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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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A Wisconsin jury found Gage guilty of repeatedly sexually assaulting his daughter, H.R.G., when she was a child. Gage asserted that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to interview and present testimony from his son and mother, Josh and Nancy. Gage was living with Nancy at the time of the assaults and most of the assaults occurred on Nancy's property. The state appellate court concluded that Gage was not prejudiced by his trial counsel’s failure to call those witnesses because their testimony in post-conviction proceedings concerned only matters such as the layout of Nancy's house.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief. The state court’s decision was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, despite its incorrect recitation of the "Strickland" prejudice standard. The state court’s analysis focused on the consistency between Josh’s and Nancy’s testimony at the post-conviction hearing and H.R.G.’s testimony at trial, which can reasonably be interpreted as “whether the proffered testimony could have affected the outcome,” or its likely impact on the verdict. The state court noted that Josh’s and Nancy’s testimony did not undermine H.R.G.’s testimony in any significant way. View "Gage v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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In 2008, an Illinois jury convicted Brown of three counts of first-degree murder for shooting three people outside of the Champaign American Legion building. Brown subsequently filed two post-conviction motions, a direct appeal, and a federal habeas corpus petition. Brown’s only remaining claim is that the Illinois Court unreasonably applied the Supreme Court’s Batson holding. Ware was one of two African-Americans in the 60-person venire gathered for Brown’s trial. The court asked whether anyone was familiar with the American Legion where the crime took place. Ware said yes: “Been on the outside. Not inside.” He denied that his familiarity with the site would affect his jury service. Ware was excused at the prosecutor's request. The court overruled a Batson objection, finding that Brown failed to make “a prima facie case that a discriminatory practice was being conducted” and did not ask the prosecution to provide “a race-neutral explanation” for its strike. The Illinois Appellate Court explained that there was no evidence of a pattern of striking African-Americans or of a disproportionate number of strikes used against African-Americans and that Ware meaningfully distinguished himself from other potential jurors by stating that he was familiar with the crime scene.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The Illinois court correctly noted the prosecution’s apparent reason for striking Ware—that he had been to the crime scene—and found no circumstances giving rise to an inference that the prosecution engaged in racial discrimination. View "Brown v. Jones" on Justia Law

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For about three years, Nulf, an Illinois licensed loan originator, and two co-defendants participated in a mortgage-fraud scheme, causing approximately $2.2 million in losses. Nulf was charged with bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344, and making a false statement to a financial institution, 18 U.S.C. 1014. Each crime carries a 30-year maximum prison term. The government filed a superseding information charging Nulf with a single count of making a false statement to HUD, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. 18 U.S.C. 1012. Nulf pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor; the government agreed to dismiss the felony charges. The one-year statutory maximum was the recommended sentence. The plea agreement included an appeal waiver. Sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment, Nulf claims that the judge interfered with her allocution, wrongly denied credit for acceptance of responsibility, and committed other sentencing mistakes, amounting to a miscarriage of justice, making the appeal waiver unenforceable.The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal, stating that it has not announced a general “miscarriage of justice” exception to the enforcement of appeal waivers. A narrow set of extraordinary circumstances can justify displacing an otherwise valid appeal waiver. Nulf’s case is far from extraordinary, so the appeal waiver is enforceable unless the underlying guilty plea was invalid. Nulf does not claim that her plea was unknowing or involuntary. View "United States v. Nulf" on Justia Law

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Glispie pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), reserving the right to challenge his anticipated designation as an armed career criminal based on his prior Illinois convictions for residential burglary. The district court concluded that residential burglary in Illinois is no broader than “generic burglary” and that it qualified as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii); it sentenced Glispie to 180 months.. The Seventh Circuit certified a question to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which responded that the limited-authority doctrine applies to the Illinois residential burglary statute. Under that doctrine, one who enters a public building with the intent to commit a crime automatically satisfies the unlawful entry requirement of the Illinois burglary statute with respect to a business burglary.The Seventh Circuit then vacated Glispie’s sentence. Because the "limited entry" doctrine applies to residential burglary, a conviction for Illinois residential burglary is broader than generic burglary and cannot qualify as an aggravated felony for purposes of the ACCA. View "United States v. Glispie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Bourgeois was convicted of murder on federal property, 18 U.S.C. 7 and 1111, and sentenced to death after he brutally abused and murdered his two-year-old daughter in 2002. Bourgeois collaterally attacked his death sentence on the ground that he is intellectually disabled, citing the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA), 18 U.S.C. 3596(c), and the Supreme Court’s “Atkins” decision (2002). He fully litigated that claim under 28 U.S.C. 2255, then sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. To invoke that statute, Bourgeois had to show that his case fit within the “savings clause,” 28 U.S.C. 2255(e). In the district court, Bourgeois accompanied his section 2241 petition with a motion to stay his execution—which the district court granted. The court found that the government had waived its argument that Bourgeois could not channel his FDPA claim through the savings clause.The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that Bourgeois does not meet the stringent savings-clause eligibility requirements and that his 2241 petition is procedurally barred. The district court’s factual determination that the government waived its argument was clearly erroneous and an abuse of discretion. Even if the government had forfeited its FDPA argument, that forfeiture would not prevent consideration of the savings-clause issue. .The savings clause is not simply another avenue for appeal. Bourgeois had the chance to appeal the court’s denial of his intellectual-disability claim; there was nothing “structurally inadequate or ineffective about section 2255 as a vehicle.” View "Bourgeois v. Watson" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Webster was sentenced to death for the murder of a 16-year-old girl. Webster has repeatedly sought relief from that sentence on the ground he advanced at trial—that he is intellectually disabled. In 2009, his lawyers came upon records dating to 1994 from the Social Security Administration showing that three different doctors found him intellectually disabled. In 2015, the Seventh Circuit held that Webster was not barred by the limitations imposed on successive requests for post-conviction relief from seeking to show that he is ineligible for the death penalty based on newly discovered evidence. The court remanded for a determination of whether the Social Security records constituted newly discovered evidence that counsel did not uncover despite diligent efforts.The district court found that Webster’s defense counsel did not discover the Social Security records despite reasonable diligence at the time of trial, held a five-day hearing, and determined that Webster had carried his burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that he is intellectually disabled. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision to vacate Webster’s death sentence. Documentary evidence established that defense counsel focused on the possible existence of Social Security records and repeatedly requested them. Having demonstrated substantial deficits in intellectual functioning and adaptive functioning and onset of the deficiencies before the age of 18, Webster has carried his burden of proving that he is intellectually disabled and constitutionally ineligible to remain under a death sentence. View "Webster v. Watson" on Justia Law

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Vialva was sentenced to death for murders he committed in 1999. Vialva argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his lawyer had a conflict of interest and conducted an inadequate investigation. Vialva maintained that the district judge suffered from alcoholism and should not have been allowed to preside at trial or sentencing.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition, seeking a stay of his scheduled September 24 execution; 28 U.S.C. 2255(e) provides: “An application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this section, shall not be entertained if it appears that the applicant has failed to apply for relief, by motion, to the court which sentenced him, or that such court has denied him relief, unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” The Fifth Circuit resolved Vialva’s contentions under section 2255 by denying his requests for certificates of appealability. The Supreme Court denied Vialva’s petitions for certiorari. He received effective merits decisions. A section 2241 proceeding is not an authorized way to contest the Fifth Circuit's procedures. Vialva does not rely on a new, retroactive legal rule; he does not point to facts that came to light after that decision. The Suspension Clause does not entitle anyone to successive collateral attacks. View "Vialva v. Watson" on Justia Law

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Moultrie pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). The presentence report calculated his offense level at 21, including enhancements for possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, for discharging his firearm in a manner that endangered others, and for obstructing justice by both fleeing and engaging in a standoff with law enforcement. The report determined that Moultrie had a criminal history category of III, resulting in a guidelines range of 46-57 months’ imprisonment. The court determined that, applying the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), Moultrie’s offense level did not account adequately for the dangerous situations that his actions had created, nor did it account for his post-arrest behavior, which included attempting to dissuade witnesses from testifying against him. The court noted the rapid escalation in Moultrie’s criminal activity and his risk of recidivism. The court believed an offense level of 23 and a criminal history category of IV better captured the risk that he posed, yielding a guidelines range of 70-87 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence of 84 months’ imprisonment as substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Moultrie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Green was visiting a friend at a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) public housing unit. Hudson, a security guard employed by AGB, attempted to stop and search Green. Hudson subdued Green outside the CHA unit and recovered a handgun before calling the police Green, charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), moved to suppress the gun. The district court held an evidentiary hearing, limiting the issue to whether Hudson had reasonable suspicion to justify the search. The court ruled there was no reasonable suspicion but denied Green’s motion to suppress, reasoning that Green failed to establish that the private security guard was a government agent. Green entered a conditional guilty plea.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Hudson was not a state actor who is subject to the Fourth Amendment. Illinois law expressly categorizes CHA’s police powers as distinct from its power to employ security personnel. The CHA-AGB contract labels AGB as an independent contractor to perform security services including ensuring unauthorized people do not enter and reporting incidents to the property manager. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

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Bethany participated in a conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. He was sentenced in 2013. That sentence was vacated under 28 U.S.C. 2255, and he was resentenced in 2019, after the enactment of the First Step Act of 2018.The Seventh Circuit ordered a limited remand. Bethany is entitled to the benefit of the First Step Act. When the Act became effective, Bethany was awaiting resentencing. The court considered the possibility that any error in the failure to apply the Act was harmless because the district court made it clear that it did not rely on the mandatory minimum in resentencing Bethany. The record reveals a significant possibility that Bethany would have received the same sentence regardless of whether the Act applied but the district court did refer to the 20-year mandatory minimum and, in a colloquy with the defendant during resentencing, said, “It seems … you’re stuck with the … 20-year mandatory minimum.” Because some ambiguity exists in the resentencing transcript and because of the very significant difference in the mandatory minimum now applicable under the First Step Act, the proper course is a remand. If the district court indicates that it is not inclined to resentence Bethany, the Seventh Circuit will address whether the present sentence is reasonable. View "United States v. Bethany" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law