2nd Circuit Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Second Circuit
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You think it would go without saying: corrections officers cannot sexually abuse inmates without violating those inmates' rights. Apparently not. The Second Circuit felt the need to restate the obvious after a district court tossed two inmates' suit, which alleged that they were fondled by correctional officers in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Such abuse is clearly unconstitutional, the Second Circuit wrote. Further, it emphasized that the Circuit's Eighth Amendment precedents must be applied broadly to comport with evolving "societal standards of decency" regarding inmate sexual abuse.

Muslim and Arab men who were wrongfully detained can sue former attorney general John Ashcroft and other Bush-era officials for violating their constitutional rights, the Second Circuit ruled yesterday. The class action lawsuit, filed by former 9/11 detainees, alleges that Ashcroft and others established a discriminatory policy of arresting and detaining Muslim and Arab men following the attacks and keeping them in abusive conditions.

In a lengthy ruling, Second Circuit said that under the alleged facts, based largely on a government investigation, the Department of Justice and FBI put in place policies which violated the detainees civil rights and took no steps to stem the abuse when they knew detainees were not terrorism suspects. The development means that the Bivens suit, which has dragged on for over 13 years and which targets officials in their individual capacity, can go forward.

Fernando Bermudez spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. After a prosecution which was suspect from the beginning -- one which included suggestive photo arrays, police coercion, and a failure to investigate other suspects -- it took Bermudez almost two decades to get his conviction overturned, despite every witness recanting their testimony.

Bermudez will now be able to go forward with a civil suit for damages stemming from his wrongful imprisonment, after the Second Circuit ruled on Monday that there were triable questions of fact as to whether the faulty investigation violated Bermudez's constitutional rights.

The defendant accused and convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion did not waive his right to an impartial jury when his attorneys suspected a biased and dishonest juror but failed to raise contemporaneous objections, the Second Circuit ruled Monday.

David Parse, a former Deutsche Bank broker who was prosecuted because of his involvement in an allegedly illegal tax shelter scheme, saw his trial hijacked by a rogue juror.

A car's license plate, once just a means to identify the vehicle, has increasingly become a way for drivers to express themselves. Vanity plates allow their owners to add a splash of personality to their plates, and many states have license plates promoting specific organizations or causes.

License plates have become so customizable, you might even think they've become a forum for the free expression of ideas. You'd be wrong, at least according to the Second Circuit. After an anti-abortion non-profit sought to have a "Choose Life" license plate issued, the New York DMV refused, citing its policy against placing controversial or politically sensitive messages on plates.

That refusal did not violate the organization's free speech rights, the Second Circuit ruled last Friday.

The Second Circuit upheld the murder, racketeering, narcotics and firearms convictions of four members of the "Courtland Avenue Crew," a violent gang from the Bronx. One defendant's convictions relied partially on evidence gathered from social media, including a rap video and photos of tattoos taken from Facebook.

That defendant, Melvin Colon, was convicted in part for the execution of Delquan Alston, who he thought was an informant. On appeal, he argued that the Facebook evidence was procured through an unconstitutional law, the Stored Communications Act, and that its use in the trial violated his First Amendment rights. The Second Circuit wasn't convinced.

2nd Cir. Affirms, Denies in Police Harassment Lawsuit

In November, 2007, a state trooper named Ben Campbell began to harass a woman named Joanne Smith. When Smith's adult son, Tom, said he would call 911 and speak to Campbell's supervisor, Campbell left without issuing any tickets.

This incident sparked a series of harassing activities that eventually rose to the level of a civil rights complaint. On April 1, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed and vacated in part a district court's order dismissing the case.

The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal contesting a New York City policy refusing to allow outside groups to hold religious services on school facilities. The denial of cert, issued Monday, leaves in place the Second Circuit's decision from last April, which held that the NYC Board of Ed.'s policy was a reasonable way to ensure that the City did not violate the separation of church and state.

This may be the last round in litigation which began over 14 years ago, when the City first denied the request by Bronx Household of Faith to use school facilities for church services. The case illustrates the fine line municipalities walk when attempting to balance free practice of religion with the separation of church and state.

No 11th Amendment Immunity for Community College, 2nd Cir. Says

The Eleventh Amendment: often misunderstood, infrequently used, yet sitting there in plain sight, just after the Bill of Rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has given scant guidance over the years, but we know at the least that states can't be sued for monetary damages unless they consent (or unless another amendment, like the Fourteenth, overrides the Eleventh Amendment).

The definition of what qualifies as an "arm of the state" came across the Second Circuit's desk last week, and the court decided that a community college doesn't qualify for Eleventh Amendment immunity.

2nd Cir. Panel Reverses Itself on Occupy Wall Street Arrests

A peculiar bit of appellate procedure attended the issuance of an amended opinion in Garcia v. Does, the "Occupy Wall Street" case in which Occupy protesters claimed they were escorted onto the Brooklyn Bridge by police, then arrested when they were halfway across.

Though the protesters won in federal district court, and again before a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit, that same panel reversed itself Monday. The panel remanded the case to Judge Jed Rakoff with instructions to dismiss the complaint, dissolving the en banc rehearing before it started.