Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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In response to the rise in active and mass shooting incidents in the United States, New Jersey enacted a law that limits the amount of ammunition that may be held in a single firearm magazine to no more than 10 rounds, N.J. Stat. 2C:39-1(y), 2C:39-3(j) . A magazine is an implement that increases the ammunition capacity of a firearm; LCMs, magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, allow a shooter to fire multiple shots in a matter of seconds without reloading. Rejecting a challenge citing the Second Amendment, the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, the Third Circuit held that New Jersey’s law reasonably fits the state’s interest in public safety and does not unconstitutionally burden the Second Amendment’s right to self-defense in the home. The law does not require gun owners to surrender their magazines but instead allows them to retain modified magazines or register firearms that have magazines that cannot be modified. Because retired law enforcement officers have training and experience that makes them different from ordinary citizens, the law’s exemption that permits them to possess magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds does not violate the Equal Protection Clause \ View "Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, Inc. v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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After seeing an idling car, illegally parked in front of a store known for drug sales, officers waited for the driver to return, then approached the car. The driver admitted not having a driver’s license. Hester, the passenger, stated that he had a license and started to get out of the car. As he moved, an officer heard the familiar thud of a gun hitting the vehicle's floorboards. Another officer, who testified to seeing Hester drop the gun, verbally alerted the others. Hester attempted to run, but was apprehended. Officers near the vehicle confirmed the presence of a gun at the foot of the passenger’s seat. Hester was convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm following the denial of his motion to suppress. The court applied a four-level enhancement to Hester’s Guidelines range under the theory that Hester’s possession itself constituted New Jersey evidence tampering but varied downward to mitigate its effect, and sentenced Hester to 86 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress but held that the application of the evidence tampering sentencing enhancement was erroneous. A traffic stop is a seizure of everyone in the stopped vehicle. Hester had submitted to the officers’ show of authority when he waited in the vehicle with the driver before and during questioning but there was objectively reasonable suspicion to support Hester’s seizure. View "United States v. Hester" on Justia Law

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Then-New Jersey Governor Christie appointed Baroni as Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Baroni and Kelly, the Deputy Chief of Staff for New Jersey’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, engaged in a scheme to impose crippling gridlock on the Borough of Fort Lee after its mayor refused to endorse Christie’s 2013 reelection bid. Under the guise of conducting a “traffic study,” they conspired to limit Fort Lee motorists’ access to the George Washington Bridge (the world’s busiest bridge) over four days during the first week of the school year. Extensive media coverage of “Bridgegate” ensued. Baroni and Kelly were convicted of conspiracy to obtain by fraud, knowingly convert, or intentionally misapply property of an organization receiving federal benefits, 18 U.S.C. 371, and the substantive offense; conspiracy to commit wire fraud, section 1349, and the substantive offense; and conspiracy against civil rights, section 241, and the substantive offense. The Third Circuit affirmed the wire fraud convictions but vacated the civil rights convictions. The government presented evidence sufficient to prove defendants violated the wire fraud statute by depriving the Port Authority of, at a minimum, its money in the form of public employee labor. The court rejected an argument that Baroni possessed the unilateral authority to control Port Authority traffic patterns. There is no “clearly established” constitutional right to intrastate travel, so the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the civil rights claims. View "United States v. Baroni" on Justia Law

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The Third Circuit affirmed the order of the district court dismissing Appellant’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2241, holding that, although Appellant has been detained pending reveal proceedings since April 2016, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment did not entitle Appellant to a new bond hearing at which the government would bear the burden of justifying his continued detention. Appellant entered the United States on a tourist visa, which he overstayed. A year later, an Interpol "Red Notice" requested by Russian identified Appellant as a fugitive wanted for prosecution on criminal fraud charges. On April 22, 2016, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Appellant under 8 U.S.C. 1226(a) and initiated removal proceedings, which are still pending in an immigration court. Appellant filed this action alleging that his continued detention deprived him of due process unless the government could show clear and convincing evidence of risk of flight or danger to the community. The district court dismissed the petition. The Third Circuit affirmed. The dissent argued that where the Russian government has been employing Interpol Red Notices to pursue and harass opponents of the Russian regime and where Appellant had no criminal record anywhere, Appellant was entitled to a new hearing to review the finding of “danger to the community.” View "Borbot v. Warden Hudson County Correctio" on Justia Law

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The Third Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence, which included as a condition of his supervised release from prison a restriction on Defendant’s possession or use of computers or other electronic communication devices, holding that the restrictions were not tailored to the danger Defendant posed. Defendant pleaded guilty to using the internet to attempt to entice a child into engage in sexual acts. Defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment and a lifetime of supervised release. When Defendant violated the terms of his supervised release, a revocation hearing was held at which the judge imposed the condition forbidding Defendant to possess or use any computers, electronic communications devices, or electronic storage devices. The Third Circuit remanded for a new revocation hearing, concluding that restricting Defendant’s internet access was necessary to protect the public but that Defendant’s current conditions were not tailored to the danger he posed. View "United States v. Holena" on Justia Law

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The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant, a police officer, on Plaintiff’s action brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983, holding that the district court correctly found that the statute of limitations barred Plaintiff’s claims. After Defendant stopped Plaintiff’s car, searched him, and arrested him, Pennsylvania prosecuted him. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence, but the court of appeals reversed, concluding that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. Defendant later brought this suit asserting that Defendant conducted an unreasonable search and seizure and made a false arrest. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the statute of limitations ran from the time of the search rather than when the Pennsylvania court held the search unconstitutional; and (2) therefore, Defendant’s claim was time-barred. View "Nguyen v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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An anonymous source called 911 to report a Hispanic male pointing a gun at juveniles outside a vacant Philadelphia flower shop. The suspect was reportedly wearing a gray shirt, gray pants, and a bucket hat. Office Mulqueeney, who had worked that area for 13 years and knew about the drug and firearm activity prevalent there, was dispatched. He approached De Castro and his neighbor, who were speaking outside of the vacant flower shop. De Castro was wearing a light gray bucket hat, a gray striped shirt, and gray camouflage pants. Mulqueeney asked De Castro to remove his hands from his pockets. De Castro complied, revealing a pistol grip protruding from his pants pocket. Mulqueeney asked De Castro to raise his hands and removed a loaded firearm from De Castro’s pocket. De Castro had neither identification or a permit to carry the firearm but had a passport from the Dominican Republic. Mulqueeney handcuffed and frisked De Castro, finding a loaded magazine. De Castro was convicted as an alien in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(A), following the denial of his motion to suppress all statements and physical evidence. The Third Circuit affirmed. Mulqueeney’s request that De Castro remove his hands from his pockets did not constitute a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Mulqueeney “neither ordered nor repeatedly asked De Castro to comply" but used a conversational tone to communicate his request from a distance of at least five feet, with his weapon holstered and without physical touching; a reasonable person would have felt free to decline Mulqueeney’s lone request. View "United States v. De Castro" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Richardson and his son burgled two empty homes and fled from police. During a high-speed car chase, he rammed into a police car and crashed into a utility pole. He was convicted of burglary, criminal conspiracy, theft, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and flight from a police officer. Mid-sentencing, Richardson decided that he was dissatisfied with his lawyer and sought to fire him. The sentencing judge treated Richardson’s request as waiving his right to counsel but did not, as the Sixth Amendment requires, question Richardson to ensure that his waiver was knowing and voluntary. Richardson’s post-sentencing and state-habeas lawyers both overlooked this error. The Third Circuit remanded to the district court to grant habeas corpus relief and order a new sentencing hearing. In Pennsylvania state court, the post-sentencing-motions stage is a critical stage at which a defendant is entitled to the effective assistance of counsel. Richardson was denied that right because his post-sentencing lawyer was ineffective. The line dividing trial from appeal falls naturally at the notice of appeal. Post-sentencing motions precede the notice of appeal, so they fall on the trial side of the line; when a state-habeas lawyer fails to raise a post-sentencing lawyer’s ineffectiveness, the prisoner may raise that issue for the first time in his federal habeas petition. Richardson’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim is meritorious. View "Richardson v. Superintendent Coal Township SCI" on Justia Law

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Sauers and his wife were driving southbound on Route 209 in Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania. Officer Homanko was on patrol, traveling in the same direction when he observed a summary traffic offense committed by a Dodge in the northbound lane. Homanko turned around to pursue the Dodge. He radioed police in the neighboring borough to request that officers there pull the Dodge over when it reached their jurisdiction. Homanko then began a chase at speeds of over 100 miles-per-hour. Several people observed him driving recklessly. Homanko lost control while negotiating a curve. His car spun around, crossed the centerline into southbound traffic, and crashed into Sauers’s car. The accident seriously injured Sauers and killed his wife. Homanko subsequently pled guilty to vehicular homicide, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of reckless or grossly negligent driving, and reckless endangerment. Sauers – individually and as administrator of his wife’s estate – filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing a “state-created danger” theory of liability. The Third Circuit vacated the denial of Homanko’s motion for dismissal based on qualified immunity; it was not clearly established at the time of the crash that Homanko’s conduct, as alleged in the complaint, could give rise to constitutional liability under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court commented, however, that it hoped to establish clear law with its decision. View "Sauers v. Borough of Nesquehoning" on Justia Law

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Guerrero-Sanchez attempted to unlawfully enter the U.S.in 1998. He was removed back to Mexico. Guerrero-Sanchez reentered the U.S. without inspection. In 2012, he was arrested for his role in an Idaho-based drug trafficking organization. Guerrero-Sanchez pled guilty and was sentenced to 42 months of imprisonment. ICE reinstated his 1998 order of removal, 8 U.S.C. 1231(a)(5). The Third Circuit denied his petition for review and motion for stay of the reinstated removal order. Guerrero-Sanchez completed his sentence and was transferred to ICE custody pending removal. An asylum officer concluded that Guerrero-Sanchez's claim that he would be tortured by a drug cartel if removed to Mexico was reasonable and referred the matter to an immigration judge. The IJ found that he was ineligible for withholding relief under section 1231(b)(3) because he committed a particularly serious crime and that he did not qualify for Convention Against Torture relief because he did not establish that the Mexican Government would consent to or be willfully blind to torture. While his case remained pending before the BIA, Guerrero-Sanchez sought habeas relief, challenging his detention while he awaits a determination on whether he will be afforded country-specific protection from removal. The district court granted the petition. The Third Circuit affirmed. The detention of an alien, who has a reinstated order of removal but is also pursuing withholding-only relief is governed by the post-removal law, 8 U.S.C. 1231(a) rather than section 1226(a), the pre-removal statute; section 1231(a)(6) compels an implicit bond hearing requirement after prolonged detention. View "Guerrero-Sanchez v. Warden York County Prison" on Justia Law