Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Appellant entered an Alford plea to one count of murder. Before sentencing, Appellant submitted a motion to withdraw his plea, arguing that his counsel deceived him when she informed him that he could withdraw his plea at any time before sentencing and that his plea was involuntarily entered. After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion. On appeal, Appellant argued that the trial court erred by resolving the plea issue without taking evidence and without appointing conflict-free counsel. The Supreme court vacated the judgment and the order denying Appellant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea, holding (1) an actual conflict existed in this case, and an evidentiary hearing should have been held at which Appellant’s attorney’s testimony would have been necessary; and (2) the error created a manifest injustice. Remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Zapata v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Marshall Parker sought an award of benefits for a back injury he received during the course of his employment with Webster County Coal. An administrative law judge (ALJ) awarded benefits for the back injury. However, the ALJ found that, pursuant to Ky. Rev. Stat. 342.730(4), Webster County Coal did not have liability for payment of income benefits in addition to the two years of temporary total disability income benefits Parker had already received. The Workers’ Compensation Board and Court of Appeals affirmed. Parker appealed, arguing that section 342.730(4) is unconstitutional because, under the statute, injured older workers who qualify for normal old-age Social Security retirement benefits are treated differently from injured older workers who do not qualify. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that section 342.730(4) is constitutionally infirm on equal protection grounds because there is no rational basis or substantial and justifiable reason for the disparate treatment of two groups of workers. View "Parker v. Webster County Coal, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant was convicted of incest, first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, and other crimes. Appellant was sentenced to a total of sixty-five years in prison, the maximum sentence allowable in this case. On appeal, Appellant argued, inter alia, that he was entitled to relief because during voir dire the juror who ultimately became foreperson lied on her juror qualification form and also during voir dire proceedings concerning whether a member of her family had ever been prosecuted in a criminal matter. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial, holding (1) the jury foreperson wrongfully failed to disclose the criminal prosecutions of her family, and the concealment of that information denied Appellant the opportunity to challenge the juror for cause or alternatively, use a peremptory strike to remove the juror; and (2) Appellant was deprived of a substantial right not subject to harmless error analysis. View "Gullett v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Appellants were charged with one count each of cultivation of marijuana five or more plants and other drug-related offenses. Appellants filed separate motions to suppress, arguing (1) police officers violated the curtilage of their apartment when they entered the back patio enclosure, thereby having no legal authority to view marijuana baggies, and (2) the officers lacked any exigencies to enter the apartment and conduct the search. The trial court denied Appellants’ motions to suppress. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) officers breached the curtilage of Appellants’ apartment when viewing the marijuana baggies, in addition to conducting an illegal search of Appellants’ apartment; and (2) the evidence seized should be excluded as fruit of the poisonous tree. View "Pace v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of first-degree rape, one count of second-degree rape, and one count of second-degree sodomy. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence of his confession, arguing that the police obtained his confession in violation of Miranda v. Arizona because he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Miranda did not apply because Defendant was not in custody at the time he made incriminating statements to the police. View "Wells v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of second-degree assault. A public defender from the local Department of Public advocacy (DPA) office was appointed to represent Defendant. Prior to trial, counsel advised the trial court that another attorney in the local DPA was representing the alleged victim in an unrelated matter. Defendant requested the appointment of new counsel. The trial court denied the request, concluding that there was not conflict of interest, and ordered the trial to proceed. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court’s refusal to appoint new counsel violated his right to conflict-free counsel under the Sixth Amendment. The court of appeals ultimately concluded that Defendant had not shown that his lawyer had an unconstitutional conflict of interest during her representation of him. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a public defender’s conflict of interest is not necessarily imputed to all other public defenders in the same Public Defender office; and (2) Defendant was not denied his Sixth Amendment right to conflict-free counsel in this case. View "Samuels v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to violating Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Ordinance 14-5, which prohibits all begging and soliciting from public streets or intersections within the urban-county area. On appeal, the circuit court affirmed the judgment of conviction and sentence, determining that Lexington’s Ordinance 14-5 is a content-neutral regulation of speech, thereby requiring a less exacting standard of scrutiny to remain constitutionally viable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Ordinance 14-5 is a content-based regulation of expression that unconstitutionally abridges freedom of speech under the First Amendment. Remanded to the district court for dismissal of the charge against Defendant. View "Champion v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Appellant entered a conditional guilty plea to possession a handgun as a convicted felon, possessing marijuana, and operating a motor vehicle on a suspended license. Appellant appealed the trial court’s order denying his motion to suppress evidence found in the vehicle he was driving at the time of his arrest. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the record contained substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings of fact; (2) warrantless searches are per se unreasonable, subject to a few well-established exceptions, such as inventory searches; and (3) under the circumstances of this case, the police acted reasonably in seizing Appellant’s vehicle and performing the subsequent inventory search of its contents. View "Cobb v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first-degree robbery and of being a first-degree persistent felony offender. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court violated his right to a public trial when it cleared visitors from the courtroom during the victim’s testimony and when it denied his motion to suppress an out-of-court photo identification. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment on both issues, holding (1) because Defendant failed to object to the courtroom closure, he waived his argument that his right to a public trial was violated; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the out-of-court identification was valid. View "Crutcher v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of multiple counts of first-degree rape, first-degree sexual abuse, and being a first-degree persistent felony offender. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court violated his right to confront witnesses against him by permitting the Commonwealth to introduce incriminating forensic test results at trial through the testimony of an expert witness under a hearsay exception. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment, holding that the trial court violated the Confrontation Clause by not allowing Defendant to confront the lab analyst who conducted the test. Remanded. View "Manery v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law