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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Edwards pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, 18 U.S.C. 2250 (SORNA). It was his fourth conviction for a failure to register a change of address as required by state and federal statutes. The district court ordered him to serve a prison term of 27 months and imposed three conditions on his supervised release: a requirement that, as required by his probation officer, he inform employers, neighbors and family members with children, and others of his criminal record, his obligation to register as a sex offender, and other SORNA requirements; a ban on meeting, spending time with, or communicating with any minor absent the express permission of the minor’s parent or guardian and the probation officer; and a bar on working in any job or participating any volunteer activity in which he would have access to minors, absent prior approval of his probation officer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the conditions. Although Edwards has never committed a “hands‐on” sexual offense against a child, the district court expressly considered that point and articulated a reasonable basis to believe that such restrictions were warranted. Edwards has possessed and distributed child pornography, including pornography depicting adults having sex with minors. The court noted his enduring sexual interest in children and his pattern of deception and non‐compliance with the conditions of his release. View "United States v. Edwards" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Porraz was the leader of a Chicago Latin Kings gang for about four years. In 2018 he pleaded guilty to participating in a racketeering conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961–1968. The district judge applied the base offense level for conspiracy to commit murder, factored in Porraz’s criminal history, and sentenced him to 188 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Porraz’s argument that his sentence was procedurally defective because he did not kill anyone and murder was nota reasonably foreseeable part of the conspiracy. He also cited “unwarranted disparities” between his sentence and sentences imposed on other Latin Kings members.Porraz’s admitted conduct defeated his claim that murder was not a reasonably foreseeable part of his gang activities. The judge considered and responded to his disparity arguments. View "United States v. Porraz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Dewitt was living with his fiancée, three-year-old son, and four-year-old daughter when he began chatting with Palchak on an anonymous phone application. The men met in an online group, “Open Family Fun.” Palchak was actually an undercover member of the FBI’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Dewitt told Palchak about his children. Palchak reciprocated by conveying information about his (fictitious) nine-year-old daughter. Dewitt admitted to sexually abusing his four-year-old daughter but indicated he preferred slightly older girls at the beginning of puberty. He offered to send images of himself abusing his daughter if Palchak would do the same. Dewitt sent one video and one still image of fully nude girls, with descriptions of the sexual acts he would like to see Palchak’s nine-year-old daughter perform. The FBI arrested Dewitt and searched his phone, revealing the images sent to Palchak and a photo of Dewitt engaged in a sexual act with his four-year-old daughter. Dewitt was convicted of three counts relating to the production, distribution, and possession of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), 2252(a)(2), and 2252(a)(4)(B), and was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Dewitt’s argument that the government’s evidence was insufficient because the jury heard no expert testimony about the age of girls depicted in images sent from his cellphone. The jury heard and saw more than enough to make a reliable finding that Dewitt possessed, produced, and distributed images of children. View "United States v. Dewitt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Frederickson lived in Joliet. He was homeless, had a sex crime conviction, and was subject to the Illinois Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA). He has to register every week in the jurisdiction in which he resides. Joliet requires that a person moving to a new jurisdiction register with the new jurisdiction, and “register out” of the old jurisdiction within three days. For Frederickson's first four years in Joliet, Frederickson complied. In 2007 Detective Landeros took over Joliet’s SORA registrations. The relationship became so contentious that Frederickson began bringing witnesses to his registrations. Landeros arrested Frederickson several times. In January 2011, Frederickson informed Landeros that he was leaving Joliet. Landeros threatened to arrest Frederickson (on unclear grounds) if Frederickson relocated. Frederickson moved to Bolingbrook on February 8. On February 9, Frederickson registered in Bolingbrook. Landeros believed that Frederickson had to “register out” of Joliet. To update Illinois’s Law Enforcement Agency Data System database, Bolingbrook needed Frederickson’s LEADS file. Only one law enforcement agency can “own” a LEADS file and only the agency that owns the file can update it. Joliet refused to transfer Frederickson’s LEADS file. Landeros indicated that Frederickson was not actually residing in Bolingbrook. Several additional problems followed and Frederickson was convicted of failing to register on March 3. 2011. In Frederickson's civil rights suit, the Seventh Circuit affirmed a finding that Frederickson had adequately alleged that Landeros had singled Frederickson out for unfavorable treatment, was motivated solely by personal animus, and lacked a rational basis for his actions. The court denied Landeros’s motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Frederickson’s equal protection right to police protection uncorrupted by personal animus was clearly established. View "Frederickson v. Landeros" on Justia Law

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Clay, on parole, broke into his neighbor's home, abducted her and drove her across state lines to withdraw all he could from her bank account—$140. He shoved her into her car's trunk and drove to a parking lot, then raped her, strangled her until she passed out, doused her with lighter fluid, set her afire, and left her to die. She survived. Clay was arrested days later. While in pretrial detention, Clay entered the office of caseworker Martinez, grabbed her arm, took her keys, locked the office door, and pressed a homemade knife against her throat. Jail staff unlocked the door and subdued Clay. Clay pled guilty to kidnapping, attempted murder, and using fire to commit another felony; he stipulated to the conduct involving Martinez--kidnapping a federal employee. His Guidelines range was life in prison. Clay pointed to his acceptance of responsibility, his terrible childhood, and the statistical improbability that he would re-offend if released at an advanced age. He claimed that he had taken Martinez hostage in an “attempt at suicide by police.” A physician testified that his neighbor was in intensive care for five months and endured life-threatening infections and organ failures. The prosecution emphasized Clay’s violent criminal history. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Clay's sentence of life in prison for kidnapping, with a concurrent 30-year sentence for attempted murder, a statutory minimum consecutive sentence of 10 years for using fire. The judge had cited the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, noting the “ripple effect of trauma and sadness and worry and fear” through the victims’ family, friends, and coworkers and that she saw only “recidivism” and “potential risk.” View "United States v. Clay" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Indianapolis pharmacies were robbed of opioid pills at gunpoint. A pharmacy employee reported that a man in the store, Fisher, had been involved in a previous robbery. An officer approached Fisher, who pulled out a semiautomatic pistol and fled. Another officer apprehended Fisher. Officers found a pistol along Fisher’s escape route. Employees of three pharmacies identified Fisher. Fisher was convicted of Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a); brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, section 924(c)(1)(A)(ii); and being a felon in possession of a firearm section 922(g)(1). The judge orally sentenced Fisher to 57 years plus one day in prison—one day more than the mandatory minimum sentence; ordered the forfeiture of any firearm involved in the crimes; and stated conditions of supervised release The text of the subsequent written judgment stated the conditions differently. Months later, the First Step Act, amended section 924(c) sentencing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, remanding for correction of the inconsistency between the oral sentence and the written judgment. The court rejected arguments that the district court erred by failing to ask if Fisher would like a jury trial regarding forfeiture and abused its discretion by using the phrase “psychoactive substances” in his supervised-release conditions; that his section 924(c) convictions were invalid because Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a crime of violence; that the written sentence is a nullity to the extent it conflicts with the oral sentence; and that these errors required a remand for new sentencing, applying the First Step Act. View "United States v. Fisher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The FBI took over a child-pornography website, “Playpen,” and kept Playpen running to locate people who distributed and viewed child pornography. Playpen allowed visitors to remain anonymous. The FBI obtained a warrant authorizing the use of a “Network Investigative Technique” (NIT). When a user logged into Playpen, the NIT installed malware on the user’s computer and relayed identifying information to the FBI. The warrant application said that the property to be searched was “located in the Eastern District of Virginia” but an addendum stated that the NIT would be “deployed” on a server “located at a government facility in the Eastern District of Virginia” to obtain information from “activating computer[s]” of “any user” who logged into Playpen. Grisanti logged into Playpen from Indiana. The NIT sent identifying information. The FBI obtained Indiana search warrants and found evidence of child pornography on Grisanti’s computer. Before the FBI could complete its investigation, Grisanti destroyed the hard drive and a flash drive. The court denied a motion to suppress, concluding that the agents relied on the warrant in good faith. Convicted of destruction of evidence and child-pornography offenses, Grisanti was sentenced to 120 months' imprisonment. The court noted that Grisanti possessed more than 600 images of child pornography—some involving prepubescent children—and destroyed the evidence. He never sought treatment and blamed others when he was caught. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that it had already held that the good-faith exception applies to the warrant at issue. Grisanti’s sentence was not unreasonable and the district court did not make any procedural error. View "United States v. Grisanti" 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 court cited the Seventh Circuit’s 2016 “Dawkins” decision. The Seventh Circuit certified a question to the Supreme Court of Illinois: whether 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. If the doctrine applies to residential burglary, then 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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Insurance executive Menzies sold over $64 million in his company’s stock but did not report any capital gains on his 2006 federal income tax return. He alleges that his underpayment of capital gains taxes (and related penalties and interest imposed by the IRS) was because of a fraudulent tax shelter peddled to him and others by a lawyer, law firm, and financial services firms. Menzies brought claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Illinois law. The district court dismissed all claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part. Menzies’s RICO claim falls short on the statute’s pattern-of-racketeering element. Menzies failed to plead not only the particulars of how the defendants marketed the same or a similar tax shelter to other taxpayers, but also facts to support a finding that the alleged racketeering activity would continue. A fraudulent tax shelter scheme can violate RICO; the shortcoming here is one of pleading and it occurred after the district court authorized discovery to allow Menzies to develop his claims. Menzies’s Illinois state law claims were untimely as to the lawyer and law firm defendants. The claims against the remaining financial services defendants can proceed. View "Menzies v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP" on Justia Law

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Shoffner was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm. The Seventh Circuit vacated his below-Guidelines sentence of 84 months’ imprisonment because the district court had miscalculated the base offense level. The district court had not specified whether its imposition of a six-level increase for punching the arresting officer, U.S.S.G. 3A1.2(c)(1), was based on a belief that it was required to find, as a matter of law, that the punch created a substantial risk of serious injury or whether the court had found, as a factual matter, that the punch created a serious risk of injury. On remand, the district court, a different judge presiding, conducted a sentencing hearing. Even though the Seventh Circuit decision had decreased his applicable advisory guidelines range, Shoffner received the same sentence. The Seventh Circuit again vacated and remanded. The district court erred procedurally by not explaining why it believed that the imposed sentence was appropriate and by failing to engage with his arguments in mitigation. View "United Statesx v. Shoffner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law