Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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An officer saw cars maneuvering around a car parked in a McDonald’s drive‐through lane, with Long asleep in the driver’s seat. The car was in drive. The officer knocked on the window. When Long opened the door, the officer smelled marijuana and saw a gun on the floor. An inventory search of the car after Long’s arrest revealed five gallon‐sized bags of marijuana, three bags of ecstasy pills, three cell phones, and digital scales. The government charged Long under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) as a felon in possession of a firearm. Long and his appointed counsel discussed a motion to suppress, but counsel saw little possibility of success. Long pled guilty, waiving his right to appeal or collaterally attack his conviction and sentence. Long then discovered that his PSR recommended an enhancement for possessing a firearm in connection with another felony: possession of marijuana. Long claimed that counsel told him that no such enhancement would apply. The court appointed new counsel, who argued that, had Long known of the enhancement, Long would have moved to suppress the evidence. The government conceded that there was no probable cause, but argued that there was no Fourth Amendment violation because the officers were performing a caretaking function. Long agreed to stick with his guilty plea. The court confirmed that Long understood the PSR and was satisfied with counsel’s work, then imposed a below-guidelines 51-month sentence. Long filed a pro se motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to move to suppress the evidence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the petition without an evidentiary hearing. View "Long v. United States" on Justia Law

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The defendants were indicted for committing and conspiring to commit wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343 & 1349, by extracting money from lenders (including Bank of America) that had financed the sale of defendants' Gary, Indiana properties. The defendants had represented that buyers of the properties were the source of the down payments; the defendants had actually given the buyers the money to enable them to make the down payments. They had also helped the buyers provide, in loan applications, false claims of creditworthiness. The judge ordered restitution of $893,015 to Bank of America. The Seventh Circuit remanded, directing the court to consider an alternative remedy. Restitution is questionable because Bank of America, though not a coconspirator, did not have clean hands. It ignored clear signs that the loans were “phony.” The court referred to a history of “shady” practices and characterized the Bank as “reckless.” The court acknowledged that the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act requires “mandatory restitution to victims,” 18 U.S.C. 3663A, for “an offense resulting in damage to or loss or destruction of property of a victim of the offense,” but stated that Bank of America was deliberately indifferent to the risk of losing its own money, because it intended to sell the mortgages and transfer the risk of loss to Fannie Mae for a profit. View "United States v. Tartareanu" on Justia Law

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Kenosha Detective Strelow received an anonymous tip that an African-American man in a yellow shirt was selling heroin on a specific corner. Without corroborating the tip, Strelow and Detective Beller, drove to that intersection. They saw Beal, who matched the description, talking to a woman in a driveway (his aunt). They approached and asked Beal to identify himself. He did so without objection. Beller then grabbed Beal’s left wrist and Strelow frisked him. Beal’s right hand had been in his pocket. Strelow asked him to remove his hand. Beal immediately complied. Strelow felt keys and what he described as a soft bulge that felt like tissue. It was immediately apparent that neither item was a weapon. Strelow emptied Beal’s pocket, removed keys, tissues, a photo ID, and letters. He examined the keychain’s attached flashlight, which he discovered had been hollowed out and contained four small baggies with a substance Strelow believed was heroin. Beal had no money. Beal was charged with possession of heroin. A Wisconsin state court suppressed the evidence and dismissed all charges. Beal filed suit against the detectives under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted defendants summary judgment, stating that “no reasonable jury could find that plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.” The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that the court assumed disputed facts in finding the detectives’ actions permissible under Terry v. Ohio. View "Beal v. Beller" on Justia Law

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Police found Moore’s body in a parking lot next to a bloody garbage can. Before Moore was identified, Officer Blackman told Detective Brownfield that, at 2 a.m., he had seen a black male, 6’1”, 185 pounds, in his forties, pulling a garbage can into that parking lot and exiting without it. A woman then identified Moore, stating that Moore lived with her boyfriend, McDaniel, a black male, 6’3”, 185 pounds, in his late forties. Inside the couple’s house, the officers asked McDaniel if he knew why they were there. He allegedly responded, “my girlfriend was murdered.” McDaniel agreed to go to the police station. McDaniel was placed in an interrogation room, read his Miranda rights, and questioned three separate times over 24 hours. He eventually signed a written confession. McDaniel later unsuccessfully moved to suppress his confession, arguing that it was the fruit of his arrest, which violated the Fourth Amendment. He was convicted. On appeal, McDaniel’s appointed counsel argued only that the prosecution’s reference to McDaniel’s refusal to take a polygraph while in custody denied him due process. Rejecting his petition for state post-conviction relief, Illinois courts held that Officer Blackman’s description of the man pulling the garbage can, which Detective Brownfield relayed to the arresting officers, created probable cause justifying the arrest. The federal district court held and the Seventh Circuit affirmed that McDaniel had not shown prejudice as required to establish ineffective assistance of counsel. View "McDaniel v. Polley" on Justia Law

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Susinka filed a third application for permission to file a successive motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his 20‐year sentence for participating in a RICO conspiracy, citing the Supreme Court’s 2016 holding in Hurst v. Florida, that Florida’s sentencing procedure for capital cases, whereby the jury delivers an advisory verdict but the judge decides whether to impose a death sentence, violated a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The Seventh Circuit dismissed, noting that this is not a capital case, that Hurst was decided before his earlier petitions, and that, because Susinka was not challenging his guilt, even newly discovered evidence would be irrelevant. View "Susinka v. United States" on Justia Law
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Patton was a major Chicago-area drug dealer. ATF Agents eventually arrested Patton during an unrelated firearms investigation. Patton confessed and agreed to cooperate with the ATF. Patton assisted the ATF for about a year, making several controlled purchases of firearms. However, the agent working with Patton was inexperienced and allowed Patton to pick his targets. According to the government, Patton only delivered street‐level dealers, protecting higher‐level sources, family, and friends. Patton’s efforts resulted in several convictions and removed 60 guns from the streets. In 2012, Patton learned that the government was about to appear before a grand jury and needed him to testify and that he would be indicted on the drug charges. Patton disappeared, reemerging only after the government had finished several trials and it was known that Patton was an informant. The government claims Patton only reappeared because he needed protection. Patton pleaded guilty without a plea agreement. Patton asked the court to force the prosecutor to move for a reduction in the statutory mandatory sentence and sentencing range for substantial assistance under 18 U.S.C. 3553(e). The court declined, but, in weighing the section 3553(a) factors, took into consideration Patton’s cooperation and imposed a below‐guideline sentence of 244 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; the government acted within its discretion to refuse to file a substantial‐assistance motion. View "United States v. Patton" on Justia Law
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Hoffman had nude pictures of his girlfriend’s six-year-old daughter on his phone. Although the child testified about multiple instances of sexual conduct, Hoffman was convicted of one count of exploitation of a child and one count of possession of child pornography in interstate commerce, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a); 2252(a)(4)(B). While his sentence was pending, he was convicted in Indiana state court of sexual abuse of the same child over a period of 18 months, for which he faced up to 50 years in state prison. The federal district court applied the 18 U.S.C. 3553 factors and sentenced Hoffman to 300 months’ imprisonment, to be served consecutively to his state sentence, noting that the single count of production of child pornography carried a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years, and that other aspects of the case demanded more. Hoffman was sentenced to a term of 50 years in state prison, based on his role as a father figure to the victim, his lack of remorse, and his history of committing rapes as a juvenile. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the federal sentence, citing the court’s discretion under U.S.S.G. 5G1.3 to impose a concurrent or consecutive sentence, or to decline to impose either, when a subsequent state sentence for relevant conduct is anticipated. View "United States v. Hoffman" on Justia Law
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Illinois prisoner Bell filed a civil rights suit, asserting unsafe conditions at the prison, and an application to proceed in forma pauperis. The court denied his application because Bell did not attach his inmate trust-account ledger (28 U.S.C. 1915(a)(2)) without assessing Bell’s explanation that prison staff refused to give him the ledger. The court instructed the clerk to “forward a copy of this order to the trust fund officer ... to facilitate compliance.” Three months later the court dismissed the suit. Two months later Bell wrote to the court, saying that he recently received the dismissal order and that he never had received the order denying his application and warning him to submit a completed one. The court interpreted Bell’s letter as a “motion to reconsider” and denied it because Bell still had not submitted a completed application. Now at a different prison, Bell has received the ledger. The Seventh Circuit granted him leave to appeal without prepaying fees and vacated the dismissal, noting that the court had not imposed a deadline for compliance, nor ordered prison officials to provide the ledger. “Dismissal is a harsh sanction and should not occur unless the court concludes that it is necessary because other options have failed or would fail.” View "Bell v. Supervisor Kay" on Justia Law

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In 1994 Brown was convicted of four sex offenses and sentenced to prison. His projected release date was July 2009, followed by three years of mandatory supervised release. On that date, the Illinois Department of Corrections did not release Brown, but issued a “Parole Violation Report” reciting anticipatory violations of the terms of supervised release. Brown refused to accept required electronic monitoring; he lacked a place where he could lawfully reside. Illinois tries to find lawful accommodations for sex offenders who wear electronic monitoring devices, but because Brown rejected the device the system did not try to find him a place to live. The Prisoner Review Board held a hearing in October 2009 and determined that Brown had not violated the conditions of his release, but on the same date the Department of Corrections issued a second Parole Violation Report, giving the same two reasons. Brown remained in prison until January 2011, when he was released unconditionally. Brown sought damages for the delay. He did not contend that either the electronic-monitoring or the residential-location condition was invalid, but cited the lack of a hearing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of his claims, based on qualified immunity. As of 2009, no court had held that the Fourth Amendment entitles a sex offender to release when it appears likely that, as soon as he steps is released, he will be in violation of the terms of release. View "Nathaniel Brown v. Michael Randle" on Justia Law

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During an altercation at his home, Nichols threatened someone with a weapon. Officers took him into custody. Nichols consented to a search of his property, during which officers found a handgun and ammunition. Nichols, serving probation for federal felony mail fraud, claimed to have forgotten that he had the gun. Nichols, charged with two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence, then pleaded guilty to one count. In calculating his guidelines range, the court denied Nichols credit for acceptance of responsibility and imposed an enhancement for obstruction of justice. It concluded that he was not entitled to a reduction in his offense level on the ground that all the firearms and ammunition were used exclusively for sporting purposes. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 27-month sentence, at the low end of the guidelines range. The district court was faced with opposing versions of Nichols’s confession from Nichols and his probation officer; it made a credibility determination. The court committed no reversible error in applying the obstruction enhancement and denying credit for acceptance of responsibility. Nichols’s unsupported statements failed to demonstrate that the contraband was used exclusively for lawful sporting purposes to justify a reduction under U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(b)(2). View "United States v. Nichols" on Justia Law
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