Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of eighteen counts of financial fraud crimes and sentencing him to a total of seven years to serve in prison, with the balance of the eighteen concurrent sentences suspended with probation, holding that the trial justice did not err or abuse her discretion. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in admitting evidence related to Defendant's character; (2) the trial justice did not err by permitted a Rhode Island State Police detective to provide expert opinion testimony as a lay witness; (3) the trial justice was not clearly wrong in allowing a waiver of the attorney-client privilege; (4) the trial justice did not err when she denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence he claimed was illegally obtained by state action; (5) the trial justice did not err by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial; and (6) Defendant waived his remaining allegations of error. View "State v. Doyle" on Justia Law

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In this case challenging the City of Providence's ordinance suspending annual cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) for retired members of its police and fire departments until the pension fund achieved a seventy percent funding level the Supreme Court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and reversed in part the trial court judgment in favor of the City, holding that the pension ordinance was unenforceable as to certain plaintiffs. After the City enacted its ordinance in retiree groups and union groups initiated litigation to bar enforcement of the ordinance. Most retirees entered into a settlement that ripened into a consent judgment. Several individuals who opted out of the settlement agreement brought this suit. The trial justice entered judgment for the City. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the superior court correctly entered summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims under the Takings Clause and for promissory estoppel; (2) with respect to the plaintiffs who were also a party in prior litigation regarding their COLA benefits and who were included in an earlier consent judgment or individual settlement agreement, the pension ordinance was unenforceable; and (3) with respect to Plaintiffs' challenge to the pension ordinance based upon the Contract Clause, the judgment is vacated. View "Andrews v. Lombardi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant on two counts of first-degree child molestation sexual assault, holding that the trial justice did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress statements made to the state police, denying Defendant's motion for a mistrial, and denying Defendant's motion to dismiss counts one and two of the indictment pursuant to Rule 29(b) of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant's waiver of his Miranda rights was made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, and therefore, the trial justice properly denied Defendant's motion to suppress; (2) the trial justice did not err when she denied Defendant's motion for a mistrial based on an alleged discovery violation by the State; and (3) the trial justice did not err when she credited the complaining witness's testimony in denying Defendant's Rule 29(b) motion to dismiss the first two counts of the indictment relating to first-degree child molestation sexual assault. View "State v. Alvarado" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court suppressing the DNA results of a buccal swab taken from Defendant pursuant to a valid search warrant while he was incarcerated, holding that the trial justice erred in suppressing the buccal swab evidence. Three years after the murder of Robert Bullard Defendant was apprehended and taken into custody. A criminal complaint was filed, and Defendant was held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI). Thereafter, a detective obtained search warrants to collect Defendant's DNA at the ACI using a buccal swab. When Defendant refused to comply with the search warrants law enforcement officers used force to obtain the buccal swab. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the DNA evidence, which the trial court granted. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's order, holding that the use of force was objectively reasonable because the intrusion into Defendant's Fourth Amendment interests was minimal and was far outweighed by countervailing government interests. View "State v. Querido" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of one count of felony assault and one count of simple assault, holding that none of the trial justice's rulings challenged on appeal was erroneous. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) because Defendant never questioned the trial justice's impartiality when it was appropriate to do so Defendant waived his argument that he was deprived of his right to trial by a neutral and detached arbiter; (2) the trial justice’s finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on each count did not constitute an impermissible pyramiding of inferences; (3) Defendant's argument that he was deprived of his right to fair notice of the crime for which he was convicted and prejudiced by the timing of the introduction of the theory of aiding and abetting was without merit; and (4) because each of the individual allegations of error lacked merit, the cumulative effect doctrine did not apply. View "State v. Parrillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding that an amendment to the City of Providence's zoning ordinance that restricted the number of college students who may live together in single-family homes in certain residential areas in Providence did not violate Plaintiffs' right to equal protection or due process under the Rhode Island Constitution. Plaintiffs, a real estate investment company, and four individuals who were college students and housemates leasing the real estate investment company's property, filed a declaratory judgment action against the City seeking to invalidate the amendment, arguing that the City had violated the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution. The hearing justice entered judgment in favor of the City. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the amendment was rationally related to the legitimate state purpose of preserving the residential character of certain neighborhoods and that there was no constitutional violation. View "Federal Hill Capital, LLC v. City of Providence" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in favor of the State and Lieutenant Scott Raynes and the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), the Council on Postsecondary Education, and Captain Timothy Poulin, holding that the superior court did not err. Plaintiff brought a complaint alleging that Defendants terminated him in violation of the Rhode Island Whistleblowers' Protection Act and that Lieutenant Raynes and Captain Poulin violated 42 U.S.C. 1983 when they took action against Plaintiff from being continuously employed due to his whistleblowing activity. The hearing justice dismissed Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his complaint and the denial of his motion to amend his complaint. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the hearing justice correctly concluded that Plaintiff failed to state a valid claim under the Act because Plaintiff's actions did not qualify as protected activity; and (2) the hearing justice did not err in denying Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint on the ground that his claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 was barred by the statute of limitations. View "Crenshaw v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights
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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's judgment of conviction on one count of first-degree child molestation sexual assault and remanded the case to the superior court for a new trial, holding that the trial justice erred in denying Defendant's motion to pass the case after the prosecutor's statements during closing argument about Defendant's courtroom demeanor and behavior toward the complainant. Specifically, the Court held (1) the prosecutor's statements regarding Defendant's courtroom demeanor had the potential for unfair prejudice, and a curative instruction could not overcome the prejudice in this case; (2) the trial justice erred in admitting some, but not all, of the evidence pertaining to a police investigation into Defendant for possession of child pornography; and (3) Defendant's claim that the trial justice erred in failing to safeguard Defendant's right to a fair trial based on various claims related to the presence of members of a motorcycle group known as Bikers Against Child Abuse in the courtroom during trial was not properly before the court. View "State v. Bozzo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint against Child and Family Services of Newport County (CFS) alleging defamation, constructive termination, discrimination, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, holding that the hearing justice properly dismissed Plaintiff's claims. Specifically, the Court held (1) where the complaint did not allege that CFS made any false statements about Defendant, Plaintiff did not sufficiently allege a claim for defamation; (2) Plaintiff did not properly plead a claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (3) the complaint did not include sufficient facts to allege a prima facie case of either employment discrimination or a civil rights violation; and (4) the hearing justice did not err in dismissing the amended complaint with prejudice. View "Ferreira v. Child and Family Services of Rhode Island" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss one count of first-degree sexual assault on the grounds of double jeopardy and prosecutorial misconduct, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims. Defendant was found guilty of assault and battery and acquitted as to several offenses, but as to the charge for first-degree sexual assault based upon anal penetration, the jury deadlocked and did not reach a verdict. When it became evident that the State would retry Defendant on the deadlocked count, Defendant filed several pretrial motions. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the sole remaining count, arguing that double jeopardy barred a retrial of acquitted conduct that arose from the same set of facts previously decided by the jury and that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct. Defendant further sought to exclude any reference to acquitted conduct from the first trial. The trial justice denied Defendant's motions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's first argument conflated a double jeopardy contention with one that was evidentiary, and whether Defendant's acquitted conduct was admissible under R.I. R. Evid. 404(b) at his retrial was an issue not properly before the court; and (2) Defendant's prosecutorial misconduct argument was not preserved for appeal. View "State v. Forlasto" on Justia Law