Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Between 2012 and 2013, the Kankakee, Illinois Detention Center prohibited inmates from receiving any newspapers. While awaiting trial on bank robbery charges, Miller’s family bought him a $279 subscription to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin to help him with his case. Deeming the Law Bulletin a newspaper, jail officials precluded Miller from receiving it. Miller challenged the jail’s prohibition and confiscation of the publication and sought to recover the subscription fee. The district court addressed the broader question of whether the jail’s ban on all newspapers offended the First Amendment, upheld the newspaper ban, and awarded the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court erred in reaching and resolving such a broad constitutional question. Miller’s claim was that Law Bulletin was a legal publication, not a newspaper; the record was not fully developed as it pertains to the jail’s restriction on legal publications. The court noted that the Center had no law library, and while inmates had access to an electronic database with Illinois legal resources, there was a dearth of material on federal law in the jail. The court further noted that the district court had not addressed Miller’s due process claim. View "Miller v. Downey" on Justia Law

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Delhorno, age 42, came to the U.S. with his parents when he was three years old. Living as a lawful permanent resident, he was pulled over for speeding. A drug-detection canine alerted to the presence of drugs. Officers discovered four kilograms of cocaine in a trap compartment. Delhorno pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine with intent to distribute. His hearing was more than a year after the Supreme Court held (Padilla v. Kentucky), that a defense lawyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to advise his client that his guilty plea would subject him to automatic deportation. Although the judge was informed of his status, there was no discussion about the immigration consequences of Delhorno’s guilty plea. Delhorno was sentenced to 60 months. Delhorno never filed an appeal or a habeas corpus petition. In 2017, Delhorno completed his prison sentence and was deported to Mexico. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Delhorno's petition for a writ of coram nobis without a hearing. The common-law remedy of coram nobis is available to correct errors in criminal cases, only when the error is of the most fundamental character as to render the conviction invalid, there are sound reasons for the defendant’s failure to seek earlier relief, and the defendant continues to suffer from his conviction although he is out of custody. Delhorno cannot offer “sound reasons” for failing to seek earlier relief through a direct appeal or habeas corpus petition. View "United States v. Delhorno" on Justia Law

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Officers stopped Vaccaro for running a red light. Vaccaro made a “ferocious move,” leaning “his entire top torso and both arms into the back seat.” Afraid that Vaccaro might be trying to “gain control of something from the back seat,” the officers ordered Vaccaro out of his car, immediately handcuffed Vaccaro and patted him down. Vaccaro expressed frustration, stating that “people are trying to kill me” and that he merely “took [his] coat off” when he pulled over. Vaccaro appeared to be in a “real amped‐up state,” making the officers believe that Vaccaro was under the influence of drugs. There was a GPS monitor on Vaccaro’s ankle. Vaccaro confirmed that he was on supervision for “false imprisonment,” which the officers understood to be a felony. The officers noticed a rifle case in the backseat but did not want to alert an “agitated” Vaccaro that they had seen it. They locked Vaccaro in the backseat of their squad car, removed a coat on top of the rifle case, and found a rifle inside. Vaccaro conditionally pled guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon. The Seventh Circuit upheld the denial of his motion to suppress the gun. Based on Vaccaro’s “furtive movements,” the pat-down was lawful under Terry v. Ohio. The sweep of the car was permissible because Vaccaro was not under arrest and would have been allowed to return to his car; could have gained “immediate control of weapons.” View "United States v. Vaccaro" on Justia Law

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Illinois prison officials issued a disciplinary report charging Morgan with offenses stemming from a violent assault on fellow prisoners. Morgan disputed the charges and asked to call a witness to testify at his Adjustment Committee hearing. The Committee never called Morgan’s witness. He was found guilty; the Committee imposed a punishment of one year of segregation, status and access restrictions, and revocation of three months of good-time credits. Morgan filed a grievance and appealed its subsequent denial to the Administrative Review Board, which adjusted the revocation of good-time credits but rejected a due-process claim, concluding that Morgan’s witness request did not comply with prison rules. Morgan sued three officers for damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The officers cited the “Heck” rule: When a state prisoner seeks damages in a section 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in [his] favor … would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the due-process claim was not cognizable under section 1983. Prisoners cannot make an end run around Heck by filing an affidavit waiving challenges to the portion of their punishment that revokes good-time credits. Judgment in Morgan’s favor would necessarily imply the invalidity of his prison discipline. The suit was premature. View "Morgan v. Schott" on Justia Law

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Vargas rented a parking place for his truck in a Chicago lot without assigned spaces. Agents in Ohio arrested Hueter as he transported cocaine that, Hueter asserted, he had purchased from Vargas the previous day at his parked truck. Hueter described Vargas, the truck, and the lot. Illinois agents then entered the lot by following someone through the gate. Approaching a truck that met Hueter’s description, they sent a photo to the Ohio agents. Hueter identified the truck. A dog alerted to the odor of drugs. Agents then broke a window, opened the truck's door, and found eight kilos of cocaine. Convicted of cocaine offenses, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), Vargas was sentenced to 72 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit rejected his argument that the judge should have suppressed drugs seized from his truck. By the time the agents broke into the truck they had probable cause, based on Hueter’s statements plus confirmation from the photo and the dog. Vargas neither owned the parking lot nor had a leasehold interest in any particular spot. Vargas was entitled to park his truck in any open space but not to exclude anyone else. Agents did not need probable cause or a warrant to enter the lot. The court also rejected Vargas’s remaining arguments; the judge did not violate the Due Process Clause, which deals with only egregious transgressions of trial rules and decorum. View "United States v. Vargas" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed Fernandez’s conviction as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), and his 27-month sentence. Voecks, the driver of the car in which Fernandez was found with a firearm, gave the arresting officer, Frusti, contradictory (recorded) accounts about the gun’s ownership and who had placed it in the center console of the car. When the defense attempted to ask Voecks about what Frusti had said to him and vice-versa, the district court sustained the government’s hearsay objections, essentially confining the cross-examination of each witness to his own statements. The Seventh Circuit upheld that ruling. Fernandez has not shown that any of the omitted details of the interrogations mattered enough to demonstrate reversible error; Fernandez’s failure to invoke his Confrontation Clause rights below and his ability to raise the essential points as to Voecks’ change of story defeated any claim of plain error. The court also upheld the district court’s ruling precluding Fernandez from questioning defense witness Stramowski, another passenger in the car, about the content of the texts she had purportedly received from Voecks before the trial and upheld a ruling permitting the government to establish that Fernandez was arrested during the traffic stop on an outstanding warrant for a probation violation. View "United States v. Fernandez" on Justia Law

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An FBI task force identified Brewer as being present at banks just before robberies, determined that Brewer lived with Pawlak, in Gary, Indiana, and observed a Toyota matching the one from the robberies parked outside their residence. An officer obtained a state court warrant, which permitted the use of a “tracking device … in any public or private area ... within the State of Indiana.” An officer monitored Brewer's car until it arrived in Los Angeles, unaware of the limitation, saw it circling a Los Angeles bank, and notified local officers, who observed Brewer and Pawlak near the bank. When they returned, Pawlak got out of the car, approached the tellers, held up a robbery note, and ran out of the bank with about $1,000. Officers stopped their car, arrested Brewer and Pawlak, and found a bag of cash. Brewer was charged in Indiana with three counts of bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2113(a) and lost a motion to suppress regarding the tracking device. The government presented evidence of the Ohio and California robberies, eyewitness testimony identifying Brewer as present before the robberies, and surveillance footage. Convicted, Brewer was sentenced to 137 months in prison. He had been convicted in California; the Indiana sentence added 12 months in custody. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The in-state limitation did not reflect a probable-cause finding or a particularity requirement; the Fourth Amendment is unconcerned with state borders. The evidence of the unindicted robberies was directly probative of Brewer’s identity, modus operandi, and intent, and fell within the bounds of Federal Rule 404(b)(2). View "United States v. Brewer" on Justia Law

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In 1993, Carey was a security guard at a night school. Carey arrived for his shift, traversed the premises, then returned to his car to read. The parking lot was not well lit. Around 7:00 p.m., Carey saw three black men walking toward his vehicle. About two feet from Carey’s car one man grabbed a gun from his coat and fired it through the window. Carey, shot in the face, made his way into the school. Help was summoned; 15-20 minutes after the shooting, the Elkhart police found Sims near about 20 feet from Carey's car. Carey’s identification of Sims in the photographic lineup was not unequivocal but Carey identified him at trial as the shooter. The police never found the gun. Sims was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment. In 2012, during a post-conviction evidentiary hearing, Sims learned the prosecution withheld evidence that Carey, the only identification witness, was hypnotized before trial to enhance his recollection. After the Indiana courts denied habeas relief, Sims filed a federal petition. The district court held that the Indiana court did not unreasonably apply established federal law. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court recognizes that suppression of strong, non-cumulative evidence related to the credibility of a witness who is critical to the prosecution's case, is material under Brady. The fact that Carey had been hypnotized would have undermined his credibility and changed his cross-examination dramatically. View "Sims v. Hyatte" on Justia Law

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On trial for bank robbery, Books chose not to testify in his own defense. He was found guilty and sentenced to 180 months’ imprisonment. He challenged the district court’s decision to allow eyewitness testimony from two bank tellers; Books alleged they based their identification of him as the robber not on personal knowledge, but rather on information improperly supplied by a police detective. He also challenged a ruling that would have allowed the government, had Books chosen to testify, to impeach him with physical evidence directly tying him to the robbery—evidence the police learned of (and recovered) only as a result of a confession the district court separately had determined was unlawfully coerced. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the conviction. The district court did not err in finding the eyewitness identifications reflected the tellers’ firsthand knowledge of Books; allowing their testimony at trial was entirely proper. Nor does the district court’s conditional impeachment ruling, even if wrong on the law, mandate reversal in light of the overwhelming weight of evidence against Books. View "United States v. Books" on Justia Law

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Illinois prisoner Giles suffers from schizoaffective disorder. Giles filed a pro se suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment by being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, subjecting him to unconstitutional conditions of confinement, and failing to protect him from other inmates. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, holding that Giles could not establish the subjective elements of his claims because the defendants, who are all non-medical officials, appropriately relied on the judgment of medical professionals. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Giles cannot establish the defendants possessed a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Giles received regular medical attention from psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals; several of his grievances were subjected to emergency review. Giles has not presented evidence that his grievances were ignored or mishandled not was there an indication from his medical records that he was not receiving adequate care. The non-medical officials relied on the medical professionals to provide proper treatment, and there was nothing to give notice to the officials of a need to intervene. View "Giles v. Godinez" on Justia Law