Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The First Circuit remanded this case for further proceedings, holding that the district court abused its discretion in failing to rule on the merits of Appellant’s ineffective assistance claim prior to sentencing. Appellant was charged with several counts related to a drug distribution conspiracy. Appellant was originally represented by court-appointed counsel, but after seven months Defendant retained private counsel Prior to sentencing, Appellant raised his ineffective assistance of counsel claim, arguing that his prior counsel allegedly failed to provide him with effective assistance throughout plea negotiations. The district court declined to rule on Appellant’s claim, finding it to be “premature.” Appellant ultimately pled guilty to a high plea offer negotiated by his new counsel. The First Circuit disagreed with the district court’s ruling, holding that, at times, it may be imperative for a district court to rule on a claim of ineffective assistance prior to the defendant seeking post-conviction relief, and such was true in this case. View "United States v. Ortiz-Vega" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of the state prosecution of Vladek Filler for five counts of gross sexual assault and two counts of assault. After two trials and two appeals Filler was convicted only of one misdemeanor assault count. Filler subsequently filed a civil action against several defendants under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for malicious prosecution, including a claim against the prosecuting attorney, Mary Kellett, for malicious prosecution. Kellett filed a motion to dismiss Filler’s malicious prosecution claim for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), alleging, among other claims, that she was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity. The district court concluded that Kellett was entitled to absolute immunity for actions associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process but denied the rest of Kellett’s motion to dismiss. Kelley brought an interlocutory appeal from the district court’s order. The First Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that that, while Filler’s claim against Kellett was not clearly foreclosed by absolute immunity, the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the immunity issue. View "Filler v. Kellett" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendants Abraham Walker-Couvertier (Walker) and Dean Lugo-Diaz (Lugo) were found guilty of numerous drug-related crimes. The trial court sentenced Walker to concurrent 192-month terms of immurement on the drug counts and a consecutive sixty-month term of immurement on a firearms count. The court sentenced Lugo to concurrent 121-month terms of immurement on the various counts of conviction. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendants’ belated challenge to the requirement, as applied in the District of Puerto Rico, that jurors be proficient in English failed; (2) Walker’s challenge to the propriety of a traffic stop was not preserved for appellate review; (3) contrary to Defendants’ arguments, several statements made by the prosecutor during closing argument were not prejudicial; (4) there was no plain error in the challenged jury instructions; (5) the evidence was sufficient to support Lugo’s conspiracy conviction; and (6) Defendants’ claims of sentencing error were unavailing. View "United States v. Walker-Couvertier" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a Nigerian citizen by birth, pleaded guilty to making a material false statement in a matter within the jurisdiction of the United States government. Because of his conviction, Petitioner was permanently barred from obtaining lawful permanent resident status and was subject to deportation at any moment. Nearly a decade after his probationary sentence ended, Petitioner sought a writ of error coram nobis that vacates or allows him to revise the factual basis of his conviction. As grounds for the writ, Petitioner alleged that the performance of his attorney was constitutionally deficient under Sixth Amendment standards, and therefore, his conviction arose from fundamental error. The district court denied a writ of error coram nobis. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Petitioner’s counsel was not constitutionally ineffective in any way. View "Williams v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute more than 1,000 grams of marijuana, among other charges. Defendant moved to suppress evidence taken from a warrantless search of his truck. The district judge denied the motion. Defendant later conditionally pled guilty, reserving his right to challenge the denial of his suppression motion. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the questioning of Defendant was within the permissible scope of a traffic stop, and the questions did not impermissibly extend the duration of the stop; (2) the initial search of the truck was permissible in light of Defendant’s voluntary consent; (3) the continuation of the search after Defendant withdrew his consent was permissible because probable cause existed; and (4) there were no constitutional violations during the traffic stop. View "United States v. Dion" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s rejection of Appellant’s claims that she, among other things, suffered discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its Massachusetts state-law corollary when Defendants failed to accommodate her request for transfer to another position in the Plymouth Police Department after she suffered an on-the-job injury. The district court concluded that Appellant failed to raise a genuine issues of material fact regarding her discrimination claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly entered summary judgment on Appellant’s handicap discrimination claims and gender discrimination claim; and (2) even if the court were able to glean an ADA retaliation claim from Appellant’s complaint, Appellant waived it during summary judgment proceedings. View "Audette v. Town of Plymouth, Mass." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to commit access-device fraud. Before trial, Defendant and his co-defendant filed motions to suppress evidence and statements that had been obtained in the previous months in connection with three traffic stops. The district court denied the motions to suppress. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress concerning a traffic stop in Kittery, Maine because the police had reasonable suspicion to justify the investigative stop as of 1:55 a.m. and the seizure was not unreasonably long; and (2) the district court did not err in denying the motion to suppress evidence obtained from a traffic stop in Ohio because there was reasonable suspicion to justify the detention. View "United States v. Ramdihall" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to commit access-device fraud. Before trial, Defendant and his co-defendant filed motions to suppress evidence and statements that had been obtained in the previous months in connection with three traffic stops. The district court denied the motions to suppress. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying the motion to suppress evidence obtained from a traffic stop in Ohio because there was no unlawful seizure, and therefore, the evidence Defendant sought to suppress did not constitute the fruits of an unlawful seizure; and (2) the district court did not err in concluding that the warrantless swiping of credit cards from in the trunk of a rental car through a card reader was constitutional. View "United States v. Hillaire" on Justia Law

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First Circuit rejects Double Jeopardy challenge to second indictment for cocaine smuggling. On August 15, 2013, Díaz was indicted in the Southern District of Florida for his role in planning and organizing a maritime smuggling operation involving over 1,000 kilograms of cocaine. Five days later, Díaz was indicted in the District of Puerto Rico -- for his role in planning and organizing a maritime smuggling operation involving over 1,000 kilograms of cocaine. The First Circuit rejected his argument that the Double Jeopardy Clause barred his prosecution on the Puerto Rico charges because the Florida charges already encompass the conduct for which he was indicted in Puerto Rico. While the places involved and the two statutory provisions under which Díaz was charged were the same, the lower court concluded that the conspiracies charged in the two indictments were separate ones insofar as the conduct charged in the two indictments involved distinct time periods, personnel, and evidence. View "United States v. Diaz-Rosado" on Justia Law

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First Circuit rejects civil rights claims relating to retention of property in car towed for an evidentiary search. Chelmsford police located Denault’s 2000 Nissan parked in Testa’s Lowell driveway. Denault, the suspect in a crime, was in custody. Testa was the mother of Denault's children. The officers had Denault's car towed and secured a warrant. Days later, they executed the warrant; having determined that the car did not contain evidence, they released it to Christopher's Towing. The officers had no contact with Denault. They did not supply, and Christopher's Towing did not request, Denault’s contact information. Testa repeatedly tried to recover the car and her belongings, particularly child booster seats. Testa claims that officers refused to discuss returning the car or its contents unless Testa agreed to be questioned in connection with the Denault investigation; they never informed her that they had released the car. Three months later, Denault's mother showed Tesla a Notice of Abandoned Vehicle sent to Denault's last known address, indicating a lien of $4797.82 for towing, storage, and processing. Neither Testa nor Denault could pay. They sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act. They ultimately prevailed on a common-law conversion claim against one officer for $2225. The First Circuit affirmed, noting the “confusing” record and that the plaintiffs had waived claims relating to the initial seizure. View "Denault v. Ahern" on Justia Law