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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
by
Merrill pressured 12-13-year-old girls to take and send him sexually explicit photographs of themselves. Merrill was indicted for producing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a); receiving child pornography, section 2252A(a)(2)(A); and possessing child pornography, section 2252A(a)(5)(B). He pleaded guilty to one count each of producing and possessing with respect to one girl. At his plea hearing, Merrill confirmed that he remembered: “soliciting photographs and possessing the types of photographs that are set forth in the plea agreement.” Before the scheduled sentencing hearing, new counsel appeared for Merrill and moved to withdraw his guilty pleas, asserting that his former attorneys “never explained what the elements of the production charge were or what the government was required to prove to establish his guilt.”At an evidentiary hearing. Merrill’s former lawyers testified to having explained to Merrill the differences among the three charges and how the evidence established each element of the production charge; each told Merrill that he could be convicted of production based on proof that he had asked the minors to take and send the sexually explicit photographs and that the minors did so at his request.The district judge denied Merrill’s motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Merrill’s attorneys’ advice was sound, and in any event, he has not shown prejudice from the supposedly erroneous advice. View "United States v. Merrill" on Justia Law

by
After his co-conspirator gave officers details about a plan to defraud a university and about previous fraudulent schemes, Mboule was charged and signed a plea agreement. The agreement provided that Mboule was entitled to a reduction in his offense level for acceptance of responsibility and contained an appellate waiver. Mboule participated in a pre-plea proffer session with an FBI agent. Mboule broke his promise to provide complete and truthful information. After a plea colloquy, the district judge accepted Mboule’s plea. At the initial sentencing hearing, the government objected to the PSR’s acceptance-of-responsibility recommendation and presented information about the proffer session. The court also heard testimony from a victim of a different wire fraud that Mboule committed. The district court concluded that Mboule violated his plea agreement.Mboule moved to withdraw his guilty plea, stating that Mboule’s previous trial counsel failed to inform Mboule that he could “enter[] an open plea of guilty.” The court denied the motion, noting that Mboule did not express dissatisfaction with his attorney or a desire to cancel the plea agreement until he saw the consequences of his lies. Mboule was sentenced to 42 months’ imprisonment, within the guidelines range of 37-46 months. The court advised Mboule of his right to appeal but stated that “[appellate] waivers are generally enforceable.” The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal. Mboule has not shown that the plea agreement should be voided in its entirety; the appellate waiver is applicable. View "United States v. Mboule" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Three months before McClinton's eighteenth birthday, McClinton and five others robbed a CVS pharmacy, pointing guns at customers, grabbing purses and wallets, and destroying cell phones. One customer escaped. Yates returned from chasing her and told the others to hurry. They took money from the cash register; someone pointed a gun at a pharmacy technician and demanded drugs. The technician stated that most of the requested drugs were in a time-delay safe. He produced one bottle of hydrocodone. When the pharmacist entered the passcode and the safe would not open, the robbers left and drove away to split the proceeds. Perry left the car with the few drugs they had taken. McClinton followed Perry and fatally shot him. The others ran away. The following day at a dice game, McClinton told another player about the robbery and shooting.After transfer to adult court, McClinton was convicted of robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a); and brandishing a firearm during the robbery, section 924(c)(1)(A)(ii). He was acquitted of the robbery of Perry and causing death while using a firearm during and in relation to the robbery. The court concluded that McClinton was responsible for Perry’s murder and enhanced McClinton’s offense level but varied downward to account for McClinton’s age and his co-defendants' sentences, sentencing him to 228 months' imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court could not consider conduct for which McClinton was acquitted in calculating his sentence and that McClinton’s counsel was ineffective during his juvenile transfer proceedings. View "United States v. McClinton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
A person who had purchased drugs from Ford for approximately six years notified agents that Ford was selling drugs out of Nicholson’s home and had a safe in the rear bedroom where he kept his drugs and cash. The source made a controlled purchase of drugs from Ford. Agents obtained a search warrant and found Nicholson and others in the home. Ford was not there. In the rear bedroom, the agents discovered a safe, containing $3,007 in cash, 101 grams of marijuana, and 843 grams of methamphetamine. Agents also found a handgun in that bedroom and identification cards, mail, and prescription drug bottles, belonging to Ford. Nicholson stated that “everyone” had access to the home, including her brothers. Ford, who had been staying there for four months, was “in and out” and mainly used the rear bedroom. There was some evidence that her brother stayed there occasionally. She confirmed that Ford sold drugs from the house and stated that the drugs in the rear bedroom belonged to Ford. Nicholson said she did not “mess with” the rear bedroom and did not know who owned the handgun.Ford pled guilty to distributing and possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A), and was sentenced to 168 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the application of sentencing enhancements for possessing a dangerous weapon and maintaining drug premises. View "United States v. Ford" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Burgess left the apartment he shared with Howard, texting threats to kill her and burn down the apartment. That night, Burgess set a fire that destroyed the building and all of Howard’s and her children’s belongings. Burgess fled and eluded law enforcement for four months, during which Burgess walked into a Metro store, displayed a semi-automatic handgun, and told the clerk he was not “playing.” The clerk opened the register and Burgess stole $650. Metro had a security camera; a citizen identified Burgess and told Milwaukee Police. Burgess was arrested at his sister’s house; police recovered a handgun and the clothing Burgess wore during the Metro robbery.The government presented evidence Burgess had contacted Howard extensively while in custody, discouraging her from cooperating and encouraging her to change her story. A magistrate entered a no-contact order. Burgess nonetheless consistently and repeatedly contacted Howard. Burgess unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence obtained during his arrest, arguing MPD lacked probable cause to believe he was inside his sister’s house, then pled guilty The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 174-month sentence and the application a 2-level adjustment for obstruction of justice based on Burgess’s perjurious testimony at his suppression hearing and on his violations of a no-contact order. The factual findings upon which the district court relied established by a preponderance of the evidence that Burgess’s violations of the no-contact order amounted to obstruction. View "United States v. Burgess" on Justia Law

by
Allen County Officers received an arrest warrant for Gosnell. An anonymous tip indicated that Gosnell was staying at a Fort Wayne motel. The motel manager stated that Gosnell was staying in a room with Jones. Jones had arrests dating back to the 1990s and was listed as a “known resister,” “convicted felon,” and “substance abuser.” At the room, the officers knocked and called out Jones’s street name, stating: “It’s police. We’re not here for you.” Jones said, “She’s not here.” The officers asked Jones to open the door. He requested some time. Both officers estimate that 30-60 seconds elapsed between the first knock and when Jones opened the door. In conversational tones, they reiterated that they were not there for Jones, showed him the warrant, and explained that they would like to “verify” Gosnell was not there. Jones eventually said, “fine,” and moved away from the door. The officers lifted the beds and found a firearm.Jones pled guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) after the denial of his motion to suppress. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Jones has not shown that he was seized prior to the search. In light of the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in Jones’s position would have felt free to decline the officers’ request to open the door. Jones voluntarily consented to a search of his motel room. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

by
Around midnight, four people were in Shaffers' car, with Shaffers in the driver’s seat, smoking and listening to music while parked. Chicago Police Officers Streeper and Bruno heard loud music coming from the car and smelled marijuana. They blocked Shaffers' car with their car, then approached, identified themselves, and instructed the occupants to put their hands up. Streeper testified that Shaffers initially failed to comply and made “furtive movements with his hands below the [driver’s] seat.” Shaffers fled. Streeper recovered a gun from the floorboard between the driver’s seat and the console. Months later, Shaffers was arrested while appearing in state court for a traffic infraction.Shaffers was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Denying Shaffers’ motion to suppress, the court concluded that the officers’ approach was a seizure because Shaffers could not move his car and a reasonable person would not have felt free to leave but that the seizure was permissible under "Terry" because the officers had reasonable suspicion. After a mistrial, obstruction of justice charges were added based on Shaffers’ attempts to influence witness testimony. The Seventh Circuit upheld his convictions, rejecting arguments that the gun should have been suppressed; that Shaffers’ Confrontation Clause rights were violated by admitting a witness’s grand jury testimony, that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction; and that his prior aggravated assault conviction was improperly considered a “crime of violence” at sentencing. View "United States v. Shaffers" on Justia Law

by
Based on his 2007 convictions, Blake is serving a sentence of 420 months’ imprisonment for cocaine offenses, 21 U.S.C. 846, 841. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence. Five years later, the court rejected Blake’s effort to set aside his sentence on collateral review under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Blake was sentenced before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 amended the statutes and Sentencing Guidelines for persons convicted of crack cocaine offenses. The First Step Act of 2018 made the 2010 Act retroactively applicable. The district judge concluded that Blake, who has a history of violence, does not deserve a benefit from the 2018 Act.After allowing his attorney to withdraw, the Seventh Circuit vacated the denial of Blake’s motion. The district court sidestepped the parties’ dispute about the quantity of drugs attributable to Blake for sentencing purposes and never calculated the retroactively lowered range under the Sentencing Guidelines. At the time, the court did not have the benefit of the Seventh Circuit’s 2020 holding that a district court commits reversible procedural error by making a discretionary decision on a First Step Act motion without determining the new sentencing parameters first. View "United States v. Blake" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
An Indiana State Police trooper stopped Loving for speeding and asked Loving if he had marijuana on him. Loving sped away, dragging the trooper several feet. Loving drove at high speed through the scene of a recent car accident, endangering first-responders. Officers caught Loving with 271 grams of cocaine and 56 grams of heroin. Loving pled guilty to possessing cocaine and heroin with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). The district court adopted the PSR findings without addressing the parties’ agreement that Loving should receive a reduction for acceptance of responsibility and that his calculated guideline range should be based on a total offense of level of 23. The court found that Loving’s total offense level was 24 and that his advisory guideline imprisonment range was 57-71 months. Loving objected. The government presented testimony about Loving’s flight as “the factual basis for a one-level upward variance” under application note 6 of U.S.S.G. 3C1.2. The court sentenced Loving to 71 months’ imprisonment, stating that the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors called for a sentence within the applicable guideline range.The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court did not explain how it calculated Loving’s total offense level. disregarded the parties’ agreement for an additional one-level reduction in the offense level for timely acceptance of responsibility, and misused a Sentencing Guidelines departure provision to determine the calculated range rather than as a basis for an upward departure or variance. View "United States v. Loving" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
An eyewitness testified that Turner arrived at Krystal's residence, pulled a handgun from his pants, and fatally shot Krystal. Turner claimed that Krystal grabbed his handgun, which accidentally fired during the ensuing scuffle. Turner admitted that he frequently kept a loaded firearm in his car for protection. The prosecutor asked whether he knew it was illegal to have a loaded gun in his car in Chicago and whether he thought he was “entitled to just break the law.” Turner replied that keeping a loaded gun in his car was not illegal, or if it was, he was unaware of that law.Convicted of first-degree murder, Turner appealed, unsuccessfully arguing that the cross-examination about the legality of his gun possession violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms. After exhausting state postconviction remedies, Turner sought federal habeas relief (28 U.S.C. 2254), reprising his Second Amendment argument. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The state court addressed Turner’s claim on the merits and its decision was not “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established [f]ederal law.” The evidence of Turner’s firearm possession was relevant even if his firearm possession was constitutionally protected. Any attempt by the prosecutor to draw an improper character-propensity inference is not a constitutional problem, but a state law evidentiary problem. View "Turner v. Brannon-Dortch" on Justia Law