Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Laux broke into his ex‐wife’s home and murdered her with a crowbar. An Indiana jury decided that the aggravating circumstance that he committed murder during a burglary outweighed the primary mitigating circumstance that he had no criminal history and recommended a sentence of life without parole, which the court imposed. Indiana state courts affirmed Laux’s convictions and sentence. After a post‐conviction hearing, they also rejected the claim that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. Laux filed a federal habeas corpus petition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of relief, rejecting a claim that trial counsel was ineffective by not fully investigating and presenting all of the available mitigating evidence about Laux’s childhood that surfaced at his post‐conviction hearing. The state courts’ conclusion that Laux received effective assistance of counsel was not unreasonable. A defendant can often point to some additional subject and argue it should have been pursued further. The Sixth Amendment does not require counsel to investigate every conceivable line of mitigation evidence—it requires counsel to make reasonable decisions about which matters to pursue. The evidence of Laux’s childhood failed to show significant hardship; he was never a victim of abuse or neglect, was never in trouble, and excelled in high school and college. View "Laux v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Tobey placed an order with an internet site advertising “videos of young girls.” When the videos arrived at Tobey’s Florida home, he signed for them and was arrested by U.S. Postal Inspectors as part of a sting operation. Searches of computers in his Florida and Illinois homes led to the discovery of downloads that resulted in charges in both states. Tobey pled guilty to Florida charges. In 2012, when Tobey finished serving his Florida prison sentences, he returned to Illinois where he again pled guilty and was sentenced to two and a half years of probation. Supervision of his Florida probation was transferred to Illinois through the Interstate Compact on Adult Offender Supervision. Because of his noncompliance with probation conditions relating to psychological treatment, signing a “behavioral agreement,” and internet access, Tobey was taken into custody and was transported to Florida, where he eventually signed a behavioral agreement. He was returned to Illinois after 106 days in jail. He continued to have compliance issues. In 2016, Tobey sued his probation officer and an assistant state’s attorney, alleging illegal arrest and detention in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments; violation of due process and his rights under those Amendments; malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy. Tobey characterized his extradition as “kidnapping” and his supervision as “being threatened.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit without an award of sanctions. View "Tobey v. Chibucos" on Justia Law

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Romeoville Police received a call from a Wisconsin mother who stated that her 15-year-old daughter (April) left Wisconsin with an unknown man and called her from a motel, wanting to come home. Officers went to the motel, which had a reputation for prostitution and drug problems. A clerk stated that there was one guest from Wisconsin and showed the officers a photocopy of that guest’s identification. The officers proceeded to the room, where the door was propped open. The officers knocked and Key—who matched the identification—answered. Key said April had gone to a restaurant. The officers asked if they could check the room for the girl; Key consented. Inside the room, the officers saw a tablet open to the website backpage.com, which was commonly used to post prostitution advertisements; a large number of prepaid credit cards; used and unused condoms, and multiple cellphones. Crayton, another young woman, was in the room. Crayton stated that she and April were prostituting and that Key was their pimp. They found April at the restaurant. Following Key's arrest, officers seized the tablet, credit cards, cellphones, and other evidence from the room and Key’s car. Key unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence. The court instructed the jury that voluntary participation by the victim was not a defense. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Key's conviction, upholding the denial of the motion and the jury instruction. View "United States v. Key" on Justia Law

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Learn died after Perrone injected her with cocaine in 2008. Perrone pleaded guilty to unlawful drug distribution and stipulated that his distribution of the cocaine caused Learn’s death, claiming that they had made a “suicide pact.” The court applied a statutory enhancement that mandates a 20-year minimum prison term if unlawful drug distribution results in death. The Supreme Court later clarified that this provision requires a defendant’s drugs to be a but-for cause of the death, not merely a contributing cause. Perrone filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that the narrowed interpretation indicated that he is actually innocent of causing Learn’s death and that his counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him of a Seventh Circuit case decided one day before his sentencing that narrowly interpreted the enhancement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. While the coroner’s report listed the cause of death as “[c]ombined toxicity with cocaine, ethanol and opiates,” Perrone stated he gave Learn additional cocaine because he concluded that she would not die without it. Perrone cannot establish that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have voted to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Even assuming that Perrone could show “deficient performance” by counsel, it is unlikely that he could satisfy the “prejudice” prong. The evidence of causation was strong and his plea agreement allowed him to obtain a sentence reduction for cooperating View "Perrone v. United States" on Justia Law

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Tucker and co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, with an allegation that a 2009 death resulted from the use of heroin distributed by the conspiracy. Tucker’s co-defendants pleaded guilty. Tucker and the government agreed to omit all evidence concerning the death and requested that the court not instruct the jury on that portion of the indictment. The prosecution stated that the death was "a sentencing factor and addresses the mandatory minimum sentence ... 20 years" and did not present evidence regarding a death. The jury convicted Tucker of conspiracy, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), and found that the offense involved more than one kilogram of heroin. The PSR explained that Tucker’s base offense level was 32 but recommended that, under U.S.S.G. 2D1.1(a)(2), the level should increase to 38 because his offense involved more than one kilogram of cocaine and “the offense of conviction establishe[d] that death or serious bodily injury resulted.” Tucker was sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment after the court found that his drug distribution resulted in a death. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of his habeas petition, in which he claimed ineffective assistance of counsel. Whether Tucker’s counsel should have known to challenge the 2D1.1(a)(2) enhancement, is not dispositive because he made a strategic decision not to do so, based on the reasonable calculation that his client would be better off if the jury did not hear evidence regarding the resulting death. View "Tucker v. United States" on Justia Law

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Manley, a school board member, was not up for reelection but her allies were when she had a verbal altercation with a student who was leaf-letting for Manley’s political opponents outside a high school play. The student accused Manley of bullying; the student and her parents pursued a campaign to embarrass Manley with online petitions, newspaper articles, and comments at public meetings. The superintendent began an investigation. Manley sued to enjoin the investigation. No injunction was issued. A public report found that Manley violated a board policy calling for “mutual respect, civility and orderly conduct” at school events. The board formally admonished Manley. Manley did not seek reelection. Manley’s claim for damages was rejected on summary judgment for failure to offer evidence of a required element of a due process claim: the deprivation of a constitutionally recognized liberty or property interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Manley’s claims that she was deprived of a feeling of fair‐dealing on the part of the government; her mental and emotional well‐being; and processes mandated by the state and the district. The Constitution does not require government officials to avoid upsetting other officials; this “unprecedented theory’s threat to robust public debate is obvious.” Emotional distress alone is insufficient to prove a denial of due process. Manley identified no substantive liberty or property interest attached to the procedural rules the district allegedly violated. View "Manley v. Law" on Justia Law

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Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) investigated complaints against police, including domestic violence, excessive force, and death in custody, and made disciplinary recommendations: allegations were “sustained,” “not sustained,” “exonerated,” or “unfounded.” Investigators interviewed witnesses and procured evidence to draft reports. IPRA’s Administrator retained final responsibility for making recommendations and establishing “rules, regulations and procedures for the conduct of investigations.” Davis became an IPRA investigator in 2008. Davis alleges that in 2014-2015, his supervisors ordered Davis to change “sustained” findings and make his reports more favorable to the accused officers. Davis refused and was allegedly threatened to with termination. Davis alleges that they requested Word versions of Davis’s reports to alter them to look like Davis had made the changes. The administrator then implemented a policy requiring his approval for all “sustained” findings: if an investigator refused to make a recommended change, he would be disciplined for insubordination. Davis again refused to change “sustained” findings and was fired. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his First Amendment claims. That an employee may have good reasons to refuse an order, does “not necessarily mean the employee has a cause of action under the First Amendment when he contravenes that order.” Because IPRA required Davis to draft and revise reports, his refusal to revise those reports was speech “pursuant to [his] official duties.” He spoke as a public employee, not a private citizen. The First Amendment does not protect this speech. View "Davis v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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HH intended to open an Indianapolis retail establishment, “Hustler Hollywood,” entered a 10-year lease, and applied for sign and building permits. HH’s proposed store was located in a zoning district that prohibited “adult entertainment businesses.” The Department of Business and Neighborhood Services determined that HH was an adult entertainment business; the Board of Zoning Appeals affirmed. HH sought a declaratory judgment that the ordinance violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court denied HH’s motion for a preliminary injunction. On interlocutory appeal with respect to its as-applied First Amendment claim, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. HH’s speech has not been silenced or suppressed; HH has only been told that it cannot operate in a particular commercial district. The ordinance is “content-neutral” and the city’s interest in reducing the secondary effects of adult businesses is a sufficient or substantial interest. Application of the ordinance resulted only in an incidental restriction on HH’s speech in a particular location. HH presented no evidence that officials displayed any bias or censorial intent in their determinations; the city was under no constitutional obligation to inspect the property or allow HH to open conditionally before making its determination. View "HH-Indianapolis, LLC v. Consolidated City of Indianapolis" on Justia Law

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Valenti is a convicted felon and registered sex offender, with a 1993 California conviction for a “Lewd or Lascivious Act with [a] Child Under 14 Years.” Valenti claimed that Indiana violated his right to vote by refusing to let him enter a polling site located at a school (Ind. Code 35-42-4-14(b)). His neighborhood polling place is a school gymnasium. The state allows serious sex offenders to vote by absentee ballot, Ind. Code 3‐11‐10‐24(a)(12), at a county courthouse, or at a civic center. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the state defendants, noting that Valenti does not even have a constitutional right to vote: Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment gives states the “affirmative sanction” to exclude felons from the franchise. His right to vote is only statutory and the Indiana statute survives rational basis review. “Indiana’s position is an iron‐clad fortress in light of the rational basis test.” View "Valenti v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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A federal warrant, issued in July 2015, authorized federal agents to use pen registers, trap-and-trace devices, historical cell-call records, and “electronic investigative techniques” to capture and analyze signals emitted by the subject phones, including in response to signals sent by law enforcement officers to find two cell phones and understand the nature of their owners’ apparently criminal activity. The reference to electronic investigative techniques is a description of a cell-site simulator, a device that pretends to be a cell tower and harvests identifying information, including location data, about every phone that responds to its signals. The Justice Department claims that it discards information about phones other than it is programmed to look for and that it does not receive the contents of any call. To obtain the contents of a call or message, agents would need a warrant under the wiretap statutes, while the 2015 warrant was issued under 18 U.S.C. 2703(d). Defendant argued that 2703(d)’s “reasonable grounds” standard violated the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause standard. The Seventh Circuit declined to address that issue because the 2015 warrant also recited the existence of probable cause. A warrant that authorizes police to follow a particular cell phone adequately describes the evidence to be acquired and is not “open-ended.” View "United States v. Sanchez-Jara" on Justia Law