Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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At initial hearings, New Jersey's Parole Board may consult any information it deems relevant, including an inmate’s criminal history. At successive parole hearings, the Board could not consider old information, including the inmate's criminal history. The 1997 Amendments to the Parole Act eliminated that prohibition and instructed the Board to prepare an “objective risk assessment” before every parole hearing, incorporating old information, including an inmate’s “educational and employment history” and “family and marital history,” and other factors. When Holmes was on parole in the 1970s, he killed two acquaintances, murdered a 69-year-old, and wounded a police officer. Sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, Holmes remains behind bars 48 years later. At his initial parole hearing in 2001, the Board refused to release Holmes. After a 2012, hearing, the Board issued a detailed written statement that probed Holmes’s past parole violations, highlighted the homicides, and scrutinized the shootout that preceded his arrest. The statement noted his unblemished disciplinary record since his initial parole hearing. Without specifying the weight placed on each factor, the Board rejected Holmes’s request for release.Holmes challenged the decision on ex post facto grounds. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of his petition. For many prisoners, the rules present little risk to their parole prospects. For Holmes, the change plausibly produced a significant risk of prolonging his time behind bars. View "Holmes v. Christie" on Justia Law

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Stinson and Jarmon each ran drug trafficking conspiracies out of a North Philadelphia public housing complex/ at various times, 2010-2015. The complex included about 500 apartment units and two playgrounds. During a joint investigation among local police, the FBI, and the DEA, government agents put up pole cameras, established wiretaps, used confidential informants to make controlled drug purchases, pulled trash, analyzed pen registers, and—after Stinson’s arrest and incarceration in 2012— listened to recordings of Stinson’s phone conversations while he was in prison. After the investigation ended in 2017, Stinson and 12 others were charged with conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine and related crimes. Separately, Jarmon and 12 others were charged with similar crimes. Most of their co-defendants pleaded guilty and some cooperated.Stinson and Jarmon proceeded to separate trials and were convicted of the conspiracy charges and most of the related charges. Each was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings, the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to drug quantities, and the sentences. Stinson and Jarmon had no reasonable expectation of privacy in their phone calls. View "United States v. Jarmon" on Justia Law

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Icker, a part-time uniformed police officer, twice pulled over a woman who was driving alone at night and detained her, claiming that she appeared intoxicated or that he could smell marijuana. Icker handcuffed each woman and searched her car, claiming to find incriminating evidence. The women had criminal histories. He advised each that charges could put them in violation of their supervision or bond. Icker indicated that he wanted oral sex and transported each victim in his police cruiser to a location where the woman performed oral sex on him. Icker also groped or harassed three other women, using his authority as a police officer. Icker pleaded guilty to two counts of depriving the victims of their civil right to bodily integrity, 18 U.S.C. 242. The plea agreement recommended 144 months' imprisonment and included several conditions of supervised release but did not refer to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 34 U.S.C. 20901. Icker waived his right to appeal.The Third Circuit vacated the imposition of a condition of supervised release that required Icker to register as a sex offender under SORNA “as directed by the probation officer, the Bureau of Prisons, or any state sex offender registration agency.” Convictions under section 242 are not SORNA “sex offenses.” Icker was not given notice of any potential SORNA requirements in signing his appellate waiver. Any attempted delegation of Icker’s status as a “sex offender” to a third party was an improper delegation of Article III powers. View "United States v. Icker" on Justia Law

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Arrington claims he stopped engaging in drug activity after he was released from prison on parole in 2007. The government contends Arrington became a Pennsylvania drug supplier. In 2009, the police arrested Arrington’s co-conspirators. Arrington helped them attempt to escape apprehension. He abandoned his parole appointments and fled the state. Arrington was subsequently charged with possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to do the same, and traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to facilitate unlawful activity. His co-conspirators testified against him. Arrington claims he told his attorney, Kress, that he wanted to testify to explain that he absconded from parole not because of his involvement in drug trafficking; Kress did not honor this request because doing so would open Arrington to cross-examination, which might enable the government to introduce evidence of his prior convictions. Kress allegedly never sought Arrington's consent to waive his right to testify or explained that the decision was his to make. However, during his closing argument, Kress covered some of the material to which Arrington claims he would have testified.Arrington moved to vacate his convictions under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that Kress was ineffective for unilaterally waiving his right to testify. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The bar for obtaining an evidentiary hearing on a section 2255 motion is low but Arrington does not meet it, because his claim conclusively fails Strickland’s prejudice prong. View "United States v. Arrington" on Justia Law

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Under 8 U.S.C. 1226(c), the government must detain noncitizens who are removable because they committed certain specified offenses or have connections with terrorism, and it must hold them without bond pending their removal proceedings. In 2012, the plaintiffs filed a habeas petition on behalf of a putative class of noncitizens who are detained under section 1226(c) in New Jersey, contending that it violates due process to mandatorily detain noncitizens who have substantial defenses to removal and that the procedure for conducting “Joseph” hearings is constitutionally inadequate.The Third Circuit held that section 1226(c) is constitutional even as applied to noncitizens who have substantial defenses to removal. For those detainees who contend that they are not properly included within section 1226(c) and are therefore entitled to a Josepth hearing, the government has the burden to establish the applicability of section 1226(c) by a preponderance of the evidence and the government must make available a contemporaneous record of the hearing, consisting of an audio recording, a transcript, or their functional equivalent. Section 1252(f)(1) does not authorize classwide injunctions, so the court reversed the district court’s order in part. View "Gayle v. Warden Monmouth County Correctional Institution" on Justia Law

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Shorter, a transgender woman, has undergone hormone replacement therapy; her body is “openly female.” In 2015, she entered a Federal Correctional Institution to begin a 96-month sentence for creating a fraudulent “tax service.” Despite knowing that Shorter was transgender, prison officials first housed her in a room without a lock with 11 men. Prison officials screened her risk for sexual assault under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 regulations and concluded she was at “significantly” higher risk than other inmates because she presented as transgender, was small in stature, and had previously been sexually assaulted at another prison. Later, in an unlocked two-person cell, she was assigned a sex offender as her cellmate. Although the prison’s psychology department agreed Shorter should be transferred, she remained in the cell furthest from the officers. Shorter alleges that despite her repeated requests and grievances, she was ultimately stabbed and raped by a fellow inmate. She brought a pro se suit under “Bivens,” claiming officials violated her Eighth Amendment rights by deliberate indifference to the substantial risk that another inmate would assault her.Citing 28 U.S.C. 1915 and 1915A, the district court dismissed her complaint sua sponte before allowing her to serve the defendants. The Third Circuit reversed. Shorter’s case falls comfortably within one of the few contexts in which the Supreme Court has recognized a Bivens remedy. Shorter adequately pleaded a violation of the Eighth Amendment. View "Shorter v. United States" on Justia Law

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New Jersey Law Enforcement Directive 2018-6, states “that individuals are less likely to report a crime if they fear that the responding officer will turn them over to immigration authorities,” and barred counties and local law enforcement from assisting federal immigration authorities by providing any non-public personally-identifying information regarding any individual, providing access to state, county, or local law enforcement equipment, office space, database, or property not available to the general public, providing access to a detained individual for an interview, without the detainee's written consent, or providing notice of a detained individual’s upcoming release from custody. The Directive prohibited local law enforcement agencies and officials from entering “any agreement to exercise federal immigration authority pursuant to Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act” and required them to “notify a detained individual” when federal immigration authorities requested to interview the person, to have the person detained past his release date, or to be informed of the person’s upcoming release.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of challenges to the Directive. For a federal law to preempt state law it must represent the exercise of a power conferred on Congress by the Constitution. Because the Constitution confers upon Congress the power to regulate individuals, not states, the federal law must be best read as one that regulates private actors, The cited federal laws, 8 U.S.C. 1373 and 1644, which regulate only state action, do not preempt the Directive. View "Ocean County Board of Commissioners v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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Rought sold fentanyl to Carichner, who provided some to Giberson. Both overdosed. Giberson was revived with Narcan; Carichner died. Rought was indicted for possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute resulting in death and serious bodily injury. Days later, he was interrogated by the FBI. After being advised of his rights verbally and in writing, he answered questions about his drug use and his supplier but said he did not want to talk about Carichner’s death without a lawyer. The interrogating agents respected his wishes and turned the questioning to other subjects. In discussing those other subjects, however, Rought quickly brought the conversation back around to Carichner and made incriminating statements.The district court denied Rought’s motion to suppress the statements. A jury convicted him. The Third Circuit affirmed. Invocations of the right to counsel during custodial interrogations can be “limited.” After a limited invocation, interrogation can continue on topics not covered by the invocation. If the suspect, without prompting from law enforcement, then voluntarily reinitiates discussion of a covered topic and waives her previously invoked rights, it “is quite consistent with the Fifth Amendment” for the suspect’s statements about a covered topic to be admissible at trial. View "United States v. Rought" on Justia Law

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For many years, a 265-acre tract in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania hosted a gun range with over 800 members. In 2008, the range’s then-owner pleaded guilty to possessing weapons as a convicted felon, and the Club closed for about a decade. In 2017, Drummond leased the property for the retail sale of firearms and a shooting range. The Township then permitted "Shooting Ranges" in Industrial and Special Conservation zoning districts; Interchange Business Districts (IBD) could host “Sportsman’s Clubs.” Residents complained that renewed “use of high power rifles” at the Club would pose a “nuisance” and a “danger.” The Board amended the IBD rules, covering Drummond's property, limiting Clubs to “pistol range, skeet shoot, trap and skeet, and rimfire rifle[]” practice; defining a “Sportsman’s Club” as a “nonprofit entity formed for conservation of wildlife or game, and to provide members with opportunities for hunting, fishing or shooting”; and switching Clubs to a “conditional use.”Drummond sued, alleging that the rules restrict his customers’ efforts to acquire firearms and maintain proficiency and were facially unconstitutional. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of the complaint. In identifying which rules invade the Second Amendment, courts identify historical outliers—laws that lack traditional counterparts. In applying heightened scrutiny, courts look for laws with few parallels in contemporary practice. The more “exceptional” a rule, the more likely the government has overlooked less burdensome “options that could serve its interests.” The challenged zoning rules constitute outliers, and the pleading-stage materials fail to justify their anomalous features. View "Drummond v. Robinson Township" on Justia Law

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Trinh sued Fineman, who had been appointed by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County as a receiver in a case involving the dissolution of Trinh’s beauty school. She alleged that Fineman did not give her a proper accounting of the escrow account related to that case and accused him of theft. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, explaining that Trinh had not raised “any claims arising under federal law or [alleged] that the parties are citizens of different states.” The Third Circuit remanded to allow Trinh to amend her complaint. Her amended complaint asserted that Fineman, as the receiver, was “abusing his state power.”The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Although Trinh’s complaint arguably raised a section 1983 claim, Fineman, as a court-appointed receiver, is entitled to absolute, quasi-judicial immunity from suit when acting with the authority of the court. Erroneous, controversial, and even unfair decisions do not divest a judge of immunity. Fineman was duly appointed by the state court and the transcript of that court's hearing reflects that the judge was aware of, and approved of, all of his expenditures. View "Trinh v. Fineman" on Justia Law