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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Illinois Trooper Chapman received a message about a Volkswagen with California license plates driving on I-72. Chapman spotted the Volkswagen, driven by Cole, and trailed him, intending to find a pretext for a roadside stop. After another car cut off the Volkswagen, Chapman believed that the Volkswagen trailed that car at an unreasonably close distance. Chapman stopped Cole, requested his papers, and ordered him to sit in the police cruiser. This initial stop lasted 10 minutes. Chapman spent about six minutes questioning Cole about his residence, employment, travel history, plans, vehicle history, and registration information. Chapman told Cole that he would get a warning but that they had to go to a gas station to complete the paperwork because he was concerned for their safety. Chapman testified later that he had already decided that he was not going to release Cole until he searched the car. Driving to the gas station, Chapman requested a drug-sniffing dog and learned that Cole had been arrested for drug crimes 15 years earlier. At the gas station, Cole’s answers became contradictory. Finishing the warning, 30 minutes after the stop, Chapman told Cole that he could not leave because he suspected Cole was transporting drugs. The dog arrived 10 minutes later and quickly alerted. Chapman found several kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin in a hidden compartment.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of a motion to suppress. Even assuming that the stop was permissible, the officer prolonged the stop by questioning the driver at length on subjects well beyond the legal justification for the stop, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Cole" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his motion to suppress incriminating statements which led to federal charges for distributing heroin. In this case, after defendant overdosed on heroin and fell unconscious, officers brought him to a local hospital where, after receiving care, he agreed to talk to the police, received Miranda warnings, and made several incriminating statements.The Seventh Circuit remanded for the district court to make a determination on the validation of defendant's waiver of his Miranda rights in the first instance. The court explained that whether a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his rights at the outset of a police interview is a distinct and separate inquiry from whether, in the circumstances of the interview as a whole, the defendant's statements were voluntary. Given defendant was unconscious and entirely incapacitated from an overdose just two hours before police questioned him, a finding as to whether defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights matters. View "United States v. Outland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In a 1999 incident, Hale told Lewis to kill Rogers. Lewis handed his revolver to Mays, who shot Rogers multiple times, fatally. Lewis, Hale, and Mays collected drugs and money and fled. Lewis, represented by Attorney Raff, refused to consider plea offers. Lewis was convicted. At sentencing. the court found no mitigating circumstances—none being asserted by the defense—and sentenced Lewis to the maximum aggregate sentence of 130 years' imprisonment. Lewis’s appeal was unsuccessful.In post‐conviction proceedings, the state conceded that Raff “basically did not do any advocacy" at sentencing but argued that he could not have made a difference. Other witnesses at the post‐conviction hearing spoke about a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, associated substance abuse, physical abuse by Lewis's mother’s boyfriends, mental disorders in other family members, and attempted suicide. The state appellate court concluded that Lewis was not prejudiced by the deficient performance of counsel.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of habeas relief. The decision of the last responsible state court was contrary to Supreme Court precedent, in holding that “Strickland,” not “Cronic,” furnished the applicable rule, While the Indiana Court of Appeals was not unreasonable in finding that Lewis had not been prejudiced by his attorney’s substandard performance, prejudice need not be shown. Raff gave up on Lewis and left him entirely without the assistance of counsel at the sentencing stage of a felony murder case. View "Lewis v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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At 3:55 a.m. people were loitering outside a lounge when Lopez sideswiped an SUV parked in front of the lounge. Bystanders swarmed Lopez’s car, punching him through an open window. A passenger exited Lopez’s car and fired a warning shot. Lopez exited the car, grabbed the gun, and walked toward the bystanders. Raines, a Cook County correctional officer, out celebrating, arrived at 3:56:11. Lopez walked back toward his car, stopping to fire two shots at an upward angle. Raines approached Lopez with his own gun drawn. Lopez reached to open his car door. Raines started shooting at 3:56:27. Lopez, injured, dropped his gun and staggered away. Raines continued to fire. Raines pursued Lopez, who was leaning against a wall. Lopez’s passenger, Orta, picked up the dropped gun and fired at Raines at 3:56:32 a.m. For about three minutes, Orta and Raines engaged in a standoff. Raines simultaneously restrained Lopez, wounded but conscious, and used him as a human shield. At 4:00:10 a.m., Orta fled. Police and paramedics arrived. Lopez faced criminal charges.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. Raines was entitled to qualified immunity because his use of deadly force did not violate clearly established law although the video footage of the events conveys the impression that Raines might have been able to avoid any use of lethal force. View "Lopez v. Sheriff of Cook County" on Justia Law

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Jones and Wansley worked at Illinois Post Office branches. Working with Smith and other co-conspirators, they arranged and executed a scheme to ship packages containing marijuana and marijuana derivatives through the mail. Jones and Wansley intercepted the packages and handed them off to others for cash bribes.They were charged with bribery, 18 U.S.C. 201(b)(2)(C), conspiracy to commit obstruction of correspondence and theft of mail, 18 U.S.C. 371, and obstruction of correspondence, 18 U.S.C. 1702. The government presented evidence of trash pulls at Smith’s home, surveillance of Jones improperly scanning packages, text messages concerning addresses and payments, observation of hand-offs, and “controlled” deliveries of packages that the government had intercepted and repackaged. Jones and Wansley made statements to postal inspectors following their arrests, admitting to the crimes and describing some of the transactions. At trial, Jones testified that Smith was simply a customer who was having trouble with deliveries, so Jones offered to help intercept Smith’s packages and that the payments from Smith were tips for good service. Wansley testified that she was just following orders from Jones, her supervisor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed their convictions and their sentences, Jones to eight months’ imprisonment and Wansley to 30 days’ imprisonment, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Todd and Shelly Cibulka drove to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where their daughter Emily was a freshman. They went to a bar and imbibed for several hours. Upon leaving, they were clearly intoxicated. Emily, wanting to get them home, called the police non-emergency number. Conducting a welfare check, Officer Johnson said he could give them a ride but the Cibulkas would not identify the location of their truck. Todd staggered toward Johnson Street. Officer Erwin thought Todd might tumble into the busy street, grabbed Todd, and told Todd to sit down. Todd would not comply. It appeared that Todd might strike the much-smaller officer. The officers took Todd to the ground to reduce the risk of harm, told him to stop resisting, and handcuffed him. Todd declined medical attention. The officers walked Todd to the squad car. Todd resisted and was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer. He was lifted into a police van and taken to jail. He was released at 2:30 the next morning, returned to his truck, and smashed through the gate instead of paying the exit fare.The Cibulkas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The officers are entitled to qualified immunity. It was reasonable for the officers to believe there was probable cause to arrest Todd for disorderly conduct and for resisting an officer; the officers stopped well short of such unnecessary roughness. View "Cibulka v. City of Madison" on Justia Law

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Coe, then age 18, and two accomplices traveled from Indiana to Illinois where they robbed a Verizon store at gunpoint, fleeing with more than $25,000 in merchandise and cash. Police tracked them down. Coe pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act robbery and brandishing a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. The district court imposed a sentence of 117 months' imprisonment, the bottom of the Guidelines range.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the judge improperly considered Coe's race (Black) and committed procedural error by failing to adequately consider his argument about “brain science” and the psychological immaturity of young men in their late teens. The judge gave several reasons for her decision to give little weight to the absent-father argument—most notably, Coe’s strong support from his mother and other family members. Most of the sentencing analysis focused on the violent nature of Coe’s crimes and criminal history. Read fairly and as a whole, the judge’s remarks make it clear that the sentencing decision was overwhelmingly driven by these factors and was uninfluenced by her perceptions about absent fathers in the black community. The judge reasonably concluded that Coe’s crimes could not be explained away by his youth View "United States v. Coe" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2017, Sanders pled guilty to six drug offense counts. She was sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment and is serving her sentence at Federal Correctional Institution Coleman Low in Florida. In 2020, Coleman Low experienced outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease and COVID‐19. In July 2020, Sanders filed an “Emergency Motion for Compassionate Release” under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), citing her health problems: cardio obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, obesity, and Type II diabetes. She is 59 years old and a former heavy smoker. The government’s response indicated that Sanders had tested positive for COVID‐19 on July 15 and that any symptoms had subsided by July 23.On August 4, the district court denied Sanders’s motion, detailing her criminal history and medical history and finding that section 1B1.13 of the Sentencing Guidelines and the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors weighed against her release. The court concluded that home confinement would be unsuitable, noting that a methamphetamine lab had been found in her kitchen. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although Sanders was foreclosed from addressing the medical records attached in the government’s response, the district court did not abuse its discretion or deny Sanders due process. View "United States v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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Wylie pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. He admitted that he had been hired to transport drugs and money and that he had made the trip four times before his arrest without being caught. Although he had a previous DUI arrest, he had never been convicted of any crimes. The court adopted the PSR, which noted that Wylie’s offense carried a statutory minimum of 10 years to life in prison and at least five years’ supervised release. Because Wylie met all of the requirements for the “safety valve,” 18 U.S.C. 3553(f), the court could impose a sentence below the statutory minimum. The Guidelines range was 97-121 months’ imprisonment with a two-five year range of supervised release.The court imposed a 97-month prison sentence. As for supervised release, the court proposed sentencing Wylie to five years, saying: “The crime of conviction requires that you get a term of supervised release that’s at least five years long.” Wylie’s counsel did not object. The Seventh Circuit vacated the term of supervised release, which was imposed under the erroneous belief that the court was bound by the statutory minimum, without reference to the Guidelines range. View "United States v. Wylie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Jackson made a career of armed bank robbery. A district judge concluded that only life imprisonment without the possibility of parole would end his criminality. In 1986, when he committed his final robbery, Jackson was 35. At age 70, he sought compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1), citing “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” Jackson suffers from hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which create extra risk for someone housed in close quarters during the pandemic.The Bureau of Prisons, a district judge, and the Seventh Circuit denied relief. Jackson is not covered by section 3582, having committed his crime before November 1987, when the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 took effect. Section 3582, added to Title 18 by the 1984 Act, provides that it “shall apply only to offenses committed after the taking effect of this chapter.” People whose crimes predate November 1987 are governed by the law in force at the time of their offenses, which provides for parole, or a judge could reduce a prisoner’s “minimum term” on a motion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons. Given his no-parole sentence, which lacks a minimum term of years, Jackson retains only the possibility of a commutation. The 2018 First Step Act permits prisoners to seek their own release but did not abolish section 3582. One other circuit has considered the issue and found that the 2018 Act does not make old-law prisoners eligible for section 3582(c)(1) release. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law