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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Police arrested Pulera on suspicion of bail jumping and took him to the Kenosha Pre-Trial Facility. About 48 hours later, Pulera attempted to hang himself in his cell. Correctional officers swiftly cut him down and called for an ambulance that saved his life. While at the facility, Pulera never told any official that he was contemplating suicide. Pulera did submit three requests for his prescription medications--clonazepam, apparently prescribed for anxiety, and tramadol, an opioid pain-reliever for his chronic pain from a back injury. He reported physical symptoms relating to not having those drugs and was seen by a nurse, who recorded that he had normal vital signs. Pulera was not given the pills because several of his pills were missing and the doctor inferred that Pulera could have already taken them. Pulera alleges that he had previously been on suicide watch at the facility and that his brother and his mother had recently committed suicide. The district court rejected Pulera’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Given Pulera’s express statement that he was not considering suicide and the absence of more significant indirect signs, no rational jury could find that Pulera was unreasonably placed in the general population. A jury could not infer that depriving Pulera of his medications might be deadly from the mere fact that a physician had prescribed them. View "Pulera v. Sarzant" on Justia Law

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Henderson joined the VA police department Hines VA Hospital in 1986. Henderson filed an employment discrimination action against the Department of Veteran Affairs. After being denied a promotion in 2013, Henderson, who is African American, alleged race and age discrimination and retaliation claims, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment for the VA, following a remand for a determination of whether the VA’s explanations for not selecting Henderson for a criminal investigator position were a pretext for racial discrimination. The district court acted properly with respect to testimony on subjects not disclosed in Henderson’s interrogatory answer. Henderson failed to explain the substance of the testimony he sought to present so it is not possible to conclude that the district court erred in excluding it. The court’s decision that it would not permit evidence of discriminatory action against other African Americans after the award of the criminal investigator job was proper because some of those actions are in litigation; the slight additional value from the cumulative evidence was outweighed by the risk of jury confusion. View "Henderson v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed Felders’s conviction as a felon possessing a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), and his 96-month sentence, rejecting an argument that his statements should have been suppressed because the police did not give him the required “Miranda” warnings. Felders testified that the police had not given him warnings of any kind. Officer Price testified that he had taken from his credential case a card, issued by the state police, with warnings and read Felders the advice on that card. On appeal, Felders no longer denied that Price read him warnings from a card but claimed that the record does not show that the statements read from the card satisfy Miranda. The Seventh Circuit held that Felders had the burden of persuasion and, on a silent record, he cannot show that any error occurred. The district judge could have asked Price to read the card aloud, but the absence of this information cuts against Felders given the plain-error burden. The court stated that it had no “reason to believe that Indiana, or any other state, distributes warning cards that fail to satisfy the Supreme Court’s requirements.” View "United States v. Felders" on Justia Law

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Officer Francisko, checking hunters’ licenses, approached a van parked on the side of a road. Armed hunters had just emerged from the woods. The driver, Cataline, was acting strangely but handed Francisko his driver’s license. While Francisko was doing a license check, Cataline called 911 and said: “I am in a lot of trouble … I think I am going to be disappearing.” He then hung up. Francisko told Cataline that he was free to go. The 911 operator reached Officer Kuehl’s supervisor, who told him to stop Cataline to check whether he was fit to drive. The officers followed Cataline’s van, pulled it over, and asked Cataline to turn off the engine. He did not comply but stared straight ahead. After ignoring three requests, Cataline put the van into reverse, turned, and pointed the van west in the eastbound lanes of the Interstate. Cataline then made another turn and plowed the van into the side of Kuehl’s car. Kuehl and Francisko say that Kuehl was pinned behind the door. Francisko shot Cataline, who died at the scene. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment in a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Cataline’s behavior and the odd 911 call would have led an officer to be concerned that he posed a danger to himself and others. Francisko and Kuehl testified that they saw the van cross the white line on the highway several times. The stop was reasonable and compatible with the Fourth Amendment. View "Gysan v. Francisko" on Justia Law

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Brown, a detainee at Wisconsin’s Polk County Jail, underwent a physical search of her body cavities. The institution had a written policy authorizing such a search to be conducted by medical personnel when there was reasonable suspicion to believe an inmate was internally hiding contraband. Fellow inmates had reported that Brown was concealing methamphetamine inside her body, which prompted jail staff to invoke the policy. Officers took Brown to a hospital, where a doctor and nurse first conducted an ultrasound, then inspected both her vagina and rectum in a private room without officers present. The search revealed no drugs. Brown sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The defendants had reasonable suspicion that Brown was concealing contraband, their suspicion justified the cavity search, and the ensuing search was reasonable. View "Brown v. Polk County" on Justia Law

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Marling was arrested while driving his car. Police took an inventory. The trunk held a locked box. An officer opened the box with a screwdriver and found illegal drugs. Marling was armed, despite felony convictions. After unsuccessfully moving to suppress the box's contents, Marling received a 38-year sentence, as a habitual criminal. He filed an unsuccessful state court collateral attack, arguing that his lawyers furnished ineffective assistance by not arguing that opening the box damaged the box, in violation of police policy. The court of appeals found that the record did not establish damage to the box. A federal district court issued a writ of habeas corpus, ruling that a photograph showed damage to the box. The Seventh Circuit reversed. A factual mistake by a state court does not support collateral relief unless a correction shows that the petitioner “is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties” of the U.S. Not every departure from any policy violates the Fourth Amendment. The policy at issue states an officer “should avoid” opening a container when that would cause “unreasonable potential damage.” The policy is valid: it combines a presumptive rule of opening everything with a discretionary exception. Because the policy is valid, the search is valid. A district judge’s disagreement about whether the officer followed the local policy is not a sufficient ground for collateral relief. View "Marling v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Lee and Kehoe, members of a white supremacist organization, traveled from Washington to the Arkansas home of Mueller, a firearms dealer. After stealing about $30,000 worth of weapons and $50,000 in cash and coins, the two stunned Mueller, his wife, and his eight-year-old daughter and sealed plastic bags over their heads, then threw them into the Illinois Bayou. The bodies were discovered months later. The two were convicted under 18 U.S.C. 1959(a)(1). Kehoe’s jury returned a verdict of life in prison. At Lee’s sentencing, prosecutors introduced evidence of his involvement in a 1990 Oklahoma murder; the government’s expert testified that Lee had a test score in the psychopathy range. The Eighth Circuit affirmed Lee’s death sentence. Lee pursued collateral review. The government scheduled Lee’s execution for December 2019. He again sought relief. The district court stayed Lee’s execution. The Seventh Circuit vacated the stay, stating that Lee’s likelihood of success on the merits was “slim” because both claims—Brady claims alleging suppression of exculpatory evidence and Strickland claims alleging ineffective assistance of counsel—are “regularly made and resolved under section 2255,” so the remedy cannot be called “inadequate or ineffective” for purposes of the Savings Clause in section 2241. The evidence Lee claims is “newly discovered” was known to him and publicly available in the court record of his Oklahoma murder case. Lee’s execution was rescheduled for July 13, 2020. The judge denied Lee’s Rule 59 motion. The Seventh Circuit denied relief, finding Lee’s arguments frivolous. View "Lee v. Watson" on Justia Law

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Illinois permits voters to place initiatives and referenda on both local and statewide ballots but requires proponents to collect a specific number of signatures during a period of 18 months. That period ended for the state on May 3, 2020, and will end for the city on August 3. Plaintiffs filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, contending that the state’s requirements are unconstitutional, given the social-distancing requirements adopted by Illinois' Governor during the COVID-19 pandemic. A district judge denied relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first holding that at least one plaintiff (Morgan) had standing because began his petition campaign before filing suit. During most of the time available to seek signatures, Morgan did nothing. The other plaintiffs did not do anything of substance until the suit was filed. They had plenty of time to gather signatures before the pandemic began and are not entitled to emergency relief. The Governor’s orders did not limit their speech. The orders concern conduct, not what anyone may write or say. Although the orders make it hard to obtain signatures, so would the reluctance of people to approach strangers during a pandemic. The federal Constitution does not require any state or local government to put referenda or initiatives on the ballot; if the Governor’s orders, coupled with the signature requirements, amount to a decision to skip all referenda for the 2020 election cycle, there is no federal problem. View "Morgan v. White" on Justia Law

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A nurse accused Indiana prisoner Douglas of threatening her in the infirmary. Based on this accusation, Douglas was convicted of a disciplinary offense. Douglas appealed. The prison’s superintendent overturned the conviction about 18 days later for lack of evidence. In the meantime, Douglas was placed in “segregation” housing, lost his job as a “wheelchair pusher,” and stopped receiving wages. After his successful appeal, Douglas was returned to the normal cell block but not to his original cell. Douglas sought return to his old cell, reinstatement to his old job or a better one, and back pay. Douglas eventually received a new job and back pay but he lodged several more grievances. He filed suit (42 U.S.C. 1983) alleging violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. The district court screened the complaint, 28 U.S.C. 1915A(b), and allowed only the First Amendment claim against his casework manager, Reeves, to proceed. Douglas asserted that Reeves punished him for taking his appeal by refusing to restore his benefits. Later, the court granted summary judgment, rejecting that claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No reasonable jury could conclude that Reeves inflicted deprivations on Douglas likely to deter a person of ordinary firmness from engaging in First Amendment activity. View "Douglas v. Reeves" on Justia Law

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Williams was convicted in Illinois state court in two separate cases for raping two women and received sentences totaling 66 years’ imprisonment. Williams contends that his defense attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel by not only advising him to reject a 41-year plea offer but also failing to inform him of his maximum sentencing exposure if he proceeded to trial in both cases and lost. An Illinois court rejected these claims, concluding that Williams failed to provide any information pertinent to one of the two cases that gave rise to the 41-year plea offer. Without knowing anything about that case, the Illinois court reasoned, there was no way to assess defense counsel’s performance and no way to conclude that Williams received ineffective assistance. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his federal habeas petition, finding the Illinois court’s conclusion reasonable. The Illinois Appellate Court sensibly concluded that it had too little information to judge the advice Williams received in connection with the 41-year plea offer. Without even a superficial familiarity with one of the cases, a court could not know with confidence that Williams would have accepted a combined 41- year plea. View "Williams v. Jackson" on Justia Law