Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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An Illinois jury convicted Czech of first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm for his role in a gang-related drive-by shooting that resulted in the death of a 14-year-old bystander. Czech argued on direct appeal that his counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the felony murder instruction that was submitted to the jury in conjunction with a general verdict. The Illinois Appellate Court determined that the felony murder instruction violated Illinois law, but concluded the error was harmless. The Supreme Court of Illinois declined further review. The federal district court denied 28 U.S.C. 2254 relief, reasoning that, although the conviction violated clearly established federal law, the error did not have a substantial and injurious effect on the verdict. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In 2004, when the Illinois court affirmed the conviction, no Supreme Court precedent clearly established that a conviction entered on a general verdict was unconstitutional merely because the jury instructions included a legal theory that was invalid under state law Even subsequent law did not expressly hold that instructing a jury on multiple theories of guilt, one of which is legally improper, is a constitutional error. In addition, Czech is not entitled to relief because, even if constitutional error were shown, the error was harmless: a properly instructed jury would have delivered the same verdict. View "Czech v. Melvin" on Justia Law

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Bradford was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 846; transfer of a firearm to a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(1); two counts of distribution of cocaine base, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B), (b)(1)(C); possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, section 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(D); and possession of a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The jury acquitted him of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting his challenge to the denial of his motion to suppress evidence recovered in a search of his home pursuant to a warrant. Bradford claimed that the warrant application relied on statements from a confidential informant but omitted information damaging to the informant’s credibility. The informant’s information was quite detailed and robustly corroborated with ample additional evidence from the ATF’s investigation. Considering the warrant application as a whole, the omission of facts bearing negatively on the informant’s credibility was not fatal to the probable-cause finding. The court also upheld the denial of his pretrial motion to exclude evidence that he used the firearms seized in the search or directed others to use them; Rule 403 is a balancing test and there was no plain error. View "United States v. Bradford" on Justia Law

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Hrobowski was convicted of federal firearms offenses in 2006 and sentenced to 264 months’ imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e) based on prior Illinois state‐law convictions: aggravated battery, second‐degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and aggravated fleeing from a police officer. Hrobowski first unsuccessfully moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel; he then unsuccessfully sought authorization to file a successive petition alleging a "Brady" violation. He then filed an unsuccessful petition under Descamps and Alleyne. Hrobowski then sought authorization to file a successive section 2255 petition following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Johnson decision, invalidating ACCA’s residual clause. Petitions based on Johnson errors generally satisfy the requirement for filing a successive section 2255 petition: the Johnson decision was a new rule of constitutional law, and the Supreme Court made the rule retroactive. Hrobowski claimed that he was discharged from the second‐degree murder conviction in 1998 and from the aggravated discharge of a firearm conviction in 2002 and that his civil rights were fully restored. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of the petition. One prior conviction was based on the residual clause but the Johnson violation was harmless as Hrobowski had three other prior violent felonies. His claim that two of his other convictions should not be considered prior violent felonies because his rights were restored is procedurally barred. View "Hrobowski v. United States" on Justia Law

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Perez‐Gonzalez pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for his role in a gang‐related killing and agreed to cooperate. His plea agreement stated: Any deviation from that truthful [testimony against a co-defendant] will be grounds for the [state] at [its] sole discretion–to withdraw its agreement to delete reference to a firearm as well as to withdraw its agreement to vacate the 15‐year add‐on. In such event, the defendant would then be required to serve the terms of the initial agreement. It makes no reference to refusal to testify. More than one year later, as the trial of a co‐defendant approached, Perez‐Gonzalez declined to testify. He was convicted of contempt of court, resulting in an additional 10‐year sentence. After exhausting his state court remedies, Perez‐Gonzalez sought habeas corpus relief, asserting the state breached the plea agreement by requesting the contempt sanction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, rejecting an argument that the plea agreement immunized Perez-Gonzalez from contempt proceedings. Although he presented a reasonable interpretation of the agreement, he has not proved that the state appellate court’s alternative interpretation was unreasonable; the agreement contained no express or implied promise that the state would not bring contempt charges. Perez‐Gonzalez must do more than provide an alternative reading of the plea agreement. View "Perez-Gonzalez v. Lashbrook" on Justia Law

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Milwaukee County hired Thicklen in 2012 as a jail corrections officer. A zero-tolerance policy forbids corrections officers from having any sexual contact with inmates. The county repeatedly instructed Thicklen not to engage in any such contact and trained him to avoid it. Thicklen gave answers to quizzes indicating he understood the training. He nonetheless raped Shonda Martin in jail. Martin sued him and sued the county for indemnification under Wisconsin Statute 895.46. A jury awarded her $6,700,000 against the county, finding that the assaults were in the scope of employment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Martin and the verdict, no reasonable jury could find the sexual assaults were in the scope of Thicklen’s employment; that the sexual assaults were natural, connected, ordinary parts or incidents of contemplated services; that the assaults were of the same or similar kind of conduct as that Thicklen was employed to perform; or that the assaults were actuated even to a slight degree by a purpose to serve County. No reasonable jury could even regard the sexual assaults as improper methods of carrying out employment objectives. Martin presented no evidence that his training was deficient or that Thicklen did not understand it. View "Martin v. Milwaukee County" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Mayberry was convicted in Wisconsin state court of multiple counts of second-degree sexual assault and one count of false imprisonment. Mayberry unsuccessfully challenged his convictions on both direct and collateral review in Wisconsin state court. After having one federal habeas corpus petition, 28 U.S.C. 2254, dismissed as premature, Mayberry fully exhausted his state-court remedies and refiled his petition in the district court. By this point, however, the one-year statute of limitations in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. 2244(d), had expired, so the district court dismissed Mayberry’s petition as untimely. Mayberry argued that he is entitled to equitable tolling on account of his history of mental illness, illiteracy, and lack of counsel to assist him, or, alternatively, that the district court should have held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether his mental limitations warranted equitable tolling. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Mayberry failed to meet the “high bar” necessary to qualify for equitable tolling. Although Mayberry’s mental limitations undoubtedly made filing a petition for habeas corpus difficult, he failed to show how those difficulties affected him during the relevant time period to such an extent that he qualifies for the extraordinary remedy of equitable tolling. View "Mayberry v. Dittmann" on Justia Law

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Regional transmission organizations manage the interstate grid for electricity, conduct auctions through which many large generators of electricity sell most or all of their power, and are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Illinois subsidizes nuclear generation facilities by granting “zero emission credits,” which generators that use coal or gas to produce power must purchase from the recipients at a price set by the state. Electricity producers and municipalities sued, contending that the price‐adjustment aspect of the system is preempted by the Federal Power Act because it impinges on the FERC’s regulatory authority. They acknowledge that a state may levy a tax on carbon emissions; tax the assets and incomes of power producers; tax revenues to subsidize generators; or create a cap‐and‐trade system requiring every firm that emits carbon to buy credits from firms that emit less carbon. They argued that the zero‐emission‐credit system indirectly regulates the auction by using average auction prices as a component in a formula that affects the credits' cost. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Illinois has not engaged in discrimination beyond that required to regulate within its borders. All Illinois carbon‐emitting plants need to buy credits. The subsidy’s recipients are in Illinois. The price effect of the statute is felt wherever the power is used. All power (from inside and outside Illinois) goes for the same price in an interstate auction. The cross‐subsidy among producers may injure investors in carbon‐ releasing plants, but only plants in Illinois. View "Village of Old Mill Creek v. Star" on Justia Law

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Liberty PAC sued Illinois officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that campaign contribution limits set by the Illinois Disclosure and Regulation of Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Act, violated the First Amendment. Invoking the intermediate-scrutiny framework, Liberty PAC challenged specific provisions as not closely drawn to prevent quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. The Act sets lower contribution limits for individuals than for corporations, unions, and other associations; allows political parties to make unlimited contributions to candidates during a general election; lifts the contribution limits for all candidates in a race if one candidate’s self-funding or support from independent expenditure groups exceeds $250,000 in a statewide race or $100,000 in any other election; and allows certain legislators to form “legislative caucus committees,” which, like political party committees, are permitted to make unlimited contributions during a general election. The district judge dismissed the first three claims as foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent. After a bench trial, the judge held that legislative caucus committees are sufficiently similar to political party committees to justify their identical treatment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Supreme Court campaign-finance cases plainly foreclose any argument that the contribution limits for individual donors are too low or that the limits for other donors are too high. The court rejected an argument that the Act is fatally underinclusive by favoring certain classes of donors. View "Illinois Liberty PAC v. Madigan" on Justia Law

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On March 18, 2011, Manuel was arrested charged with possessing unlawful drugs. He was held in jail pending trial; on May 4, 2011 the prosecutor dismissed all charges after concluding that the pills Manuel had been carrying were legal. On April 22, 2013, Manuel filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The next day he was released. In 2017, the Supreme Court held that Manuel is entitled to seek damages on the ground that detention without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment and remanded the question whether Manuel sued in time. Illinois law gave Manuel two years from the claim’s accrual but federal law defines when a claim accrues. The Seventh Circuit determined that the claim was timely. Manuel’s claim accrued on May 5, when he was released from custody. While many Fourth Amendment cases concern pre-custody events that can be litigated without awaiting vindication on the criminal charges, Manuel contests the propriety of his detention. When a wrong is ongoing rather than discrete, the limitations period does not commence until the wrong ends. Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution is the wrong characterization of Manuel’s case; the problem is wrongful custody. A claim cannot accrue until the would-be plaintiff is entitled to sue, yet the existence of detention forbids a suit for damages contesting that detention’s validity. View "Manuel v. City of Joliet" on Justia Law

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Rhodes was convicted of first‐degree intentional homicide and first‐degree recklessly endangering safety for shooting two victims, killing Davis. The prosecution’s theory was that Rhodes and his brother shot Davis, who was an ex‐boyfriend of their sister, Nari, and that the other victim was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Nari had suffered a severe beating the day before Davis was murdered. Nari’s direct testimony focused on her injuries from the beating the day before. When Rhodes tried to cross‐examine Nari to rebut the motive theory, the judge limited the questioning and did not allow evidence of prior beatings. In 2010, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed Rhodes’s conviction, finding that his Confrontation Clause rights were violated and that the violation was not harmless. The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the conviction in 2011. Rhodes then sought federal habeas corpus relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(1). The district court agreed that Rhodes had shown a clear Confrontation Clause violation but found that the violation was harmless. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The state courts violated clearly established federal law in violating Rhodes’s Confrontation Clause rights. Given the importance of the motive issue and the overall balance of evidence in the trial, the constitutional error was not harmless. View "Rhodes v. Dittmann" on Justia Law