjoin the enforcement of HB 1888, a state law that bars counties from operating mobile or pop-up early voting locations.The court concluded that Mi Familia Vota v. Abbott, which held that the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of Texas Election Code 85.062–85.063 because local officials are responsible for administering and enforcing those statutes, is controlling in this case. The court explained that, if the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of section 85.062 or 85.063, then it follows that she has no connection to the enforcement of HB 1888, as codified in the neighboring section 85.064, which governs the days and hours of voting at temporary branch locations. Because the Secretary is not sufficiently connected to the enforcement of HB 1888, the court need not consider her argument that plaintiffs are seeking improper relief under Ex parte Young. Accordingly, the court remanded from this interlocutory appeal with instructions to dismiss. View "Texas Democratic Party v. Hughs" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court concluded that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' (CCA) denial of petitioner's guilt-phase ineffective assistance claim was not an unreasonable determination of the facts or contrary to clearly established law; federal law does not clearly establish that Alabama's hearsay rules create a due process violation; and the CCA's determination that the prosecution did not shift the burden of proof to petitioner was neither unreasonable nor contrary to clearly established law.In this case, the Rule 32 court's determinations that petitioner's trial counsel's performance was not deficient, and that petitioner could not show prejudice, were not unreasonable. Furthermore, Alabama's application of its hearsay rules to exclude testimony at petitioner's state habeas evidentiary hearing did not violate his due process rights under clearly established federal law. Finally, the prosecutor's comments appeared to concern the failure of the defense to counter the evidence presented by the government, not petitioner's failure to show evidence of his innocence. View "Broadnax v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and dismissed in part Defendant's convictions of first-degree felony murder, aggravated kidnapping, abuse of a child, aggravated endangering a child, aggravated assault, and criminal damage to property, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in providing to the jury Instruction No. 15, the jury instruction on aggravated kidnapping with intent to facilitate a crime; (2) Instruction No. 9, the aiding and abetting instruction, did not misstate the law, was legally appropriate, and was constitutional; (3) Defendant's argument that his convictions for felony murder and aggravated child endangerment must be reversed because his convictions for those crimes were logically impossible was without merit; (4) Defendant's constitutional challenge to Kan. Stat. Ann. 22-2302(c) was without merit; (5) assuming without deciding that the prosecutor erred in saying that the victim's eyes were gone, the error was harmless; and (6) Defendant's challenge to the constitutionality of Kan. Stat. Ann. 21-5408(a)(3) is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "State v. Bodine" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for premeditated first-degree murder, along with his hard fifty sentence, holding that there was no reversible error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err by telling the venire that the trial was "not a capital punishment case"; (2) the jury instruction on aiding and abetting was both legally and factually appropriate, and therefore, there was no error in submitting this instruction to the jury; (3) the prosecutor committed error in several portions of closing arguments, but the errors did not require reversal, either individually or cumulatively; and (4) the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to depart from the presumptive hard fifty sentence. View "State v. Blevins" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court dismissed Defendant's appeal challenging his guilty plea to theft in the second degree, holding that Defendant's challenge to the constitutionality of new legislation limiting his ability to appeal was unavailing.The legislation at issue limits the ability of a defendant to appeal as a matter of right from a conviction following a guilty plea and directs that ineffective assistance of counsel claims be presented and resolved in the first instance in postconviction relief proceedings. On appeal from his conviction of theft in the second degree Defendant argued that the new legislation violated his right to equal protection of then laws and the separation of powers doctrine. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's constitutional challenges failed. View "State v. Tucker" on Justia Law