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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
by
Wilks, indicted for possessing a firearm as a prohibited person, was released on bond with conditions, including home confinement with limited exceptions. A superseding indictment in an earlier-filed drug-trafficking case added Wilks as a defendant. The new indictment included the original firearm charge; his bond and release conditions were carried over. Wilks obtained the court’s permission to leave his home near Indianapolis to stay overnight in Centralia, Illinois for medical appointments, a family wedding, and religious services. He went to a bar in Mount Vernon, where a fatal shooting occurred. The government moved to revoke Wilks’s release for violating his release conditions prohibiting any contact with codefendants and requiring him to promptly report any contact with law enforcement. The district judge viewed a video of Wilks in the bar and revoked Wilks’s release, finding that Wilks had violated his home-confinement condition as amended by the order allowing his visit to Centralia.The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. A finding that the defendant violated a release condition does not alone permit revocation; the judge must make findings under 18 U.S.C. 3148(b)(1) and (b)(2) before he may revoke release. Though it was not improper for the judge to reframe the inquiry, Wilks’s counsel did not have an opportunity to address the specific issue that the judge was concerned about. The judge did not explain why detention was necessary under section 3148(b)(2). View "United States v. Wilks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
In 2011, Campos-Rivera, a citizen of Mexico, was convicted of Illinois state felonies He was removed but reentered and was apprehended in 2018. Charged with unlawfully reentering the U.S. after removal, 8 U.S.C. 1326(a), he was initially represented by an assistant public defender. Counsel was allowed to withdraw at Campos-Rivera’s request based on an irreconcilable conflict. A new lawyer was appointed. Campos-Rivera then filed multiple pro se motions raising issues that his new attorney declined to pursue. The judge told him that he could not proceed pro se and through counsel. Campos-Rivera asked the judge to dismiss his attorney and appoint a third. The judge declined, giving Campos-Rivera a choice: move forward with his current lawyer or proceed pro se. Campos-Rivera chose the latter. The judge then denied the pro se motions and later found Campos-Rivera guilty.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A disagreement between attorney and client over pretrial motions is not grounds for the appointment of a new attorney. Campos-Rivera validly waived his right to counsel; the judge conducted a comprehensive waiver colloquy to ensure that the decision was fully informed and voluntary. Campos-Rivera’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence fails because section 1326(a) is a general-intent crime. The government need only prove that the defendant knowingly reentered the U.S., not that he intended to do so unlawfully. The stipulated facts support an inference of knowing reentry. No specific factual finding regarding the intent element was necessary. View "United States v. Campos-Rivera" on Justia Law

by
While on parole, Cunningham was riding in a car that police officers stopped for having an unregistered license plate. The driver sped away, provoking a high-speed chase. At some point, Cunningham exited the car and ran until he fell and dropped a 9mm round of ammunition. Cunningham, a felon, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of ammunition, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1).His PSR calculated a base offense level of 24 under U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(a)(2) because Cunningham had two previous convictions for a crime of violence, U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a)(1). In 2007 and 2010, Cunningham had been convicted of aggravated battery against a peace officer. The PSR noted that the government provided the certified disposition, reflecting, as did the Chicago Police Department and Illinois State Police rap sheets, that Cunningham was convicted of 720 ILCS 5/12-4(a); information provided by the Department of Corrections (DOC) indicated that he was convicted of 720 ILCS 5/12- 4(b)(6). Cunningham was sentenced to 60 months, below the calculated range of 70-87 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the court should have relied on the DOC records in determining whether his 2010 conviction constituted a crime of violence. The court appropriately relied on the certified record. View "United States v. Cunningham" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
For about 30 years, Hicks worked as a Chicago police officer. He used his position to steal drugs and guns from pushers and to extort money. Hicks and his confederates obtained from informants and other officers information about where drugs might be found then used police cars and other departmental equipment to search drug houses and cars thought to be carrying drugs. They used forged search warrants to reduce resistance.A jury convicted Hicks of eight felonies, including failure to appear on the day initially set for his trial. He was a fugitive for about 15 years. Sentenced to 146 months’ imprisonment, he did not contest the sufficiency of the evidence but challenged his convictions under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962, and for stealing money belonging to the United States, 18 U.S.C. 641 (the FBI had provided money as bait in places they thought he might rob). The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the jury could have confused the conspiracy with the “enterprise” or treated the pattern of other crimes (such as stealing or possessing drugs and guns) as if it were the RICO enterprise and that the jury instructions were defective because they did not state that conviction depended on finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Hicks knew that the money he stole belonged to the United States. View "United States v. Hicks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Sprenger pled guilty to the production and possession of child pornography with a plea agreement. He sought to withdraw his guilty plea and invalidate the entire agreement on the ground that the legal theory upon which his production conviction (18 U.S.C. 2251(a)) rests is invalid. Spring argued that he produced images in which he was engaged in sexually explicit conduct but the sleeping victim was not engaged in sexually explicit conduct. When Sprenger initially entered into the plea agreement, his admitted conduct was sufficient to provide the factual basis for his production conviction.The government agreed with Sprenger’s position and the Seventh Circuit vacated his production conviction. The plea agreement still provides an adequate factual basis for the possession conviction, which supports that Sprenger’s plea to the possession offense remains knowing and voluntary notwithstanding the invalidity of the production conviction. View "United States v. Sprenger" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
In 2008, Arnold was convicted of repeated sexual assault of his son, M.A., the principal witness at trial. As a persistent repeater, Arnold was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2011, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and the denial of Arnold’s first post‐conviction petition. M.A. then signed a notarized affidavit, recanting his trial testimony. Nearly two years later, Arnold filed a pro se petition seeking a new trial. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the petition, reasoning that the affidavit was not newly-discovered evidence but was cumulative of evidence presented at trial. The Wisconsin Supreme Court again denied review.In December 2015, Arnold filed a federal habeas petition, claiming actual innocence. The district court dismissed the petition as untimely. Under 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1)(A), a petitioner must seek habeas relief within one year of the date that his conviction became final. On remand, the district court heard testimony from M.A., a child psychologist, and M.A.’s former counselor. The Seventh Circuit then affirmed the dismissal of the petition. Arnold failed to meet the rigorous standard for overcoming the time bar. The court properly applied that probabilistic standard on remand; it was not the court’s charge on remand to independently determine whether it found M.A.’s recantation credible or reliable. The court employed the proper standard in viewing the new evidence through the eyes of a reasonable juror. View "Arnold v. Richardson" on Justia Law

by
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, an inmate at the Dixon Correctional Center, alleging that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights when they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by refusing to grant him an exemption to wearing a restrictive security device, a black box, when he left the facility for medical appointments.In regard to claims against Dr. Mesrobian, the court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that Dr. Mesrobian acted with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk to plaintiff's health where the doctor concluded that an exemption was not necessary because the amount of force used was minimal and the security concerns significant. In regard to claims against Wexford Health, the court concluded that Wexford Health did not have a policy or practice of per se denials of black box exemptions or of failing to perform assessments to determine whether an exemption was warranted. In regard to claims against Assistant Warden Steele, the court concluded that prison administrators were not indifferent by depending on medical personnel to make medical assessments and that the IDOC, through Steele in his official capacity, did not fail to implement policies in a way that added up to deliberate indifference. Furthermore, the court did not find sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the IDOC had an unconstitutional custom or practice of not giving black box exemptions to inmates with conditions like that of plaintiff. View "Stewart v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Vizcarra-Millan, who lived in Arizona, provided the drugs to Grundy. A network of couriers, including Moseby, brought the drugs to Indianapolis, where Grundy distributed them himself or via a network of wholesalers, including Carroll, who sold to retail dealers, including Atwater and Beasley, and Neville. Grundy and his crew brought at least 280 pounds of highly pure methamphetamine, as well as other drugs, to Indianapolis. In 2017, federal law enforcement obtained wiretaps for the cell phones of crew members and coordinated controlled drug buys from Grundy’s dealers. Most of Grundy’s associates pled guilty. Grundy and four others were convicted.Consolidating the appeals, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the convictions of Grundy, Vizcarra-Millan, Moseby, Atwater, and Neville. The court affirmed the conviction of Beasley on one count but reversed his convictions on two others; the evidence necessarily left a reasonable doubt as to whether he committed those crimes. The court rejected Grundy’s argument that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by improperly obstructing him from representing himself; Vizcarra-Millan’s argument that the district court should have disqualified his chosen counsel due to a conflict of interest; and multiple challenges the denials of untimely motions to suppress evidence. View "United States v. Vizcarra-Millan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Julius was convicted of arson for setting fire to a building where his ex-girlfriend, Noack, was living, twice in the same night. Julius was seen hanging around the building and threw rocks at the apartment window. On the night of the fires, Julius texted Noack repeatedly, asking if she was “coming outside.” He called her five times in a row. After midnight, a building resident woke up to the smell of smoke and found burning coals inside the building’s front door. Shortly after the second fire, an officer found Julius hiding under a car, patted Julius down, and found a lighter in his pocket. Julius was “clearly intoxicated.” Testing revealed gasoline on Julius’s shoes and socks.The government called a state police computer forensic examiner and an ATF agent to testify about extracting text messages from Julius’s phone. . The government did not seek to qualify these witnesses as experts. The ATF agent testified that she could not reach any conclusions as to the phone’s location. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Neither the district court’s failure to qualify the forensic examiner and ATF agent as expert witnesses before allowing them to testify nor the denial of an opportunity to cross-examine the ATF agent about the location data affected the verdict. View "United States v. Julius" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Based on his assault on his wife and her parents, Minnick was charged with aggravated battery, attempted first‐degree murder, and several counts of first‐degree reckless endangerment and attempted burglary, while using a dangerous weapon. Minnick agreed to plead no contest, except for attempted murder, which was dismissed and read‐in, and leave sentencing to the court, exposing him to 73 years of confinement. The court sentenced Minnick to 27 years.Wisconsin courts rejected his argument that his trial attorney improperly guaranteed and unreasonably estimated that he would receive a much shorter sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court denied review. Wisconsin courts then rejected his post-conviction argument that counsel was constitutionally ineffective because she failed to advise him that he could withdraw his no-contest pleas before sentencing if he provided a “fair and just reason” and that, when counsel learned that the PSR recommended a sentencing range exceeding what she had advised, she should have moved to withdraw his pleas.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief. Although Minnick’s claims could have been analyzed differently—including whether the state court’s decision on counsel’s sentencing advice warranted deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. 2254, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals did not unreasonably apply the Strickland deficient‐performance prong in concluding that a plea withdrawal claim was not clearly stronger than the argument that Minnick’s postconviction counsel advanced. View "Minnick v. Winkleski" on Justia Law