Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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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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A Postal Inspector had probable cause to believe that a package being shipped from California contained drugs, obtained a search warrant, and examined its contents. It contained 1.5 pounds of crystal methamphetamine. Agents conducted a controlled delivery and arrested the recipient, who agreed to serve as a confidential informant, identified Ickes as the source of the methamphetamine, and provided evidence that correlated with Ickes’s California address. Because of a prior drug-related conviction, Ickes was subject to state-court-ordered probation, with a provision requiring him to submit to search and seizure of his person, residence, or vehicle, with or without a search warrant, without regard to probable cause. Ickes was arrested. Agents conducted a warrantless search of Ickes’s residence and vehicle and found U.S. Postal Service labels and tracking information that was used against Ickes at trial. The district court denied Ickes’s motion to suppress without an evidentiary hearing. Ickes was convicted and sentenced to 280 months of imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A defendant is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing if his argument is “entirely legal.” Ickes was subject to probation that included a search provision and the officers had a reasonable suspicion that Ickes was conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. For the duration of Ickes’s probation, he had diminished privacy interests and the government had a substantial interest in monitoring Ickes’s activities, so the police needed no more than reasonable suspicion to search his residence and vehicle. View "United States v. Ickes" on Justia Law

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Saginaw uses a common parking enforcement practice known as “chalking.” City parking enforcement officers use chalk to mark the tires of parked vehicles to track how long they have been parked. Parking enforcement officers return to the car after the posted time for parking has passed, and if the chalk marks are still there—a sign that the vehicle has not moved—the officer issues a citation. Taylor, a frequent recipient of parking tickets, sued the city and its parking enforcement officer, Hoskins, alleging that chalking violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search. The district court dismissed , finding that, while chalking may have constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment, the search was reasonable. The Sixth Circuit reversed, characterizing the practice as a regulatory exercise. The chalking involves a physical intrusion and is intended to gather information. While automobiles have a reduced expectation of privacy, the court concluded that the need to deter drivers from exceeding the time permitted for parking—before they have even done so—is not sufficient to justify a warrantless search under the community caretaker rationale. View "Taylor v. Saginaw" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s order granting a preliminary injunction that had enjoined Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government from enforcing Ordinance 25-2017, which restricts the delivery of “unsolicited written materials” to six enumerated locations and provides for civil penalties for violations. On remand, further proceedings were taken in the district court. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court in concluding that Ordinance 25-2017 constitutes a valid time, place, and manner regulation of speech. View "Lexington H-L Services, Inc. v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government" on Justia Law

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On April 29, 2013, the government charged White with drug distribution and firearm crimes. On May 2, White was arrested. He made his initial appearance the next day and was released on bond. The parties filed a stipulation with the court on May 17, agreeing to adjourn White’s preliminary hearing and exclude the time between May 23 and June 7 from White’s Speedy Trial Act clock. Plea negotiations were unsuccessful. A grand jury indicted White on June 4. Including those days expressly excluded by the court, 33 days passed between White’s arrest and indictment. White moved to dismiss the indictment because the government failed to indict him within 30 days of his arrest in violation of the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. 3161, but substantively argued only his rights under the Sixth Amendment's Speedy Trial Clause. The court denied the motion. A jury convicted White; the court sentenced him to 84 months in prison. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. On remand from the Supreme Court, the Sixth Circuit again affirmed. While the Supreme Court’s intervening "Bloate" decision invalidated Sixth Circuit precedent, so that the continuance to engage in pre-indictment plea negotiations did not qualify for automatic exclusion under section 3161(h)(1), White cannot overcome plain-error review of his Bloate argument. Alternatively, the time for pre-indictment plea negotiations was properly excluded as an ends-of-justice continuance under Speedy Trial Act section 3161(h)(7). View "United States v. White" 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