Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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In 2007, Perry pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines, based on his prior convictions for attempted murder and attempted armed robbery. The career offender Guideline, U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a), used a definition of a “crime of violence” that included a “residual clause” that mirrored the “violent felony” definition in the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B). In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the ACCA residual clause as unconstitutionally vague. Perry challenged his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. In 2017, however, the Supreme Court rejected such challenges because the Guidelines are only advisory. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Perry’s argument that the law of the Seventh Circuit did not make the Guidelines sufficiently advisory in 2007. Courts are free to reject the Guidelines based on sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). Once the Supreme Court declared the Guidelines advisory, they remained advisory notwithstanding some erroneous applications in the district and circuit courts. Appellate courts cannot change constitutional law established by the holdings of the Supreme Court. If Perry believed he was sentenced under a mandatory guidelines regime contrary to Supreme Court precedent, he could have appealed. View "Perry v. United States" on Justia Law

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Following his convictions for drug and firearms crimes, Hill was sentenced to 276 months’ imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act, (ACCA) 18 U.S.C. 924(e). Hill argued that his conviction for attempted murder under Illinois law did not qualify as an ACCA “violent felony,” which is defined as a crime that “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed the sentence. When a substantive offense would be a violent felony under section 924(e) and similar statutes, an attempt to commit that offense also is a violent felony. The court rejected Hill’s argument that even the completed crime of murder in Illinois is not a violent felony under the federal elements clause because is possible to commit murder in Illinois by administering poison, or exposing a baby to freezing conditions, or placing a helpless person in danger. The Supreme Court has held that “physical force” means “force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person”: the wrongdoer applies energy to bring about an effect on the would-be victim. Both murder and attempted murder in Illinois are categorically violent felonies under section 924(e). View "Hill v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Each defendant was convicted of illegally possessing a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), and is serving 180 months’ imprisonment, the statutory floor for someone convicted of that crime who has three or more earlier convictions for a violent felony or serious drug offense. The Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) includes “burglary” in the list of violent felonies but does not define “burglary.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A conviction for residential burglary in Illinois under the 1982 revision of 720 ILCS 5/19-3 is “generic burglary” under Supreme Court precedent. In Illinois “[a] person commits residential burglary who knowingly and without authority enters the dwelling place of another with the intent to commit therein a felony or theft.” Rejecting an argument that “a tent, a vehicle, or other enclosed space” is not a “structure” under Supreme Court precedent, the court concluded that the crime of residential burglary in Illinois does not cover the entry of vehicles (including boats) and tents. People live in trailers, which are “structures” as a matter of ordinary usage. Trailers used as dwellings are covered by the Illinois residential-burglary statute. View "Smith v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Collins pled guilty to distributing cocaine and at least 28 grams of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). He was sentenced to 120 months in prison—the statutory minimum in light of a prior felony drug conviction. The district court added two offense levels under U.S.S.G. 3B1.1(c) for his supervisory role in the offenses. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded the sentence. While the guidelines have been advisory since 2005, the enhancement decision disqualified Collins from safety‐valve relief from the statutory minimum sentence, 18 U.S.C. 3553(f)(4). This is an atypical drug case in which the judge based the role enhancement for Collins on a legal error. Without any criminal organization or hierarchy, Collins’s isolated, one‐time request to another independent dealer to cover for him on a sale did not make him a supervisor or manager within the meaning of the guideline. View "United States v. Collins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Plaintiffs, Jewish inmates at prisons operated by the Indiana Department of Corrections, were transferred from one DOC facility to another (Wabash Valley) in order to maintain a kosher diet. Plaintiffs allege that Liebel, the DOC Director of Religious and Volunteer Services, violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by failing to delay that transfer until the new facility offered opportunities for Jewish group worship and study. At the time of the transfer, the DOC was unable to recruit Jewish volunteers to Wabash Valley to lead worship or train inmate leaders. In their suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court granted Liebel summary judgment, citing qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that Liebel did not violate clearly established law. Plaintiffs cited no case holding that the Free Exercise Clause provides prisoners the right to group worship when outside volunteers were unavailable to lead or train inmates or holding that a prison official violates the Free Exercise Clause by transferring inmates to a facility that does not provide congregate worship and study, or by failing to delay a transfer until the new facility provides congregate worship and study. View "Kemp v. Liebel" on Justia Law

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After Foster pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), the district court considered him to have three qualifying convictions under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), and imposed the minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. Foster had convictions for dealing in methamphetamine (a serious drug offense under ACCA), and Indiana robbery, an ACCA violent felony. Foster argued that his past conviction for Indiana’s Class B burglary of a dwelling was not a violent felony. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence, finding his argument foreclosed by 2017 circuit precedent. Determining whether burglary under a given state's law is a violent felony presents a categorical question that focuses exclusively on the state crime's elements and not on the facts underlying the conviction. The state crime’s elements must be the same as, or narrower than, the elements of generic burglary as defined by the Supreme Court so that the crime covers no more conduct than the generic offense. Indiana’s Class B felony burglary is committed while armed with a deadly weapon or if the building or structure is a dwelling: Indiana Class B burglary is a violent felony. View "United States v. Foster" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Brothers Daniel and John operated companies that offered remodeling services in Chicago. Through subcontractors, they performed legitimate work for clients who paid in cash, but they padded their profits by duping elderly, unsophisticated homeowners into refinancing their homes to pay substantial sums for work they never intended to finish. The Circuit Court of Cook County permanently enjoined both John and a company the brothers owned from engaging in home-repair in Chicago; the brothers circumvented the injunction by creating a new company and installing an employee as its nominal president. They falsified contracts to hide their fraudulent activity. The brothers were convicted of wire fraud and each was sentenced to 168 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed their sentences in 2014. They filed separate pro se collateral challenges under 28 U.S.C. 2255, each contending that their attorneys were constitutionally ineffective. The district judge denied both section 2255 motions without holding an evidentiary hearing. The Seventh Circuit granted Daniel a certificate of appealability, then rejected his claims that his attorneys rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to raise a “Batson” objection to the exclusion of potential jurors based on race and hire an expert witness to testify about the amount of loss attributable to Daniel for purposes of the Sentencing Guidelines. View "Sullivan v. United States" on Justia Law

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Halbach disappeared in 2005. Her family contacted police. Officers focused on Avery Auto Salvage in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, the last place she was known to have visited. Avery, who lived on the property, had called Auto Trader magazine, for whom Halbach worked, to request that she photograph a minivan that he wished to sell. The police suspected that Avery’s 16‐year‐old nephew, Dassey, who also lived on the property, might have information about Halbach and called Dassey into the police station. After many hours of interrogation over several days, Dassey confessed that he, with Avery, had raped and murdered Halbach and burned her body. Before trial, Dassey recanted. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After unsuccessful state appeals and post‐conviction proceedings, Dassey sought federal habeas relief, claiming that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel and that his confession was not voluntary. The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed the district court in granting relief. On rehearing, en banc, the Seventh Circuit reversed, citing the deferential standards of 28 U.S.C. 2254(d). The state courts’ finding that Dassey’s confession was voluntary was not beyond fair debate, but was reasonable. View "Dassey v. Dittmann" on Justia Law

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Robinson, an Illinois inmate, alleged (42 U.S.C. 1983) that Pontiac Correctional Center guards beat him and taunted him with racial slurs as punishment for filing grievances. The district court dismissed, reasoning that some of Robinson’s allegations about the altercation conflicted with his disciplinary conviction for assaulting the guards. The court recognized that Robinson’s suit would not be barred if he argued that the guards used more force than was reasonably necessary to subdue him, but concluded that Robinson “plead[ed] himself out of court” by insisting that he did nothing to provoke the beating. The Seventh Circuit vacated, holding that the district court abused its discretion in declining to recruit counsel for Robinson. Though there is no automatic right to recruitment of counsel in civil cases, a pro se litigant’s requests for counsel are entitled to careful consideration. The district court found that Robinson made reasonable efforts to obtain counsel. Robinson stated that he has only an eighth-grade education and stays “heavily medicated” with psychotropic drugs but the district court did not address or conclude that it disbelieved Robinson’s explanation that another inmate helped him draft the documents that the court looked to for evidence of his capacity to litigate. View "Robinson v. Scrogum" on Justia Law

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After being asked to leave a party, Adorno shot a gun into the crowd. During voir dire, the judge stated: Illinois does not define reasonable doubt, but any of you who may have sat on a civil jury there’s a preponderance of the evidence, reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof in our country and in our [s]tate. Those of you who may have sat on civil cases, preponderance of the evidence, if you look at this like a scale, all you have to do is tilt it. So the definition of preponderance of the evidence is, it’s more likely than not that the event occurred. Again, Illinois doesn’t define reasonable doubt. That’s up for you to decide in words, but in analogy to the scale thing, you would have to tip it like this. Adorno was convicted of attempted murder. On appeal, Adorno argued that the impromptu statement invited the jury to convict on less than the reasonable-doubt burden of proof. The Illinois Court of Appeals rejected the claim without reference to federal law. Adorno sought federal habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Seventh Circuit reversed a grant of relief. Even if the “Richter presumption” that the state court adjudicated the federal claim does not apply and de novo review is applied, Adorno’s claim fails. There is no reasonable likelihood that the jury convicted him on less than the reasonable-doubt standard. View "Adorno v. Melvin" on Justia Law