Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Garcia was convicted of distributing a kilogram of cocaine to co-defendant Cisneros, 21 US.C. 841. The government offered no direct evidence that Garcia possessed or controlled cocaine, drug paraphernalia, large quantities of cash, or other unexplained wealth. There was no admission of drug trafficking by Garcia, nor any testimony from witnesses that Garcia distributed cocaine. Instead, the government secured this verdict based upon a federal agent’s opinion testimony purporting to interpret several cryptic intercepted phone calls between Garcia and Cisneros, a known drug dealer. In those calls, the defendants talked about "work" and a "girl" in a bar, and made statements like “the tix have already walked more that, that way.” The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that: This case illustrates the role trial judges have in guarding the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases. While the government’s circumstantial evidence here might have supported a search warrant or perhaps a wiretap on Garcia’s telephone, it simply was not sufficient to support a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for distributing cocaine. View "United States v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Wanjiku pled guilty to transportation of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252A, retaining his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress photographs and videos recovered from his cell phone, laptop, and external hard drive during a warrantless border search at O’Hare International Airport. Wanjiku was caught up in a law enforcement investigation targeting men with prior criminal histories, traveling alone, and returning from countries known for “sex tourism” and sex trafficking. Wanjiku met the criteria and was chosen for a search before his plane landed; he was evasive and nervous during primary questioning. While searching his luggage, agents found syringes, condoms, medication for treating low testosterone, and oxycodone. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction. The agents acted in good faith when they searched the devices with reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime was being committed, at a time when no court had ever required more than reasonable suspicion for any search at the border. That reasonable suspicion is measured at the time of the search. Although the Supreme Court has recently granted heightened protection to cell phone data, its holdings have not addressed searches at the border where the government’s interests are at their zenith nor have they addressed data stored on other electronic devices. View "United States v. Wanjiku" on Justia Law

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Kanter pleaded guilty to mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, based on his submission of bills to Medicare for non-compliant therapeutic shoes and shoe inserts. Due to his felony conviction, he is prohibited from possessing a firearm under both federal and Wisconsin law, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and Wis. Stat. 941.29(1m). He challenged those felon dispossession statutes under the Second Amendment, as applied to nonviolent offenders. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment upholding the laws. Even if felons are entitled to Second Amendment protection, so that Kanter could bring an as-applied challenge, the government met its burden of establishing that the felon dispossession statutes are substantially related to an important government interest in preventing gun violence. Congress and the Wisconsin legislature are entitled to categorically disqualify all felons—even nonviolent felons like Kanter—because both have found that such individuals are more likely to abuse firearms. The “bright line categorical approach … allows for uniform application and ease of administration.” View "Kanter v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a nonprofit organization, “[t]akes legal action challenging entanglement of religion and government, government endorsement or promotion of religion.” FFRF paid its co-presidents a portion of their salaries in the form of a housing allowance, seeking to challenge 26 U.S.C. 107, which provides: In the case of a minister of the gospel, gross income does not include— (1) the rental value of a home furnished to him as part of his compensation; or (2) the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home. Having unsuccessfully sought refunds from the IRS based on section 107 they sued. The district court granted FFRF and its employees summary judgment, finding that the statute violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit reversed, applying the “Lemon” test. The law has secular purposes: it is one of many per se rules that provide a tax exemption to employees with work-related housing requirements; it is intended to avoid discrimination against certain religions in favor of others and to avoid excessive entanglement with religion by preventing the IRS from conducting intrusive inquiries into how religious organizations use their facilities. Providing a tax exemption does not “connote[] sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the [government] in religious activity.” FFRF offered no evidence that provisions like section 107(2) were historically viewed as an establishment of religion. View "Gaylor v. Peecher" on Justia Law

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Indiana University and faculty members, claiming interference with medical scholarship, challenged a state statute, providing that “[a] person who intentionally acquires, receives, sells, or transfers fetal tissue commits unlawful transfer of fetal tissue, a Level 5 felony,” Ind. Code 35‐46‐5‐1.5(d). A federal district court held that several terms in the statute were unconstitutionally vague and that it must be treated as if it read: “A person who intentionally sells fetal tissue commits unlawful transfer of fetal tissue, a Level 5 felony.” The definitional clause, as enacted, read: “As used in this section, ‘fetal tissue’ includes tissue, organs, or any other part of an aborted fetus.” The court held it must be treated as if it read: “As used in this section, ‘fetal tissue’ includes tissue or organs of an aborted fetus.” The Seventh Circuit reversed. A federal judge cannot definitively interpret Indiana statutes but the state judiciary can do so in a declaratory judgment suit. Instead of using an available state‐law remedy, the plaintiffs asked a federal court to invalidate the law. The statute survives an equal‐protection challenge under a rational basis test. The law regulates conduct, not speech and does not discriminate against interstate commerce. A Takings Clause claim is confined to the University but the University, as part of Indiana, is not entitled to sue the state. View "Trustees of Indiana University v. Curry" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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Illinois law requires sex offenders to register with the police. Offenders with a fixed residence were required to register either every 90 days or annually; homeless offenders were to report weekly. Some Chicago officers thought the weekly requirement was burdensome and “steered” offenders to identify a residence. Officers directed Regains to a homeless shelter, which they listed as his permanent address, and to return for re-registration in 90 days. When he reported three months later, Regains was arrested on an “investigative alert,” because other officers had not been able to locate Regains at the address provided. Regains remained in custody 17 months before the Illinois trial court found him not guilty of failing to a report a change of address. Regains sued the city under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed the claim as time-barred under Illinois’ two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims and found that the amended complaint lacked sufficient factual details to give fair notice. The Seventh Circuit reversed, concluding that the claim accrued when Regains was released from custody. The court remanded, noting that it will be difficult for Regains to amend his complaint to allege a policy or practice, widespread enough to constitute a custom and that high-ranking Department members knew of the differing practices and allowed them to continue. View "Regains v. Chicago" on Justia Law

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Pewaukee, Wisconsin law enforcement officers were searching for two African‐American men who, moments before, had committed an armed robbery and had been tracked to the parking lot of a nearby Walmart store. An officer stopped and questioned Street, the only African‐American man in the crowded Walmart. Street was not arrested then, but during the stop, he provided identifying information that helped lead to his later arrest for the robbery. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Street’s conviction, rejecting his argument that the stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights because he was stopped based on just a hunch and his race and sex. The officers stopped Street based on much more information than his race and sex. They did not carry out a dragnet that used racial profiling. Rather, the police had the combination of Street being where he was, when he was there, and one of a handful of African‐American men on the scene, thus fitting the description of the men who had committed an armed robbery just minutes before. That information gave the officers a reasonable suspicion that Street may have just been involved with an armed robbery, authorizing the “Terry” stop. View "United States v. Street" on Justia Law

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Based on a 2005 domestic violence incident, Jones was charged with battery. For another incident, he was charged separately with intimidation and being a habitual offender. The court set a joint omnibus date of October 18. Indiana law then allowed prosecutors to make substantive amendments to pending charges only up to 30 days before the omnibus date. Nine days after that date, the state moved to amend the battery information to add criminal confinement. Jones’s attorney did not object; the court granted the motion without a hearing. In January 2006, the state moved to amend the intimidation charge to add language Months later Jones’s new attorney unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the amended intimidation information. On the first day of a consolidated trial, the state moved to amend the criminal-confinement charge (battery) again, to add “and/or extreme pain.” The court allowed the third amendment over Jones’s objection. Convicted, Jones was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for criminal confinement, enhanced by 25 years for being a habitual offender. Jones sought habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254, arguing that his lawyer’s failure to object to the untimely first amendment constituted ineffective assistance. The Seventh Circuit granted relief. Applying the state’s statutes, as interpreted by Indiana’s highest court, a competent lawyer should have recognized that relief for his client was possible and would have pursued it. View "Jones v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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Silva, a Brazilian citizen who self-identifies as Latino, worked as a correctional sergeant for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC). His use of force on an inmate triggered an internal review process and led to his discharge. The individual defendants, the warden, the human resources director, and a Corrections Unit Supervisor played roles in that review process. Silva filed discrimination claims against the DOC under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e–2(a)(1), against the individual defendants and the DOC under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and against all defendants under 42 U.S.C. 198. The Seventh Circuit reversed the award of summary judgment to the DOC on the Title VII claim and to the warden on plaintiff’s equal protection claim but otherwise affirmed. A reasonable jury could conclude that Silva and another correctional officer engaged in comparably serious conduct but Silva was discharged while the other officer was suspended for one day .A reasonable jury could conclude that the warden’s evolving explanations for the discrepancy support an inference of pretext. Qualified immunity does not shield the warden from liability. The Eleventh Amendment bars the equal protection claim against the DOC View "Silva v. State of Wisconsin, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In 1987, D’Antoni was charged with selling cocaine to a juvenile resulting in her death. While in jail, D’Antoni offered another inmate $4,000 to kill a government witness related to the charge. The inmate went to the police. D’Antoni was charged with conspiracy to kill a government witness and pleaded guilty to both charges. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence of 35 years in prison on the drug charge and a consecutive 5-year term for the conspiracy. In 1991, D’Antoni was convicted of conspiracy to distribute LSD while in jail and received an enhanced sentence under the career offender provision of the 1990 Sentencing Guidelines, based on his prior felony drug and felony “crime of violence” convictions. The “crime of violence” definition included a residual clause, encompassing any felony “involv[ing] conduct that present[ed] a serious potential risk of physical injury to another." D’Antoni was sentenced before the Supreme Court (Booker) held that the Guidelines must be advisory. In 2015, the Supreme Court (Johnson), held the identical Armed Career Criminal Act residual clause “violent felony” definition was unconstitutional. D’Antoni sought resentencing, 28 U.S.C. 2255. In 2017, the Supreme Court held that Johnson did not extend to the post-Booker advisory Guidelines residual clause. The Seventh Circuit held, in its 2018 “Cross” decision, that Johnson did render the pre-Booker mandatory Guidelines residual clause unconstitutionally vague. The Seventh Circuit concluded that D’Antoni is entitled to resentencing even though “conspiracy,” “murder,” and “manslaughter” were listed as crimes of violence in the application notes to the 1990 version of USSG 4B1.2. The application notes’ list of qualifying crimes is valid only as an interpretation of USSG 4B1.2’s residual clause; because Cross invalidated that residual clause, the application notes no longer have legal force. View "D'Antoni v. United States" on Justia Law