Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Ali, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, took his three small children out of the U.S. without his wife’s knowledge, intending to go to Pakistan. His wife had been granted custody of the children by a court order that prohibited Ali from taking the children out of Illinois. Intercepted in Turkey, he was returned to the U.S., where he was arrested, pleaded guilty to violating the parental-kidnapping statute, 18 U.S.C. 1204, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the sentence, rejecting a challenge to an enhancement for Ali’s having substantially interfered with the administration of justice, U.S.S.G. 2J1.2(b)(2). Had that three-level increase not been imposed, the defendant’s guidelines range would have been 8-14 months rather than 15-21 months. The guidelines indicate that substantially interfering with justice includes causing an “unnecessary expenditure of substantial governmental or court resources.” The government did not introduce the result of any computation of the costs incurred as a result of the defendant’s absconding with the children. The court concluded that it could not say “that the costs are trivial, bearing in mind that the increase in the guidelines range imposed on the defendant by virtue of those costs was modest.” View "United States v. Ali" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Chen, a lawful permanent resident who came from China at age 11, was ordered removed from the U.S. as an alien convicted of a controlled‐substance crime, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II). He had drug convictions in 2010 and 2011. The Board of Immigration Appeals decided that Chen was ineligible for cancellation of removal because of an Illinois conviction for possessing more than 30 but not more than 500 grams of marijuana, 720 ILCS 550/5(d), which, it concluded, qualified as an aggravated felony, making Chen ineligible for relief under 8 U.S.C. 1229b(a). The Seventh Circuit remanded, concluding that the Board misapplied the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Moncrieffe v. Holder, when it characterized Chen’s conviction as an aggravated felony. Nothing in that decision supports the conclusion that the possession of a tad more than 30 grams of marijuana—the lowest amount punishable under section 550/5(d)—can never be punished as a federal misdemeanor. View "Chen v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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Facing the possibility of two life sentences, Schneider pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his minor daughter, 18 U.S.C. 2243(a)(1). The court warned Schneider five times that it could impose a sentence as high as 15 years’ imprisonment and that if the guidelines range turned out to be “closer to five years or above,” that, alone, would not be a reason for Schneider to withdraw his guilty plea. Schneider said he understood; the district court accepted his plea. After a change in appointed lawyers, Schneider unsuccessfully moved to withdraw his plea following the release of the PSR, which recommended that Schneider receive a five-level upward adjustment as a “repeat and dangerous sex offender against minors,” U.S.S.G. 4B1.5. The district court sentenced him below the guidelines range to 96 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that his plea was involuntary. Schneider filed a collateral challenge, arguing that his trial lawyer was ineffective for advising him that he met the statutory elements of the offense of sexual abuse of a minor and for not explaining that his prior conduct could be considered during sentencing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of relief, noting Schneider’s efforts to get his daughter to recant, and the testimony of his first attorney about his statements to Schneider. The district court’s findings on direct appeal are the law of the case; Schneider’s claims are implausible. View "Schneider v. United States" on Justia Law

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Officers found a loaded revolver in Sandidge’s living room while investigating a report that he attempted to sexually assault a woman at gunpoint. Sandidge pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The judge imposed a sentence of 92 months in prison plus two years of supervised release. Sandidge's alcohol abuse played a role in the crime and in his earlier criminal conduct. The court imposed a special supervised-release condition prohibiting the use of any mood-altering substance. The Seventh Circuit remanded for resentencing in light of cases requiring a particularized explanation of conditions of supervised release. On resentencing the judge prohibited the “excessive use of alcohol,” defined as including “any use of alcohol that adversely affects [the] defendant’s employment, relationships, or ability to comply with the conditions of supervision.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed as modified. The vagueness doctrine requires that legal mandates be clear enough to give fair notice to those who must comply and to guard against arbitrary enforcement. The “adversely affects” language is loose and indeterminate, raising concerns about arbitrariness in enforcement. The court modified the condition to prohibit the use of alcohol that “materially adversely affects the defendant’s employment, relationships, or ability to comply with the conditions of supervision.” View "United States v. Sandidge" on Justia Law

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Police used a confidential source to buy heroin from registered sex offender Fifer. They obtained a state court warrant to search for evidence including cell phones and computers. They discovered a half‐naked 16‐year‐old girl (C) under a bed. C initially refused to come out and lied about her name and age. An officer attempted to identify her by looking through electronic devices found in the apartment. When the officer found sexually explicit images of C and Fifer, he brought in the sex‐crimes division, which secured C’s cooperation. C. revealed that she and Fifer lived together and had produced sex videos. Police got a federal warrant to search the electronic devices for child pornography. The application did not mention the initial on‐site search but was based on C.T.’s statements. Its execution revealed sexually explicit images of C and Fifer. Fifer was charged with producing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), (e). The court found probable cause, denied a motion to suppress, and admitted Fifer’s prior sex offender conviction after Fifer testified that his “sole purpose” was to enhance their loving relationship. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Fifer’s convictions. The affidavit supporting the state warrant clearly established at least a probability of criminal activity at Fifer’s apartment and no reasonably well‐trained officer would have believed that the search was illegal. Exigent circumstances justified the on-site search of the electronic devices. Fifer’s proffered evidence of his knowledge of C's age or their “loving relationship” was irrelevant to whether he violated the statute, Accurately identifying witnesses by their titles did not impermissibly bolster their testimony. View "United States v. Fifer" on Justia Law

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The FBI investigated a large-scale Chicago cocaine-trafficking organization operated by “Gallo,” with court-authorized wiretaps on Gallo’s phones and charged 40 individuals, including Mojica, with various drug-trafficking crimes. Gallo had been robbed at gunpoint outside of his residence where he kept drugs and money. Concerned that the robbers would return, he looked for new storage space. He learned that Mojica, one of Gallo’s regular customers, had an apartment to rent. Mojica agreed to rent the second floor of his home as a stash house. After Mojica;s arrest, he was transported outside, while agents executed a search warrant for both floors of Mojica’s two-story residence. During the search, agents found $113,991.60, 86 grams of cocaine, scales, a cutting agent, and cell phones. Agents learned from Mojica’s wife that Mojica possessed the only keys to their detached garage, located near the rear of the property. Those keys were obtained from Mojica; Mojica’s wife gave the agents written consent to search the garage; the agents found cell phones, papers, several boxes of baggies, and two baggies containing cocaine. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Mojica’s conviction and 121-month sentence, upholding the denial of his motion to suppress cocaine and other evidence and a finding that he was jointly accountable for 18.084 kilograms of cocaine. View "United States v. Mojica" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Trent was charged with distributing heroin that killed Corzette. At trial, Trent objected to the testimony of government witnesses Hull and Land, who had also been charged with distribution of heroin resulting in Corzette’s death. The two pled guilty. Trent sought to impeach them based on their plea agreements with questions about the 20-year mandatory minimum associated with the heroin-distribution-resulting-in-death charges. Trent faced the same 20-year mandatory minimum if convicted. The district court noted that, if the jury became aware of the exact length of Hull’s and Land’s mandatory minimum, it would also know the minimum penalty that Trent faced, which could improperly sway its decision. The court prevented Trent from asking about the mandatory minimum’s exact length but permitted him to describe the mandatory minimum as “substantial.” Trent also objected to the testimony of Illinois State Police Sergeant Rieck, who had investigated Trent while undercover, communicating with Trent in person and by telephone. At trial, Rieck identified Trent’s voice in phone calls. Trent objected to this identification, claiming that the government had not laid the necessary foundation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Trent’s conviction and 300-month sentence, rejecting arguments that the limitation on questioning Hull and Land violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation and challenging the admission of Rieck’s testimony. View "United States v. Trent" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In 2007, Young was convicted of two counts of burglary, committed under the influence of cocaine. As a condition of probation, he was subject to random drug screenings. In 2015, he appeared for a drug test wearing a prosthetic penis that comes with a synthetic urine pack. The device was confiscated and Young's urine sample tested positive for cocaine, opiates and marijuana. He was subsequently stopped while driving for an obstructed windshield. His outstanding warrant was discovered. He consented to a pat‐down search that revealed six rounds of .40 caliber ammunition, a quarter gram of heroin and a half gram of marijuana in his pockets. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a loaded semi‐automatic handgun, an unloaded semi‐automatic rifle, nine rifle magazines, 1.3 pounds of marijuana, and a half pound of synthetic marijuana. Young stated that he had the weapons because he believed that the gang to which he previously belonged wanted to kill him. Young pled guilty to one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The Seventh Circuit affirmed Young’s 84-month sentence, which the district court characterized as within the properly calculated guideline range, but at the low end of the range if the burglaries were incorporated as crimes of violence. The court noted Young’s high likelihood of recidivism. View "United States v. Young" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Baker, sued (Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(B)) to obtain records connected to an FBI investigation into a protection racket run by Chicago police officers. The FBI gave him redacted records. He sought disclosure of the names of FBI agents involved in the investigation, Chicago police officers who assisted them, and officers who were investigated but not charged. He argued that the light sentences relative to the magnitude of the criminal activity reflected inadequate investigation. The FBI invoked FOIA exemptions for “personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and for records and other information compiled for law enforcement purposes if their disclosure “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The FBI’s concern was that public identification could endanger individuals by identifying them to gangsters still involved in the racket and would unfairly stigmatize officers. The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the FBI, noting that it is purely an investigatory agency and does not make charging decisions sentencing suggestions. Baker’s theory that release of the names would enable the public to determine whether the Bureau had adequately staffed the investigation was farfetched. View "Baker v. Federal Bureau of Investigation" on Justia Law

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Awaiting trial on state charges for armed robbery and unlawful restraint, Hudson's public defender advised that he faced a sentence of six-60 years. He rejected a plea deal that offered 16 years. Hudson was convicted. At sentencing, it was discovered that his criminal history including convictions for murder, armed robbery, burglary, felony theft, and felony drug possession. Hudson received a mandatory natural life sentence without the possibility of parole. After exhausting state appeals, Hudson filed a federal habeas action, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court issued the writ, ordering the state to reoffer Hudson the original plea deal. Hudson accepted a plea deal for attempted armed robbery, to avoid a mandatory life sentence. The judge declined to rule, stating that she had no jurisdiction because “orders from the Appellate Court … suggested all issues addressed by this Court were correct, and … nothing from the Federal Court that suggests otherwise.” The original sentence had not been vacated; the new agreement was contrary to Illinois law, in suggesting that Hudson plead guilty to an offense that he was not convicted of. The judge stated that she would have rejected the plea deal even if she were considering it for the first time, considering Hudson’s criminal history. Hudson’s state court appeal remains pending. Hudson filed a federal “motion to enforce” that sought his immediate release. The district judge denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. State prosecutors complied with the original writ, but a state judge refused to accept the deal. Hudson received all the relief he sought in his first habeas action. View "Hudson v. Lashbrook" on Justia Law