Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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A jury sentenced Willie Russell to death for murdering a correctional officer. Russell later claimed he was intellectually disabled and thus could not be executed under Atkins v.Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). In 2014, the trial court set an Atkins hearing to determine if Russell was intellectually disabled. Prior to the hearing, the State moved to assess Russell based on his claimed intellectual disability. But Russell was opposed to the State’s expert conducting an Atkins evaluation. Years earlier, in 2006, Russell had undergone psychological testing ordered in a separate aggravated-assault case. But that testing was for his competency to stand trial - not assessing intellectual disability. Although the State had initially proposed that the 2006 assessment cover both issues, Russell’s attorney also objected back then to the State evaluating Russell’s Atkins claim in that proceeding. So Russell was never evaluated on the specific criteria for intellectual disability under Atkins. At the end of the hearing, at which Russell’s expert testified - the trial court ruled that Russell was intellectually disabled under Atkins and vacated his death sentence. The State appealed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the trial court: "While Atkins determinations are legal decisions, they are decisions that must be informed by medical experts. And here, we find the trial judge abused her discretion by denying the State’s well-supported motion to evaluate Russell prior to the Atkins hearing." View "Mississippi v. Russell" on Justia Law

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Maurice Brown entered the home of Mattie Moore, the neighborhood “candy lady,” who sold candy, chips, soda, cigarettes, and other knick-knacks. Mattie Moore’s granddaughter, Cheramie Moore, lived with her grandmother, and was startled from her sleep when her grandmother loudly called her name. The granddaughter later identified Brown from a photographic lineup as the man who appeared in the doorway to her bedroom with a shotgun in hand. The man demanded that Cheramie Moore “give me the stuff” and she produced about a hundred dollars from a nearby drawer. Brown handed the cash to his brother, Jonathan Brown, who had come up behind him holding a cigar box which belonged to Mattie Moore. With Brown still pointing his gun in Cheramie Moore’s direction, the pair backed down the hall toward a door to the outside. Brown was indicted for two counts of armed robbery. After trial, Brown was convicted of the first count, the armed robbery of Cheramie Moore, and was acquitted of the second count, the armed robbery of Mattie Moore. He was sentenced to a prison term of twenty-seven years. On appeal, Brown argued the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for armed robbery. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no merit to this contention and affirmed his conviction and sentence. View "Brown v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Xavier Collins Johnson of: (1) burglary of a dwelling; (2) aggravated assault; and (3) conspiracy to commit credit-card fraud. The trial judge sentenced Johnson as a habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-81 (Rev. 2015), and Johnson’s sentences for the burglary and assault counts were enhanced because the victim was over the age of sixty-five. Johnson appealed, raising seven issues. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Johnson’s convictions. View "Johnson v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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L.B.C. appeals the Forrest County Youth Court’s requirement that he register as a sex offender. In 2015, L.B.C. sexually battered two six-year-old girls. L.B.C. admitted to sexually penetrating the two victims with his fingers. At the time, L.B.C. was fourteen years old. Each of the four issues appealed by L.B.C. arose from the registration requirement: (1) his delinquency adjudication of sexual battery did not involve the use of force and was not an offense that required him to register as a sex offender; (2) requiring registration without an individual determination that he was a threat to the public violated his constitutional rights; (3) he should not be required to register as a sex offender since he had a mental age of nine and had been fourteen years old for only three months at the time of the incidents; and (4) requiring him to register as a sex offender violated the confidentiality requirements of youth-court proceedings. Finding no error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the disposition of the youth court. View "In the Interest of L.B.C. v. Forrest County Youth Court" on Justia Law

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Following a jury trial, Edward Young was convicted of murder relating to the shooting death of Travis Anderson. Young, through appellate counsel, appealed his conviction, claiming the trial court erred in denying his motion for a new trial based on the ground that the jury’s guilty verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Young also submitted a supplemental appellant’s brief pro se claiming: he was denied a timely initial appearance following his arrest; the trial court improperly instructed the jury with regard to his alibi defense; and he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel and appellate counsel. Having considered the issues and accompanying arguments based on the record, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Young’s conviction. View "Young v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Eddie Minor was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to serve a term of thirty-five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). In 2014, sixteen-year-old Jessie Elbert Taylor Jr. was fatally shot in the back. Police observed Taylor lying in the street, who was at the time conscious; Taylor stated that “he had been robbed by two black males.” Taylor told her that the two males had asked for everything in his pocket. He told them that he did not have anything, and the males pulled out guns and started shooting. Taylor stated that he then turned and started running down the street. Witnesses on the street identified then eighteen-year-old Minor, Emanuel “Little Carl” Latham, and Tyrone Noble as being involved in the shooting. Latham testified against Minor, and based in part on that testimony, Minor was convicted. Minor appealed, arguing both that the evidence was legally insufficient to support his conviction and that the jury’s verdict was contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Finding no merit in his appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. View "Minor v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Samuel Amos was convicted by jury of murder following the shooting death of Marquai Kirkland. Amos was sentenced as a habitual offender to life without the possibility of parole. On appeal, Amos raised two issues: (1) the trial court erred by refusing his proposed accomplice jury instruction; and (2) the trial court erred by denying his motion for a mistrial when the prosecutor referenced a polygraph test. Finding no error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Amos v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury found Mario Ragland guilty of armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Ragland appealed his convictions, claiming: (1) there was insufficient evidence to support either conviction; (2) the jury verdicts were against the overwhelming weight of the evidence; (3) the trial court erred in allowing accomplice instructions to be submitted to the jury under the evidence of this case, and that those given were either defective or incomplete; and (4) his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to the accomplice instructions, and for requesting an accomplice instruction on behalf of the defense that was incomplete or incorrect. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ragland v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Appellant Troy Wesley lost the Democratic primary election for Mississippi’s Washington County District 3 Supervisor on August 4, 2015. He subsequently petitioned the circuit court to request a new election, alleging that numerous irregularities had invalidated the former election. After a hearing on the matter, the Washington County Circuit Court granted summary judgment to defendants Carl McGee and the Washington County Democratic Executive Committee. Wesley appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. During its review, the Court found Wesley cited no discrepancy in the original vote totals and instead focused his arguments on procedural problems, including an alleged lack of ballot-box security. “While the failure to maintain ballot-box security is a serious issue worthy of reprimand,” the Supreme Court found Wesley’s arguments were insufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact and that summary judgment was properly entered in favor of the defendants. View "Wesley v. Washington Cty. Democratic Exec. Committee" on Justia Law

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Dr. Ralph Smith Jr. was arrested and indicted in a murder-for-hire plot in 2012. He was eventually committed to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield, where he had been treated for mental illness. Soon after his arrival at Whitfield, the facility’s director recommended Dr. Smith’s illness required continual, involuntary treatment and that he should remain committed at the facility. Dr. Smith disagreed with the recommendation and has contested his commitment to Whitfield at every step. Most recently, Dr. Smith filed a habeas petition and motion for relief from the chancellor’s ruling that ordered his continued inpatient treatment. Dr. Smith argued he was improperly confined and should have been released immediately or discharged to an outpatient facility. The chancellor denied his petition and motion for relief. On appeal, Smith argued his habeas petition was wrongly denied and the Mississippi Department of Mental Health lacked standing to oppose his requests. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that during the pendency of this appeal, Dr. Smith was discharged from Whitfield to an outpatient facility. So the relief he requests in this appeal could no longer be granted; the Court thus dismissed his appeal as moot. View "Smith v. Mississippi Dept. of Mental Health" on Justia Law