Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Comey was the administrator of her brother, Warehime's, estate. Martin and Simons fraudulently took ownership of Warehime’s property. Martin, a nurse, accessed Warehime’s medical records without authorization so that Simons could fabricate a story about a relationship with Warehime that would make the putative property transfer look legitimate. Martin recruited a patient to “take [Comey] out.” The patient contacted the police. Before the government brought criminal charges, the probate court entered judgment against Martin and Simons. Martin pled guilty to using interstate commerce facilities with the intent to commit murder-for-hire, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and obtaining individually identifiable health information. The government agreed to move for a three-level reduction in the Guidelines “[i]f the defendant continues to demonstrate that he has accepted responsibility.” Before sentencing, Martin filed a Rule 60(b) motion to vacate the probate court judgment, asserting facts that contradicted the guilty plea. The government brought Martin’s motion to the sentencing hearing. Had Martin received the reduction, his guidelines range would have been 87–108 months. The court imposed a sentence of 144 months. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Martin then filed a section 2255 motion to vacate, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorneys advised him to file the Rule 60(b) motion. The government submitted documents contradicting that position but containing some inconsistencies. The court denied Martin’s motion without a hearing. Martin then filed a Rule 59(e) motion to alter the judgment. The court denied the motion, stating that “[a]lthough [Martin] asserts that there are facts in dispute, [he] offers no proof beyond mere self-serving allegations.” The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court abused its discretion by declining to hold an evidentiary hearing. Martin presents more than mere assertions of innocence; his motion contains factual allegations about the deficiencies of his attorneys’ advice. View "Martin v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2006, Lang shot and killed Cheek and Burditte during a botched drug deal. Lang was indicted on two counts of aggravated murder and for aggravated robbery with firearm specifications. After two witnesses had testified, the prosecutor notified the court that Cheek’s father recognized Juror 386 as the daughter of the woman married to Cheek’s brother. After two more witnesses testified, the judge and counsel questioned Juror 386; she acknowledged she met Cheek once and had attended her funeral. She learned of Cheek’s death from her grandfather and from newspapers. She denied talking to others about the case and was excused by agreement. The court confirmed that Juror 386 had not spoken with and would have no contact with other jurors, then told the jurors that she was excused because “she may have had a relationship with ... somebody.” The court asked the jurors as a group whether Juror 386 had talked about knowing someone involved in the case and stated: “I take it by your silence that she did not.” Neither attorney asked to question them individually. The jury returned a guilty verdict. After taking mitigation evidence, the judge imposed a death sentence. Lang unsuccessfully sought federal habeas corpus relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Ohio Supreme Court reasonably concluded that counsel’s approach to mitigation did not result in ineffective assistance; Lang suffered no prejudice from his attorney’s failure to request individual voir dire of the jurors. View "Lang v. Bobby" on Justia Law

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Stevenson is serving life in prison in Michigan for first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and possessing a firearm in the commission of a felony. His convictions and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. Stevenson’s state motion for relief from judgment was denied. Stevenson filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition in the Western District of Michigan, which was denied as untimely. Days before the Western District dismissed the first petition, Stevenson filed another 2254 petition in the Eastern District, which, upon learning of Stevenson’s earlier petition, dismissed the second as “duplicative.” Noting that the second petition sought to raise three grounds not mentioned in the first petition, the Sixth Circuit determined that the Eastern District abused its discretion by failing to transfer the second petition to the Western District because a subsequent 2254 petition filed while the petitioner’s initial petition is still pending should be construed as a motion to amend the initial petition under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. On remand, the Eastern District transferred the case to the Western District, which transferred the case to the Sixth Circuit for consideration as an application to file a second or successive habeas petition (28 U.S.C. 1631). The Sixth Circuit remanded, noting that it already determined that the second petition was not second or successive but should be construed as a motion to amend the first petition. View "In re Stevenson" on Justia Law

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In 1994, Carruthers and Montgomery assaulted three people, robbed them, then buried them alive. The bodies were found buried in a Memphis cemetery, a week after they disappeared. Carruthers’ family retained Wharton to represent him. Wharton was allowed to withdraw because of a conflict of interest. The court appointed Nance. Carruthers repeatedly complained about Nance; the court appointed other attorneys, who ultimately withdrew. Massey was appointed and was given permission to withdraw because his family was receiving threats from Carruthers. Between January and April 1996, the court denied Carruthers’s five motions to appoint new counsel. Carruthers represented himself during the guilt and sentencing phases. A Tennessee jury convicted Carruthers of three counts of first-degree, premeditated murder and imposed a death sentence for each. State courts affirmed on direct appeal and denied Carruthers post-conviction relief. The federal district court denied his petition for habeas corpus relief, in which Carruthers argued that he was denied counsel at critical stages of the proceedings in violation of Supreme Court precedent (Cronic), that the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel in ordering him to proceed pro se, and that he was not competent to stand trial or to represent himself. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Carruthers procedurally defaulted his Cronic and competency claims, and the state court’s decision that Carruthers forfeited his right to counsel was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent. View "Von Carruthers v. Mays" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Dr. Menendez treated 15-year-old Garber for a fever, constipation, and back pain. Garber became a paraplegic. The state court dismissed Garber’s initial lawsuit because he failed to file an affidavit from an expert witness in support of his claim. In his second lawsuit, Garber tried to serve Menendez at his Ohio office, but (unbeknownst to him) Menendez had retired to Florida. Garber voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit. Garber sued Menendez a third time in May 2017 and properly served him. Ohio provides a one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims, Ohio Rev. Code 2305.113, which began running on August 5, 2013, when Garber turned 18. Garber argued that Ohio tolls the statute of limitations when the defendant “departs from the state.” The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The court rejected an argument that the statute’s differential treatment of residents and non-residents violates the dormant Commerce Clause by disincentivizing individuals from leaving Ohio and offering their services (or retirement spending) in other states. The Ohio tolling provision does not discriminate against out-of-state commerce any more than many other policy benefits reserved for residents of a given state, including the existence of an estate tax for Ohioans but not for Floridians. View "Garber v. Menendez" on Justia Law

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As voir dire was about to commence at Bickham’s state court trial, officers cleared the public from the courtroom. Bickham’s counsel objected, citing Presley v. Georgia (2010), which established that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial is violated when a court excludes the public from jury selection. In response, the judge stated that removing spectators was necessary so that the jury panel of 52 people would not be intermixed with the audience, and that once the panel was in, those who fit separately from the jury could be allowed in. Counsel stated: I understand. After jury selection, counsel raised the matter again. The judge noted that only two seats had remained after the panel was seated and that no request had been made for those seats. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Bickham’s convictions for second-degree murder, armed robbery, assault with intent to commit armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, finding that Bickham procedurally defaulted his Sixth Amendment claim when he did not make a contemporaneous objection to the courtroom's closure. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition, agreeing that Bickham's claim was procedurally defaulted for failing to make a timely objection to the exclusion of the public. View "Bickham v. Winn" on Justia Law

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Enacted in 2016, Ohio Revised Code 3701.034 requires the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) to ensure that all funds it receives through six non-abortion-related federal health programs are not used to contract with any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions, or becomes or continues to be an affiliate of any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the entry of a permanent injunction, first rejecting a challenge to Plaintiffs’ standing to assert due process claims. The district court properly applied the “unconstitutional conditions” doctrine, which is not limited to First Amendment rights. Although the government has no obligation to subsidize constitutionally protected activity, it may not use its control over funds to curtail the exercise of constitutionally protected rights outside the scope of a government-funded program. Section 3701.034 imposes conditions; does not distinguish between the grantee and the project; does not permit the grantee to keep abortion-related speech and activities separate from governmental programs; does not leave the grantee unfettered in its other activities; and does not permit the grantee to continue to perform abortion and provide abortion-related services through programs that are independent from projects that receive the funds. While finding the “undue-burden analysis” employed in some courts “questionable,” the court concluded that section 3701.034 is unnecessary to advance the interests ODH asserts. View "Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio v. Himes" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Potter pleaded guilty to various drug and gun crimes, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The Armed Career Criminal Act imposes a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence on repeat offenders—those who have three or more previous convictions for a “violent felony.” After the district court sentenced Potter as a repeat offender, the Supreme Court (Johnson v. United States), held that the Act;s residual clause violates the Constitution’s prohibition against vague criminal laws. Potter asked to be resentenced in a successive 28 U.S.C. motion, claiming he did not qualify as a repeat offender. The district court declined the request on the ground that he sentenced Potter under a different clause (the enumerated-crimes clause) of the Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed because the same district court judge who sentenced him was in a better position than anyone else to know why he applied the Act and because at all events Potter did not meet his burden of showing that the court used the residual clause to increase his sentence. View "Potter v. United States" on Justia Law

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Gardner shared a cell phone with his 17-year-old girlfriend, B.H., to facilitate her “sex dates” with other men. Gardner had advertised B.H. on Backpage.com, arranged her transportation and gave her drugs for the encounters, had threatened B.H. when she did not want to participate, and demanded the money clients paid for. When one of B.H.’s clients turned out to be an undercover officer, she agreed to let police search the phone. B.H. was pregnant at the time. A jury convicted Gardner of trafficking a minor for sex and producing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 1591(a)(1) and 2251(a), primarily based on evidence recovered from the phone. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Gardner’s challenges to the denial of his motion to suppress and to the sufficiency of the evidence. B.H. consented to let officers search the phone and had actual and apparent authority to do so. Photographs on the phone were relevant to show an element of the sex trafficking charge—that B.H. feared that Gardner would cause her “serious harm” if she refused to prostitute herself. View "United States v. Gardner" on Justia Law

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Richardson was arrested after failing to appear at a child-support enforcement hearing. The judge imposed a sentence of up to 30 days for civil contempt, which could be purged and Richardson released upon payment of $2,500. Two days later, Richardson collapsed in his cell. An overhead camera recorded as officers and medical staff responded. Richardson, lethargic and unbalanced, with blood and saliva coming from his mouth, was trying to stand. The officers told Richardson to “stay down,” pulled Richardson from his cell, and placed him face down on the floor. Despite a jail policy prohibiting placing restrained inmates in a prone position and a medic’s appeal to handcuff Richardson in front, Richardson was handcuffed behind his back and restrained face down. Richardson died after a 22-minute struggle during which he continually stated he could not breathe. In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 the court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on qualified- and statutory-immunity grounds. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Because Richardson was sanctioned outside the criminal context, the Fourteenth Amendment governs. The court rejected an argument that, as long as they acted without reckless or malicious intent, the officers could apply any degree of force. Existing precedent gave notice that it “[w]as unconstitutional” to create asphyxiating conditions by “forcibly restraining an individual in a prone position for a prolonged period” when that individual posed no material threat. Because the finding regarding defendants’ “knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm” was premised on Richardson’s complaints about his inability to breathe, the qualified immunity inquiry was sufficiently individualized. View "Hopper v. Plummer" on Justia Law