Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Plaintiffs, licensed taxi and limousine operators, sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging an agreement between Newark and Uber as violating their rights under the Takings, Due Process, and Equal Protection Clauses. In order to operate in Newark without taxi medallions or commercial driver’s licenses, setting its own rates, Uber agreed to pay the city $1 million per year for 10 years; to provide $1.5 million in liability insurance for each of its drivers; to have a third-party provider conduct background checks on its drivers. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The agreement places the plaintiffs in an “undoubtedly difficult position” but the situation cannot be remedied through constitutional claims. Even if plaintiffs have a legally cognizable property interest in the medallions themselves, they remain in possession of and able to use their taxi medallions to conduct business. The decrease in the market value of the medallions is not sufficient to constitute a cognizable property interest necessary to state a claim under the Takings Clause. The city controls the number of medallions in circulation and maintains the ability to flood the market with medallions. With respect to equal protection, it is rational for the city to determine that customers require greater protections before accepting a ride from a taxi on the street than before accepting a ride where they are given the relevant information in advance. View "Newark Cab Association v. City of Newark" on Justia Law

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Newark Police received a report that the Audi had been carjacked at gunpoint. Three hours later, State Troopers spotted the Audi. Bland was behind the wheel. They activated their police lights., Bland drove recklessly, running red lights and shutting off his headlights, reaching speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Several officers joined the pursuit. Bland drove the wrong way down a one-way street, colliding with occupied police vehicles, which struck an unoccupied car. The cars became entangled. Officers surrounded the Audi and ordered Bland to surrender, then fired 28 shots, none of which hit Bland. Bland revved the engine and freed the Audi, striking the police car again. He drove over a curb and through a public park, then continued to speed through Newark with his lights off. During the chase, a police car struck an occupied civilian vehicle. Bland eventually drove to an intersection where an unmarked police vehicle rammed the Audi, sending the Audi into scaffolding that surrounded a school. It became entangled. Troopers surrounded the Audi and fired their weapons. Bland denies that the troopers shouted any commands or that he made evasive movements. Bland was shot 16-18 times and suffered a traumatic brain injury, respiratory failure, vision loss, and facial fractures. No officer observed Bland with a weapon. Bland sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Their conduct was within the bounds of Supreme Court decisions regarding the use of lethal force; they did not violate Bland’s clearly established constitutional rights. View "Bland v. City of Newark" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Peppers was indicted for numerous federal firearms and drug offenses, including murder with a firearm. After a trial, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. On remand, Peppers pleaded guilty as an armed career criminal in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(e)(1). The charging document stated that Peppers had previously been convicted of felonies in six separate proceedings. Peppers was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment--the mandatory minimum under the Armed Career Criminal Act. In his second habeas petition, Peppers challenged that sentence, citing the Supreme Court’s “Johnson” decision, which invalidated ACCA’s residual clause. The district court denied relief. The Third Circuit vacated. The jurisdictional gatekeeping inquiry for successive section 2255 motions based on Johnson requires only that a defendant prove he might have been sentenced under the now-unconstitutional residual clause, not that he was actually sentenced under that clause. A Rule 11(c)(1)(C) guilty plea does not preclude a defendant from collaterally attacking his sentence if his sentence would be unlawful once he proved that ACCA no longer applies to him. A defendant seeking a sentence correction in a successive section 2255 motion based on Johnson, who uses Johnson to satisfy the section 2255(h) gatekeeping requirements, may rely on post-sentencing cases to support his claim. Peppers’s convictions under Pennsylvania’s robbery statute, are not categorically ACCA violent felonies. Peppers did not prove his Johnson claim with respect to his Pennsylvania burglary conviction. The court remanded for analysis of whether treating the robbery convictions as predicate offenses under ACCA, was harmless in light of his other convictions. View "United States v. Peppers" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Johnson participated in five bank robberies, carrying a BB gun twice and providing a gun for the others, while serving as a lookout. He was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 371; one count of armed bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2113(d); four counts of aiding and abetting armed bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2 and 2113(d); and three counts of aiding and abetting the use and carrying of a firearm during a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 2 and 924(c)(1). For the first count of using a firearm during a crime of violence, the court applied 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)(ii), which provides that if “the firearm is brandished,” the minimum sentence is seven years. For the second and third firearm counts, the court imposed 25-year sentences under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(C), which requires a sentence of not less than 25 years for a subsequent conviction. Johnson’s total sentence was 835 months, The Third Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded for consideration in light of Alleyne (2013). The Third Circuit again affirmed, rejecting arguments that the court committed Alleyne errors by not submitting to the jury the questions of “brandishing” or whether two section 924(c) convictions were subsequent convictions. The fact of subsequent conviction is not an element of the offense and need not be submitted to the jury. Robbery is a crime of violence under the section 924(c)(3) elements clause. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Green was sentenced to 687 months of imprisonment for federal drug and firearms convictions. While serving that sentence, Green attacked another inmate with a shank, then pleaded guilty assault with intent to commit murder, 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(1), and was sentenced to 151 months, as a “career offender” under the residual clause of the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. The Presentence Report did not specify which of Green’s prior convictions qualified as predicate offenses. The sentence, at the low end of the Guidelines, was to run consecutively to the 687 months that he was already serving. The Third Circuit affirmed and, after the Supreme Court’s “Johnson” holding that the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act was void for vagueness, affirmed the dismissal of Green’s motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his sentence. The court concluded that Green’s motion was untimely because the one-year limitations period to bring a challenge on collateral review had passed by the time he filed this motion. Johnson did not constitute a newly recognized right, that would have provided Green a year from when Johnson was decided to file his section 2255 motion, in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 "Beckles" opinion, that vagueness challenges cannot be brought to the advisory Sentencing Guidelines, View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

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A DEA officer learned that Williams bought heroin in Detroit, which he sold in Pittsburgh, and placed a GPS tracker on Williams’s car to monitor his movements.. The officer planned to have Williams’s car stopped upon its return to Pennsylvania. That evening, Pennsylvania State Trooper Volk observed Williams’s car speeding, stopped it, issued a citation, and told Williams that he was free to go. Before Williams left, Trooper Volk asked for consent to search his car. Williams signed a “Waiver of Rights and Consent to Search.” Troopers searched Williams’s car. Unable to locate any narcotics, they requested a narcotics-detection dog. Williams eventually stated: “you searched my car three times, now you hold me up and I have to go.” There was a lot of noise from traffic and the wind and, other than Williams’s testimony, there was no evidence that Trooper Volk heard this. The search continued. Williams told the officers not to search his phone without a warrant. Williams objected when troopers began to disassemble Williams’s speakers, stating “I’ve been out here half an hour, man.” Seventy-one minutes into the search, Trooper Volk discovered 39 grams of heroin in a sleeve covering the car’s parking brake lever. Williams pled guilty to possession of heroin with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion to suppress and his 160-month sentence. Williams did not unequivocally withdraw his consent to the search. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania State Trooper Volk, a drug interdiction officer on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, stopped Green, who had multiple prior arrests for drug and weapon offenses. Green allowed Volk to search his vehicle. Volk did not discover any contraband but detected the smell of raw marijuana in the trunk. The following day, Volk noticed Green’s vehicle heading the opposite direction, followed, and ascertained his speed by “pacing” Green’s vehicle. Volk determined that Green was traveling 79 miles per hour and pulled him over. Volk struck up a lengthy conversation with Green. Volk indicated that Green was free to leave but again asked to search Green’s vehicle. Green declined, explaining that he was in a hurry. Volk instructed Green to wait in his car until further notice. After approximately 15 minutes, a canine unit arrived and alerted for drugs in the trunk. Volk obtained a search warrant a few hours later. A search of Green’s trunk revealed roughly 1,000 bricks of heroin weighing nearly 20 pounds. Green pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and was sentenced to 120 months of imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed. Volk had a reasonable suspicion that Green was speeding, so the stop was justified. Given Green’s statements about his travel, the smell of marijuana in his trunk, and his criminal history, Volk had a “particularized and objective” basis for suspecting that Green was engaged in criminal activity. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

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Reeves was convicted of robbery, carrying a firearm without a license, and second-degree murder relating to a 2006 armed robbery of a gas station convenience store that resulted in the clerk's death. Reeves, arrested three years later, was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He filed a four-months-late federal habeas petition, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel and seeking to excuse his untimeliness based on the "Schlup" actual innocence exception to procedural default, extended to time-barred petitions in 2013. The Third Circuit remanded, finding that Reeves identified evidence that may show actual innocence that was not presented to the jury. When a petitioner asserts ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel’s failure to discover or present the very exculpatory evidence that demonstrates his actual innocence, such evidence constitutes new evidence for purposes of the Schlup actual innocence gateway. The court noted evidence that was known but not presented, pertaining to an individual (Anderson) who had previously been convicted of other crimes who failed to show up at a work-release center located near the site of the crime and who fit the physical description of the robber. Anderson called the mother of his child days after the robbery, telling her he had “a lot of money” for outstanding child support. Two witnesses stated that Anderson told him that he was involved in the robbery and had recounted details. View "Reeves v. Superintendent Fayette SCI" on Justia Law

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A Pennsylvania municipal lien is automatic; it is perfected by filing with the local court, without notice or a hearing, where it is publicly docketed. Until filed, a municipal lien may not be enforced through a judicial sale. Municipalities can delay filing a lien indefinitely, but it is not enforceable against subsequent purchasers until filed. A municipality can petition the court for a sale. Property owners may request a hearing on the legality of a lien at any time by paying the underlying claim into the court with a petition. PGW, a public utility owned by the city, scans its billing database, identifies delinquent accounts, then sends a pre-filing letter. If full payment is not made, the system automatically files the lien and sends another notice. Landlords are not normally apprised of tenants' growing arrearages. An exception is entered if the name/address associated with an account does not match the property tax records. PGW frequently enters “exceptions,” which do not prevent arrearages from continuing to grow nor do they interrupt service but prevent the lien from being filed. Landlords who learned of thousands of dollars of liens against their properties, due to nonpayment by tenants, filed suit. The court certified a class and held that the City had violated the landlords’ due process rights. The Third Circuit reversed. Whether the lien procedures comport with due process depends on three factors: the private interest that will be affected; the risk of an erroneous deprivation and the value of other procedural safeguards in avoiding errors; and the governmental interest. Although the filing of a lien is “significant” enough to trigger due process protections, it is a relatively limited interference with the landlords’ property. None of the plaintiffs have suffered injury to their credit. Nor have the liens interfered with their ability to maintain their properties or collect rents. Risks associated with an erroneous lien are mitigated by the statute's post-deprivation remedies. View "Augustin v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In 1995, a Pennsylvania jury found Abdul-Salaam guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy. After a one-day penalty phase hearing in which Abdul-Salaam’s counsel presented three mitigation witnesses, the jury sentenced Abdul-Salaam to death. Abdul-Salaam, after exhausting his state remedies, filed a federal petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. 2254, challenging his sentence, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to investigate adequately and to present sufficient mitigation evidence at sentencing. The Third Circuit reversed the denial of relief. Trial counsel could not have had a strategic reason not to investigate Abdul-Salaam’s background, school, and juvenile records, to acquire a mental health evaluation, or to interview more family members about his childhood abuse and poverty, counsel’s performance was deficient. There is a reasonable probability that the un-presented evidence would have caused at least one juror to vote for a sentence of life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. Abdul-Salaam has met the prejudice prong of the ineffective assistance of counsel inquiry. View "Abdul-Salaam v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law