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

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Auto sears can be installed into semi-automatic guns to make them fully automatic. The National Firearms Act defines a machine gun as any gun that can shoot more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger,” 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). ATF decided in 1981 to define auto sears as machine guns, even if not installed or owned in conjunction with a compatible rifle. Ruling 81-4 brought auto sears under the Act’s regulatory scheme, which demands that all machine guns be registered. In 1986 the Gun Control Act was amended to make it unlawful for “any person to transfer or possess a machine gun,” 18 U.S.C. 922(o), effectively freezing the number of legal machine guns. Roe purchased his auto sear in 1979 and never registered it.In 2020 Roe sought to force the ATF either to exempt his auto sear from the registration requirements or to permit him to register it. Roe argued that under Ruling 81-4 auto sears that were already manufactured or possessed were exempted permanently from the Firearms Act's requirements. The ATF argued that the Ruling only refers to a retroactive exemption for taxes related to pre-1981 auto sears, that any now-unregistered auto sear is contraband, and that the 1986 machine gun ban means that there is no way to register an auto sear. The district court dismissed Roe’s complaint, reasoning that it lacked authority to issue the requested injunction, and noting that the constitutionality of the statutes had already been upheld. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the claim concerning the Ruling was untimely. Roe’s misinterpretation of Ruling 81-4 and his failure to recall that he owned the auto sear do not support relief. View "Roe v. Dettelbach" on Justia Law

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Benner was a 43-year-old high school coach. P.A., 17, hoped to use basketball to obtain a college scholarship. A sexual relationship between the two began after Benner resigned from his position but promised to continue coaching P.A.. Indiana law prohibits anyone who “has or had” a professional relationship with a person under the age of 18 to “use[] or exert[] the person’s professional relationship to engage in sexual intercourse” with that young person. Benner was convicted under Ind. Code 35-42-4-7(n). Indiana courts rejected constitutional challenges and affirmed Benner’s conviction.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Benner’s petition for collateral relief. The statutory definition refers to the defendant’s “ability to exert undue influence over the child.” Benner claimed that a person of ordinary intelligence would not understand how he might use a professional relationship to engage in sexual conduct with a child when that professional relationship has ended. The court stated: It is easy to see how a coach can use that position to groom a youngster for sex, even if the coach plans that the sexual activity will follow the basketball season’s end. While Benner never had an official coaching relation with P.A. after the statutory amendment added the word “had,” Indiana did not charge Benner with conduct that preceded July 2013. No Supreme Court holding “clearly establish[es]” a constitutional problem with the present tense or words such as “use” or “exert”. Compared with some statutes that the Supreme Court has upheld, "35-42-4-7 is a model of precision.” View "Benner v. Carlton" on Justia Law

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Alt, age 26, sent a message to a Grindr account operated by an undercover FBI Agent. The account included a picture of a youthful-looking boy and listed his age as 18. The boy responded to Alt after Alt sent two more messages. The two discussed meeting to engage in sexual activity and smoke marijuana. The boy stated that he was only 15 years old, but Alt continued with his plans to meet. Approximately 90 minutes after the boy first responded, FBI agents arrested Alt outside of what Alt believed to be the boy’s home. Alt had a tablet with the Grindr app and messages, an iPhone, and marijuana.Alt was convicted of attempted enticement of a minor and sentenced to the mandatory minimum, 120 months in prison, plus 15 years of supervised release. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the denial of Alt’s motion to suppress his statements to the FBI. Alt’s alleged invocation—“real quick, on the, uh, appointed lawyer, do you have a lawyer here?”—does not “indicat[e] a certain and present desire to consult with counsel.” The government did not commit a Batson violation in rejecting a Black juror who stated he had family that had suffered sexual abuse. Alt was not deprived of a fair trial because of the government’s statements about the standard of proof during closing arguments. The court also upheld a supervised release requirement that Alt participate in a sex offender treatment program/ View "United States v. Alt" on Justia Law

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From 1993-2017, Chicago treated O’Hare Airport aviation security officers as law-enforcement personnel, able to make arrests while employed and carry concealed firearms after retirement. The officers were unarmed and reported to the Commissioner of Aviation rather than the Chief of Police. In 2017 Chicago concluded that they are not law enforcement personnel. The Illinois Labor Relations Board sustained the decision. Neither the union nor any of its members contested that decision in state court. Three aviation security officers filed a federal suit, contending that the reclassification violated the Due Process Clause.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. There is no “fundamental right” to be a law enforcement officer. Although the Chicago Code says that the officers “shall be sworn in as special policemen,” the process due for any violation of state or local law or of a collective-bargaining agreement is the opportunity to sue in state court. The union bypassed that opportunity in 2018. A suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 is not a way to supersede that decision. The collective-bargaining agreement does not promise that aviation security officers will remain law enforcement officials and the correct entity to seek review was the union, not individual members. The court upheld a $40,0000 award of costs. View "Yates v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Smartt had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old runaway (S.S.) and traveled around the country with her while working as a trucker. He took sexually explicit photos of her. When she got pregnant, he returned her to Alton, Illinois. The FBI investigated when S.S. sought medical care at an Alton hospital. Agents obtained a warrant to search Smartt’s East St. Louis home, where they seized electronic devices containing sexually explicit photos of S.S. DNA tests confirmed that Smartt is the father of her child. Smartt sent letters addressed to S.S. and others trying to influence her testimony. Smartt was convicted of producing child pornography and of witness tampering.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Smartt’s claims that the judge erred in referring to S.S. as “the victim” before she testified. During her direct examination, S.S. identified 14 sexually explicit photos Smartt had taken of her. The prosecutor moved to admit only one. The judge asked whether the prosecutor planned to admit the other photos through another witness. The prosecutor said yes. The judge replied: “Just making sure.” The court rejected Smartt’s argument that the comment signaled pro-government bias to the jury. Smartt did not clear the high hurdle of plain-error review; “his arguments are frivolous.” View "United States v. Smartt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Butler downloaded, distributed, and shared child pornography via internet chat rooms. After tracking him online, investigators obtained a search warrant and seized ten electronic devices from his home, which contained more than 10,000 images and videos of child pornography. Much of this material involved very young children—including babies—and some depicted sadistic and masochistic content. After several years of competency proceedings, Butler pleaded guilty to one count of transporting child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(1).The district judge imposed a prison sentence of 188 months, the bottom of the properly calculated 188-235 month Guidelines range. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Butler’s argument that a lower sentence was warranted “in light of his background and mitigating circumstances” as “frivolous on the merits.” The judge considered all of the relevant factors and explained how she weighed those factors. She was aware that Butler suffers from bipolar disorder, personality disorder, and several mood disorders, and was himself the victim of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse as a child. Weighing the need to protect the public, she noted the seriousness of the offense and that Butler has an adult conviction for boarding a school bus while impersonating a police officer and another for child abduction in which he again posed as a police officer and attempted to lure children into his car. View "United States v. Butler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2000, Von Vader pled guilty to distributing methamphetamine in Wisconsin and was sentenced to 270 months’ imprisonment; the court concluded he was a “career offender.” He did not appeal. Von Vader later pled guilty to possessing heroin in prison (in Kansas) and received an additional ten-year sentence. In a 2017 petition (28 U.S.C. 2255) Von Vader argued that intervening Supreme Court precedent indicated that one or more of his previous convictions should not have been counted toward career offender classification. Von Vader’s petition was dismissed as untimely.He then unsuccessfully applied for compassionate release (18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)), contending that the 2000 sentencing error was an “extraordinary and compelling” reason for his release. The Seventh Circuit first held that the fact that Von Vader’s 2000 sentence has expired did not render the application moot because relief would be possible, The court then rejected his claims on the merits. A challenge to a sentence must be resolved by direct appeal or motion under 2255, not by seeking compassionate release. Judicial decisions, even those announcing new law, cannot alone amount to an extraordinary and compelling circumstance, which, under 3582(c)(1), is some new fact about an inmate’s health or family status, or an equivalent post-conviction development, not a purely legal contention for which statutes specify other avenues of relief. Even if the Sentencing Commission’s staff erred in distributing information concerning Van Vader’s right to file a 2255 motion, prisoners do not have a right to legal assistance in initiating collateral relief requests. View "United States v. Von Vader" on Justia Law

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Cruz‐Velasco entered the U.S. without inspection in 1999. He has remained continuously present, raising his American‐born sons as a single father after the death of his partner. In 2014, Cruz‐Velasco was convicted of reckless driving, endangering safety, and operating a vehicle while intoxicated, with his nine‐ and 11‐year‐old sons in the car. In subsequent removal proceedings, Cruz‐Velasco sought cancellation of removal, 8 U.S.C. 1229b(b). While in removal proceedings, Cruz‐Velasco was convicted again with DUI and sentenced to serve another 10 days in jail. Cruz‐Velasco stopped drinking after his 2016 arrest and completed a court‐ordered substance abuse program.The IJ held that he was ineligible for cancellation of removal, having failed to establish that his sons would suffer hardship beyond what is predictable as a result of a parent’s removal and because his DUI convictions demonstrated a lack of good moral character. While his BIA appeal was pending, the Attorney General ruled that two or more DUI convictions in the relevant period raise a presumption that a noncitizen lacks good moral character, which cannot be overcome solely by showing rehabilitation. The BIA affirmed the removal order Amid the 2020 COVID‐19 pandemic, Cruz‐Velasco sought to reopen his application, submitting new evidence that he had been diagnosed with diabetes and that this condition increased his risk of dying from COVID‐19 in Mexico. The BIA denied Cruz‐Velasco’s motion, without specifically addressing arguments concerning his diabetes. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. View "Cruz-Velasco v. Garland" on Justia Law

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In 1993 the Village of Channahon approved the plat of a residential subdivision lying within the DuPage River Special Flood Hazard Area. The Village subsequently issued permits for the construction of houses in this subdivision, all of which experience flooded basements when the river is at high water. The current owners of these houses contend that the Village violated the Constitution either by granting the permits to build or by failing to construct dykes to keep water away.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their suit, noting the plaintiffs do not contend that the Village required them to build where they did or dig basements, or took any steps after the houses’ construction that made flooding worse. The Constitution establishes rights to be free of governmental interference but does not compel governmental intervention to assist persons. Even if the Village violated a local ordinance and a federal regulation, 44 C.F.R. §60.3(c)(7), by granting the applications without insisting that the houses be built higher, the Constitution does not entitle private parties to accurate enforcement of local, state, or federal law. The Village did not take anyone’s property, either by physical invasion or by regulation that prevented the land’s use. The river, which did invade their basements, is not a governmental body. Government-induced flooding of limited duration may be compensable but the -plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that the water in their basements is “government-induced.” View "Billie v. Village of Channahon" on Justia Law

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Sanchez filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) against his former employer, DuPage Regional Office of Education. Sanchez claimed that, after he made two protected disclosures concerning expenditures to DuPage, he suffered five reprisals in violation of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, 41 U.S.C. 4712. The OIG investigated and determined his claims to be unsubstantiated. An ALJ determined, contrary to the findings of the OIG, that Sanchez was entitled to relief for all five alleged reprisals and ordered DuPage to pay Sanchez compensatory damages of $210,000.The Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the Department of Education, “suggesting” assignment to a different ALJ. The court held that DuPage did not establish that it was entitled to sovereign immunity from the Department’s adjudication of Sanchez’s whistleblower complaint. On the merits, the court concluded that the actions described by Sanchez were not retaliatory. View "DuPage Regional Office of Education v. United States Department of Education" on Justia Law