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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Illinois Trooper Chapman received a message about a Volkswagen with California license plates driving on I-72. Chapman spotted the Volkswagen, driven by Cole, and trailed him, intending to find a pretext for a roadside stop. After another car cut off the Volkswagen, Chapman believed that the Volkswagen trailed that car at an unreasonably close distance. Chapman stopped Cole, requested his papers, and ordered him to sit in the police cruiser. This initial stop lasted 10 minutes. Chapman spent about six minutes questioning Cole about his residence, employment, travel history, plans, vehicle history, and registration information. Chapman told Cole that he would get a warning but that they had to go to a gas station to complete the paperwork because he was concerned for their safety. Chapman testified later that he had already decided that he was not going to release Cole until he searched the car. Driving to the gas station, Chapman requested a drug-sniffing dog and learned that Cole had been arrested for drug crimes 15 years earlier. At the gas station, Cole’s answers became contradictory. Finishing the warning, 30 minutes after the stop, Chapman told Cole that he could not leave because he suspected Cole was transporting drugs. The dog arrived 10 minutes later and quickly alerted. Chapman found several kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin in a hidden compartment.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of a motion to suppress. Even assuming that the stop was permissible, the officer prolonged the stop by questioning the driver at length on subjects well beyond the legal justification for the stop, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Cole" on Justia Law

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The 1972 Shakman Decree enjoined the City of Chicago and county officials from governmental employment practices based in politics. A 1983 Decree enjoined those officials from conditioning hiring or promotions on any political considerations. After the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment’s prohibition against patronage-based firings extends to promotion, transfer, recall, or hiring decisions involving public employment for which party affiliation is not an appropriate requirement, the Clerk of Cook County entered a separate consent decree. In 1992 the Voters Organization joined the Shakman complaint. The court has dismissed some entities and officials, including Chicago and its Park District, as showing substantial compliance. In 2010 the Clerk and other defendants consented to a magistrate judge conducting further proceedings. A new magistrate and a new district judge were assigned in 2020.In 2019, plaintiffs moved for supplemental relief. The magistrate found that the Clerk violated the 1991 Decree, that the evidence strongly suggested that the Clerk’s policy of rotating employees was “instituted for the purpose" of evading the 1972 Decree, appointed a special master to oversee compliance within the Clerk’s Office, and refused the Clerk’s request to vacate the Decrees. The Seventh Circuit, noting that it lacked authority to review the appointment of the special master, affirmed the denial of the request to vacate. Sounding a “federalism concern,” the court noted the permitting a consent decree over an arm of state or local government to remain on a federal docket for decades is inconsistent with our federal structure. View "Shakman v. Clerk of Cook County" on Justia Law

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In a 1999 incident, Hale told Lewis to kill Rogers. Lewis handed his revolver to Mays, who shot Rogers multiple times, fatally. Lewis, Hale, and Mays collected drugs and money and fled. Lewis, represented by Attorney Raff, refused to consider plea offers. Lewis was convicted. At sentencing. the court found no mitigating circumstances—none being asserted by the defense—and sentenced Lewis to the maximum aggregate sentence of 130 years' imprisonment. Lewis’s appeal was unsuccessful.In post‐conviction proceedings, the state conceded that Raff “basically did not do any advocacy" at sentencing but argued that he could not have made a difference. Other witnesses at the post‐conviction hearing spoke about a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, associated substance abuse, physical abuse by Lewis's mother’s boyfriends, mental disorders in other family members, and attempted suicide. The state appellate court concluded that Lewis was not prejudiced by the deficient performance of counsel.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of habeas relief. The decision of the last responsible state court was contrary to Supreme Court precedent, in holding that “Strickland,” not “Cronic,” furnished the applicable rule, While the Indiana Court of Appeals was not unreasonable in finding that Lewis had not been prejudiced by his attorney’s substandard performance, prejudice need not be shown. Raff gave up on Lewis and left him entirely without the assistance of counsel at the sentencing stage of a felony murder case. View "Lewis v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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At 3:55 a.m. people were loitering outside a lounge when Lopez sideswiped an SUV parked in front of the lounge. Bystanders swarmed Lopez’s car, punching him through an open window. A passenger exited Lopez’s car and fired a warning shot. Lopez exited the car, grabbed the gun, and walked toward the bystanders. Raines, a Cook County correctional officer, out celebrating, arrived at 3:56:11. Lopez walked back toward his car, stopping to fire two shots at an upward angle. Raines approached Lopez with his own gun drawn. Lopez reached to open his car door. Raines started shooting at 3:56:27. Lopez, injured, dropped his gun and staggered away. Raines continued to fire. Raines pursued Lopez, who was leaning against a wall. Lopez’s passenger, Orta, picked up the dropped gun and fired at Raines at 3:56:32 a.m. For about three minutes, Orta and Raines engaged in a standoff. Raines simultaneously restrained Lopez, wounded but conscious, and used him as a human shield. At 4:00:10 a.m., Orta fled. Police and paramedics arrived. Lopez faced criminal charges.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. Raines was entitled to qualified immunity because his use of deadly force did not violate clearly established law although the video footage of the events conveys the impression that Raines might have been able to avoid any use of lethal force. View "Lopez v. Sheriff of Cook County" on Justia Law

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MacIver, a “think tank that promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government,” sponsors a “separately branded” MacIver News Service. Some of Wisconsin Governor Evers's press events are open to the public, and others are limited to subsets of the media of varying size. The Governor’s Office maintains a media advisory list to notify members of the media of events. The original list was based on newspaper circulation, radio listenership, and TV viewership.MacIver reporters learned of an invitation-only press and, although not invited, sent an RSVP. They were not admitted. Hundreds of other media personnel were also not invited to the small event. MacIver requested the criteria used to determine which journalists would be allowed access. The Governor’s Office distributed guidance for determining how media would be granted access to limited-access events, noting that the “most important consideration is that access is based on neutral criteria.” The factors were adapted from standards used by the Wisconsin Capital Correspondents Board and the U.S. Congress. According to the Governor, MacIver is not included on the list because MacIver Institute “is not principally a news organization” and “their practices run afoul of the neutral factors.”MacIver sued, citing the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Governor Evers. The press conferences were non-public fora and the criteria that the Governor used to accept or exclude media were reasonable. There is no evidence of viewpoint discrimination under any First Amendment test. View "John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, Inc. v. Evers" on Justia Law

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Todd and Shelly Cibulka drove to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where their daughter Emily was a freshman. They went to a bar and imbibed for several hours. Upon leaving, they were clearly intoxicated. Emily, wanting to get them home, called the police non-emergency number. Conducting a welfare check, Officer Johnson said he could give them a ride but the Cibulkas would not identify the location of their truck. Todd staggered toward Johnson Street. Officer Erwin thought Todd might tumble into the busy street, grabbed Todd, and told Todd to sit down. Todd would not comply. It appeared that Todd might strike the much-smaller officer. The officers took Todd to the ground to reduce the risk of harm, told him to stop resisting, and handcuffed him. Todd declined medical attention. The officers walked Todd to the squad car. Todd resisted and was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer. He was lifted into a police van and taken to jail. He was released at 2:30 the next morning, returned to his truck, and smashed through the gate instead of paying the exit fare.The Cibulkas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The officers are entitled to qualified immunity. It was reasonable for the officers to believe there was probable cause to arrest Todd for disorderly conduct and for resisting an officer; the officers stopped well short of such unnecessary roughness. View "Cibulka v. City of Madison" on Justia Law

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Chicago Officer Nelson responded to a report of an armed robbery in a high-crime area; she alleges that the radio dispatcher ignored her repeated emergency calls for information and assistance. Shift sergeant Bucki was responsible for listening to the radio transmissions and contacting the dispatcher if that person failed to respond. Nelson alleges that Bucki did not intervene when the dispatcher ignored her requests for help. Bucki later denied wrongdoing and refused to investigate why the dispatcher ignored Nelson. In her incident report, Nelson complained about the dispatcher’s failure to respond; months later, she discovered that Sergeant Boffo had edited the report to remove her complaints. Nelson developed PTSD, which she alleges was aggravated by the stress of learning that Boffo had edited her report. She has been unable to work, but remains employed by the police department and receives disability benefits. Nelson filed charges of race and sex discrimination with the EEOC and Illinois Department of Human Rights.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of her substantive due process rights by failing to protect her from danger and her procedural due process rights by causing her PTSD and depriving her of a property interest in her job. There was no conscience-shocking abuse of government power nor any affirmative action on by Bucki. View "Nelson v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Sanders pled guilty to six drug offense counts. She was sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment and is serving her sentence at Federal Correctional Institution Coleman Low in Florida. In 2020, Coleman Low experienced outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease and COVID‐19. In July 2020, Sanders filed an “Emergency Motion for Compassionate Release” under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), citing her health problems: cardio obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, obesity, and Type II diabetes. She is 59 years old and a former heavy smoker. The government’s response indicated that Sanders had tested positive for COVID‐19 on July 15 and that any symptoms had subsided by July 23.On August 4, the district court denied Sanders’s motion, detailing her criminal history and medical history and finding that section 1B1.13 of the Sentencing Guidelines and the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors weighed against her release. The court concluded that home confinement would be unsuitable, noting that a methamphetamine lab had been found in her kitchen. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although Sanders was foreclosed from addressing the medical records attached in the government’s response, the district court did not abuse its discretion or deny Sanders due process. View "United States v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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On April 21, 1992, two gunmen fired multiple shots at Johnson and his friends. Both friends died. Johnson survived, identified one shooter by his street name “Duke,” and described the car he drove. Hours later, the police pulled over a vehicle matching Johnson’s description and arrested Kirkman and Cal, who matched Johnson's description. Kirkman had the name Duke tattooed on his arm. Johnson identified the men as the shooters from a photo array and at trial--the only evidence linking them to the crime. Defense witnesses testified that Cal stood observing the crime scene for 45 minutes and that a month after the shooting, Johnson stated that the defendants were not the shooters. Both defendants were sentenced to mandatory life without parole. The court later reduced Cal’s sentence to 60 years because he was 17 at the time of the crimes. Cal has been granted supervised release.After Johnson recanted, stating under oath that neither Cal nor Kirkman were the shooters, Cal brought an actual innocence claim. The Illinois court denied relief. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit denied Cal habeas corpus relief as it had denied Kirkman’s petition. While the Illinois court’s decision was not “flawless,” it considered that the recantation was internally inconsistent and implausible, Johnson had no motivation to lie at trial, and he backpedaled from his trial testimony out of loyalty to his former gang. Even a strong case for relief does not mean that a state court’s contrary conclusion was unreasonable. View "Cal v. Garnett" on Justia Law

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Fort Wayne officers received tips about Bacon, who had previously been arrested for selling cocaine from his home. They conducted two controlled buys using confidential informants who had proven reliable in past cases. In both cases, the informant was searched before and after the buy but the actual purchases were conducted by acquaintances of the informants. Each acquaintance acquired drugs and stated that Bacon had weapons all over his apartment. The officers heard these conversations; the informant was wearing a wire. A state-court judge issued a warrant authorizing a search of the apartment. Officers found guns, ammunition, a bulletproof vest, suspected bombs, large quantities of meth, cocaine, and fentanyl, a digital scale, and a drug ledger. Officers stopped Bacon and searched his car; they found drugs and several guns. Both "acquaintances" were later arrested on drug charges,The district court denied a motion to suppress and a motion for a Franks hearing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While these controlled buys present novel risks, they were reliable indicators that Bacon was selling drugs from his home. By all appearances, the middlemen did not know that they were participating in controlled buys and had no apparent motive for deception. That the officers did not know or search the middlemen and that neither they nor the confidential informants saw or heard the actual purchases was “clear from the face of the affidavit” so a Franks hearing was not required. View "United States v. Bacon" on Justia Law