Short Circuit: A roundup of recent federal court decisions

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


(Here is the latest edition of the Institute for Justice's weekly Short Circuit newsletter, written by John Ross.)

  • At Congress's urging, postal officials take steps to close 229 mail-processing facilities. Postal workers union files complaint with Postal Regulatory Commission: The closings (and other changes) significantly slowed mail delivery, thus violating service standards and depriving Americans of a service to which they're legally entitled. PRC: The standards were not violated. Complaint dismissed. D.C. Circuit: Which wasn't arbitrary or capricious.
  • Fourth Circuit: North Carolina law that has the effect of banning sex offenders whose victims were adults from churches that hold youth activities is not narrowly tailored to the state's interest in protecting children. Moreover, the state's ban on offenders at or near places where minors gather regularly is so vague that offenders and law enforcement cannot know what areas are off limits.
  • Man's wife has child by another man: Princeton, Tex.'s, police chief. Fifth Circuit: No evidence the chief orchestrated harassment of the man, who (allegedly) assaulted his now-former wife and repeatedly violated a court order to not contact her.
  • Left in Orange County, Tex., jail detox chamber surrounded by uneaten food and human waste for four days, man turns purple and dies. Staff: Though official policy is to not keep people in the chamber for much more than eight hours, we routinely left them for days at a time. Fifth Circuit: The jury's verdict, finding the county liable, stands.
  • Milwaukee police track down parole violator by using a Stingray, a device that can locate a cell phone, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept text messages, and more. Seventh Circuit: They had warrants for the guy. Conviction affirmed. Dissent: Police were authorized to obtain location data from the phone company—not from a Stingray. Moreover, they failed to divulge their use of the device to the courts and defense counsel. We can't know if there's been a Fourth Amendment violation on this record.
  • Police summoned to Tucson, Ariz., home where woman is hacking at tree with kitchen knife. They observe the woman walk toward another woman with the knife. An officer shoots her (through a chain-link fence) four times; she survives. Other woman: Police did not give her much warning, and she posed no threat. Ninth Circuit: A jury should decide if the officer used excessive force.
  • In 1987 or thereabouts, man's Social Security card is stolen, sold to (presumably) defendant. Thereafter, man's tax refunds are stolen; his driver's license is suspended because of (presumably) defendant's DUIs; his wages are garnished and his benefits are halted because of (presumably) defendant's failure to pay child support. Defendant is caught in 2014, but his real identity remains unknown. Ninth Circuit: Defendant's identity theft conviction stands.
  • Congregant at illegal Christian "house church" in China arrested, taunted, released after fine of over half his annual salary is paid, and threatened with prison should he continue to congregate. Immigration judge: His account is credible but does not establish that he'll be persecuted if returned to China. No asylum. Tenth Circuit: Petition for review denied.
  • Allegation: Douglasville, Ga., officer alleges abuses of minorities by fellow officers. He's fired. During appeal, officers tail him as he goes about his business. A supervisor advises officers that he is dangerous to law enforcement and that officers should "act accordingly." In the news earlier that week: A fired Los Angeles officer shooting five police. Eleventh Circuit: No qualified immunity for the supervisor.
  • Trial over Hollywood, Fla., man's role in deadly armed robbery takes place over a year after his indictment—well past the 70-day deadline required by the Speedy Trial Act. Eleventh Circuit: The district court failed to explain why the delay was in the interest of justice, so his life sentence is overturned. Remanded so the district court can determine whether the gov't can file new charges.
  • Man cusses at undercover Palm Beach County, Fla., officer sitting in undercover vehicle (that the officer unwittingly parked inconsiderately). Officer: When I identified myself, he attacked me—I only shot him dead after he ignored my warnings. Eleventh Circuit: Could be that's not what happened.
  • Bus driver takes school kids on unscheduled trip from San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico. Subsequently, he gets a job driving for local transit agency in California. His doctor intervenes with the DMV when he applies to drive school buses again. Driver: Which resulted in the loss of my transit agency job. California Court: The driver's suit against the doc (and her employer, San Francisco) is barred by litigation privilege.
  • Man hangs a black dummy from a noose in his front yard, terrifying his African-American neighbors. Virginia Court: The First Amendment protects his right to communicate his (avowedly) racist views, but the display is a "true threat" and so not protected speech.

In Colorado, people who have their criminal convictions vacated must petition the gov't to have any fees they paid as a result of their conviction returned. The practice flips the presumption of innocence on its head: Even without a valid conviction, Colorado presumes petitioners are guilty and places the burden on them to prove otherwise. The Supreme Court will soon weigh in on this state of affairs. Click here to read IJ's amicus brief on the history and tradition of the presumption of innocence.

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