Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Defendant-appellant Frank Richardson appealed his conviction for aiding and abetting he use of a firearm during a crime of violence. On his first appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence in full. But while that appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), which held that part of the Armed Career Criminal Act’s definition of a violent felony was unconstitutionally vague. Although Richardson was not convicted under the Armed Career Criminal Act, he petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari, arguing that Johnson nonetheless called part of his conviction into question. Richardson contends that the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. 924(c) was unconstitutional because its definition of the term, "crime of violence," was similar to the language at issue in Johnson. The Court granted Richardson’s petition, vacated the Sixth Circuit's judgment, and remanded. In turn, the Sixth Circuit vacated Richardson’s sentence and remanded the case to the district court to determine whether Richardson’s original sentence should stand in light of Johnson. Without determining whether section 924(c)’s residual clause was unconstitutionally vague, the Sixth Circuit affirmed Richardson’s conviction under 924(c)’s force clause, which supplied a separate definition of "crime of violence." The Court also concluded its remand limited the district court’s inquiry to Johnson-related issues and that the district court properly refrained from considering Richardson’s other arguments about alleged deficiencies in the indictment and the trial court’s jury instructions - arguments that he could have raised in his first appeal but did not. Finally, the Sixth Circuit held Richardson’s sentence was procedurally and substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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The district court granted Stephen Mitchell habeas relief and gave him a sentence of time-served with three years of supervised release. Both Mitchell and the United States appealed. Since those appeals were filed, the Sixth Circuit decided substantially-similar cases. At the time of his sentencing, Mitchell’s three prior convictions qualified as “violent” felonies under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), meaning Mitchell was subject to the ACCA’s enhanced sentencing. Applying the ACCA, the trial judge sentenced Mitchell to 250 months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release. But after the Supreme Court invalidated the ACCA’s so-called residual clause as unconstitutionally vague, and then applied that holding retroactively, Mitchell filed for habeas relief. Mitchell argued that without the ACCA’s residual clause, his prior felonies no longer qualified as “violent” under the ACCA. Therefore, he said his 250-month, ACCA-enhanced sentence was invalid. Without the ACCA, the maximum sentence Mitchell could have served for his felon-in-possession conviction was ten years. But Mitchell had already served seventeen years by the end of his habeas proceeding. So the district court decided to release Mitchell from custody and correct his sentence to “time- served.” The district court also re-imposed Mitchell’s original three years of supervised release. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's habeas relief insofar as it held that Mitchell’s burglary conviction was not a “violent” felony under the ACCA. The district court’s judgment as it related to Mitchell’s sentence was vacated and remanded for a determination of whether: (1) a time-served sentence that is equivalent to a term-of-months sentence above the statutory maximum is invalid; and (2) a district court has the discretion to select appropriate proceedings for correcting a sentence—so long as the corrected sentence complies with substantive and procedural reasonableness. View "United States v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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Evendale property owners who wanted to rent their properties had to obtain a permit by allowing the building commissioner to inspect the property or sign a sworn affirmation that the property complied with the code. The commissioner also could inspect structures if he suspected a violation. If the building was occupied, the commissioner was to present credentials and request entry. For unoccupied structures, the commissioner was to make a reasonable effort to locate the owner and ask to inspect. Should someone refuse entry, the commissioner could use “remedies provided by law.” Vonderhaar owns 13 rental properties, over half of Evendale's rental homes. Vonderhaar filed a purported class action under the Fourth Amendment, claiming the code authorized warrantless searches, and the Fifth Amendment, claiming the code required permit applicants to attest to compliance. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, concluding that the inspection procedures facially violated the Fourth Amendment. Evendale subsequently amended its code to allow owners applying for rental permits to “[p]rovide a written certification” from an architect or engineer attesting that a building meets Village standards and adding that when a commissioner suspects a violation, the commissioner may “seek a search warrant based on probable cause.” The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction for lack of standing. The Village never relied on the code to conduct a warrantless search and the plaintiffs have no risk of impending injury. View "Vonderhaar v. Village of Evendale" on Justia Law

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Rodriguez-Penton moved from Cuba to the U.S. when he was 15. He is a lawful permanent resident. Rodriguez-Penton was indicted for conspiracy to distribute and possess Oxycodone, retained counsel Butler, and initially cooperated but stopped because he feared for his family’s safety. The government offered Rodriguez-Penton plea deals but he entered an open guilty plea. Rodriguez-Penton’s Cuban citizenship arose during the hearing: the court stated that there was no need to review the civil rights one forfeits by pleading guilty; inquired whether, due to Rodriguez-Penton’s citizenship, there would be an early sentencing; and asked about an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer, but did not advise Rodriguez-Penton that pleading guilty might have adverse immigration consequences and sentenced him to a 121-month prison term. Rodriguez-Penton alleges that he learned of the deportation risk after sentencing, during a meeting with his prison counselor. Rodriguez-Penton appealed, represented by Butler, arguing that his plea was not knowing and voluntary. After hearing testimony from Butler and an interpreter, a magistrate concluded that Butler merely told Rodriguez-Penton that he did not have to worry about deportation. Rodriguez-Penton testified unequivocally that he “would not have gone to trial, even if he could not have negotiated a better plea arrangement.” The district court dismissed his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The legal standard for ineffective assistance of counsel claims has changed in the context of non-citizens faced with criminal charges. Rodriguez-Penton asserted that his decision-making process would have been different if he had been properly advised; the government has not offered any countervailing evidence that Rodriguez-Penton could not have secured a more favorable plea. View "Rodriguez-Penton v. United States" on Justia Law

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The 1993 Lucasville Prison Riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility began when prisoners overpowered a guard and took his keys. Rioting prisoners ultimately took a dozen guards hostage and gained complete control of the prison’s L-block. The riot continued for 11 days; one guard and nine prisoners were murdered. Many were injured. Tens of millions of dollars’ worth of damage was done to the prison facility. Four prisoners were sentenced to death for their involvement in the riot and are classified as restricted population inmates, who “pose a direct threat to the safety of persons, including themselves, or an elevated, clear[,] and ongoing threat to the safe and secure operations of the facility. The Media Plaintiffs are professional journalists who unsuccessfully sought in-person, recorded interviews with the Prisoner Plaintiffs for the twentieth anniversary of the riot. The Prisoners and Media Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the interview denials violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments because they were based on the interviews’ anticipated content. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of their claims after considering the “Turner factors” to determine that the prison regulation is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and therefore constitutional. There is a rational connection between a policy prohibiting face-to-face interviews with Lucasville participants and the legitimate, neutral penological interest of prison security. The impact of accommodation of the right and the availability of ready alternatives also support the restrictions’ constitutionality. View "Hanrahan v. Mohr" on Justia Law

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Bullington worked as a Bedford County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher for over eight years. During her employment, Bullington had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer, which she treated with chemotherapy. The chemotherapy caused neuropathy and scar tissue in Bullington’s lungs, so Bullington needed additional treatment. Because of her diagnosis and treatment, Bullington asserts that the Department treated her differently than the other employees. Bullington brought suit, alleging violations of constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to be free from discrimination and retaliation, that the county violated her constitutional rights by not providing adequate supervision and training, violations of the Tennessee Human Rights Act, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court rejected her claims on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit vacated. The district court correctly dismissed Bullington’s ADA claim, which required exhaustion of administrative remedies. Bullington did not file a claim with the EEOC. The court improperly dismissed her claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In enacting the ADA, Congress did not intend to abandon the rights and remedies set forth in Fourteenth Amendment equal protection jurisprudence. View "Bullington v. Bedford County" on Justia Law

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On November 22, 1997, around 1:30 a.m., Miles demanded money from brothers Maher and Ziad, outside of Maher’s Cincinnati Save-Way store. The brothers complied but Miles shot them with an assault rifle. Cincinnati police hypothesized that Issa, a Save-Way employee, hired Miles to commit the murders because Linda, Maher’s wife, offered Issa money to kill her husband. The state charged all three with aggravated murder. Miles refused to testify at Issa’s trial although he had testified in Linda’s trial. The prosecution had revoked Miles’s immunity the day before he was to testify. The court concluded that Miles was unavailable and allowed the admission of Miles’s out-of-court statements, through the testimony of siblings who were Miles’s teenage friends at the time of the murders. A jury acquitted Linda; Miles received a life sentence. Issa received a death sentence. In 2003, Issa filed his initial habeas petition. The district court denied relief but granted a certificate of appealability for grounds including failure to call Linda as a witness and admission of the siblings’ testimony about Miles’s hearsay statements. The Sixth Circuit ordered a conditional writ of habeas corpus. The admission of Miles’s hearsay statements violated the Confrontation Clause under then-governing Supreme Court law and was not harmless. The Ohio Supreme Court did not consider the “totality of the circumstances,” which show that the statements are not trustworthy. The statements were the only direct evidence implicating Issa in a murder for hire. View "Issa v. Bradshaw" on Justia Law

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In September 2016, the Governor of Tennessee convened a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly, concerning federal highway funding. During the session, a member of the House of Representatives moved to expel Durham. The House approved the motion 70 votes to two. It immediately expelled Durham. Durham may have qualified for lifetime health insurance if he had retired but because the House expelled him, the administrators stated that his government-health insurance would expire at the end of September. He also lost certain state-pension benefits. Durham sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging procedural due process violations, and requesting an order that the administrators pay his alleged benefits. The district court dismissed for lack of standing because the complaint alleged that the denial of his benefits was caused by the legislature’s expelling him, rather than by any act by the administrators. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Durham’s injury is fairly traceable to the administrators’ conduct: Durham alleges that he is not receiving benefits that the administrators should pay. That is sufficient to show standing. View "Durham v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Cincinnati officers obtained a warrant, searched defendants’ home, and found over 2,000 grams of heroin, marijuana, drug-distribution paraphernalia, and a large amount of cash. The district court suppressed the evidence, holding that because the warrant application so failed to connect defendants’ home with drug-trafficking activity, no reasonable officer could have relied on the warrant. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The officers acted in good-faith reliance on the warrant; the warrant application established enough of a basis to believe that at least one of the defendants was engaged in a continual, ongoing drug-trafficking operation and that drug-related contraband was, therefore, likely to be found in his home. View "United States v. McCoy" on Justia Law

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Upper Arlington's Master Plan guides its zoning decisions, emphasizing the need to increase the city’s revenue by attracting business development in the small portion of the city’s land that is devoted to commercial use. To further the Plan’s goals, the Unified Development Ordinance restricts the use of areas zoned "office district" to specific uses that are primarily commercial. The operation of schools, both secular and religious, is prohibited within the office district. Nonetheless, Tree of Life decided to purchase a large office building on a 16-acre tract within the office district for the operation of a pre-K through 12th-grade school. After failing to secure authorization to operate the school, Tree filed suit, citing the “equal terms” provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc(b)(1). After two prior appeals, the district court granted Upper Arlington judgment, holding that the Ordinance is no more onerous to Tree than to non-religious entities that generate comparably small amounts of revenue for the city. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Revenue maximization is a legitimate regulatory purpose. Upper Arlington’s assertion of revenue maximization as the purpose of the Ordinance is not pretextual. Daycares are the only potentially valid comparator put forward by Tree, which presented no evidence suggesting that nonprofit daycares are similarly situated to its proposed school in terms of their capacity to generate revenue. View "Tree of Life Christian Scool. v. City of Upper Arlington" on Justia Law