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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Simon, a CPA, was convicted of filing false tax returns, mail fraud related to financial aid, and federal financial aid fraud. The court imposed a prison term, and restitution of $886,901.69 to the IRS, $48,070.35 to the Department of Education, $17,000 to Canterbury School, and $101,600 to Culver Academies. Simon made no objections to the restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Simon’s convictions. Simon had not challenged his restitution obligations. Simon later unsuccessfully moved to vacate his conviction, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, but not with respect to restitution. At the government's request, the court removed Canterbury as a payee, directing Simon’s restitution payments to Culver (private victims receive restitution ahead of the government, 18 U.S.C. 3664(i)) and approved an updated balance of $48,376, without a hearing. Days later, Simon received notice of the order. Seven months later, Simon moved for reconsideration, arguing that he had a due process right to be heard on the government’s motion and that the amended balance constituted a new obligation. The schools had disclaimed any interest in restitution. Simon urged the court to eliminate his restitution and requested that the court strike all restitution to the Department of Education, claiming that his daughter had paid off her student loans so the Department was no longer at risk. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Most of Simon’s challenges could and should have been raised at sentencing and on direct appeal and were waived; the remainder were untimely. View "United States v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Holleman, a “jailhouse lawyer,” has been awarded thousands of dollars in prior lawsuits. In 2015, Pendleton Correctional Facility (Superintendent Zatecky) transferred Holleman to Wabash. Zatecky stated that Holleman had written letters complaining of the conditions at Pendleton and, given the age of the facility, the only viable solution was to transfer Holleman to a more modern facility. Zatecky claims to have believed that the transfer was in Holleman’s best interest. Holleman was housed in the general population at both maximum-security prisons, with similar restrictions. Holleman claims he witnessed more violence at Wabash and that Wabash inmates are afraid to report violence; that Holleman was the victim of violence from his new cellmate (he did not report this incident); that he only had access to the Wabash law library for four hours per week, as opposed to seven hours per week at Pendleton; and that at Pendleton he had an individual cell. Reversing the district court, the Seventh Circuit held that the transfer did not violate Holleman’s clearly established right to be free from retaliation for protected First Amendment activity, such that his suit can overcome qualified immunity. Holleman complained about inadequate conditions at Pendleton; the Defendants responded by transferring him. Even taking the facts in the light most favorable to Holleman, they do not support a finding that the transfer was motivated by the fact that he engaged in protected activity rather than the substance of his complaints. View "Holleman v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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Thomas was convicted of the voluntary manslaughter of his uncle and is serving a 40-year sentence at Indiana’s Westville Correctional Facility. He has a history of mental illness which began before his incarceration; his symptoms include suicidal ideations, paranoia, and hallucinations. Thomas has also been diagnosed with epilepsy, antisocial personality disorder, and anxiety, for which he has received various medications while incarcerated. Thomas sued state correctional officials, alleging deficient health care, inadequate conditions of confinement, and that officers treated him with excessive force. The district court found Thomas’s pro se complaint deficient and gave him opportunities to remedy its problems but ultimately dismissed his case for failure to prosecute. The court also denied three requests by Thomas for appointed counsel. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal. The district court abused its discretion by denying Thomas’s requests to appoint counsel. Thomas made reasonable attempts to obtain counsel and the court did not assess whether Thomas appeared competent to litigate the case given its difficulty. This outcome prejudiced Thomas. The court remanded for the appointment of an attorney. The district court also provided insufficient grounds on which to dismiss Thomas’s case for failure to prosecute. View "Thomas v. Wardell" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the petitioners pleaded guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. 924(c) for brandishing a firearm during a “crime of violence”—theft from a federally licensed firearms dealer, 18 U.S.C. 922(u). In 2016, both moved under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate their section 924(c) convictions, citing the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Davis” holding that a violation of section 922(u) no longer counts as a crime of violence. The district court denied relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Express collateral-attack waivers in both plea agreements are valid and bar their challenges to their convictions and sentences. The petitioners did not satisfy any recognized bases for avoiding a valid collateral-attack waiver. The court rejected their arguments that they were asserting a non-waivable “jurisdictional” challenge to the constitutionality of the statute of conviction; that allowing their convictions to stand would result in a “miscarriage of justice”; and that their section 924(c) convictions rest on a “constitutionally impermissible factor.” View "Ross v. United States" on Justia Law

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Muresanu began participating in an ATM skimming scheme when he was 17 years old and had recently arrived from his native Romania. Muresanu was charged with possession of counterfeit access devices and three counts of attempted aggravated identity theft. There is no such federal crime; the statutory definition of aggravated identity theft does not cover attempts. Muresanu’s attorney did not object to the defect in a pretrial motion but “strategically waited" and moved for acquittal on the identity-theft counts after the government rested its case. The judge ruled that Muresanu had waived the objection, then deleted the attempt language from the jury instructions and instructed the jury on the elements of the completed crime. The modified instruction conformed to the statutory offense but varied from the indictment. Convicted, Muresanu was sentenced to 34 months on count one and a consecutive mandatory 24-month sentence on the identity-theft counts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The judge correctly applied the Sentencing Guidelines to count one. Defects in the indictment are not jurisdictional and must be raised by pretrial motion but the modification of the jury instructions led the jury to convict Muresanu of crimes not charged by the grand jury, violating his Fifth Amendment right to be tried only on charges brought by indictment. That error is per se reversible. View "United States v. Muresanu" on Justia Law

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Bridgewater pleaded guilty to soliciting an obscene visual depiction of a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(3)(B)(i). The Guidelines called for a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 months in prison. The district court deviated from the Guidelines to 78 months to account for a charge of attempted enticement of a minor that the government dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea. That conduct, the court found, aggravated the nature and circumstances of the offense of conviction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the sentence was substantively unreasonable because basing it—even in part—on dismissed conduct creates systemwide disparity. The court addressed unwarranted sentencing disparities and the lack of evidence of his recidivism and gave ample weight to the Guidelines but ultimately concluded they failed to properly reflect the scope of Bridgewater’s conduct. The court’s 18-month (or 30%) deviation did not introduce unwarranted sentence disparities among similar defendants. View "United States v. Bridgewater" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Bridges, a Cook County Department of Corrections pretrial detainee, fell out of the upper bunk to which he had been assigned and injured himself. He sued, asserting that his injuries were caused by the defendants’ practice of ignoring medically necessary lower bunk prescriptions. Bridges cited five lawsuits filed by detainees who alleged that, between 2005 and 2012, they were injured when using upper bunks after their lower bunk prescriptions were ignored. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. A local government may not be sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents; it is when the execution of a government’s policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the governmental entity is responsible under section 1983. The Department houses thousands of detainees, with hundreds entering and leaving on a daily basis; three or five incidents over a seven-year period is inadequate as a matter of law to demonstrate a widespread custom or practice. Nothing connected the incidents and they were not so common as to place the defendants on notice of a widespread practice. View "Bridges v. Dart" on Justia Law

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Picardi, a former Customs and Border Protection Officer at the international terminal of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, was convicted of embezzlement by an officer or employee of the United States, 18 U.S.C. 654 and was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment and a fine of $100,000. He had stolen from a traveler who was referred for a secondary inspection. While out on bond, Picardi harassed his estranged wife using electronic and other means and engaged a private detective in his efforts, falsely telling the man that he was a customs officer conducting a legitimate investigation. After Picardi was convicted, he enlisted a friend to approach his victim’s adult daughter to persuade her to convince her mother to recant her testimony. Because Picardi waived any argument regarding the amount of the fine and the adequacy of the explanation of the fine, the Seventh Circuit dismissed his appeal. Picardi and his lawyer knew what was at stake: the maximum under the Guidelines was $40,000, and the probation department recommendation was $100,000. This was not simply an inadvertent failure to object to the imposition of an above-Guidelines fine; it was a calculated, strategic decision, based on a hope that it would work to the client’s benefit on the custody determination. View "United States v. Picardi" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Cates was transporting drugs when he was pulled over for driving without rear license plate lights. The deputy saw a revolver on the passenger seat. Cates admitted that he did not have a license for the firearm. Retail quantities of cocaine and heroin were later found in his possession. Cates pled guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm; the government agreed not to bring additional charges. Cates waived his right to contest his conviction on any ground other than ineffective assistance of counsel. A district judge accepted the plea. Before sentencing, Cates’s attorney moved to withdraw. A new lawyer was appointed and moved to withdraw the guilty plea, claiming that Cates had entered the guilty plea under duress because he was threatened with new charges and was given only one hour to decide. Cates testified that before he received the letter accepting his plea, he had told his attorney that he “changed [his] mind” but that his lawyer told him that it was too late. The district court denied Cates’s motion, noting the five days between the submission of the plea and the Rule 11 hearing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court questioned the wisdom of deciding Cates’s ineffective‐assistance claim on this record rather than on collateral review and directed his appellate counsel to review the question with him. He insisted on proceeding. The court held that the record contains insufficient evidence to support Cates’s ineffective‐assistance claim, View "United States v. Cates" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Law enforcement learned that Lee was distributing large quantities of ice methamphetamine and arranged a controlled buy. The source purchased over 83 grams of ice methamphetamine. Days later, officers conducted a planned traffic stop. Lee consented to a K-9 walkaround. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs. Troopers searched the car and found over seven pounds of ice methamphetamine and $19,170 in cash, including $900 of marked money used in the controlled buy. Lee stated that he had been dealing ice methamphetamine in the area for three years. In the seven months before his arrest, Lee distributed approximately 100 pounds. Agents executed a search warrant at Lee’s residence and discovered ice methamphetamine, 12 firearms in close proximity to the drugs, scales, drug paraphernalia, and ammunition. Lee pled guilty to possessing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and was sentenced to 210 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, rejecting Lee’s argument that he should not have received two extra criminal history points under U.S.S.G. 4A1.1(d) for dealing methamphetamine while on supervision for a drunk driving offense. The court vacated a term of supervised release that would have prohibited him from interacting with known felons unless he receives the probation officer’s permission; that term violates the rule against delegating Article III power. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law