Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Defendant Daederick Lacy was charged with three felony counts stemming from his prostitution of teenage girls. The jury convicted him on all three counts, and he was sentenced to a total of 293 months of imprisonment. On appeal, Defendant challenged his conviction on each count, arguing Count 1 should be reversed because: (1) the district court did not provide the jury with a technical definition of “sex act” to guide its verdict and (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that his sixteen-year-old victim engaged in sex acts with her clients. He argued Count 2 should have been reversed because the district court allowed two law enforcement officers to testify about what the victim told them the day after she committed an act of prostitution arranged by Defendant. Finally, he argued Count 3 should have been reversed for insufficiency of the evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Lacy's convictions. View "United States v. Lacy" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma charged Raye Smith with several child abuse charges stemming from the death of her two-year-old daughter, Kelsey, who died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen. Kelsey’s death, and Smith’s subsequent trial, generated substantial public interest and publicity. In the end, a jury convicted Smith of enabling child abuse. Smith moved for a new trial based on claims of juror misconduct and jurors’ exposure to information outside the courtroom. To support her contention, Smith provided affidavits from trial attendees who alleged some jurors were sleeping during the trial. Smith also claimed the out-of-court publicity tainted the verdict. Smith requested an evidentiary hearing from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA), which granted with respect to the publicity issue, but refused on the sleeping-juror issue, finding the trial judge's statement on the issue adequately refuted the allegations. Ultimately, the OCCA denied relief. Turning to the Tenth Circuit, Smith sought habeas relief, reiterating the sleeping juror issue, and arguing she received ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to bringing the sleeping juror to the trial judge's attention. Smith also argued the trial publicity violated her rights to an impartial jury and due process. Finding that the OCCA did not base its denial of Smith's claims on an unreasonable determination of the facts, and that the OCCA's opinion was contrary to or unreasonably applied clearly established federal law, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the OCCA. View "Smith v. Aldridge" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Aaron Lewis, Jr., a federal prisoner acting pro se, sought a certificate of appealability to appeal the district court’s denial of his section 2255 petition. In 2010, Petitioner pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court found Petitioner to be an armed career criminal based on two prior drug convictions and one burglary conviction and sentenced him to 188 months of imprisonment. He did not appeal his conviction. In this habeas petition, Petitioner sought sentencing relief based on Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), which invalidated the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B). The gravamen of his argument was that he was entitled to Johnson relief because the necessary third prior conviction for burglary under Kansas statute 21-3715 only qualified as a violent felony under the now-void residual clause. Petitioner also contended the district court erred in holding that Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), was not retroactively applicable on collateral review. Having granted the COA, the Tenth Circuit nevertheless denied Petitioner’s appeal on the merits. Though Petitioner asserted a timely Johnson claim, he did not establish a Johnson error, meaning that the Court's analysis could not go further than the initial, historical evaluation of the sentencing court’s decision. Petitioner was sentenced in 2010; Mathis was decided in 2016. Because Mathis was a “post-sentencing decision” that was not part of the “controlling law . . . at the time of sentencing,” and as such, the Court did not apply it on collateral review. View "United States v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Wendell Grissom, with the assistance of a man he had just met, randomly selected a rural Oklahoma home to burglarize. Upon realizing that the home was occupied by two women and two minor children, Grissom shot his way into the home, killing one woman and seriously injuring the other. After the injured woman was able to escape in Grissom’s own vehicle, Grissom and his accomplice fled on a stolen all-terrain vehicle. Grissom and his accomplice were arrested shortly thereafter. Grissom was tried and convicted in Oklahoma state court of first degree murder, shooting with intent to kill, possession of a firearm after former conviction of a felony, and larceny of a motor vehicle after two or more previous felony convictions. Grissom was sentenced to death for the first degree murder conviction, and sentenced him to lengthy prison sentences for the other convictions. After exhausting his state court remedies through a direct appeal and a single application for state post-conviction relief, Grissom filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus, which was denied. However, the district court granted him a certificate of appealability (COA) with respect to one issue. The Tenth Circuit granted Grissom a COA with respect to two additional issues. Finding no reason to disturb the district court’s order, the Tenth Circuit affirmed denial of habeas relief. View "Grissom v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Richard Grissom, a prisoner in the custody of the Kansas Department of Corrections, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against a number of state corrections and prison officials, alleging violations of his constitutional rights stemming from his lengthy placement in solitary confinement. The district court granted summary judgment against Grissom, and he appealed. Finding that the Prison Officials were entitled to qualified immunity because at the time of Grissom’s confinement there was no clearly established law that would have alerted them that his asserted constitutional rights were being violated, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Grissom v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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Matthew Durham appealed his convictions and sentence on four counts for illicit sex with minors in Kenya after travelling there from the United States. He raised eight issues for the Tenth Circuit's review, arguing errors regarding the conduct of trial and the admission of certain evidence all cumulatively affected his Constitutional rights. In addition, he argued 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c), the statute on which the convictions were based, was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to Durham because it exceeded Congress’s power under the Foreign Commerce Clause in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution. The Tenth Circuit held that section 2423(c) was constitutional because Congress could rationally conclude that travel abroad followed by illicit sex with a minor, in the aggregate, substantially affected foreign commerce. The Court found no other reversible error and affirmed Durham's convictions. View "United States v. Durham" on Justia Law

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Giavanni Miles pleaded guilty to two counts of theft of firearms from a federal firearms licensee. He was sentenced to two concurrent 70-month terms of imprisonment. In his Plea Agreement, Miles “knowingly and voluntarily” waived his right to appeal “any matter in connection with this prosecution, conviction, or sentence unless it met one of the following criteria: (1) the sentence exceeded the maximum penalty provided in the statute of conviction; (2) the sentence exceeded the applicable advisory guideline range; or (3) the government appealed the sentence[] imposed.” Furthermore, the Agreement provided that “[i]f any of these three criteria apply, the defendant may appeal on any ground that is properly available in an appeal that follows a guilty plea.” Nevertheless, Miles appealed, arguing his appeal waiver was unconscionable and contrary to public policy. Alternatively, Miles argued he received ineffective assistance of counsel in the negotiation of the appeal waiver. The Tenth Circuit granted the government's motion and dismissed this appeal: it fell within the scope of the appeal waiver contained in the plea agreement. The Court acknowledged Miles preserved his right to pursue an ineffective-assistance claim in a collateral proceeding. View "United States v. Miles" on Justia Law

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An Oklahoma jury convicted and sentenced Gilbert Postelle to death in connection with the brutal killings of four people: over a holiday weekend in 2005, Postelle and two other assailants attacked Donnie Swindle at his home, murdering him and three acquaintances. The raid apparently sprang from the Postelle family’s grudge against Swindle alone. After an unsuccessful appeal and collateral action in state court, Postelle sought federal habeas corpus relief. He alleged the state prosecution violated several of his constitutional rights, including his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Postelle raises three issues: (1) whether he received constitutionally adequate trial counsel; (2) whether he received constitutionally adequate appellate counsel; and (3) whether the unconstitutional presentation of victim-impact evidence at trial prejudiced his defense. He also asked the Tenth Circuit to expand the scope of its review to include several new issues for which he has yet to receive a Certificate of Appealability. Finding no cause to reverse denial of the writ, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court and declined to extend the scope of its review. View "Postelle v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Matthew Sample pled guilty to one count of frauds and swindles and two counts of wire fraud. Sample worked as a licensed investment advisor and registered broker for several large brokerage firms, and was recognized as a top advisor. In 2006, Sample began operating the Vega Opportunity Fund (the “Vega Fund”). One year later, in 2007, he closed the fund after it had lost sixty-five percent of its value. Sample had been diverting funds invested in the Vega Fund for his own personal expenses, and had been providing investors with false account statements and quarterly updates on their purported investments. After closing the Vega Fund, Sample moved from Chicago, Illinois, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. In October of 2009, he began a hedge fund called the Lobo Volatility Fund, LLC (the “Lobo Fund”). In a scheme similar to that perpetrated on investors in the Vega Fund, Sample provided false monthly statements showing appreciation in value, engaged in misleading email correspondence about market strategies, and provided false tax reports to Lobo Fund investors. All the while, Sample diverted a total of $1,086,453.62 from investors for his personal use. Sample was sentenced to a five-year term of probation on a rationale that that such a sentence would allow him to repay his victims. The government appealed the sentence, and the Tenth Circuit concurred with the government that this sentence was unreasonable. The case was remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Sample" on Justia Law

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J.H., a minor represented by his grandfather, claimed a child welfare specialist at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and two police officers wrongfully seized and questioned him about possible abuse by his father. Because of this conduct, J.H. argued these officials violated the Fourth Amendment, and that two of the three officials violated the Fourteenth Amendment by unduly interfering with J.H’s substantive due process right of familial association. The officials moved for summary judgment, arguing in relevant part that qualified immunity shielded them from liability. The district court denied qualified immunity, and the officials filed an interlocutory appeal. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court was correct that two of the three defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure claim. But the Court reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity for the officer who merely followed orders by transporting J.H. Furthermore, the Court reversed denial of qualified immunity on the Fourteenth Amendment interference with familial association claim since it was not clearly established that the officials’ conduct violated the Fourteenth Amendment. View "Halley v. Huckaby" on Justia Law