Fourteenth Amendment

Wittman v. Personhuballah

Issues 

  1. Did the Virginia Legislature impermissibly use race as a predominant factor in creating its Third Congressional District?
  2. And do Republican congressmen, alleging that the redistricting process hurt them politically, have standing to challenge the ruling that struck down the original redistricting plan? 

 

In 2012, Virginia’s congressional redistricting plan increased the Third Congressional District’s black voting-age population from 53.1 percent to 56.3 percent. The Supreme Court will consider whether the Virginia’s redistricting plan impermissibly relied on race in drawing congressional districts, and whether Republican congressmen have standing to appeal the lower court’s ruling, which struck down the original plan. The appellants in this case including Congressman Wittman contend that political considerations, not race, predominated the redistricting plan. They also argue that the Republican congressmen were injured because the redistricting plan affected their reelection chances. But several voters including Gloria Personhuballah argue that the Third District was drawn with race as the predominant factor. Personhuballah maintains that the Republican congressmen lack standing because they have not suffered any injury as a result of redistricting. This case could change who can challenge potentially discriminatory redistricting plans, and what constitutes racial gerrymandering. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Did the court below err in failing to make the required finding that race rather than politics predominated in District 3, where there is no dispute that politics explains the Enacted Plan?


2. Did the court below err in relieving Plaintiffs of their burden to show an alternative plan that achieves the Legislature’s political goals, is comparably consistent with traditional districting principles, and brings about greater racial balance than the Enacted Plan?

3. Regardless of any other error, was the court below’s finding of a Shaw violation based on clearly erroneous fact-finding?

4. Did the majority err in holding that the Enacted Plan fails strict scrutiny because it increased District 3’s black voting-age population percentage above the benchmark percentage, when the undisputed evidence establishes that the increase better complies with neutral principles than would reducing the percentage and no racial bloc voting analysis would support a reduction capable of realistically securing Section 5 preclearance?

5. Do Appellants have standing to appeal where it is undisputed that any judicial remedy will change at least one district represented by an Appellant and harm that Appellant’s re-election chances and interests as a Republican voter?

In 2012, the Virginia legislature approved a congressional districting plan (the “2012 plan”). See Page v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, Civil Action No. 3:13cv678, 2015 WL 3604029, at *3 (E.D. Va.

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Washington v. Recuenco

Issues 

Can a judge's imposition of a sentencing enhancement based on a fact not found by the jury be upheld under the harmless error doctrine if it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury would have made the same finding?

Court below: 

 

A jury found that defendant Recuenco assaulted his wife using a “deadly weapon,” but the jury was never asked to find whether he used a “firearm.” Afterwards, the trial judge—independent of the jury—found that Recuenco used a “firearm” and increased his sentence by three years. Where the judge’s failure to instruct the jury about a “firearm” did not influence their verdict, may a reviewing court uphold the resulting sentence if it finds the erroneous instruction was harmless? Or must the court vacate the sentence because the error tainted the entire trial? The State of Washington argues that an incomplete jury instruction qualifies as a harmless error. To the contrary, Recuenco argues that the judge's imposition of an enhanced sentence based on facts not found by the jury violates his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether error as to the definition of a sentencing enhancement should be subject to harmless error analysis where it is shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute to the verdict on the enhancement.

Defendant Arturo Recuenco became enraged at his wife after learning that she did not prepare dinner for his relatives. Brief for Petitioner at 3.

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Turner v. Rogers

Issues 

1. Does an indigent defendant have the right to appointed counsel at a civil contempt proceeding that could result in incarceration?

2. Does the Supreme Court have jurisdiction to review the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision that such a defendant does not have a right to appointed counsel?

 

By the beginning of 2008, Michael Turner was six thousand dollars behind in his child support payments. A South Carolina family court eventually ordered Turner to appear to explain his failure to make any payments for the past year and a half. Turner alleged his personal and physical problems rendered him unable to pay. The family court imposed civil contempt sanctions as a result of Turner’s failure to comply with the earlier court order to pay child support. Turner appealed his twelve-month sentence, arguing that because there was a possibility that he would face imprisonment, the court should have provided him with counsel. The Supreme Court’s decision will likely determine whether indigent defendants in civil cases are entitled to representation where there is a possibility of incarceration, although the Court could possibly determine that it does not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Whether the Supreme Court of South Carolina erred in holding—in conflict with twenty-two federal courts of appeals and state courts of last resort—that an indigent defendant has no constitutional right to appointed counsel at a civil contempt proceeding that results in his incarceration.

2. Whether this Court has jurisdiction to review the decision of the Supreme Court of South Carolina

In January 2008, a South Carolina family court ordered Petitioner Michael Turner to appear in court to explain his failure to pay six thousand dollars in child support. Turner attributed his inability to pay over the past year and a half to his imprisonment, addiction problems, unemployment, and physical health. Although Turner was indigent, he was not provided counsel at this hearing. The court found Turner in willful contempt as a r

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Additional Resources 

· Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Elizabeth Patterson: Civil Contempt and the Indigent Child Support Obligor: the Silent Return of Debtor's Prison

· Findlaw: Civil Contempt of Court

· Department of Health and Human Services: Handbook on Child Support Enforcement

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Knick v. Township of Scott

Issues 

Whether the Court should reconsider the part of the Supreme Court’s Williamson County decision that requires property owners to exhaust state‑court remedies before litigating takings claims in federal courts?

This case asks the Supreme Court to revisit its decision in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, which established a requirement that property owners must first exhaust state‑court remedies before their federal takings claims are ripe for litigation in federal court. The Township of Scott’s zoning ordinance requires that property owners whose property contains a cemetery must leave that property open to the public during daylight hours and allow state agents access to determine the existence and location of any property or to ensure compliance with the ordinance. Rose Mary Knick, a resident of the Township, sued the Township after receiving violation notices, arguing that the ordinance is a taking without just compensation. Knick further argues that Williamson County’s ripeness requirement is an unworkable standard that prevents plaintiffs from reasonably accessing such courts. The Township of Scott counters that Knick does not have a valid federal statutory claim because none of Knick’s federal rights were violated. That is, the Township argues, a state‑court remedy for just compensation existed, which Knick did not avail herself of. Further, it contends that Williamson County does not prevent litigants from accessing federal court because courts have flexibility in deciding if it is fair to hear a plaintiff’s claim. Homeowners, takings litigation, and access to federal forums are some of the considerations implicated in this case. This is because overruling Williamson County may allow future plaintiffs to bring their claims in the court of their choosing without insurmountable procedural obstacles barring their path. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether the Court should reconsider the portion of Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172, 194–96 (1985), requiring property owners to exhaust state court remedies to ripen federal takings claims, as suggested by Justices of this Court.

On December 20, 2012, Respondent Township of Scott, Pennsylvania (“Township”) enacted an ordinance relating to the “Operation and Maintenance of Cemeteries and Burial Places.” Knick v. Township of Scott at 3. The ordinance requires property owners whose property contains cemeteries to allow the public free, reasonable access to the cemeteries during the day. Id.

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Roper v. Simmons

Issues 

Roper v. Simmons presents the Supreme Court with two questions: whether or not the execution of those who were sixteen or seventeen at the time of a crime is "cruel and unusual" and whether the lower courts may analyze evolving standards in order to determine the former. The Court will likely rely upon the principles in Atkins to determine whether or not to overturn its conflicting decision in Stanford v. Kentucky (492 U.S. 361 (1989)). Legislative activity since Stanford has significantly changed, and this change is bolstered by the views of germane organizations and the decreasing number of states imposing the death penalty on juvenile offenders. See Id. The Court will thus determine whether the weight of this evidence is enough to overcome the goals served by the death penalty.

Court below: 

 

Christopher Simmons was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for first degree murder for a crime that he committed at age 17. He appealed as of right to the Missouri Supreme Court, which exercises exclusive jurisdiction in death penalty case. In 1997, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and the sentence. State v. Simmons, 944 S.W.2d 165, 169 (Mo. 1997). On his initial appeal, Simmons could not argue that his youth prohibited his execution because the United States Supreme Court held in 1989 that there was no national consensus against the execution of young adults who were sixteen or seventeen years old at the time of their crimes, and that, as a result, executing juveniles was not cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth AmendmentSee Simmons v. Roper, 112 S.W.3d 397, 399 (Mo. 2003) (en banc) (discussing Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989)). The Missouri Supreme Court thus affirmed the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Missouri on both the conviction and death sentence. See id.

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court reversed Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), which held that a national consensus did not exist against execution of the mentally retarded. Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). In Atkins, the Supreme Court concluded that such a consensus had developed in the thirteen years since Penry and that executing the mentally retarded violates the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 321. Hoping that the Supreme Court's ruling in Atkins might signal a parallel shift in the Court's view toward the execution of juvenile offenders, Simmons appeared before the Missouri Supreme Court again in 2003 on a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that a national consensus opposing the execution of sixteen- and seventeen-year-old offenders had emerged since Stanford v. KentuckySimmons, 112 S.W.3d at 399. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, reasoning that "the Supreme Court would today hold such executions are prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments." Id. at 400.

The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Simmons' case in order to address two specific issues. First, the Court will consider whether a lower court may contradict a previous ruling by the Supreme Court. Specifically, the Court will decide whether it was permissible for the Missouri Supreme Court to conclude that the execution of juvenile offenders is cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment, in direct contradiction to the Supreme Court's ruling in Stanford v. Kentucky. Second, the Supreme Court will decide for itself whether a national consensus now opposes the execution of offenders younger than eighteen years and, therefore, whether the practice now violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Once the Supreme Court holds that a particular punishment is not "cruel and unusual" and thus barred by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, can a lower court reach a contrary decision based on its own analysis of evolving standards?

2. Is the imposition of the death penalty on a person who commits a murder at age seventeen "cruel and unusual," and thus barred by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?

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Rivera v. Illinois

Issues 

Whether a court's decision in wrongfully denying a peremptory challenge requires an automatic reversal of the related conviction.

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Court below: 

 

This case concerns the effect of an erroneous denial of a criminal defendant's peremptory challenge to a prospective juror who was later seated. Defendant Rivera exercised a peremptory challenge to exclude Ms. Gomez, who worked administratively in a hospital known for treating gunshot victims. The trial judge denied the peremptory challenge, claiming a Batson violation. Ms. Gomez was seated on the jury, which then convicted Rivera of first degree murder in a gang related shooting. The Supreme Court of Illinois held that the judge committed harmless-error in denying this peremptory challenge. Upon appeal before the Supreme Court, Rivera argues that the erroneous denial of a peremptory challenge necessitates automatic reversal "because it undermines the trial structure for preserving the constitutional right to due process and an impartial jury." The State of Illinois, on the other hand, argues that there has been no constitutional violation, and that state law should determine the effect of an erroneous denial of a peremptory challenge on the verdict.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Does the erroneous denial of a criminal defendant's peremptory challenge that resulted in the challenged juror being seated require automatic reversal of a conviction because it undermines the trial structure for preserving the constitutional right to due process and an impartial jury?

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In 1998, sixteen-year old Marcus Lee was fatally shot. See , Illinois at 1. Respondent the State of Illinois ("the State") charged Petitioner Michael Rivera with first degree murder. See The State alleged that Rivera, an alleged gang enforcer, murdered Lee because of an erroneous belief that Lee belonged to a rival gang. See , Michael Rivera at 3.

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Rice v. Collins

Issues 

Does the deference to a trial judge’s findings, embodied in the habeas corpus statute, extend to situations where the fact finder did not directly observe an incident of allegedly inappropriate conduct by a potential juror but merely accepted the prosecutor’s account of events? Can the Federal court consider such actions by the state court trial judge as unreasonable even where the trial judge’s ultimate finding nevertheless falls within the acceptable range of what a rational court could have found given the evidence presented before it?

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The Ninth Circuit recently granted criminal defendant Steven Martell Collins’ habeas corpus petition on the grounds that the prosecution unconstitutionally used a peremptory challenge to strike a potential juror on account of her race. Although the prosecutor convinced the trial judge that the dismissal was not racially motivated and was therefore acceptable, the Ninth Circuit found the trial judge’s decision to be unreasonable despite the fact that the decision was affirmed on numerous occasions throughout the state court system and at the Federal District Court. The Ninth Circuit held that, despite the statutory deference granted to the original fact-finder by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, such deference was inappropriate here. The Supreme Court will likely interpret § 2254 to determine whether the Ninth Circuit exceeded its authority when it held that the trial judge was unreasonable in accepting the prosecutor’s proffered reasons for dismissing the juror.

[Question(s) presented] | [Issue(s)] | [Facts] | [Discussion] | [Analysis]

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Does 28 U.S.C. § 2254 allow a federal habeas corpus court to reject the presumption of correctness for state fact finding, and condemn a state-court adjudication as an unreasonable determination of the facts, where a rational fact finder could have determined the facts as did the state court?

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The below facts are all derived from the amended opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Collins v. Rice, 365 F.3d 667, 673 (9th Cir. 2004). During the process of jury selection for Collins’s trial, the prosecutor used peremptory challenges to remove two African American women from the jury. Id.

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Perry v. New Hampshire

Issues 

Does admitting eyewitness identification evidence at trial whenever the identification was made under suggestive circumstances violate due process?

 

Barion Perry was convicted of theft for attempting to take amplifiers from a car. A nearby woman, Nubia Blandon, identified Perry as the perpetrator. Perry filed a pretrial motion to suppress Blandon’s identification. Perry argues that eyewitness testimony should not be admitted into evidence at trial when it was obtained under suggestive circumstances. The State of New Hampshire contends that improper state action should be required before eyewitness testimony is barred and that due process does not require preliminary judgments on the reliability of evidence before it is admitted at trial. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire upheld the trial court's denial of the motion because there was no evidence of improper state action. The Supreme Court’s decision could affect the conditions under which parties can use eyewitness testimony at trial.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Do the due process protections against unreliable identification evidence apply to all identifications made under suggestive circumstances, as held by the First Circuit Court of Appeals and other federal courts of appeals, or do they apply only when the suggestive circumstances were orchestrated by the police, as held by the New Hampshire Supreme Court and other courts?

At approximately 3:00 a.m.

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Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

Additional Resources 

• New York Times, Adam Liptak: 34 Years Later , Supreme Court will Revisit Eyewitness IDs (Aug. 22, 2011)

• St. Louis Today, Maggie Clark: New Doubt Is Cast on Eyewitness Testimony (Sept. 25, 2011)

 
 

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Oregon v. Guzek

Court below: 

 

Randy Lee Guzek, along with his friends Mark Wilson and Ross Cathey, murdered an Oregon couple in the summer of 1987. After eighteen years of litigation, involving three different appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court held that the alibi testimony Guzek attempted to introduce during the sentencing phase of his trial—statements from his grandfather and his mother placing him at home during the time of the crime—could be introduced as “mitigating evidence” tending to show that Guzek should not receive the death penalty. The State of Oregon took issue with this ruling, and appealed to the Supreme Court. It argues that such evidence cannot be admitted because the so-called “residual doubt” evidence is no longer relevant at the sentencing phase of a defendant’s capital trial. Guzek, on the other hand, argues that the Constitution requires admittance of such evidence at his sentencing phase—he claims that the jury will not improperly use this evidence and that in order to meet the state’s case and refute the state’s evidence, he must be able to introduce the so-called “residual doubt” evidence. The Supreme Court will decide whether Guzek is correct, and whether the trial court is Constitutionally required to admit this “residual doubt” evidence, despite the fact that it might introduce doubt about Guzek’s previously determined and settled guilt.

Randy Lee Guzek has been before the Oregon Supreme Court on three occasions between 1990 and 2004, all regarding the sentencing phase of a capital trial in which he was convicted for the murders of Rod and Lois Houser. Because of the errors in the lower court and intervening new law instituted during the more than fifteen years of Guzek’s trial, the state’s highest court has repeatedly affirmed Guzek’s guilt in the murders, but vacated the jury’s sentence of death.

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McWilliams v. Dunn

Issues 

Did Ake v. Oklahoma clearly establish that an indigent defendant’s right to an expert witness requires that the expert be independent from the prosecution?

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides, in relevant part, that a person standing criminal trial has the right to the assistance of an attorney for his defense. In Ake v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court interpreted that portion of the Sixth Amendment to mean that a defendant also has the right to an expert “to assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense.” It is not clear, however, whether a defendant’s right to such an expert entitles him to an independent expert, devoted to advocating specifically for the defense’s case. McWilliams argues that the Sixth Amendment does guarantee an independent expert for the defense of the accused. The State of Alabama, on the other hand, argues that a defendant need only have access to an expert, which may be satisfied through the assistance of an expert neutral to all parties. The outcome of this case will help to further define the scope of protection afforded by the Sixth Amendment regarding a defendant’s right to counsel. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

When this Court held in Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985), that an indigent defendant is entitled to meaningful expert assistance for the “evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense,” did it clearly establish that the expert should be independent of the prosecution?

In 1984, McWilliams raped and murdered a convenience store attendant. See McWilliams v. Commissioner, D.C. Docket No. 7:04-cv-02923-RDP at 3 (11th Cir. Dec. 16, 2015). For several months leading up to these events, McWilliams had been attending voluntary couples counseling sessions.

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