U.S. Sixth Circuit - FindLaw

U.S. Sixth Circuit - The FindLaw 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


Prosecutors impermissibly withheld potentially exculpatory evidence in their prosecution of an Ohio police lieutenant for the death of his wife. Thomas Barton was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after he allegedly hired a man to "scare" his wife by staging a robbery, only for the plan to go wrong and Barton's wife to end up dead.

Barton appealed, arguing that the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence -- mainly that the sole witness against Barton may not have had the "burglar for hire" history that the state claimed. The Second Circuit agreed, finding that the evidence could have helped Barton's defense.

What good is a law allowing the open carrying of handguns when the police are just going to arrest you for it? Shawn and Denise Northrup of Toledo, Ohio were just walking their dog one evening when a motorcyclist saw them and yelled, "You can't walk around with a gun like that!"

For, you see, Shawn was walking the dog while armed with a semiautomatic handgun. The motorcyclist, Alan Rose, called the police, who confirmed that it was legal to carry openly in Ohio, but nevertheless sent an officer out to investigate.

Allowing debt collectors to use state prosecutors' letterhead is a controversial practice. It nets counties money (debt collectors essentially rent out the letterhead), but the ABA and other legal organizations say it's deceptive because a county prosecutor isn't actually charging the debtor with a crime.

To that end, the Sixth Circuit addressed two kinks in the issue: Whether the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies to law firms tasked with collecting state debts, and whether their use of the Ohio Attorney General's letterhead violated the FDCPA.

After Leslie Ashmore, a convicted felon, was found in possession of firearms, he was tried for violating federal law and sentenced to 20 years in prison. On appeal however, he earned a new trial, since the court had improperly introduced evidence that was obtained through the use of a two step Miranda technique meant to undermine the effectiveness of Ashmore's Miranda rights.

One October night, police found Ashmore passed out in his vehicle, alongside drug paraphernalia. A search of the car revealed two firearms, safely tucked away in a lock box for which Ashmore had the key. Two weeks later, a team of 10 to 20 officers, including the city's SWAT time, was deployed to arrest Ashmore. Special Agent Jamie Jenkins questioned Ashmore as to whether there were any guns in the car he was arrested in -- before he received his Miranda warnings.

Michael Patterson ran a small psychiatric practice in Memphis, Tennessee, with a fairly large side business in selling prescriptions for Percocet, Vicodin, and Adderall , among other drugs. The law eventually caught up to Patterson and he was charged with 38 counts of improperly distributing controlled substances and pleaded guilty to three of those.

Patterson contested his sentence on appeal, arguing that the district court had improperly assumed that his prescriptions weren't medically justified and unjustly categorized him as an organizer or leader of the drug dealing scheme. In a reminder of the deference afforded to finders of fact, the Sixth Circuit quickly and without much difficultly rejected each of Patterson's claims.

Kentucky law prohibits electioneering signs within 300 feet of a polling place -- or, at least, it did until October, when a federal judge held the law unconstitutional, finding that the 300-foot restriction was much larger than necessary to combat the evils of voter coercion and intimidation.

Today, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling, finding the statute facially invalid under the First Amendment for prohibiting way more speech than was necessary.

Witness tampering? That's old and busted, run-of-the-mill, hardly worthy of news. How about when the person doing the tampering is a police officer? Yeah, suddenly you're interested.

Christopher Eaton, the (former, at this point) sheriff of Barren County, Kentucky, was convicted of witness tampering for ordering officers under his command to make false statements in an FBI investigation into excessive use of force on a suspect named Billy Stinnett.

The city of St. Johns, Michigan passed an ordinance banning unattended outdoor charitable donation bins. Planet Aid is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable food production and healthy lifestyles. Part of its business involves the use of such outdoor bins to get donations of clothes and shoes.

Of course you know where this is going, right? In January 2013, St. Johns directed Planet Aid to remove its donation bins, claiming the bins attracted "boxes and other refuse." Planet Aid refused and the city removed them. A year later, the city council passed an ordinance banning such bins, leading to this lawsuit.

Courts are continuing the trend toward striking down Draconian laws targeting sex offenders. Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal disapproved of California's requirement that sex offenders hand over all their Internet usernames to the state attorney general. Last month, the California Supreme Court overturned a state law categorically banning sex offenders from living in certain areas.

At the end of March, a federal district judge in Michigan similarly struck parts of that state's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA).

Just like the verse-chorus-verse structure of classic pop music, federal litigation follows a predictable formula, one that courts don't like litigants rearranging. This point was highlighted in a recent kerfuffle between two karaoke companies, Slep-Tone and Karaoke Kandy Store.

Not only were these two out of pitch with each other -- Slep-Tone accused Karaoke Kandy Store of trademark violations -- they could not get into beat with the courts, as the Sixth Circuit was forced to stay Slep-Tone's appeal for coming in before its cue.