Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Clerks of court are statutorily designated custodians of court records, and therefore, The Daily Press must make its request to each jurisdiction’s clerk of court for certain court records rather than to the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia (Executive Secretary). The Daily Press made a request to the Executive Secretary under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act asking for a searchable version of a database hosted on servers operated and housed at the Executive Secretary’s offices. The Executive Secretary reached out to the individual clerks whose information it hosted to request permission to provide this information to The Daily Press. More than half of the clerks objected. The Daily Press then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the Executive Secretary to honor the request. The trial court denied the petition for mandamus. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that court clerks were the expressly designated custodians of the public records sought by The Daily Press. View "Daily Press, LLC v. Office of Executive Secretary of Supreme Court of Virginia" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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Two property insurers issued policies to a Harris Teeter grocery store. The insurers together paid claims for property damage resulting from the malfunctioning of a county sewer line. Exercising their subrogation rights, the insurers sued Arlington County alleging an inverse condemnation claim under Va. Const. art. I, section 11. The circuit court dismissed the case with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings, holding (1) the circuit court did not err in concluding that the original complaint failed to state a viable legal claim for inverse condemnation; but (2) the court erred in denying the insurers leave to amend their complaint because the allegations in the proffered amended complaint, combined with the reasonable inferences arising from them, asserted a legally viable claim for inverse condemnation. Remanded. View "AGCS Marine Insurance Co. v. Arlington County" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals reversed Defendant’s conviction for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute, third or subsequent offense, concluding that the trial court erred in denying Defendant’s pretrial motion to suppress evidence obtained after a search of Defendant’s person and that the error was not harmless. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the conviction, holding that the alleged trial court error, if error at all, was harmless as a matter of law because a rational fact-finder, beyond a reasonable doubt, would have found Defendant guilty absent the error. View "Commonwealth v. White" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of receiving stolen property and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Before trial, Defendant moved to suppress evidence obtained when police conducted a warrantless search of a stolen motorcycle parked in the driveway of a home where Defendant resided. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. The court of appeals affirmed. Defendant appealed, arguing that the police officer trespassed when he walked up the driveway of Defendant’s residence without permission or a search warrant and conducted an unconstitutional search by removing the motorcycle tarp to reveal its VIN. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the officer’s search of the motorcycle was justified under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. View "Collins v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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While on probation for a petit larceny as a third offense conviction, Christopher Forbes pled guilty to robbery and abduction. Because the new convictions constituted a violation of Forbes’ probation, the circuit court held a probation revocation hearing. The court found Forbes in violation of the terms of his probation on the petit larceny conviction and revoked his suspended sentence. Forbes later filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that his counsel was ineffective in refusing to file an appeal after Forbes “made known his desire to do so.” The habeas court ruled that Forbes was denied the effective assistance of counsel in appealing the revocation of his suspended sentence. The Warden of the Lunenburg Correctional Center appealed, arguing that Forbes was not constitutionally entitled to counsel at the revocation hearing, and therefore, he was not entitled to effective assistance of counsel on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Forbes had no federal constitutional right to counsel in his probation revocation hearing, and therefore, he could not have been denied the effective assistance of that counsel. View "Walker v. Forbes" on Justia Law

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Governor Terence McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring certain civil rights, including the right to vote, of approximately 206,000 Virginians who had been convicted of a felony but who had since completed their sentences of incarceration and supervised release. Petitioners filed a petition seeking writs of mandamus and prohibition seeking to cancel the voter registrations accomplished pursuant to the executive order and prevent further such registrations, asserting that the Governor’s executive order and any similar subsequent orders nullified the Virginia Constitution’s general prohibition against voting by convicted felons who had completed sentences of incarceration and supervision. The Supreme Court issued the requested writ and ordered the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the State Board of Elections, and the Virginia Department of Elections to take certain actions in response to this Court’s opinion, holding that the executive order violated Va. Const. art. I, 7 and Va. Const. art. II, 1. View "Howell v. McAuliffe" on Justia Law

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A pretrial detainee asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against guards and nurses at a regional jail. The jail authority had purchased a general liability insurance policy (the VaCorp Policy) from the Virginia Association of Counties Group Self Insurance Risk Pool (Risk Pool Association) and also elected to participate in a government-sponsored insurance program (the VaRISK Plan) managed by the Division of Risk Management (DRM). While the federal suit was pending, the detainee filed a declaratory judgment action against DRM and the Risk Pool Association seeking a determination of their respective liabilities for insuring the jail defendants. The Risk Pool Association and the DRM filed opposing third-party claims for declaratory relief. The detainee later settled with the jail defendants. The circuit court concluded (1) the VaRISK Plan was the sole primary coverage and that the DRM had the exclusive duty to defend the jail defendants, and (2) the Risk Pool Association had no duty to contribute toward the defense costs incurred by the jail defendants in the federal suit. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the VaCorp Policy and VaRISK Plan provided co-primary liability coverage to the jail defendants; and (2) VaRISK Plan’s $2 million coverage extension applicable to medical malpractice claims did not apply to the section 1983 civil rights claim alleging violations of federal constitutional law. Remanded. View "Commonwealth, Div. of Risk Mgmt. v. Va. Ass'n of Counties Group Self Ins. Risk Pool" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of three felony drug offenses. Defendant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of a traffic stop, arguing that the stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights. A panel of the Court of Appeals ordered reversal and remand to the circuit court for a new trial, ruling that the facts and circumstances available to the arresting officer at the time of the stop did not support a reasonable suspicion that Defendant was violating or about to violate the law. The full court reversed the panel decision and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the investigatory stop of the vehicle in which Defendant was a passenger was justified by reasonable suspicion that a violation of the law was occurring, and therefore, Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated. View "Mason v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The City filed a petition for condemnation asking for a determination of just compensation for property taken and damages to the residue. The circuit court awarded Dominion SecurityPlus Self Storage, LLC $44,141 for the value of the fee take and more than $2.1 million for the damages to the residue, including loss of visibility and loss of direct access. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court awarding Dominion damages to the residue and entered final judgment in favor of the City on that claim, holding that Dominion failed to present any evidence by which any of over $2.1 in damages that the circuit court awarded could be apportioned to the City’s take of a utility easement and a temporary construction easement outside the area of reservation. View "City of Chesapeake v. Dominion SecurityPlus Self Storage, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendants, two sixteen-year-old males, were convicted of multiple felonies for breaking into the townhouse of a college student and raping her at knifepoint. On appeal, Defendants challenged the constitutionality of their sentences and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the convictions for breaking and entering while armed with a deadly weapon. The court of appeals denied the petitions regarding the issues before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court consolidated the cases for appeal and affirmed, holding (1) the aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on Defendants did not violate the Eighth Amendment; and (2) the evidence was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that both Defendants committed the crime of breaking and entering while armed with a deadly weapon. View "Vasquez v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law