Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiffs challenged Michigan’s practice of suspending drivers' licenses for unpaid court fees, as applied to indigent drivers, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Plaintiffs argued that practice is irrational because license suspension made their commuting to work much harder, reducing the chances that they will pay the debt, and made it difficult to attend medical appointments. The district court enjoined the enforcement of the law. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The mere fact that a driver has a Fourteenth Amendment property interest in his license does not answer the more particular question of whether Michigan law creates the specific property entitlement Plaintiffs claimed. Michigan’s statutory scheme for license suspension makes no reference to the indigency status of those whose licenses are subject to suspension. If Plaintiffs’ indigency is not relevant to the state’s underlying decision to suspend their licenses, then providing a hearing where they could raise their indigency would be pointless and do nothing to prevent the “the risk of erroneous deprivation.” The state has a general interest in compliance with traffic laws. By imposing greater consequences for violating traffic laws, the state increases deterrence for would-be violators. The state also has legitimate interests in promoting compliance with court orders and in collecting traffic debt. View "Fowler v. Benson" on Justia Law

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During an investigation of Powell, a drug dealer, a cooperating defendant identified one of Powell's sources as Coleman. Officers observed Coleman’s automobiles, a Trailblazer and an Enclave, in connection with suspected drug sales to Powell. On April 7, 2017, officers observed an individual matching Coleman’s description arrive at Powell’s house, exit Coleman’s Enclave, enter the house, and leave three minutes later. Four days later, Coleman arrived at Powell’s house in the Trailblazer and sold cocaine to the cooperating defendant. Officers determined Coleman had two felony convictions for delivery or manufacture of a controlled substance and that both vehicles were registered to Coleman’s father. A magistrate issued tracking warrants for Coleman’s vehicles. An ATF agent attached the tracking devices to Coleman’s vehicles on the shared driveway adjoining Coleman’s condominium. There is no gate or fence at the complex entrance; anyone can drive into the complex unimpeded. On May 10, agents observed Coleman leave his condo, enter the Enclave, and exit the Enclave at Powell’s home and watched the GPS tracking data showing that Coleman traveled directly from his condo to Powell’s house. Agents obtained a warrant to search Coleman’s condo and seized 500 grams of cocaine, a firearm, and documents and property indicating money laundering. Coleman admitted ownership of the cocaine and a firearm. Coleman unsuccessfully moved to suppress the fruits of the search warrants. The Sixth Circuit upheld Coleman’s conviction and 120-month sentence. The warrant was supported by probable cause; Coleman’s driveway was not within the curtilage of his home; the residential search warrant was supported by probable cause; and even if the warrants were not supported by probable cause, ATF agents executed them in good faith. View "United States v. Coleman" on Justia Law

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Edmonds and Hall were together convicted in state court of beating and sodomizing a homeless man to death. After their joint state appeals were rejected, Hall brought a federal habeas action, 28 U.S.C. 2254, which was rejected on the merits. Then Edmonds brought a section 2254 collateral attack, arguing that his conviction was similarly infected by constitutional error. Rather than assess all of Edmonds’s claims on the merits, the district court held that the law-of-the-case doctrine precluded Edmonds from obtaining relief on four claims that were rejected in Hall’s collateral action. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. The law-of-the-case doctrine applies only to later decisions in the same case. Different habeas actions brought by different petitioners are different cases. A post-conviction habeas action is not a subsequent stage of the underlying criminal proceedings; it is a separate civil case. Applying the law-of-the-case doctrine across separate habeas cases would deprive the second petitioner of the opportunity to present his own arguments, implicating due process concerns. The court noted that due process limits res judicata to preclude parties from contesting only matters that they have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate; a person who was not a party to a suit generally has not had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claims and issues settled in that suit. Edmonds’s claims must be assessed on their merits. View "Edmonds v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Kentucky’s “Ultrasound Informed Consent Act,” KRS 311.727, directs a doctor, before performing an abortion, to perform an ultrasound; display the ultrasound images for the patient; and explain, in the doctor’s own words, what is being depicted. There is no requirement that the patient view the images or listen to the description. The doctor also must auscultate the fetal heartbeat but may turn off the volume if the patient requests. The Act does not penalize a doctor if the patient requested that the heartbeat sound be turned off or chose not to look at the ultrasound images or if the doctor makes any other statement, including advising a patient that she need not listen to or view the disclosures, or that the patient should have an abortion. A doctor need not make any disclosures if an abortion is medically necessary or in a medical emergency. Doctors brought a First Amendment challenge. The district court permanently enjoined enforcement of the Act. The Sixth Circuit reversed, citing the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision, National Institute of Family & Life Advocates, clarifying that no heightened First Amendment scrutiny should apply to abortion-informed-consent statutes. Even though an abortion-informed-consent law compels a doctor’s disclosure of certain information, it should be upheld so long as the disclosure is truthful, non-misleading, and relevant to abortion. View "EMW Women's Surgical Center P.S.C. v. Beshear" on Justia Law

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In May 2017, Judge Benningfield issued an order offering a 30-day sentencing credit to White County, Tennessee inmates in exchange for submitting to sterilization. After public outcry, Judge Benningfield declared that inmates could no longer enroll in the program. A third order clarified which of the inmates who initially enrolled could still receive the credit. Within months, the Tennessee Legislature passed Senate Bill 2133, which made it illegal for courts to make sentencing determinations based on a defendant’s willingness to consent to sterilization. Three inmates who refused to submit to a vasectomy and were consequently denied the sentencing credit challenged Judge Benningfield’s orders under the Equal Protection Clause. The district court found that the claims were moot. The Sixth Circuit reversed, reasoning that none of those subsequent developments in the law ended the differential treatment that plaintiffs challenged. Plaintiffs alleged that awarding them the 30- day sentencing credit would affect other collateral consequences related to sentencing. Tennessee law permits non-violent offenders to petition for expungement five years after the sentence termination date so that retroactive application of the sentencing credit would allow them to pursue expungement 30 days sooner. View "Sullivan v. Benningfield" on Justia Law

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Police raided plaintiffs’ Lansing, Michigan homes, with search warrants for drugs. The searches were aggressive: officers knocked in doors with rams, used flashbangs and, allegedly left the homes in complete disarray. During or immediately following a search, an officer called a housing code compliance officer to the scene. At each of the four homes, the inspector found code violations such as water heaters without inspection tags, bare electrical wiring, and non-working smoke detectors and declared the home unsafe for occupancy. Some of the plaintiffs were arrested; in each case, the charges were dismissed. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, upholding the validity of the search warrants. Claims concerning the execution of the search warrants were properly rejected. Plaintiffs failed to show that the named officers actively participated in the use of excessive force, supervised those who used excessive force, or owed the victims a duty of protection against the use of excessive force. Although the police had no authority to admit third parties, even state actors, who had no warrant and could provide no assistance to the warranted searches, invasion-of-privacy claims failed because there was little evidence that the named officers admitted the inspectors into the homes. The court also upheld the rejection of claims concerning false arrest and malicious prosecution. The court reversed with respect to certain due-process claims and pre-deprivation claims. View "Gardner v. Evans" on Justia Law

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n 1975, Jackson, Ajamu, and Bridgeman were convicted of murder, based largely on the purported eyewitness testimony of Vernon, who then was 13 years old. In 2014, Vernon recanted, disclosing that police officers had coerced him into testifying falsely. Vernon’s recantation led to the overturning of their convictions. The exonerated men filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, along with state law claims for indemnification against Cleveland. The district court granted the defendants judgment on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment as to the section 1983 claims based on conspiracy, but reversed judgment on the pleadings as to the indemnification claims; denial of motions to amend the complaints to substitute the administrator of the estates of the deceased officers as a party in their place; summary judgment as to section 1983 claims arising from violations of Brady v. Maryland, fabrication of evidence, and malicious prosecution; and summary judgment as to “Monell” claims against Cleveland. The court noted evidence that officers may have been unaware of their “Brady” obligations, that Brady violations were common, and that officers intimidated Vernon. View "Jackson v. Cleveland" on Justia Law

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In February 2002, Daniel, his brother, Peter, McGlown, and Neal, traveling in a van, pulled up alongside a car and shot Newsom. They mistook Newsom for Bradley (the intended target). Newsom was in an automobile owned by Newsom’s sister, Bradley’s girlfriend. Newsom died from gunshot wounds. Based on eyewitness testimony, officers stopped Daniel's vehicle. Retracing the route from the shooting, investigators recovered firearms and gloves that had been discarded on the roadway. Bullets from those firearms matched bullets found in Newsom’s body and in his sister’s vehicle. Daniel, Peter, and McGlown were tried together. Before trial, the Michigan judge ordered them to wear a Band-It electronic restraint concealed underneath clothing. Daniel’s counsel unsuccessfully objected, stating that the Band-It was “pretrial punishment” and Daniel had no history of acting out in the courtroom. They were convicted of first-degree premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and felon in possession of a firearm. Officers never activated or threatened to activate Daniel’s Band-It. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed; the Michigan Supreme Court denied an appeal. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Daniel’s 28 U.S.C.2254 habeas petition, in which he alleged that he was denied due process, a fair trial, and access to counsel. Noting that Daniel had made threats, the court held that use of the restraint was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law; there is no evidence that the Band-It hindered his communications with his attorney. View "Daniel v. Burton" on Justia Law

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Asgari came to the U.S. for education, earning a doctorate in 1997. He returned to Iran and became a professor at Sharif University. His work involves transmission electron microscopy. Asgari traveled to the U.S. in 2011, stating on his visa application that he planned to visit New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Los Angeles. He traveled to Cleveland to see an Iranian-American friend at Case Western’s Swagelok Center. They began collaborating. Asgari returned to Iran and obtained another visa for “temp[orary] business[/]pleasure,” identifying his destination as his son’s New York address. He applied for a job at Swagelok. The FBI investigated. The Center’s director stated that Asgari was on a sabbatical from Sharif University; that the Center conducted Navy-funded research; and that an opening had emerged on the project. Agent Boggs obtained a warrant to search Asgari’s personal email account for evidence that Asgari made materially false statements in his visa application and that Asgari violated the prohibition on exporting “any goods, technology, or services to Iran.” Based on information uncovered from that 2013 search, the government obtained another warrant to search Asgari’s subsequent emails. Indicted on 13 counts of stealing trade secrets, wire fraud, and visa fraud, Asgari successfully moved to suppress the evidence. The Sixth Circuit reversed, applying the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The affidavit was not “so skimpy, so conclusory, that anyone ... would necessarily have known it failed to demonstrate probable cause.” The sanctions on Iran are broad; probable cause is a lenient standard. View "United States v. Asgari" on Justia Law

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Officer Minard pulled over Cruise-Gulyas for speeding. He wrote her a ticket for a lesser, non-moving violation. As she drove away, she made a vulgar gesture at Minard, who then stopped her again and changed the ticket to a speeding offense. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Minard’s motion for dismissal of Cruise-Gulyas’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, in which she alleged unconstitutional seizure, restriction of her liberty, and retaliation. Cruise-Gulyas did not break any law that would justify the second stop and at most was exercising her free speech rights. Qualified immunity protects police from personal liability unless they violate a person’s clearly established constitutional or statutory rights; the rights asserted by Cruise-Gulyas meet that standard. Minard’s authority to seize her in connection with the driving infraction ended when the first stop concluded. Cruise-Gulyas’s crude gesture could not provide that new justification. Any reasonable officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment. An officer who seizes a person for Fourth Amendment purposes without proper justification and issues her a more severe ticket clearly commits an adverse action that would deter her from repeating that conduct in the future. View "Cruise-Gulyas v. Minard" on Justia Law