Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Laux broke into his ex‐wife’s home and murdered her with a crowbar. An Indiana jury decided that the aggravating circumstance that he committed murder during a burglary outweighed the primary mitigating circumstance that he had no criminal history and recommended a sentence of life without parole, which the court imposed. Indiana state courts affirmed Laux’s convictions and sentence. After a post‐conviction hearing, they also rejected the claim that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. Laux filed a federal habeas corpus petition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of relief, rejecting a claim that trial counsel was ineffective by not fully investigating and presenting all of the available mitigating evidence about Laux’s childhood that surfaced at his post‐conviction hearing. The state courts’ conclusion that Laux received effective assistance of counsel was not unreasonable. A defendant can often point to some additional subject and argue it should have been pursued further. The Sixth Amendment does not require counsel to investigate every conceivable line of mitigation evidence—it requires counsel to make reasonable decisions about which matters to pursue. The evidence of Laux’s childhood failed to show significant hardship; he was never a victim of abuse or neglect, was never in trouble, and excelled in high school and college. View "Laux v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Tobey placed an order with an internet site advertising “videos of young girls.” When the videos arrived at Tobey’s Florida home, he signed for them and was arrested by U.S. Postal Inspectors as part of a sting operation. Searches of computers in his Florida and Illinois homes led to the discovery of downloads that resulted in charges in both states. Tobey pled guilty to Florida charges. In 2012, when Tobey finished serving his Florida prison sentences, he returned to Illinois where he again pled guilty and was sentenced to two and a half years of probation. Supervision of his Florida probation was transferred to Illinois through the Interstate Compact on Adult Offender Supervision. Because of his noncompliance with probation conditions relating to psychological treatment, signing a “behavioral agreement,” and internet access, Tobey was taken into custody and was transported to Florida, where he eventually signed a behavioral agreement. He was returned to Illinois after 106 days in jail. He continued to have compliance issues. In 2016, Tobey sued his probation officer and an assistant state’s attorney, alleging illegal arrest and detention in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments; violation of due process and his rights under those Amendments; malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy. Tobey characterized his extradition as “kidnapping” and his supervision as “being threatened.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit without an award of sanctions. View "Tobey v. Chibucos" on Justia Law

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Learn died after Perrone injected her with cocaine in 2008. Perrone pleaded guilty to unlawful drug distribution and stipulated that his distribution of the cocaine caused Learn’s death, claiming that they had made a “suicide pact.” The court applied a statutory enhancement that mandates a 20-year minimum prison term if unlawful drug distribution results in death. The Supreme Court later clarified that this provision requires a defendant’s drugs to be a but-for cause of the death, not merely a contributing cause. Perrone filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that the narrowed interpretation indicated that he is actually innocent of causing Learn’s death and that his counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him of a Seventh Circuit case decided one day before his sentencing that narrowly interpreted the enhancement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. While the coroner’s report listed the cause of death as “[c]ombined toxicity with cocaine, ethanol and opiates,” Perrone stated he gave Learn additional cocaine because he concluded that she would not die without it. Perrone cannot establish that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have voted to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Even assuming that Perrone could show “deficient performance” by counsel, it is unlikely that he could satisfy the “prejudice” prong. The evidence of causation was strong and his plea agreement allowed him to obtain a sentence reduction for cooperating View "Perrone v. United States" on Justia Law

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Tucker and co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, with an allegation that a 2009 death resulted from the use of heroin distributed by the conspiracy. Tucker’s co-defendants pleaded guilty. Tucker and the government agreed to omit all evidence concerning the death and requested that the court not instruct the jury on that portion of the indictment. The prosecution stated that the death was "a sentencing factor and addresses the mandatory minimum sentence ... 20 years" and did not present evidence regarding a death. The jury convicted Tucker of conspiracy, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), and found that the offense involved more than one kilogram of heroin. The PSR explained that Tucker’s base offense level was 32 but recommended that, under U.S.S.G. 2D1.1(a)(2), the level should increase to 38 because his offense involved more than one kilogram of cocaine and “the offense of conviction establishe[d] that death or serious bodily injury resulted.” Tucker was sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment after the court found that his drug distribution resulted in a death. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of his habeas petition, in which he claimed ineffective assistance of counsel. Whether Tucker’s counsel should have known to challenge the 2D1.1(a)(2) enhancement, is not dispositive because he made a strategic decision not to do so, based on the reasonable calculation that his client would be better off if the jury did not hear evidence regarding the resulting death. View "Tucker v. United States" on Justia Law

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Manley, a school board member, was not up for reelection but her allies were when she had a verbal altercation with a student who was leaf-letting for Manley’s political opponents outside a high school play. The student accused Manley of bullying; the student and her parents pursued a campaign to embarrass Manley with online petitions, newspaper articles, and comments at public meetings. The superintendent began an investigation. Manley sued to enjoin the investigation. No injunction was issued. A public report found that Manley violated a board policy calling for “mutual respect, civility and orderly conduct” at school events. The board formally admonished Manley. Manley did not seek reelection. Manley’s claim for damages was rejected on summary judgment for failure to offer evidence of a required element of a due process claim: the deprivation of a constitutionally recognized liberty or property interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Manley’s claims that she was deprived of a feeling of fair‐dealing on the part of the government; her mental and emotional well‐being; and processes mandated by the state and the district. The Constitution does not require government officials to avoid upsetting other officials; this “unprecedented theory’s threat to robust public debate is obvious.” Emotional distress alone is insufficient to prove a denial of due process. Manley identified no substantive liberty or property interest attached to the procedural rules the district allegedly violated. View "Manley v. Law" on Justia Law

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Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) investigated complaints against police, including domestic violence, excessive force, and death in custody, and made disciplinary recommendations: allegations were “sustained,” “not sustained,” “exonerated,” or “unfounded.” Investigators interviewed witnesses and procured evidence to draft reports. IPRA’s Administrator retained final responsibility for making recommendations and establishing “rules, regulations and procedures for the conduct of investigations.” Davis became an IPRA investigator in 2008. Davis alleges that in 2014-2015, his supervisors ordered Davis to change “sustained” findings and make his reports more favorable to the accused officers. Davis refused and was allegedly threatened to with termination. Davis alleges that they requested Word versions of Davis’s reports to alter them to look like Davis had made the changes. The administrator then implemented a policy requiring his approval for all “sustained” findings: if an investigator refused to make a recommended change, he would be disciplined for insubordination. Davis again refused to change “sustained” findings and was fired. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his First Amendment claims. That an employee may have good reasons to refuse an order, does “not necessarily mean the employee has a cause of action under the First Amendment when he contravenes that order.” Because IPRA required Davis to draft and revise reports, his refusal to revise those reports was speech “pursuant to [his] official duties.” He spoke as a public employee, not a private citizen. The First Amendment does not protect this speech. View "Davis v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Arreola-Castillo was convicted of a federal drug crime. Because he had at least two prior felony drug convictions, based on guilty pleas, in New Mexico, he was subject to the recidivism provisions of 21 U.S.C. 841 and received a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. Had it not been for the mandatory life sentence, Arreola-Castillo’s Guidelines sentencing range would have been 188–235 months in prison. He subsequently challenged the underlying felony drug convictions in New Mexico state court; that court ultimately vacated them on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. He moved to reopen his federal sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The district court denied his petition as time-barred under 21 U.S.C. 851(e), which prohibits an individual from challenging the validity of a prior conviction that is more than five years old at the time the government seeks the recidivism enhancement. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Arreola-Castillo is not challenging the validity of his prior convictions, but rather their very existence. Section 851(e), which assumes the existence of a prior conviction and addresses its validity, does not apply because his convictions have been vacated. The government forfeited an argument under the one-year statute of limitations for filing habeas petitions. 28 U.S.C. 2255(f). View "Arreola-Castillo v. United States" on Justia Law

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Terry, an Illinois prisoner proceeding pro se, sued prison officials and corrections administrators under 42 U.S.C. 1983 claiming that they were deliberately indifferent to a painful tumor on his neck and prevented him from timely filing suit on that claim. A district judge screened the case, 28 U.S.C. 1915A, held a “merit-review hearing,” and dismissed the complaint, ruling that it impermissibly joined two unrelated sets of claims against different defendants. Terry moved for reconsideration under Rule 59(e), stating that his claims were not unrelated. The judge denied the motion, observing that Rule 59(e) does not permit reconsideration of a nonfinal order of dismissal, and entered judgment ending the case. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The judge misunderstood his discretion to entertain Terry’s reconsideration motion. Though Rule 59(e) did not apply, a district judge may reconsider an interlocutory order at any time before final judgment. The judge should have done so; reading the complaint generously, Terry’s claims are related. The court noted that merit-review hearings at section 1915A screening must be strictly limited to “enabling a pro se plaintiff to clarify and amplify his complaint” and a transcript or other recording must be made. The record contains no transcript or digital recording of the judge’s merit-review hearing. View "Terry v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin law gives state university students rights to organize themselves and to run their governments, which have the power to spend substantial funds. Plaintiffs, the University of Wisconsin Madison (UWM) Student Association and former and current UWM students, alleged a conspiracy to interfere with student governance in violation of various rights protected by 42 U.S.C. 1983. They claim that the UWM administration excluded certain students from student government by unseating the legitimately elected officers and replacing them over several years with a supposedly “puppet” student government with a similar name, the defendant Student Association at UWM. The district court dismissed the suit with prejudice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims against the defendants who were not timely served with process and the dismissal of a right-to-organize claim under state law. The court reversed the dismissal with prejudice of the remaining claims for misjoinder, stating that it could understand the district court’s frustration, but the remedy for misjoinder is severance or dismissal without prejudice. View "UWM Student Association v. Lovell" on Justia Law

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DaSilva, a Waupan Correctional Institution inmate, received his medication one evening, then became dizzy, vomited, lost consciousness, and fell, hitting his head. DaSilva believes he was given the wrong medication. More than three hours passed before DaSilva was taken to the hospital (only five minutes away), where doctors stapled a deep laceration and diagnosed a serious concussion. DaSilva sued the officer who gave him the medication (Coby), a corrections supervisor, and Nurse DeYoung, under the Eighth Amendment. A magistrate judge concluded that Coby should be dismissed from the case because the distribution of the medication was only a mistake, which fails as a matter of law to reflect deliberate indifference. After discovery, the court, through the magistrate, granted the remaining defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit determined that the matter could proceed to appeal, even though Coby was dismissed before he had an opportunity to consent to the disposition of the case by a magistrate. There was no final judgment until after the state (representing the defendants) filed its consent and Coby was a prison employee who stood in exactly the same position as the other two defendants for purposes of legal representation. View "DaSilva v. Rymarkiewicz" on Justia Law