Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion for a new trial, holding that the government failed to show that the district court granted reversible error by granting the motion for a new trial upon finding when the court deemed to be a violation of the Confrontation Clause.Defendant was convicted of three counts charging her with wire fraud, honest services wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit both types of wire fraud. Defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal or for a new trial. The district court granted the motion, concluding that the Confrontation Clause was violated in the proceedings below and that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that there was no plain error in the district court's choice of the applicable standard of harmlessness. View "United States v. Ackerly" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's sentence for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962(d), holding that the life without parole sentence imposed by the district court was not unconstitutional and that Defendant's remaining claims of error were unavailing.On appeal, Defendant, who was twenty years old at the time he committed the charged crime, sought to vacate his sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on Eighth Amendment grounds. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant failed to make the case for extending the Miller ban on life-without-parole sentences to offenders like Defendant who were in the eighteen-to-twenty range when they committed the crimes of conviction; (2) the district court did not err in determining that Defendant had twice committed the predicate offense of first-degree murder even where the jury had been instructed only on second-degree murder; and (3) Defendant's sentence was both procedurally and substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting judgment to the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education in this federal constitutional challenge to the requirement of Maine's tuition assistance program that a private school must be "a nonsectarian school in accordance with the First Amendment" to qualify as "approved" to receive tuition assistance payments, holding that the program's condition violated neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Establishment Clause.To ensure that Maine's school administrative units (SAUs) make the benefits of a free public education available Maine provides by statute that SAUs that do not operate a public secondary school of their own may either contract with a secondary school for school privileges or pay the tuition at the public school or an approved private school at which the student from their SAU is accepted. Plaintiffs brought this suit against the Commissioner, arguing that the program's requirement that a private school be a nonsectarian school to receive tuition assistance payments infringed various of their federal constitutional rights. The district court granted judgment to the Commissioner. Having twice before rejected similar federal constitutional challenges to the "nonsectarian" requirement and even accounting for fresh United States Supreme Court precedent the First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs' constitutional challenges failed. View "Carson v. Makin" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of this complaint alleging that Puerto Rico's series of laws that affect the relationship between public employees in the Commonwealth and their employers impermissibly interfere with their collective bargaining rights, holding that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.To address Puerto Rico's fiscal criss, the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly passed the four laws challenged in this case affecting the rights and benefits of public sector workers. Two Puerto Rico unions brought this action alleging that these measures violated the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution and the Collective Bargaining Clause of the Puerto Rico Constitution. The district court dismissed the complaint. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court properly dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. View "Hermandad de Empleados v. Financial Oversight & Management Board" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentence for three counts related to distribution of heroin and one count of discharging a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime, holding that the district court did not err.On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress certain evidence at trial and erroneously concluded that he was eligible for a two-level role enhancement under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly found that law enforcement officers had sufficient probable cause to substantiate a search warrant for Defendant's apartment before a protective sweep began, and Defendant did not establish that the government failed to meet the requirements for applying the inevitable discovery doctrine; and (2) the district court did not clearly err in applying the two-level role enhancement. View "United States v. Soto-Peguero" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of possession with intent to distribute oxycodone, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress.Defendant's vehicle was intercepted by the Maine State Police, and Defendant's vehicle was searched. Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to possession with intent to distribute oxycodone. On appeal, Defendant argued that the authorities lacked probable cause to search his vehicle and that the district court erred by refusing to suppress statements he made both before and after Miranda warnings were administered. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the authorities had probable cause to search Defendant's car, and therefore, the evidence seized during the vehicle search was admissible; and (2) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress his statements. View "United States v. Simpkins" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court denying Defendant's motion to suppress drug evidence that was seized without a warrant after an automobile stop and drug evidence from a subsequent visual body cavity search, holding that the police had reasonable suspicion to perform the automobile stop and particularized reasonable suspicion to perform the visual body cavity search.On appeal, Defendant argued that his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated because the law enforcement officers lacked reasonable suspicion to perform the initial stop of his vehicle and the requisite level of suspicion to perform the visual body cavity search of his person at the police station. The First Circuit disagreed, holding that the officers (1) had reasonable suspicion to stop Defendant's vehicle; and (2) had particularized reasonable suspicion to conduct the visual body cavity search. View "United States v. Perez" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the decision of the district court denying Defendant's motion to strike the government's notice of intent to seek the death penalty on retrial in this case, holding that double jeopardy barred the government from seeking the death penalty.Defendant was charged with nine counts of committing a violent crime in aid of racketeering and nine counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence. In advance of trial, the government filed a notice of its intent to seek the death penalty on sixteen of those counts. The jury found Defendant guilty on all charges but could not reach a unanimous decision as to punishment. The district court imposed a life sentence without the possibility of release. The First Circuit vacated the conviction, concluding that a courtroom closure during trial constituted structural error. On remand, the government again notified the court of its intention to seek the death penalty. Defendant moved to strike the government's notice on double jeopardy grounds. The district court denied the motion. The First Circuit reversed, holding (1) the first life sentence was an "acquittal," and therefore, double jeopardy barred the government from seeking the death penalty on retrial; and (2) the assumption that the initial penalty-phase jury was properly discharged was incorrect. View "United States v. Candelario-Santana" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the Town of Pembroke, New Hampshire and dismissing the complaint filed by Signs for Jesus and Hillside Baptist Church (collectively, the Church) challenging the Town's denial of the Church's application for a permit to install an electronic sign on its property, holding that the Town met its summary judgment burden on all counts.Hillside Baptist Church applied for a permit to install an electronic sign on its property to transmit messages provided by the nonprofit corporation Signs for Jesus. The Pembroke Zoning Board of Adjustment denied the permit, citing a provision in the Pembroke Sign Ordinance that bans the use of electronic signs in the zoning district where the Church was located. The Church later brought this complaint, alleging violations of the state and federal Constitutions, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and certain New Hampshire zoning laws. The district court granted summary judgment for the Town and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the Church's state statutory claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err. View "Signs for Jesus v. Pembroke, New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the decision of the district court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss his indictment under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution based on his prior conviction in a Commonwealth court for a local drug offense, holding that Defendant met his burden to make a prima facie case that he had been prosecuted twice for the same conduct under equivalent criminal laws.On March 15, 2016, Defendant pleaded guilty to a violation of Article 406 of the Puerto Rico Controlled Substances Act. About sixteen months later, Defendant was named in a federal indictment charging him with five drug-related federal offenses, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, in violation of 21 U.S.c. 846. Defendant moved to dismiss the section 846 conspiracy count on double jeopardy grounds, alleging that his prior Article 406 conviction was for the same criminal conduct that the section 846 count charged him with committing. The district court denied the motion. The First Circuit reversed, holding that Defendant met his burden of presenting evidence to establish a prima facie non frivolous double jeopardy claim, and the government failed to meet its burden to rebut it. View "United States v. Reyes-Correa" on Justia Law