Tag: 14 Amendment

Gas stove

Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67 (1972)

FACTS: Margarita Fuentes purchased a gas stove and stereophonic phonograph from the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Although Firestone retained title to the merchandise, Mrs. Fuentes was entitled to possession contingent she did not default on her installment payments. Firestone claimed Mrs. Fuentes had defaulted on her payment and instituted an action in a small-claims court for repossession of the property. After Mrs. Fuentes received a summons, Firestone obtained a writ of replevin, which ordered a sheriff to seize the property at once.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Mrs. Fuentes (Plaintiff) sued Firestone (Defendant) in a federal district court, and challenged the constitutionality of Florida’s prejudgment replevin procedures under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief against continued enforcement of the procedural provisions of the state statutes that authorize prejudgment replevin.

JUDGMENT: Vacated and remanded.

ISSUE: Whether Florida and Pennsylvania’s statutory procedures violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee that no State shall deprive any person of property without due process of law.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The Florida and Pennsylvania prejudgment replevin provisions deprives Plaintiffs’ of property without due process of law, and deny the right to a prior opportunity to be heard before property are taken from their possessor.

RATIONALE: The Court relied on Goldberg v. Kelly’s rationale, in that, an opportunity for a hearing must be provided before the deprivation at issue takes effect. The Court further said procedural due process means ‘[p]arties whose rights are to be affected are entitled to be heard. In order that they may enjoy that right, they must first be notified.’ Moreover, the right to notice and be heard ‘must be granted at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.’

The Court was also in full agreement that only ‘extraordinary situations’ can justify the postponement of notice and opportunity to be heard. For example, an important governmental or general public interest, a special need for prompt action, or necessary circumstances where a government official initiates the seizure.

SYNTHESIS: The District Courts relied on Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp and Goldberg v. Kelly to reject the appellants’ constitutional claims. It reasoned that the property defendants seized from the plaintiffs were not absolute necessities of life. Therefore, plaintiffs did not enjoy a right to be heard. However, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in Bell v. Burson, a driver’s license suspension case, that an important interest entitles one to a fair hearing before a deprivation occurs, and the protection of procedural due process of law.

The U.S. Supreme Court then looked to the Florida and Pennsylvania statutes, and found, both statutes gave no opportunity for a prior hearing and no prior notice to the plaintiffs. In Florida, a person will be given a hearing after the owner seizes the property. However, in Pennsylvania, the law does not require a hearing on the merits, as it relates to possession of the replevied property. The holding from Bell is similar to Fuentes’ case because a temporary, nonfinal deprivation of property, as with the driver’s license suspension in Bell, is nonetheless a ‘deprivation’ in the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment. Indeed, GoldbergSniadach, nor Bell held the most basic due process requirements is limited to the protection of only a few types of property interests.

Say No to War - Guantanamo Bay

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2006)

FACTS: The U.S. Government detained Yaser Esam Hamdi on allegations that he participated in Taliban conflict. Government officials then transferred Hamdi from Guantanamo Bay and held him in a Virginia naval brig.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Hamdi (Petitioner) sued the U.S. Government (Respondent) under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments for violation of due process. The district court agreed with Petitioner, that the Mobbs Declaration did not support his detention. Respondent appealed the decision. The Fourth Circuit reversed. Petitioner then filed a writ of certiorari with SCOTUS.

JUDGMENT: Vacated and remanded.

ISSUE: Whether the President’s detention of citizens who qualify as enemy combatants violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments right to due process.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: Detained citizens who seek to challenge the Government’s enemy combatant classification must receive notice and be given a fair opportunity to rebut the assertion before an impartial decision-maker.

RATIONALE: Independent review of enemy combatant classification are not burdensome as to eclipse a citizen’s right to challenge the Government’s position and to be heard by an impartial decision-maker.

SYNTHESIS: In Fuentes v. Shevinthe Court said individuals are entitled to notice and the opportunity to be heard when their rights are affected. Then in Mathews v. Eldridge, the Court laid out the necessary procedure to ensure that citizens are not deprived of procedural due process (private interest vs. governmental interests vs. functions). Based on these two cases, the Court found the Petitioner’s incommunicado detention violated procedural due process.

DISSENT: (Thomas, J., dissenting) The Judiciary does not have the aptitude to question the validity of an enemy combatant status. Justice Thomas was of the opinion that the majority misapplied the Eldridge framework. If it were applied ‘correctly’ the Court would have reached a different conclusion.

Pillars of the Supreme Court

Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)

FACTS: The State of Kentucky (Respondent) indicted Baston, a Black man (Petitioner) on charges of second-degree burglary and receipt of stolen goods. At trial, the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike all Black persons on the venire, which left a jury composed only of White persons.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Defense counsel moved to discharge the jury before it was sworn on the ground that the prosecutor’s removal of the Black veniremen violated Petitioner’s constitutional rights. The trial judge denied the Petitioner’s motion. Thereafter, the jury convicted Petitioner on both counts. The Petitioner appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court and raised the peremptory challenge argument. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed. The Petitioner appealed to the SCOTUS.

JUDGMENT: Reversed.

ISSUE: Whether a State’s exercise of peremptory challenges to exclude members of a Black defendant’s race, from a petit jury, violates the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury, and the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: When a trial court decides that the facts establish purposeful discrimination and the prosecutor does not come forward with a neutral explanation for excluding a particular race from the jury, the Petitioner’s conviction must be reversed.

RATIONALE:. Due to the heterogeneous population of the U.S., SCOTUS requires trial courts to be sensitive to the racially discriminatory use of peremptory challenges and enforces the mandate of equal protection. Indeed, the exclusion of Black citizens from service as jurors is a primary example of the evil the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to cure. If courts ensure that no citizen is disqualified from jury service because of their race, public respect for the criminal justice system and the rule of law will be strengthened.

Medical care

Lassiter v. Department of Social Svcs., 452 U.S. 18 (1981)

FACTS: The Durham County Department of Social Services (Department) alleged, Abby Gail Lassiter did not provide her son William with proper medical care. Based on this fact, the Department took custody of William. The Department further claims Lassiter did not make future plans for William, ceased all contact with him, and left him in foster care.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The trial court served Lassiter (Petitioner) with the petition and with notice of hearing. At the hearing, the trial court terminated Petitioner’s parental rights. Petitioner argued on appeal that she was indigent. She further argued that the trial court violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to counsel when the trial court refused to provide counsel for her. The Appeals Court rejected Petitioner’s appeal and the Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the decision.

JUDGMENT: Affirmed.

ISSUE: Whether Petitioner the Due Process Clause requires the appointment of counsel when a State seeks to terminate an indigent’s parental status.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The trial court did not err when it failed to appoint counsel for the Petitioner.

RATIONALE: SCOTUS articulated that the right to appointed counsel exists only where a litigant may lose her physical liberty if she loses the litigation. In the present case, the Petitioner expressly declined to appear at a child custody hearing. She also failed to speak to her retained lawyer after she was notified of the termination hearing. While Petitioner failed to make an effort to contest the termination proceeding, the litigation did not result in the loss of her physical liberty.

SYNTHESIS: It was not a struggle for SCOTUS to decide that the Eldridge factors—the protection of parental rights in judicial proceedings—did not overcome the presumption against the right to appointed counsel. Due process does not require the appointment of counsel in every parental termination proceeding. While Gideon v. Wainwright recognized that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel exists to protect the fundamental right to a fair trial, SCOTUS resurrected the decision of Betts v. Brady. In that case, SCOTUS decided that a defendant did not have a constitutional right to counsel. SCOTUS further relied on Betts and refused to extend the right to appointed counsel to include proceedings that did not result in a defendant’s loss of personal liberty. In SCOTUS’ view, as a litigant’s interest in personal liberty diminishes, so does their right to appointed counsel.

SEPARATE OPINION: (Blackmun, J.; Brennan, J.; Marshall,J., dissenting). The Dissenters argued that the unique importance of a parent’s interest in the care and custody of their child cannot constitutionally be extinguished through formal judicial proceedings without the benefit of counsel. To do so would revive the ad hoc approach that SCOTUS discredited in Gideon v. Wainwright. For instance, SCOTUS rejected the Betts reasoning that counsel for indigent criminal defendants was ‘not a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial.’ Although the Dissenters used the same approach to evaluate the “three distinct Eldridge factors” as the majority, it came to a different conclusion. In their view, the countervailing governmental interest was insubstantial. Thus, the majority should have decided whether Petitioner was given a meaningful opportunity to be heard when the State moved to terminate her parental rights.

Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 688 (1984)

FACTS: Charles E. Strickland kidnapped, tortured, murdered, assaulted, extorted victims and committed theft. Strickland later confessed to a third of the criminal episodes.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The State of Florida indicted Strickland (Respondent) for kidnaping and murder, and appointed an experienced criminal lawyer to represent him. Counsel advised Respondent to invoke his right under Florida law to an advisory jury at his capital sentencing hearing. Respondent rejected the advice and waived the right. The case proceeded to bench trial. There, Counsel did not seek out character witnesses for Respondent, nor did he cross-examine the medical experts who testified about the manner of death of Respondent’s victims. The trial judge sentenced Respondent to the death penalty. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the convictions and sentences on direct appeal. Thereafter, the Respondent appealed the decision and argued ineffective assistance at the sentencing proceedings.

JUDGMENT: Reversed.

ISSUE: Whether the Constitution requires a conviction or death sentence to be set aside because counsel’s assistance at the trial or sentencing was ineffective.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The Court held the District Court properly declined to issue a writ of habeas corpus, as Respondent suffered insufficient prejudice to warrant setting aside his death sentence.

RATIONALE: A court hearing on an ineffectiveness claim must consider the totality of the evidence before the judge or jury. In order for a defendant to succeed on an ineffective assistance claim, he must show that counsel’s performance was deficient. In other words, counsel made errors so serious that counsel had not functioned as “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. The defendant must also show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel’s errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Respondent asserted counsel was ineffective because he failed to move for a continuance, did not request a psychiatric report, nor investigated and presented character witnesses. Respondent further argued Counsel did not seek a presentence investigation report, did not investigate the medical examiner’s reports, nor cross-examine the medical experts. The Court found the omitted evidence to be irrelevant, and stated there was no reasonable probability that it would have changed the conclusion of the sentence imposed.

SYNTHESIS: In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Court recognized that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel exists to protect the fundamental right to a fair trial. The Constitution guarantees a fair trial through the Due Process Clauses, which includes the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for a defense. While the Court acknowledged that the effective assistance guarantee of the Sixth Amendment is to ensure that criminal defendants receive a fair trial, it did not find the deficiencies in Counsel’s performance in the present case prejudicial enough to the defense to constitute ineffective assistance under the Constitution.

SEPARATE OPINION: (Brennan, J.) Justice Brennan wanted to vacate the Respondent’s death sentence because he believes the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Justice Marshall (dissenting) argued that “every defendant is entitled to a trial in which his interests are vigorously and conscientiously advocated by an able lawyer.” A proceeding in which the defendant does not receive meaningful assistance, in Justice Marshall’s view, does not constitute due process. Justice Marshall further stated if counsel had investigated evidence, he could have presented that evidence at trial. If additional evidence were presented, it could a resulted in the Respondent being given a life sentence instead of the death penalty. In all, Justice Marshall contends Counsel’s failure to investigate was more than sufficient to establish a violation of the Sixth Amendment and to entitle respondent to a new sentencing proceeding.

Supreme Court of the United States

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)

FACTS: Clarence E. Gideon was charged in a Florida state court with having broken and entered a poolroom, a felony under Florida law. Gideon appeared in court without funds and without a lawyer, and asked the court to appoint counsel for him. However, the Court told Gideon that counsel could only be appointed to represent a defendant charged with a capital offense.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: At jury trial, Gideon (Petitioner) conducted his own defense (i.e., self-represented litigation). However, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and sentenced Gideon to serve five years in the state prison. Gideon filed a habeas corpus petition in the Florida Supreme Court. In the petition, Gideon argued the trial court’s refusal to appoint counsel denied him rights ‘guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by the United States Government.’ The State Supreme Court denied all relief.

JUDGMENT: Reversed.

ISSUE: Whether the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel in criminal cases applies to felony defendants in state courts.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The Court concluded that Betts v. Brady should be overruled. The Court further held that certain fundamental rights, safeguarded by the first eight amendments against federal action, are safeguarded against state action by the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. One of those is the fundamental right of the accused to be assisted by counsel in a criminal prosecution.

RATIONALE: If the holding in Betts were left standing, it would require the Court to reject Gideon’s claim that the Constitution guarantees him the assistance of counsel. The Court stated any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. It further reasoned that State and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. At this point, the Court looked to the Sixth Amendment, which provides ‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.’ The Court also looked to the Bill of Rights. There, the Court found that it contains fundamental safeguards of liberty that immune citizens from federal abridgment. In the Court’s view, citizens are equally protected against state invasion by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

SEPARATE OPINION: (Harlan, J) In Justice Harlan’s opinion, the declaration that the right to appointed counsel in state prosecutions, as established in Powell v. Alabama, was not limited to capital cases an extension of the Court’s precedent. While Justice Harlan did not embrace the concept that the Fourteenth Amendment ‘incorporates’ the Sixth Amendment, he did assert that a valid right or immunity against the Federal Government is valid against the States. In all, Justice Harlan believed the Court did not depart from the principles laid down in Palko v. Connecticut.