U.S. Eighth Circuit

U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


It's hard for most people to feel sorry for Mark Christeson. According to The Associated Press, he teamed up with his cousin to rape a mother of two, then, when one of the kids recognized him, Christeson and his cousin murdered the whole family before taking off with their car and electronics.

Of course, there's often more to the story -- murderers don't often emerge from the womb without a conscience. Often, there's mental illness, or some sort of childhood tragedy, that makes you wonder if this person really deserves the death penalty.

Christeson never got the chance to tell that story because his attorneys, who still represent him and refuse to admit fault, missed the habeas deadline. He's scheduled for execution by the State of Missouri at midnight tonight, unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in and grants relief.

The police rolled up on Warnell Reid's place to arrest his girlfriend, Earnestine Graham, who had herself violated the terms of her federal supervised release. When they got there, the front door was slightly open and Graham was standing inside in her pajamas. She was quickly arrested without incident, a protective sweep of the house was done (because of the presence of minors), and then she was allowed to change.

When police officers escorted her into the house, they noticed an SKS rifle in plain sight. Graham told police that the rifle belonged to her boyfriend, who himself showed up and was detained moments later. Graham also gave police permission to search the home, which led to the discovery of two more firearms and ammunition.

Reid was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and sentenced to a term of 188 months' imprisonment as an armed career criminal. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit upheld the conviction but vacated the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) sentence.

It's getting hard to keep track of all the states that introduced laws requiring voters to produce state-issued photo IDs in order to vote. You can take Arkansas off the list (oh, but you'll need to add it to the list of voter ID cases that could end up at the U.S. Supreme Court -- like the ones out of Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, and North Carolina).

On Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court's determination that Act 595, passed in 2013, was unconstitutional.

Dr. K.R. Conklin had two children from his first marriage, and then acquired two stepchildren (not adopted) via his second marriage. In 1996, before his second marriage, he created a trust for the benefit of his biological children only (conveniently called "Children" in the opinion).

In 2002, Conklin and his second wife Jo undertook a cross-country trip by plane and automobile. On their way to the airport, Conklin wrote a letter by hand indicating what should happen to his estate if he and his wife should die during this trip. The letter included the two stepchildren in the distribution of Conklin's assets. He left the letter in the car's glovebox, which was parked at the airport.

Predictably, the Ninth Circuit leads the pack so far in cert. grants with eight, but who's No. 2? If you guessed the Fifth Circuit, you'd be wrong: It's the Eighth!

That many from North Dakota? Iowa? Arkansas? Yup, the Court will hear five cases from the Eighth Circuit this term (at least so far). Here they are:

Add Missouri to the list of states the U.S. Supreme Court definitely doesn't won't take same sex marriage petitions from. Last week, delivering on its promise of a quick ruling, a Missouri trial court declared Missouri's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Like many other same-sex marriage cases, the issue arose because same-sex Missouri residents had tied the knot in other jurisdictions where same gay marriage was legal.

Dr. Larry Alexander's case was obvious, yet unfortunate. And it's a great reminder of why independent contractor relationships are risky for the not-quite-employee.

From 1991 to 2011, Dr. Alexander was associated with Avera St. Luke's, a non-profit organization running St. Luke's Hospital in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Avera terminated its relationship with Dr. Alexander after he suffered from a series of health issues from 2008 to 2011 -- a heart attack, a heart transplant, and a hospitalization for bipolar disorder.

What is his recourse? Absolutely nothing, since he was providing services under an obvious independent contractor relationship.

Show Me State? More like Slow Me State, right?

The first of three challenges to Missouri's ban on same-sex marriages was argued in court today, with the judge promising a quick ruling. Today's case, in state court, challenged the state's refusal to recognize gay marriages from out of state, while a second state court case will challenge the ban on in-state marriages. A federal case is also pending.

As was the case in many other states' disputes, the ACLU argued equal protection, while the state argued for state sovereignty.

In AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the U.S. Supreme Court told us that the Federal Arbitration Act overrides state contract law if a contract contains an arbitration clause. In American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant, the Court upheld an arbitration agreement's class action waiver even when the cost of arbitrating a federal antitrust claim would exceed the recovery amount.

This approach has it critics. Notably, Judge Richard Posner said that class action waivers effectively eliminate litigation: "The realistic alternative to a class action is not 17 million individual suits, but zero individual suits, as only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30."

Looking into my crystal ball, I foresee Alltel Communication v. Rosenow to be the Supreme Court's next class action/arbitration case.

"When I took my oath of office as a federal district judge in 1992, I knew that someday I might condemn an innocent man to die. I willingly accepted that risk when I took that oath, and I willingly accept that risk now. I will have to live with my knowing choice if such a horror comes to pass. I will have no one to blame but myself."

Early this month, a death row inmate was exonerated, thanks to a little DNA that was recently uncovered and tested. This was not particularly remarkable -- there have been many DNA-based exonerations over the last couple of decades. But the case drew attention because of a passing reference to the crime by Justice Antonin Scalia, who mocked the inmate's appeal while discussing Justice Blackmun's famous "tinker with the machinery of death" dissent.

At the time, we noted that both Justice Scalia and Justice Blackmun were assuming that the defendant was guilty -- Blackmun later argued for leniency because of the inmate's IQ, not factual innocence. But because Justice Scalia has a way with words, he himself was mocked by the press, including a particularly harsh take by "Digby," a blogger writing for Salon. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf, a trial judge for the District of Nebraska who imposes the death penalty, penned an equally harsh (and hilarious) response in his usual, frank style.

And then, in a follow-up, he wrote something even greater: insight into what it is like to be a judge who imposes the death penalty, sometimes, maybe, on innocent defendants.