Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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In 1998, Tibbetts was convicted of murder, aggravated murder, and aggravated robbery and was sentenced to death. Tibbetts filed his first habeas petition in 2003, challenging “the administration of the death penalty by lethal injection.” A Magistrate determined found the claim meritless. Tibbetts did not object to this ruling, abandoning that claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the petition. Tibbetts filed his second habeas petition in 2014, listing 10 grounds for relief, all relating to execution by lethal injection under Ohio law. The district court determined that this was a second-or-successive petition, over which it lacked jurisdiction, and transferred it to the Sixth Circuit, which dismissed. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act limits the authority of federal courts to grant relief to individuals who previously filed a habeas petition; petitioners challenging state court judgments must seek authorization in a federal appeals court before filing a “second or successive” petition in district court, 28 U.S.C. 2244(b). A second-or-successive petition stating claims that were presented in a prior petition “shall be dismissed.” Tibbetts argued that he could not raise his lethal-injection challenge until the state adopted the revised execution protocol. Tibbetts raised such a general claim in his first petition, none of the newly arising circumstances identified in his second petition are necessary to a general claim that his sentence to death by lethal injection is unconstitutional. View "In re: Tibbetts" on Justia Law

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Tanner, convicted of murder in 2000, unsuccessfully sought habeas relief, arguing that the Michigan Supreme Court unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent when it upheld the denial of funding for a defense serology or DNA expert, and when it held that there was sufficient evidence to convict Tanner. The Sixth Circuit granted relief. Tanner was convicted based on insufficient evidence. The inculpatory evidence establishes, at best, “reasonable speculation” that Tanner was in the crime scene’s parking lot around the time of the murder and that she was last in possession of the murder weapon approximately a month before the murder. The court noted contradictory testimony; the lack of evidence that Tanner entered the building or that the knife was in her possession near the time of the murder. The blood found at the scene matched Tanner’s blood type and PMG subtype. Millions of people share Tanner’s blood type and PGM subtype and there is no way of knowing whether the blood belonged to the perpetrator or to one of the people who gathered after the murder. An unidentified woman’s blood was on the victim’s shirt. The victim was killed during a struggle and the blood did not come from Tanner or from any of her hypothesized accomplices. View "Tanner v. Yukins" on Justia Law

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In 1986, Thompson, having served 12 years of a life sentence for an unrelated murder for hire, killed his prison-farm supervisor, stole his possessions, and fled. Thompson was captured and convicted of murder, robbery, and escape. Thompson was granted a retrial on direct appeal, then pleaded guilty to all three counts to avoid jury sentencing. A state court held that Commonwealth was entitled to jury sentencing despite the plea agreement. The jury returned a death-penalty verdict. In state post-conviction proceedings, Thompson succeeded on his claim that the trial court had failed to hold a mandatory competency hearing but was unsuccessful on his other claims for relief. After the trial court held the required competency hearing and found that Thompson had been competent to plead guilty, the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed Thompson’s convictions and sentences. The Sixth Circuit affirmed denial of Thompson’s federal habeas corpus petition raising claims that the jury improperly considered extraneous evidence when it discussed a news account about another violent criminal who had committed a murder after earning parole at age 70; that jury instructions violated the Supreme Court’s 1988 holding, Mills v. Maryland, because they stated that the “verdict” had to be returned unanimously but did not expressly state that unanimity was not required for a juror to find a mitigating factor; and the Kentucky Supreme Court did not adequately conduct a comparative-proportionality review in assessing whether Thompson’s death sentence was excessive or disproportionate. View "Thompson v. Parker" on Justia Law

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In 2004, when the Sentencing Guidelines were deemed mandatory, Raybon pleaded guilty to distributing more than 50 grams of cocaine base, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), agreeing that he qualified as a career offender under U.S.S.G. 4B1.1, based on a prior drug trafficking conviction and a conviction for assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. The career offender designation increased his guidelines range to 262-327 months’ imprisonment (from 140-175 months). The Sixth Circuit affirmed a sentence 295 months’ imprisonment. Ten years later, under a different regime of “effectively advisory” Guidelines, Raybon moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 based on the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Johnson, which invalidated the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), as unconstitutionally void for vagueness. Raybon argued that his predicate conviction for assault with intent to do great bodily harm no longer qualified as a crime of violence under an identically-worded residual clause in the career offender guideline. The district court denied the motion as untimely. The Sixth Circuit affirmed; whether the 2015 Johnson decision applies to identical language in the mandatory guidelines is an open question. Raybon’s appeal was not based on a right newly established by the Supreme Court in 2015. View "Raybon v. United States" on Justia Law

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Brown arrived to pick up Hamilton for what he thought was a date. Hamilton’s boyfriend, Stewart, was waiting for him. A struggle ensued. Shots were fired. The men grappled down an apartment stairwell building and out the door. At the end of a trail of blood, Brown lay dead with several gunshot wounds in his chest. Stewart was gone. Michigan charged Stewart and Hamilton with felony murder, felon in possession of a firearm, armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. The evidence at a joint trial showed that Stewart and Hamilton planned to rob Brown. The jury found Stewart guilty. The court sentenced him to life for the first-degree felony murder conviction, two years for the felony-firearm conviction, and 25-50 years for the armed robbery and conspiracy convictions. The jury also found Hamilton guilty. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Stewart’s conviction, finding some claims forfeited, others without error, and still others harmless. The federal district court granted habeas relief. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The state court properly found that any of Hamilton’s statements that were admitted in violation of the Confrontation Clause were cumulative of properly admitted evidence and not outcome-determinative. Given the judge’s curative instructions, prosecutorial statements about credibility did not deprive Steward of due process. View "Stewart v. Trierweiler" on Justia Law

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In 1986, Black shot his girlfriend Angela’s ex-husband. Black pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years at a Davidson County, Tennessee, workhouse. In 1988, while on a weekend furlough, Black entered Angela’s home, shot Angela as she slept, and then shot Angela’s nine-year-old and six-year-old children, killing all three. Black returned to the workhouse before officers discovered the bodies. Black’s trial and post-conviction proceedings have spanned nearly 30 years. In 2000, Black filed an unsuccessful federal habeas petition, claiming that his mental retardation precluded the imposition of the death penalty. After two remands, the Sixth Circuit affirmed. While the Supreme Court and the Tennessee courts have recently recognized limitations imposed by the Eighth Amendment on the power of states to execute mentally retarded persons, those developments do not give Black a reprieve from his death sentence. The court rejected Black’s claims that the district court erred in perceiving the remand to be a limited remand; erred in denying Black an evidentiary hearing; erred in failing to apply a summary-judgment standard in ruling on Black’s Atkins claim; and erred in its merits determination regarding relief under the Supreme Court’s "Atkins" standard. Black did not meet his burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he has significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning that manifested before Black turned 18. View "Black v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Attorney King approached Terry, a supposed drug dealer, at a strip club. King offered to help Terry launder drug money. Terry, actually a confidential informant, told the police, who arranged several meetings that Terry secretly recorded. Terry told King that he had drugs shipped in from Mexico but that he didn’t sell the product at the “street level.” None Terry's statements were true. King proposed to imitate what he had seen on Breaking Bad: One option was to use a “cash heavy” entertainment business. He also suggested funneling money through his IOLTA trust account used by attorneys to hold client money: King would provide fictitious legal services, deduct payments from the account, and return the remaining money to Terry. They agreed to the IOLTA account approach. Terry gave King $20,000. King promised to deposit it in his IOLTA account. King gave Terry a check for $2,000 in February and another for the same amount in March. King was convicted of two counts of money laundering and one count of attempted money laundering and was sentenced to 44 months in prison. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the introduction of recorded conversations between him and the informant violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses and that the court improperly allowed the prosecution to ask him about his prior arrest for cocaine possession. View "United States v. King" on Justia Law

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Miller was arrested, charged, and indicted on charges of reckless driving and resisting arrest, based on false statements made by Officer Maddox. The district court granted summary judgment in Maddox’s favor on Miller’s malicious prosecution claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Maddox is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law and is not entitled to either absolute or qualified immunity. Although Maddox may never have directly spoken with the prosecutor regarding the case, Maddox swore out the warrant affidavit that was submitted to the night commissioner and was the only witness to testify at the preliminary hearing; he at least influenced or participated in the prosecution decision. Miller may be able to rebut the general rule that an indictment conclusively establishes probable cause. There is a genuine dispute of material fact with respect to whether Miller suffered a deprivation of liberty by being detained past the time necessary to enroll her in a pretrial services program. View "Miller v. Maddox" on Justia Law

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Flint, which previously obtained water from DWSD, decided to join the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). The DWSD contract terminated in 2014. Because KWA would take years to construct, Flint chose the Flint River as an interim source. A 2011 Report had determined that river water would need to be treated to meet safety regulations; the cost of treatment was less than continuing with DWSD. Genesee County also decided to switch to KWA but continued to purchase DWSD water during construction. Flint did not upgrade its treatment plants or provide additional safety measures before switching. Residents immediately complained that the water “smelled rotten, looked foul, and tasted terrible.” Tests detected coliform and E. coli bacteria; the water was linked to Legionnaire’s disease. General Motors discontinued its water service, which was corroding its parts. Eventually, the city issued a notice that the drinking water violated standards, but was safe to drink. Subsequent testing indicated high levels of lead and trihalomethane that did not exceed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Lead and Copper Rule’s “action level.” The tests indicated that corrosion control treatment was needed to counteract lead levels. The City Council voted to reconnect with DWSD; the vote was overruled by the state-appointed Emergency Manager. The EPA warned of high lead levels; officials distributed filters. Genesee County declared a public health emergency in Flint, advising residents not to drink the water. The Emergency Manager ordered reconnection to DWSD but the supply pipes' protective coating had been damaged by River water. Flint remains in a state of emergency but residents have been billed continuously for water. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission determined that the response to the crisis was “the result of systemic racism.” The Sixth Circuit reversed dismissal, as preempted by SDWA, of cases under 42 U.S.C. 1983. SDWA has no textual preemption of section 1983 claims and SDWA’s remedial scheme does not demonstrate such an intention. The rights and protections found in the constitutional claims diverge from those provided by SDWA. The court affirmed dismissal of claims against state defendants as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. View "Boler v. Earley" on Justia Law

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Darrah, a Madison Correctional Institution (MCI) inmate, sued medical staff under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Darrah had a severe form of psoriasis that causes debilitating pain from large and deep fissures that form on the bottom of the feet. He had been treated successfully with Soriatane; multiple other treatments had proven ineffective. Soriatane was not listed on the Drug Formulary for Ohio prisons and could not be dispensed without prior authorization. MCI was not able to obtain non-Formulary drugs at the time of Darrah’s arrival. After weeks without the drug, Darrah developed fissures on his heels, pain, and difficulty walking. The doctors tried other drugs. Darrah visited the infirmary repeatedly, filed complaints and a grievance, but a year elapsed before he received Soriatane. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. It was “clearly established” by 2011 that neglecting to provide a prisoner with needed medication, choosing to prescribe an arguably less efficacious treatment method, and continuing on a treatment path that was clearly ineffective could constitute a constitutional violation. The facts could support a finding of deliberate indifference. View "Darrah v. Krisher" on Justia Law