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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Walker, a Stateville Correctional Center inmate, has an incurable motor neuron disease, primary lateral sclerosis (PLS). PLS causes weakness in his voluntary muscles. Walker alleges that Stateville’s healthcare providers (Wexford and Dr. Obaisi) were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs after he underwent spinal surgery in 2011. Walker claims they failed to ensure he received proper follow-up care and allowed undue delays in his treatment by outside experts, which delayed his diagnosis and caused him to suffer from the undiagnosed PLS in the interim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Dr. Obaisi made a reasonable medical judgment to delay referring Walker until he had more information and could make a more informed referral request. Obaisi responded to Walker’s changing symptoms and was receptive to the specialists’ recommendations. That Walker’s pain and other symptoms did not subside is not evidence of Obaisi’s deliberate indifference, considering that Walker voluntarily stopped taking pain medication. Obaisi did what he could within the limits of his role to move Walker’s treatment forward. Wexford refers many inmates, and the specialists have a finite number of appointments available. Absent evidence that Wexford was on notice that these wait times were likely to cause constitutional violations, but failed to act in response, Wexford cannot be liable. View "Walker v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Zamudio drug organization distributed pounds of methamphetamine and cocaine throughout the Indianapolis area. Zamudio imported the drugs from his suppliers in Mexico and oversaw his distributors, including De La Torre, Chapman, Rush, and Bennett. Gonzalez was Zamudio’s girlfriend; she allowed Zamudio to store and traffic drugs out of her home and helped launder Zamudio’s drug money and wired hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mexico and California. All five eventually pleaded guilty and were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. In consolidated appeals, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the sentences of Gonzalez, De La Torre, and Bennett. The court upheld the application of the aggravating role enhancement to Gonzalez’s sentence and found that De La Torre waived any challenge to his conditions of supervised release. Bennett's below-Guidelines sentence was reasonable. The court vacated the guilty pleas of Chapman and Rush. For those defendants, the government filed an information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. 851(a) alleging that prior state law convictions were each a “felony drug offense” under 21 U.S.C. 841, so that each faced mandatory minimums of life in prison. Their plea agreements were based on errors regarding the mandatory minimum sentences they would have otherwise faced and were not entered into knowingly and intelligently. View "United States v. Bennett" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Wisconsin prisoner Brown cut himself severely while in restrictive housing. Brown sued the prison nurses, asserting that they had exhibited deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The Wisconsin Department of Justice and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin have a 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that covers 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuits by an incarcerated person, when those cases must undergo initial screening by the district court under 28 U.S.C. 1915A. In the MOU, the state DOJ gives “limited consent to the exercise of jurisdiction” by Magistrate Judges over several things, including, without qualification, the initial screening. Following its routine procedures and the MOU, the district court sent the case to Magistrate Duffin for initial screening. Brown consented (28 U.S.C. 636(c)) to the authority of the magistrate to resolve the entire case. Duffin found that Brown failed to state a claim, stating that “[t]his order and the judgment to follow are final” and appealable to the Seventh Circuit. Under Circuit precedent, a magistrate judge does not have the authority to enter a final judgment in a case when only one party has consented to the magistrate’s jurisdiction. Two defendants had not been served. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the state defendant may consent in advance to the magistrate’s jurisdiction to conduct the initial case screening and, if the plaintiff has also filed consent, the magistrate may enter final judgment dismissing the case with prejudice. View "Brown v. Doe" on Justia Law

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Kaufmann arranged to care for an elderly man in exchange for room and board. The arrangement ended when police arrested Kaufmann for stealing from the man. Packing Kaufmann’s belongings, the family discovered child pornography. A grand jury indicted Kaufmann for receiving and possessing materials involving sexual exploitation of a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2) and (a)(4). Kaufmann pled guilty. The mandatory minimum sentence for these convictions is enhanced to 15 years if the defendant has a prior conviction “under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward, or the production, possession, receipt, mailing, sale, distribution, shipment, or transportation of child pornography." The district court concluded that this enhancement applies because Kaufmann has prior Indiana convictions for possession of child pornography. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Kaufmann’s argument that his convictions did not support the enhancement because the Indiana statute criminalized conduct broader than the federal version of possession of child pornography. The Seventh Circuit has held that a 2252(b) enhancement does not require the state statute of conviction to be the same as or narrower than the analogous federal law; the words “relating to” in section 2252(b) expand the range of enhancement-triggering convictions. Kaufmann’s Indiana convictions are ones “relating to … possession … of child pornography.” View "United States v. Kaufmann" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Miller cut a hole in his bathroom wall and secretly filmed teenage girls—friends of his own children—undressing and showering. Federal authorities investigated and, after extensive discussions, offered to allow Miller to plead guilty to possessing child pornography, an offense with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. Miller rejected the offer and went to trial, where he was convicted of the greater offense of producing child pornography and sentenced to 18 years. The Seventh Circuit, having previously rejected Miller’s challenge to his conviction and sentence on direct review, affirmed the district court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Miller failed to show that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance during plea negotiations. Miller’s counsel credibly testified that he fully informed Miller of the risks of rejecting the plea to simple possession and facing a charge of producing child pornography but that Miller insisted on going to trial on the view that accepting a 10-year sentence for possessing child pornography was tantamount to receiving a life sentence. The attorney and Miller “spent a long, long time” reviewing the case law informing the question whether the video images “met the federal definition of lascivious” and Miller made the ultimate decision to not accept the government’s offer. View "Miller v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Southern Illinois Drug Task Force investigated Jackson and his associates. After a confidential source (CS) completed three controlled drug purchases from Jackson, each recorded via an audiovisual device, agents obtained a warrant and raided Jackson’s residence. They found methamphetamine, other drugs, cash, scales, and multiple loaded firearms. Jackson had previously twice pleaded guilty to felony drug charges and faced a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment on count 4. The government determined not to call the CS as a witness. The judge admitted into evidence the recordings showing the CS purchasing drugs from Jackson. In a pretrial hearing, the judge noted that he had no discretion to modify the mandatory life sentence for a conviction on count 4. Jackson stated that, contrary to his lawyer’s advice, he wished to proceed to trial. The jury found Jackson guilty of counts 1 through 4. The First Step Act, Pub. L. 115-391, then became law, reducing the mandatory minimum sentence for 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A)(viii) (Jackson’s count 4) from life to 25 years. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Jackson’s convictions and life sentence, rejecting arguments that the government failed to lay the appropriate foundation before the recordings were admitted; the investigators should not have been allowed to “narrate” portions of the recordings; and that admission of the recordings without the CS’s presence and testimony violated the Confrontation Clause. The First Step Act is not retroactive and Jackson’s sentence was not unreasonable. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Zacahua, a citizen of Mexico, lived as an unauthorized alien in the U.S. for over 20 years. Although he was employed by a Hilton hotel, Zacahua also transported heroin. Zacahua and codefendants were indicted for conspiracy to distribute heroin. During Zacahua’s bond hearing, the government invoked Zacahua’s immigration status to argue that he was a serious flight risk because he faced the likelihood of removal. The court held a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 hearing, advised Zacahua that he faced a 120-month mandatory minimum sentence, and informed Zacahua of his rights and the potential consequences of a felony conviction. The court never told Zacahua that he might be removed from the U.S. and denied future admission as a consequence of his guilty plea, as Rule 11(b)(1)(O) requires. During an interview with a Probation Officer, Zacahua acknowledged his unauthorized status and that he faced deportation. He expressed hopes of working at a Hilton hotel in Mexico and of caring for his ailing parents. At his subsequent sentencing hearing, the court acknowledged the likelihood of deportation and discussed Zacahua’s employment prospects in Mexico. Zacahua spoke of returning to Mexico as quickly as possible. The court sentenced him to the mandatory minimum: 120 months. The Seventh Circuit rejected his attempt to withdraw his plea based on the Rule 11 violation. Zacahua does not demonstrate a reasonable probability that, had the court provided the warning, he would not have pleaded guilty. View "United States v. Zacahua" on Justia Law

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Dr. Johnston, a prison psychologist, provided psychological services to Nigl, a Wisconsin Department of Corrections prisoner, serving a 100-year sentence. On Johnston’s last day of work, Nigl kissed her. The two began communicating by mail, email, and phone and became engaged. Johnston returned to employment with the Department and submitted a “fraternization policy exception request” but did not disclose their romantic relationship. Johnston’s supervisor never processed the request, but the two continued to have contact, in violation of Department policy. The Department learned about the relationship and terminated Johnston. Johnston later requested to visit Nigl. The request was denied under state rules because she had been a Department employee less than 12 months earlier. During investigations, staff found letters and photographs from Johnston in Nigl’s cell; some were sent under an alias. Some photographs depicted Johnston in sexually suggestive poses. Johnston had also set up a phone account under the alias and engaged in phone sex with Nigl. The Department reported the relationship to the Psychology Examining Board, which suspended Johnston’s license. Johnston submitted additional unsuccessful visitation requests. Nigl requested permission to marry Johnston and grieved the denial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment, rejecting their 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit. The denial was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Nigl and Johnston engaged in a pattern of rule-breaking and deception in furtherance of their relationship and the Psychology Examining Board concluded that Johnston violated rules designed to protect patients. The 2017 decision is not tantamount to a permanent denial. View "Nigl v. Litscher" on Justia Law

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In 1991 Daniels was sentenced to 35 years in prison for drug-trafficking crimes he committed while leading a violent Milwaukee street gang in the 1980s. Based on two of his many prior crimes, he was sentenced as a career offender under the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines but the designation did not affect his sentencing range: 360 months to life. More than two decades later, Daniels moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 citing the Supreme Court’s 2015 Johnson decision, which invalidated the “residual clause” in the Armed Career Criminal Act as unconstitutionally vague. Daniels argued that the identically phrased residual clause in the career offender guideline is likewise unconstitutionally vague and that one of the predicate convictions for his career-offender status qualified only under the residual clause. The district judge disagreed, relying on the Supreme Court’s 2017 Beckles decision, which forecloses vagueness challenges to the post-Booker advisory Sentencing Guidelines. In the meantime, the Seventh Circuit held that defendants who were sentenced under the mandatory Guidelines may bring Johnson-based vagueness challenges to the career-offender guideline. The Seventh Circuit nonetheless affirmed Daniels’s sentence. Daniels was wrongly designated a career offender but the error was harmless because it did not affect his sentence. View "Daniels v. United States" on Justia Law

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Collins and others engaged in a scheme to defraud banks by submitting stolen and altered checks. The scheme netted $93,215.50. Collins pleaded guilty to bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344. The presentence investigation report noted that Collins was eligible for up to five years of supervised release and recommended discretionary conditions requiring Collins to remain in the “jurisdiction” where he would be supervised, unless granted permission to leave and allowing a probation officer to visit him at work at “any reasonable time” and a special condition requiring Collins to perform at least 20 hours of community service per week at the direction of the Probation Office until gainfully employed, not to exceed 200 hours of service. Collins filed a memorandum objecting to several issues but did not dispute any of the conditions proposed in the PSR. The district court reviewed the PSR and imposed a sentence of 55 months’ imprisonment plus five years of supervised release. At sentencing, the court read the conditions, Collins asked questions about restitution but did not inquire about or object to the supervised release conditions. The Seventh Circuit upheld the imposition of the Jurisdiction, Visitation, and Community Service Conditions, noting that Collins had waived his objections. The court remanded with instructions for the district court to amend its written judgment to substitute the term “federal judicial district” for the word “jurisdiction” in the Jurisdiction Condition. View "United States v. Collins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law