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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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On August 17, 2004, Randall opened fire on Copeland’s vehicle while Copeland drove by. Copeland’s car was struck by gunfire. No one was injured. Armfield and Nelson were present. Later that evening, Randall spotted Copeland again. Armfield and Nelson armed themselves. They tracked down Copeland. As Copeland approached an intersection, Randall gave the signal. Armfield and Nelson sprang from their car and fired into Copeland's vehicle, killing him.The state charged the three with first-degree murder. Two separate trials occurred simultaneously before the same judge, with the juries and defendants shuffling in and out depending on the evidence presented. During deliberations, the Armfield/Randall jury requested a transcript of certain witnesses’ testimony. The court, by mistake, tendered a transcript containing the prosecutor’s opening statements from Nelson’s case. The Armfield/Randall jury had not heard this version, in which the prosecutor referenced a videotaped statement from Nelson that purported to implicate all three defendants in the murder. In Armfield's trial, the state leaned primarily on two witnesses. The jury convicted Armfield of first-degree murder. Illinois courts rejected Armfield’s appellate argument that disclosing the reference to Nelson’s confession deprived him of a fair trial and a collateral attack, arguing that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. Armfield’s Confrontation Clause claim failed because the state’s strong case against him renders any constitutional error harmless. Armfield cannot show trial counsel’s shortcomings resulted in prejudice. View "Armfield v. Nicklaus" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Higgs, Haynes, and Gloria picked up three women. They ultimately drove the women to the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, federal land. Haynes shot and killed the women with Higgs's gun. Higgs and Haynes were charged with three counts of each: first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree murder committed in the perpetration of kidnapping, kidnapping resulting in death, and using a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.The court imposed concurrent life sentences on Haynes. Higgs’s jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts and recommended a death sentence for each murder and kidnapping count under the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act. The court imposed nine death sentences, with 45 consecutive years for the 924(c) convictions. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Higgs unsuccessfully pursued post-conviction relief.In 2016 Higgs unsuccessfully asked the Fourth Circuit for permission to file a new 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, seeking to invalidate his section 924(c) convictions based on the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Davis” holding that 924(c)(3)(B), providing enhanced penalties for using a firearm during a “crime of violence,” is unconstitutionally vague.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a subsequent petition in the jurisdiction in which Higgs is incarcerated. Higgs cannot satisfy the 28 U.S.C. 2255(e) savings clause and therefore may not pursue habeas relief under section 2241. There is nothing structurally inadequate or ineffective about using section 2255 to bring a Davis-based claim. View "Higgs v. Watson" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs challenged Indiana’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) as it applies to offenders who have relocated to Indiana from other states. A 2006 SORA amendment applied the statute’s requirements to any “person who is required to register as a sex offender in any jurisdiction.” Indiana does not require any person to register if the offense occurred prior to SORA, provided that person remains a resident of Indiana. Persons with pre-SORA convictions who relocate to Indiana from another state where registration was required must register in Indiana, even if Indiana would not have required them to register had they committed their offenses in Indiana and never left.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that this application of SORA violates the plaintiffs’ right to travel. The amendment relies exclusively upon another state’s decision to require an offender to register and is necessarily using an offender’s travel as the trigger for its registration requirement. Indiana has created two classes of otherwise similarly-situated citizens based on whether they previously lived (or were otherwise present) in a state that required them to register. The distinction is purposeful; it expressly looks to what obligations have been imposed on a person elsewhere to determine what obligations he will now have in Indiana. The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits this differential treatment. View "Hope v. Commissioner of Indiana Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Two days after Wisconsin certified the results of its 2020 election, the President invoked the Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution and sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Governor, Secretary of State, and several local officials. The district court concluded that the President’s challenges lacked merit, as he objected only to the administration of the election, yet the Electors Clause only addresses the authority of the State’s Legislature to prescribe the manner of appointing its presidential electors. The court concluded that the President’s claims would fail even under a broader, alternative reading of the Electors Clause that extended to a state’s conduct of the presidential election.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wisconsin lawfully appointed its electors in the manner directed by its Legislature. The President’s claim also fails because of the unreasonable delay that accompanied the challenges the President now wishes to advance against Wisconsin’s election procedures. The Supreme Court has indicated that federal courts should avoid announcing or requiring changes in election law and procedures close in time to voting. The President had a full opportunity before the election to pursue challenges to Wisconsin law underlying his present claims; he cannot now—after the election results have been certified as final— seek to bring those challenges. View "Trump v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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Hill filed suit in state court, asking a judge to compel Young, his prison’s warden, to mail two complaints that Hill wanted to file in federal court. The defendants removed Hill’s suit to federal court. The district judge dismissed the complaint, observing that its records showed that the two complaints at issue had been filed.At Hill’s request, the Seventh Circuit vacated language from the judgment: “This dismissal shall count as one of [Hill’s] allotted ‘strikes’ under" 28 U.S.C. 1915(g). This statute provides: In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal ... under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained ... brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed" as frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.Section 1915(g) requires prepayment of the docket fees only if the plaintiff has thrice “brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States” decided on one of the listed grounds. Hill did not “bring” this suit in a court of the United States. Defendants brought it to federal court under 28 U.S.C. 1441(a). This suit does not count as a “strike.” While the comment is dicta and is not binding in future litigation, it aggrieves Hill by drawing a future judge’s attention to this suit. View "Hill v. Madison County" on Justia Law

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In 2014-2016, Onamuti, a Nigerian citizen, led an identity-theft ring responsible for filing almost 1,500 tax returns and netting $5 million in illicit refunds. Charged with 11 counts of presenting false claims, 18 U.S.C. 287, nine counts of identity theft, section 1028(a)(7), two counts of aggravated identity theft, section 1028A, and conspiracy to defraud the government, section 371, Onamuti pleaded guilty to one count each of false claims, identity theft, and aggravated identity theft. Onamuti expressly acknowledged that, while his plea “may have consequences” for his immigration status, he wanted to accept responsibility. He certified that he had read the agreement, discussed it with his attorney, and understood its terms. Onamuti also “expressly waive[d]” the right to appeal “on any ground” except a claim alleging the ineffective assistance of counsel. During his plea colloquy, Onamuti confirmed under oath that, by pleading guilty, he “may very well be deported” and that he was waiving his appellate rights. The district court sentenced him to 204 months’ imprisonment.Onamuti sought to withdraw his plea, arguing that his lawyer failed to advise him that his convictions would subject him to mandatory deportation. The district court denied the motion without an evidentiary hearing. The Seventh Circuit dismissed his appeal without addressing the merits. Onamuti is bound by the waiver of appeal. The court noted that “almost invariably, defendants are better served by pursuing such claims on collateral review under 28 U.S.C. 2254 or 2255.” View "United States v. Onamuti" on Justia Law

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Banks was charged with conspiracy and aiding and abetting a robbery of the Gary, Indiana Post Office, where she worked, 18 U.S.C. 371, 2114(a). After a five-day trial and four hours of deliberation, at about 8:45 p.m., the jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts. At the request of Banks’s counsel, the judge polled the jurors. The first four affirmed the verdict. The fifth did not. When asked whether the guilty verdict was in fact his verdict, Juror 32 responded, “Forced into.” The judge repeated the question. Juror 32 responded that he needed more time. The remaining jurors affirmed the verdict, singling out Juror 32 as the lone dissenter. The judge instructed the jurors to continue deliberating and sent them back to the jury room at 9:06 p.m. Twenty-nine minutes later, the jury again returned a guilty verdict. This time the poll confirmed a unanimous decision.The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded for a new trial. The totality of the circumstances, most notably, Juror 32’s troubling responses to the poll questions, the judge’s decision to complete the poll notwithstanding the juror’s dissent, the lateness of the hour, and the extreme brevity of the jury’s renewed deliberations, were unacceptably coercive. View "United States v. Banks" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin grants public-sector employees the right to bargain collectively through the State Employment Labor Relations Act (SELRA) and the Municipal Employment Relations Act (MERA). In 2011, SELRA and MERA were amended by Act 10, which divided Wisconsin state and municipal employees into “[p]ublic safety employee[s],” which includes police officers, firefighters, and deputy sheriffs, and “general municipal employee[s],” i.e., everyone else. A subsequent amendment created a class of “[t]ransit employee[s].” Public safety and transit employees and their unions continue to operate under the pre-Act 10 scheme but for general employees, Act 10 limited the scope of employers’ collective bargaining obligations, prohibiting bargaining over anything except increases to base wages and mandating that general employee unions submit to an annual recertification election. Certification now requires affirmative votes from an absolute majority of all employees in the bargaining unit, not just those voting. Act 10 bars public employers from deducting union dues from the earnings of general employees.The Seventh Circuit has previously rejected two challenges to Act 10’s constitutionality and affirmed the dismissal of this First Amendment suit, filed a public-employee labor union and two of its members, challenging the annual recertification requirement, the limitations on collective bargaining, and the prohibition on payroll deduction of union dues. View "International Union of Operating Engineers v. Daley" on Justia Law

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Knudtson worked for Trempealeau County for over 45 years. She eventually became a paralegal/office manager in the District Attorney’s Office. When his friend, the Jackson County District Attorney, died, McMahon, the Trempealeau County District Attorney, closed his office for a day and encouraged his staff to attend the funeral. Knudtson refused to attend because she wanted to complete work at the office. McMahon offered Knudtson three choices: work from home, attend the funeral, or take a vacation day. The disagreement became a bitter dispute. The County placed Knudtson on paid leave. Knudtson declined another position at the same pay grade. The County had no other available position and terminated her employment.Knudtson filed suit, citing the Establishment Clause because the funeral took place at a church and involved a religious service. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Knudtson acknowledged that when she stated that she did not want to attend the funeral, she did not know that it would be a religious service; her decision not to attend had nothing to do with its religious nature. Organizing a delegation from a public office to attend a funeral normally raises no implication that the government, or any officials, endorse the deceased person's religion. View "Knudtson v. Trempealeau County" on Justia Law

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The Cook County Jail houses primarily people who have not yet been convicted. Under the jail’s “paper triage” policy, a detainee who has dental pain and wants treatment must submit a health service request form (HSRF). Staff review the HSRF and categorize it as “routine,” “priority,” or “urgent.” The detainee is referred to a dentist for treatment in three to 30 days, depending on the categorization. Most detainees do not receive a face-to-face assessment from a nurse or higher-level practitioner before they see a dentist. An assessment could identify bona fide complaints of dental pain or reveal serious medical issues and would allow a nurse to dispense over-the-counter pain medication.McFields, a former detainee, filed a putative class action, alleging that detainees suffered gratuitous pain as a result of the paper triage policy. They alleged that the standard of care for processing a health service request requires a face-to-face assessment within 48 hours and that the jail’s policy is objectively unreasonable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification, noting that each detainee presents a different situation that involved a different type of pain, took place at a different time, and involved different medical professionals and prison staff. McFields failed to satisfy the commonality and typicality requirements of Rule 23. Individual issues predominate over common questions. View "McFields v. Dart" on Justia Law