Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Plaintiffs challenged Michigan’s statutory scheme for resentencing individuals who were convicted of first-degree murder and received mandatory sentences of life without parole for acts they committed as children. Plaintiff’s 2016 amended complaint (SAC) addressed the Supreme Court’s decisions in Miller v. Alabama (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, (2016), and Michigan’s 2014 amendments to its juvenile sentencing scheme. The SAC included allegations that Michigan’s policies and procedures governing parole deny Plaintiffs a meaningful opportunity for release in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count IV); that deprivation of Plaintiffs’ good time and disciplinary credits in Section 769.25a(6) violates the Ex Post Facto Clause (Count V); and Defendants have failed to provide the Plaintiffs with access to programming, education, training, and rehabilitation opportunities in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count VI). The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of Counts IV, V, and VI. On remand, the district court granted Plaintiffs summary judgment on Count V and class certification, and ordered permanent injunctive relief that prohibited Defendants from enforcing or applying the credit elimination. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that Mich. Comp. Laws 769.25a(4)(c), which was enacted in 2014 and eliminates credits for individuals who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole for juvenile first-degree murder convictions, unconstitutional. View "Hill v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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After Maslonka robbed two banks to support his drug habit, he pleaded guilty in Michigan state court to armed robbery as a third habitual offender. During his plea-negotiation process, Maslonka began to cooperate with federal authorities in a separate federal investigation. Maslonka did not cooperate to the full satisfaction of the federal authorities. The state prosecutor withdrew the favorable plea offer. Maslonka brought a habeas corpus petition. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of habeas relief. Even assuming Maslonka’s attorney was constitutionally deficient, Maslonka has not shown that this deficiency prejudiced him. Maslonka has not shown a reasonable probability that his counsel could have persuaded the state prosecutor not to cancel Maslonka’s plea. The court noted that the Supreme Court has not fully answered the “difficult question” of “the duty and responsibilities of defense counsel in the plea bargaining process” and rejected an argument that a counsel’s mere physical absence from a critical stage of a proceeding, based on the counsel’s own failure to be present rather than any denial by the state, can constitute a constructive denial of counsel under Supreme Court precedent. View "Maslonka v. Hoffner" on Justia Law

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Harrington was convicted in 2009 of seven drug offenses, including conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute heroin and at least 50 grams of cocaine base, resulting in death (Count 1); and distributing heroin, resulting in death (Count 7). Citing 21 U.S.C. 841 and 851, the government filed notice that Harrington was subject to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment by reason of a 2002 felony drug conviction. The district court sentenced Harrington to concurrent terms of life in prison on Counts 1 and 7, and 360 months on each remaining count. In 2014, the Supreme Court held, in Burrage, that where use of the drug distributed by the defendant is not an independently sufficient cause of the victim’s death or serious bodily injury, a defendant cannot be liable under the penalty enhancement provision unless such use was a but-for cause of the death or injury. Harrington unsuccessfully sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. In 2017, Harrington filed a second petition. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit vacated. Harrington’s claim is properly construed as one of actual innocence. Because Burrage is retroactive, Harrington is entitled to an evidentiary hearing to determine whether it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him, if given the proper jury instruction. View "Harrington v. Ormond" on Justia Law

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Thomas is a Michigan state prisoner who was convicted of several crimes, including assault with intent to commit murder, after he participated in a violent 2005 home invasion. Thomas unsuccessfully challenged in state court his conviction for assault with intent to commit murder, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support that conviction. He then filed a federal habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254, which the district court denied. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The state presented sufficient evidence from which a rational jury could have found that Thomas assaulted Harrison, with an actual intent to kill Harrison, in circumstances where a successful killing would have been murder. The Michigan courts stated that “[n]o actual physical injury is required for the elements of the crime to be established,” and that “[a]n assault may be established by showing . . . an unlawful act that places another in reasonable apprehension of receiving an immediate battery.” Any inconsistency in interpreting Michigan law is not a ground for federal habeas relief. “Bottom line, Thomas’s case was not an “extreme malfunction[]” of the Michigan criminal justice system.” View "Thomas v. Stephenson" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Raines pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), and possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). The court concluded that Raines was subject to a statutory minimum term of 180 months of imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B), because he had a 1991 Michigan conviction for assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, a 2002 federal conviction for distributing cocaine base, and a 2002 federal conviction for collecting credit by extortionate means. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a sentence of 180 months of imprisonment. In 2016, Raines filed a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate, citing Johnson v. United States (2015), which held the ACCA’s residual clause to be unconstitutionally vague. The district court rejected that argument, reasoning that Raines’s assault conviction qualified under the ACCA’s force clause, his drug-distribution conviction qualified as a serious drug offense, and his extortion conviction qualified under the ACCA’s enumerated-crimes clause. After holding that Raines’s Johnson claim was properly before the court on appeal, the Sixth Circuit vacated. Raines’s 2002 conviction under 18 U.S.C. 894(a)(1), for collecting credit by extortionate means should not have been counted as a violent felony under the ACCA because it is not covered by the use-of-force clause and it is not equivalent to the generic crime of “extortion.” View "Raines v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Defendant was convicted for felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)(e); his statutory maximum sentence was 10 years’ imprisonment. The court sentenced Defendant to 24 years, under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), which overrode the statutory maximum and required a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment. While incarcerated, Defendant was convicted for conspiracy to distribute heroin, 21 U.S.C. 846, 841(b)(1)(C); possession of heroin by an inmate, 18 U.S.C. 1791(d)(1)(C); and conspiracy, section 371, and was sentenced to an additional 151 months, to be served consecutively to his existing term. In 2015, the Supreme Court invalidated the ACCA’s residual clause and later held that the rule applies retroactively. Defendant sought resentencing under 18 U.S.C. 2255. The court found the motion meritorious, but rather than conducting a full resentencing proceeding, corrected Defendant’s sentence by memorandum opinion. Defendant had already served 12 years. His Guidelines range, absent the ACCA enhancement, was 51-63 months. Believing that a period of over-incarceration can be calculated and credited toward a consecutive sentence, Defendant asked the court to impose a Guidelines-range sentence--a specific term of months. The court instead imposed a corrected sentence of “time served.” The Sixth Circuit vacated. The district court could not lawfully impose a sentence of more than 10 years’ imprisonment; “time served” equated to a term in excess of the statutory maximum. The sentence was procedurally and substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Nichols" on Justia Law

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In 2006, Gilmore pleaded guilty to federal offenses and began serving a 188-month sentence. South Carolina, planning to charge Gilmore with assault and battery and failure to pay child support, filed a detainer, requesting that the Federal Bureau of Prisons notify it before releasing him. The Bureau notified Gilmore under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act. If he asked South Carolina to resolve the charges, the state would need to try him within 180 days. The Bureau notified the Solicitor of Richland County, South Carolina that Gilmore requested final disposition. Months later, that office replied that it “ha[d] no charges pending” and speculated that any charges originated in the Sheriff’s Department. The Bureau forwarded Gilmore’s request to the Magistrate Court. No one responded. Four years later, South Carolina sent another detainer request for failure to pay child support. Gilmore wrote the South Carolina judge that he had tried to resolve the matter for years; the detainers made it difficult for him to complete rehabilitative programs. No one responded. Gilmore filed federal habeas petitions. The South Carolina district court transferred both petitions to the Eastern District of Kentucky, which dismissed them. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In naming the federal warden, Gilmore sued the wrong official--South Carolina was responsible for the alleged harm. The court noted that Gilmore should determine whether a violation of the Act states a cognizable federal habeas claim; whether exhaustion applies; and whether any limitation on a criminal charge applies. View "Gilmore v. Ebbert" on Justia Law

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Farrad was released from custody. Months later, informants reported observing Farrad in possession of firearms. Officer Garrison, using an undercover account, became Farrad's Facebook friend. Farrad’s Facebook photos included one showing what appeared to be three handguns on a closed toilet lid, uploaded on October 7, 2013. Execution of a warrant to search Facebook’s records yielded photos showing a person who looks like Farrad holding what appears to be a gun; others show a close-up hand holding what appears to be a gun. None show a date or unique distinguishing feature. The person in the photos has distinctive tattoos. Facebook records revealed that the photos were uploaded on October 11. Farrad was charged with having, “on or about October 11, 2013, . . . knowingly possess[ed] . . . a firearm.” The government argued that the photos were self-authenticating business records under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(6). Defense counsel argued that the photos did not authenticate who took the pictures or when they were taken. The court admitted the photos. Garrison testified that criminals are likely to upload photos of criminal deeds soon after committing those deeds. Hinkle testified about the similarities between the photos and a real gun. No witness claimed to have seen Farrad with a gun. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Farrad’s conviction. The district court’s error in deeming the photographs self-authenticating business records was harmless because admission was proper under Rule 901(a). Hinkle was qualified, his testimony was relevant and reliable. Admitting Garrison’s testimony was harmless error because defense counsel did not argue a “date theory.” View "United States v. Farrad" on Justia Law

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Barry, a judicial administrative assistant, alleged that Franklin County Municipal Judge O’Grady created a hostile work environment with vulgar comments about women, either coming from O’Grady directly, encouraged by him, or tolerated by him. After overhearing the judge and bailiffs discussing the sex life of a female lawyer, Barry posted about the conversation on Facebook and told the female lawyer about it. When O’Grady learned that Barry had reported the conversation to the female lawyer, O’Grady retaliated. Barry brought O’Grady’s behavior to the attention of the court administration. She was moved out of O’Grady’s chambers, and accepted a transfer to a less-desirable position as her only real option. Her work life continued to devolve; she suffered from mental-health issues. Barry sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming retaliation in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. O’Grady argued qualified immunity. The district court disagreed, finding disputed issues of material fact and concluding that a reasonable jury could find in Barry’s favor. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal because O’Grady’s argument relied on disagreements with the district court’s weighing of facts and factual inferences, not questions of law. View "Barry v. O'Grady" on Justia Law

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Slusser pleaded guilty in 2011 as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), waiving his right to “file any motions or pleadings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2255 or to collaterally attack [his] conviction[] and/or resulting sentence,” except challenges involving ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct. The court determined that he had at least three prior convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses and sentenced him to 180 months under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), noting a 1994 burglary, 2011 delivery of cocaine, and 1999 aggravated assault and burglary. Slusser did not appeal. In 2012, Slusser filed an unsuccessful section 2255 motion, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel and that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct. The Seventh Circuit declined to issue a certificate of appealability. Slusser filed an application in 2016 for authorization to file a second or successive section 2255 motion, citing the Supreme Court's invalidation of ACCA's residual clause in Johnson v. United States (2015). The Seventh Circuit allowed the filing. The district court denied his motion and certified that an appeal would not be taken in good faith. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In his negotiated plea agreement, Slusser waived his right to argued that his 1999 Tennessee conviction for Class C aggravated assault no longer qualifies as a “violent felony.” View "Slusser v. United States" on Justia Law