Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Martin pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); (b)(1)(B)(iii). The parties agreed that Martin’s advisory Guidelines range was 70-87 months’ imprisonment and that a sentence of 87 months was appropriate. According to the Probation Office, Martin’s Guidelines range was 188-235 months’ because Martin was a career offender. At sentencing, the district court stated that Martin was a career offender, noting crimes of aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and fleeing a police officer. After considering the 18 U.S.C. 3553 factors, the Court sentenced Martin to 87 months’ imprisonment. Martin did not appeal. In 2014, the Sentencing Commission promulgated Guidelines Amendment 782, retroactively reducing the base offense for many drug quantities, including the drug quantity associated with Martin’s offense. Martin sought a reduction of sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), citing Amendment 782. The district court found him ineligible for relief because his Guidelines range was based on his status as a career offender rather than the drug quantity. The Third Circuit affirmed. Martin’s status as a career offender meant that he was not eligible for a reduced sentence. View "United States v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Defendants were tried together and convicted of several racketeering-related offenses in connection with a loan sharking and illegal gambling operation in Philadelphia. The district court entered preliminary orders of forfeiture making both men jointly and severally liable for more than $5 million of the proceeds from the criminal operation. During the pendency of their appeal, the Supreme Court issued its 2017 "Honeycutt" opinion, reviewing one of the forfeiture statutes at issue in the defendants’ case, 21 U.S.C. 853, and holding that joint and several liability is unauthorized. In light of that holding, the Third Circuit remanded for reconsideration of the forfeiture orders, but otherwise affirmed. The court rejected an argument that the district court violated the Sixth Amendment by applying a “dangerous weapons” sentencing enhancement based on the defendants’ use of an axe to make threats. Defendants argued that the use of the axe constitutes acquitted conduct because it was one of the acts that formed the basis of Count 26, of which they were found not guilty. The court also rejected challenges to the sentencing calculations associated with the RICO conspiracy. View "United States v. Gjeli" on Justia Law

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As unclaimed property has become Delaware’s third-largest source of revenue, companies have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Delaware’s escheat regime. Plains All American Pipeline attacked the constitutionality of several provisions of the Delaware Escheats Law, which provides that a holder of “property presumed abandoned” must file a yearly report with the State Escheator in which it provides information about the property and its possible owner (Del. Code tit. 12, sects. 1142, 1143) and Delaware’s demand that it submit to an abandoned property audit. Because Plains brought suit before Delaware assessed liability based on its audit or sought a subpoena to make its audit-related document requests enforceable, the district court dismissed the suit, finding that the claims were unripe except for an equal protection claim that it dismissed for failure to state a claim. The Third Circuit reversed in part, finding an as-applied, procedural due process claim ripe, but otherwise affirmed. To establish a due process violation, all Plains must show is that it was required to submit a dispute to a self-interested party. No further factual development is needed to address the merits of the claim. View "Plains All American Pipeline LLP v. Cook" on Justia Law

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The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 124 Stat. 119, requires employer-provided health insurance plans to cover various preventative services, including FDA-approved contraceptives, at no cost to participating employees. The “Contraceptive Mandate” includes a limited exemption for houses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries. Religious non-profit and for-profit employers may receive an accommodation whereby they opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, with the government then arranging for their employees to receive the coverage through third parties at no cost to, and with no participation of, the objecting employers. An anti-abortion group argued that, under the Equal Protection Clause, if a religious organization may be exempted from the Contraceptive Mandate, then non-religious entities with an identical stance on contraceptives must also be exempted. Employees of the group argued that the Contraceptive Mandate violated the Church Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 300a–7(d), and that maintaining a health insurance plan that covers contraceptives through their employer violates their religious rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb to 2000bb-4. The Third Circuit affirmed rejection of those claims. The Contraceptive Mandate does not exempt a secular anti-abortion group with no religious affiliation and an employee’s religious beliefs are not substantially burdened by the law’s requirement that his employer’s insurance plan cover contraceptives. View "Real Alternatives Inc v. Secretary Department of Health" on Justia Law

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A gunman murdered Cooley in an Erie, Pennsylvania bar in 1994. Four years later, the Commonwealth tried Haskell for Cooley’s murder. The primary issue was whether Haskell was the gunman. In addition to circumstantial evidence, the Commonwealth presented four eyewitnesses: One recanted his pre-trial testimony implicating Haskell and two had previously denied that they could identify the shooter. The fourth eyewitness, Blue, did provide consistent testimony claiming she could identify the shooter. She claimed to expect nothing in exchange for her testimony but Blue and the prosecutor knew that she expected to receive help in her own pending criminal matters in exchange for her testimony. The prosecutor failed to correct Blue’s statement and went on to rely on it and vouch for Blue in his closing argument. The Third Circuit granted Haskell’s habeas petition. Haskell was not required to show Blue’s perjured testimony caused him “actual prejudice” under the Supreme Court’s standard in Brecht v. Abrahamson (1993). Brecht does not apply when the state has knowingly presented or failed to correct perjured testimony. In those circumstances, a petitioner carries his burden when he has shown a reasonable likelihood the false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury, under the Supreme Court’s 1972 "Giglio" holding. View "Haskell v. Superintendent Greene SCI" on Justia Law

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Wrensford and Muller had an altercation with a man at a car wash. Hours later, the man returned with Hendricks. A truck passed the car wash, turned around, and chased Hendricks. The passenger (Wrensford) fired several shots. Hendricks died from gunshot wounds. Officer Mendez drove in the direction that witnesses said the truck was going, and 45 minutes later, encountered two men walking on the road. Before he could approach, both men ran. Mendez broadcast a general description. Officer Cruz heard the transmission that two “black, rasta males” were on the run. Cruz thereafter saw a “rasta guy,” drew his gun, ordered Wrensford to get on the ground. Wrensford was transported to the police station. Officers later recovered a pistol close to where Wrensford had been standing. Witnesses, taken to the police station, saw Wrensford and “blurted out” that they saw the shooter (Wrensford) outside the station. They identified Muller from a photo array. The Third Circuit vacated Wrensford’s conviction for determination of whether an exception to the Fourth Amendment applies and renders the identification evidence admissible; Wrensford was de facto arrested when, without probable cause, he was transported to the police station. The court affirmed as to Muller; he waived his challenge to the suppression rulings. The court did not abuse its discretion by polling the jury and instructing it to redeliberate, or refusing to give a voluntary manslaughter jury instruction. View "United States v. Wrensford" on Justia Law

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In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, a woman cannot obtain a religious divorce until her husband gives her a “get” contract. A woman who leaves her husband without obtaining a get becomes an “agunah,” subject to severe social ostracism. She may seek relief in a “beth din” rabbinical court, which may authorize the use of force to secure a get. To assist an agunah to obtain a get is a religious commandment of the Orthodox Jewish faith. Stimler, Epstein, and Goldstein participated in the beth din process, working with “muscle men” to kidnap and torture husbands. An FBI agent posed as an agunah and approached Epstein, who stated that “what we’re doing is basically gonna be kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beatin’ him up and torturing him.” On the day of the kidnapping, the rabbis and “tough guys” assembled. Goldstein and Stimler arrived in disguise. The three defendants were charged with substantive kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. The government obtained a court order, under the Stored Communications Act, compelling AT&T to turn over historic cell site location information to obtain 57 days of Goldstein’s location history. The Third Circuit affirmed the convictions of the three men, rejecting a due process claim, challenges to evidentiary rulings, and challenges to jury instructions. Respect for religious beliefs cannot trump legitimate government objectives, such as public safety. View "United States v. Stimler" on Justia Law

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Geraci, part of a police watchdog group, attended an anti-fracking protest at the Philadelphia Convention Center, carrying her camera and a pink bandana that identified her as a legal observer. When the police acted to arrest a protestor, Geraci moved to record the arrest without interfering. An officer pinned Geraci against a pillar for a few minutes, preventing her from observing or recording the arrest. Fields, a Temple University sophomore, was on a public sidewalk where he observed officers across the street breaking up a party. He took a photograph. An officer ordered him to leave. Fields refused; the officer arrested him, confiscated and searched Fields’ phone, and opened several photos. The officer released Fields with a citation for “Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages.” The charge was later withdrawn. Fields and Geraci brought 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, alleging First Amendment retaliation. Although the Police Department’s official policies recognized their First Amendment right, the district court granted the defendants summary judgment on those claims, finding no evidence that plaintiffs’ “conduct may be construed as expression of a belief or criticism of police activity.” The Third Circuit reversed, noting that every circuit that has addressed the issue has found that the First Amendment protects the act of photographing or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public. View "Fields v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Scott Township in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania enacted an ordinance that authorizes officials to enter upon any property within the Township to determine the existence and location of any cemetery. The ordinance compels property owners to hold their private cemeteries open to the public during daylight hours. Knick challenged the ordinance as authorizing unrestrained searches of private property in violation of the Fourth Amendment and as taking private property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. While the “ordinance is extraordinary and constitutionally suspect,” important justiciability considerations preclude reaching the merits. Because Knick conceded that her Fourth Amendment rights were not violated and failed to demonstrate that they imminently will be, Knick lacks standing to advance her Fourth Amendment challenge. Knick’s Fifth Amendment claims are not ripe until she has sought and been denied just compensation using Pennsylvania’s inverse condemnation procedures, as required by Supreme Court precedent. View "Knick v. Township of Scott" on Justia Law

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De Ritis became an Assistant Public Defender for Delaware County in 2005. After being promoted to the “trial team,” De Ritis was told, in 2012, that he would be transferred back to the juvenile court unit. De Ritis contends that others told him that he was transferred because De Ritis’s clients were not pleading guilty fast enough. De Ritis assumed the information was accurate. He informed judges, private attorneys, and his colleagues that he was “being punished” for “taking too many cases to trial.” De Ritis did not discuss the issue with his supervisor, Roger. Denied a transfer back to the trial team, De Ritis contacted the County Solicitor, who contacted Roger and was told that De Ritis “was not performing well.” Roger learned of De Ritis’s allegations and fired him. De Ritis brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the termination violated De Ritis’s First Amendment rights. The district court denied the Public Defender’s motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The Third Circuit reversed. The First Amendment does not protect the speech at issue: statements made while performing official job responsibilities, speculative comments about the reason for a perceived demotion, and recklessly false rumors circulated to government officials. View "De Ritis v. McGarrigle" on Justia Law