Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Grant was 16 years old when he committed crimes that led to his incarceration. He was convicted in 1992 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and for drug trafficking. The court determined that Grant would never be fit to reenter society and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for the RICO convictions with a concurrent 40-year term for the drug convictions and a mandatory consecutive five-year term for a gun conviction. In 2012, the Supreme Court decided, in Miller v. Alabama, that only incorrigible juvenile homicide offenders who have no capacity to reform may be sentenced to LWOP and that all non-incorrigible juvenile offenders are entitled to a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” The court resentenced Grant to a term of 65 years without parole. Grant argued that the sentence constitutes de facto LWOP. The Third Circuit vacated Grant’s sentence. A sentence that either meets or exceeds a non-incorrigible juvenile offender’s life expectancy violates the Eighth Amendment; courts must hold evidentiary hearings to determine the non-incorrigible juvenile offender’s life expectancy and must consider as sentencing factors his life expectancy and the national age of retirement, with the section 3553(a) factors, to properly structure a meaningful opportunity for release. View "United States v. Grant" on Justia Law

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.In 1990, 19-year-old Bennett was sitting in the passenger seat of a getaway car when his conspirator entered a jewelry store to commit a robbery, shooting the clerk and killing her. Bennett was convicted of first-degree murder. After a capital sentencing hearing, the jury returned a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Two state courts later vacated Bennett’s first-degree murder conviction, finding that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that it could convict Bennett of first-degree murder based on the shooter’s intent to kill. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the conviction. The Third Circuit granted Bennett’s federal habeas corpus petition, finding that the trial court’s erroneous jury instructions deprived him of due process of law. The court analyzed the issue de novo, concluding that Bennett’s due process claim was not adjudicated on the merits in state court. Due process is violated when a jury instruction relieves the government of its burden of proving every element beyond a reasonable doubt. There is “‘a reasonable likelihood’ that the jury at Bennett’s trial applied the instructions in a way that relieved the state of its burden of proving the specific intent to kill. View "Bennett v. Superintendent Graterford SCI" on Justia Law

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Nixon suffered from mental health problems. He sometimes lived with his long-time partner, Haberle, and their children. On May 20, 2013, he had “a serious mental health episode,” told Haberle that he was suicidal, broke into a friend’s home and took a handgun, then went to his cousin’s apartment. Haberle contacted Nazareth Police. Officer Troxell obtained a warrant for Nixon’s arrest and went to the apartment with other officers, who suggested getting Pennsylvania State Police crisis negotiators or asking Haberle to communicate with Nixon. Troxell called the other officers “a bunch of f[---]ing pussies.” He knocked and identified himself as a police officer. Nixon promptly shot himself. The Third Circuit affirmed, in part, the dismissal of Haberle’s suit. She claimed that Troxell unconstitutionally seized Nixon and that Nixon’s suicide was the foreseeable result of a danger that Troxell created, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101-213 by failing to modify Borough policies and procedures to ensure that disabled individuals would have their needs met during police interactions. Troxell merely knocked on the door and announced his presence, which is not enough to violate the Fourth Amendment. Even if there had been a seizure, it would have been pursuant to a valid warrant and not unlawful. Troxell’s actions do not “shock the conscience.” The court remanded to allow Haberle to amend her ADA claim. View "Haberle v. Troxell" on Justia Law

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Paladino, a New Jersey State Prison inmate, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil rights action against prison employees alleging a number of constitutional claims. The district court granted summary judgment on many of his claims, finding that he failed to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995. The Third Circuit affirmed with respect to most of Paladino’s claims but vacated with respect to Paladino’s excessive force claim based on an alleged 2010 assault, finding a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether he exhausted that claim because there was a conflict between the prison’s records and Paladino’s deposition testimony. Some type of notice and an opportunity to respond are needed before a district court elects to decide factual disputes regarding exhaustion. View "Paladino v. Newsome" on Justia Law

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Investigating Playpen, a global dark-web child pornography forum with more than 150,000 users, the FBI relied on a single search warrant, issued in the Eastern District of Virginia, to search the computers of thousands of Playpen users all over the world, using malware called a “Network Investigative Technique” (NIT). Werdene, a Pennsylvania citizen, was a Playpen user whose computer was compromised by the NIT. He was charged in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B). The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion to suppress. The NIT warrant violated the prior version of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(b) with respect to jurisdictional limits and the magistrate judge exceeded her authority under the Federal Magistrates Act. The warrant was therefore void ab initio, and the Rule 41(b) infraction was a Fourth Amendment violation. However, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule may apply to warrants that are void ab initio. The warrant was issued by a neutral, detached, duly-appointed magistrate judge, who determined that it was supported by probable cause and particularly described the places to be searched and things to be seized. The FBI, therefore, acted in good-faith; there is no evidence that it exceeded the scope of the warrant. View "United States v. Werdene" on Justia Law

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During Greene’s 1996 trial for murder, robbery, and conspiracy, the prosecution introduced the redacted confessions of Greene’s non-testifying codefendants. Pennsylvania’s High Court summarily dismissed an appeal in which Greene argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1998 "Gray" holding, decided after the Superior Court rejected Greene’s Confrontation Clause claim, entitled him to relief. Pennsylvania courts also rejected his post-conviction petitions. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the denial of Greene's 2004 habeas petition, noting that Gray had not sought certiorari relief after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed his appeal and did not assert his “Gray” claim in his state post-conviction petition. Three years later, Greene filed a pro se Rule 60(b)(6) motion to vacate, arguing that appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance in failing to advise Greene to petition the U.S. Supreme Court, citing the Court’s 2012 decision (Martinez v. Ryan) that “[w]here, under state law, claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel must be raised in an initial-review collateral proceeding, a procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing a substantial claim of ineffective assistance at trial if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective.” The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, citing the Supreme Court’s 2017 holding (Davila v. Davis) that “a federal court [may not] hear a substantial, but procedurally defaulted, claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel when a prisoner’s state post-conviction counsel provides ineffective assistance by failing to raise that claim.” View "Greene v. Superintendent Smithfield SCI" on Justia Law

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Bradley was Director of Budget and Financial Planning at the West Chester University of Pennsylvania (WCU). During preparation of a budget report for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Bradley was instructed to increase a line item by several million dollars, to “swing” a multi-million dollar surplus to a multi-million dollar deficit. She was told that the report “was a political document[,] and if you don’t present this deficit, your appropriation money is at risk.” At a meeting of WCU’s Budget Committee, Bradley stated that alterations were “unethical and quite frankly, [possibly] illegal.” Her supervisor expressed his displeasure, stating that her “future was at risk.” Bradley subsequently circulated a memorandum documenting her concerns. Two years later, Bradley was assisting with a meeting of WCU’s Enrollment Committee. She presented her supervisor’s proposed budget, then answered a question and presented an alternate budget, which, she believed, “presents reality.” Although she was expected to speak at a presentation the next day, Bradley refused to do so unless she could present her version of the budget. Her supervisor told Bradley that her contract would not be renewed. Arguing that her termination was in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment, she sued. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. The institutional defendants were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity; her speech was pursuant to her official duties, and, therefore not constitutionally protected. View "Bradley v. West Chester University of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Bradley was Director of Budget and Financial Planning at the West Chester University of Pennsylvania (WCU). During preparation of a budget report for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Bradley was instructed to increase a line item by several million dollars, to “swing” a multi-million dollar surplus to a multi-million dollar deficit. She was told that the report “was a political document[,] and if you don’t present this deficit, your appropriation money is at risk.” At a meeting of WCU’s Budget Committee, Bradley stated that alterations were “unethical and quite frankly, [possibly] illegal.” Her supervisor expressed his displeasure, stating that her “future was at risk.” Bradley subsequently circulated a memorandum documenting her concerns. Two years later, Bradley was assisting with a meeting of WCU’s Enrollment Committee. She presented her supervisor’s proposed budget, then answered a question and presented an alternate budget, which, she believed, “presents reality.” Although she was expected to speak at a presentation the next day, Bradley refused to do so unless she could present her version of the budget. Her supervisor told Bradley that her contract would not be renewed. Arguing that her termination was in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment, she sued. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. The institutional defendants were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity; her speech was pursuant to her official duties, and, therefore not constitutionally protected. View "Bradley v. West Chester University of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Karns and Parker (Plaintiffs), evangelical Christian ministers, were preaching and carrying signs on the railway platform at NJ Transit's Princeton Junction Station. Parker had previously been informed that a permit was required to engage in noncommercial speech on NJ Transit property. Neither had a permit. NJ Transit Officers had been instructed that if they observed an individual engaging in non-commercial speech without a permit, an officer should explain the permitting rules and take “appropriate enforcement action” if the individual, aware of the requirement, continues to engage in non-commercial expression. In response to a dispatch call, officers approached Plaintiffs and informed them of the requirement. Parker responded that he had been preaching at the station for years without any permit. The officers then asked for identification. Parker produced an expired college identification card. Karns refused to provide identification. The officers arrested Plaintiffs for obstruction and defiant trespass. Karns was acquitted. Parker’s defiant trespass conviction was reversed. Plaintiffs filed complaints, alleging violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. NJ Transit is an arm of the state, entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity for itself and the officers in their official capacities. The officers, as individuals. were entitled to qualified immunity on claims of selective enforcement and retaliation, and had probable cause to believe that Plaintiffs were engaged in criminal trespass. View "Karns v. Shanahan" on Justia Law

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Private indirect purchasers of prescription Flonase filed a class action, alleging that GSK had filed sham petitions with the FDA to delay the introduction of generic Flonase and force them to pay more for Flonase than they would have if the generic version were available. Those plaintiffs moved for final approval of settlement after the court certified the class and approved the notice to settlement class members. Louisiana, an indirect Flonase purchaser, qualified as a potential class member but did not receive the notice; it only received a Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) Notice, for “the appropriate State official of each State in which a class member resides,” 28 U.S.C. 1715(b) The settlement “permanently enjoined” all members of the settlement class, including Louisiana, from bringing released claims against GSK, even in state court. In an ancillary suit, GSK moved to enforce the settlement against the Louisiana Attorney General. The Third Circuit affirmed denial of the request, finding that under the Eleventh Amendment “a State retains the autonomy to choose ‘not merely whether it may be sued, but where it may be sued.'" Although some of Louisiana’s claims fall within the settlement, the state did not waive its sovereign immunity. Receipt of the CAFA Notice was insufficient to unequivocally demonstrate that the state was aware that it was a class member and voluntarily chose to have its claims resolved. View "In re: Flonase Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law