Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Contreras pleaded guilty to drug-trafficking offenses in three separately charged criminal cases assigned to three different district judges. When calculating the guidelines range at sentencing, each judge applied an upward adjustment of two offense levels after finding that Contreras maintained a premises—his home— “for the purpose of manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance,” U.S.S.G. 2D1.1(b)(12). The Seventh Circuit affirmed his concurrent 87-month sentences, rejecting an argument that each judge erred by not comparing the frequency of legal activity to the frequency of illegal activity that occurred at his residence. The eight drug transactions that Contreras conducted at his home support a finding that drug trafficking was a primary use of the residence, not an incidental or collateral one. View "United States v. Contreras" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In 2001, Sherman died from gunshot wounds. When police arrived, Sherman lay on the ground with 50-60 people gathered around. Long was tried for first-degree murder. No physical evidence tied Long to the crime. The state presented four witnesses; two recanted at trial. In closing argument, the prosecutor made improper statements, resulting in a new trial. At Long’s second trial, the state again presented the four eyewitnesses. One maintained her identification of Long. Two, having previously recanted, continued to deny having seen Long shoot Sherman, despite their prior videotaped statements. The prosecutor failed to correct Irby when she claimed that she had not previously stated that her identification was coerced; defense counsel impeached that testimony. During closing arguments, the prosecutor made comments that no evidence was presented that another individual committed the crime and referenced the contents of a letter written by Irby that had not been admitted into evidence. The jury found Long guilty. His state court appeals and post-conviction petitions were unsuccessful. On rehearing en banc, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Long’s federal habeas petition, finding the prosecutorial misconduct claims procedurally defaulted and that Long had not shown a reasonable likelihood that Irby’s testimony or the closing argument prejudiced the outcome; and that Long’s ineffective assistance claim was without merit. “[W]hat occurred [Irby's testimony] may well have helped the defense rather than the prosecutor.” View "Long v. Pfister" on Justia Law

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Convicted of multiple counts of sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, and attempted sex trafficking, 18 U.S.C. 1591(a) and 1594(c), Sawyer was sentenced to 50 years' incarceration. After unsuccessful appeals, Sawyer sought habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, asserting ineffective assistance of trial counsel, stating that “the Government offered the Petitioner a plea offer, which included a term of imprisonment of 15 years” and that counsel advised him to reject it because “the Government’s case against him was weak.” Sawyer attached affidavits from his mother and grandmother, in which they attest to discussing the plea offer with Sawyer. The government argued that Sawyer’s petition failed to provide sufficient evidence that the government made him an offer. The district court denied Sawyer’s petition without holding an evidentiary hearing, noting that Sawyer did not attach a proposed plea agreement or an affidavit from trial counsel regarding any agreement. The Seventh Circuit vacated. If he is able to prove on remand that the government did offer a plea deal, Sawyer will have to establish that his attorney’s advice was objectively unreasonable and that, with competent advice, he would have accepted the plea deal, but at this point in the proceedings, Sawyer has sufficiently alleged both of those required elements. View "Sawyer v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Saxon was convicted in Illinois state court of the 1995 first-degree murder of a 12-year-old girl, arson, and concealment of homicide. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. After his state appeals were exhausted, Saxon sought habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The state’s case included testimony from 15 witnesses, numerous stipulations and exhibits. The victim’s mother testifed that Saxon was at her house almost every day, and was there the night the girl disappeared. Saxon’s aunt testified that she had lived at the residence with the garage in which the victim’s burned body was found before the fire and that Saxon frequently visited. By the time police obtained a search warrant for a sample of Saxon’s blood in 2000, Saxon was serving a 10-year prison sentence following a conviction for the sexual assault of his nephew. Saxon’s blood sample showed that his DNA matched the DNA profile found on the sperm fraction found on the victim’s body. Eventually, Saxon admitted that he had sex with the victim. The evidence was sufficient to find Saxon guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes charged was not objectively unreasonable. View "Saxon v. Lashbrook" on Justia Law

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After participating in a scheme that involved “retirement investment seminars,” Oliver pled guilty to wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, for defrauding investors. Because Oliver used their money for personal expenses or invested it in high-risk schemes, investors lost a total of $983,654. The district court sentenced Oliver to 51 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the sentence, rejecting arguments that the district court erred by failing to consider unwarranted sentencing disparities, relying on inaccurate information, not calculating the Guidelines range for supervision, and imposing a two‐level leadership enhancement. The sentence fell within the recommended Guidelines range and Oliver failed to object at the time of sentencing. View "United States v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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Sanders has been in solitary confinement for eight years, and the prison plans to keep him there for another ten. He has been diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and other conditions that make him dangerous to others. Sanders alleged in a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 that the isolation, heat, and restricted airflow in solitary confinement harm aggravate his psychological problems and his asthma. The filing fee in federal court is $400. Sanders asked for permission to litigate in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. 1915(b), which is unavailable if the prisoner has, on three or more occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury. Sanders conceded that at least three of his prior suits or appeals have been dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim. The Seventh Circuit vacated the dismissal of his suit, citing “the exception to the exception.” Sanders argued that his mental condition disposes him to self-harm, that he has twice tried to commit suicide, and has engaged in self-mutilation. Sanders’s history, coupled with the prison’s diagnosis of his condition, make his allegations plausible. The court stated that a court cannot simply disregard such an allegation as self-serving. View "Sanders v. Melvin" on Justia Law

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In 1998 Haynes was convicted of 12 federal crimes and sentenced to life plus 105 years in prison. His direct appeal and a collateral attack under 28 U.S.C. 2255 failed. After the Supreme Court retroactively held that the residual clause in 18 U.S.C.924(e)(2)(B)(ii) is unconstitutionally vague in labelling as a violent felony a crime that “involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another,” the Seventh Circuit authorized Haynes to pursue another collateral attack. The district court concluded that Johnson implies the invalidity of the residual clause in 18 U.S.C. 3559(c)(2)(F)(ii), under which Haynes’s life sentences were imposed and concluded that Haynes must be resentenced. The court did not invalidate any of his convictions. Haynes argued that three of his 18 U.S.C. 924(c) convictions for use of a firearm in committing a crime of violence depended on a conclusion that interstate travel in aid of racketeering, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a)(2), is a crime of violence. The Seventh Circuit dismissed his appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The length of Haynes’ new sentences for Hobbs Act robbery may affect the appropriate length of his section 924(c) sentences. When a judge in a section 2255 proceeding orders a resentencing, that proceeding is not over, and the decision is not appealable until that resentencing has occurred. View "Haynes v. United States" on Justia Law

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Soon after he began working at a daycare, other teachers expressed concern about 20‐year‐old Al‐Awadi’s interactions with female children. Al‐Awadi was cautioned about his behavior. On a day when the daycare was shorthanded, Al-Awadi, the only adult in a room of napping children, pulled back the underwear of a girl and took pictures. He put his finger in her vagina. The girl woke up and complained to another teacher. She was later examined by a physician, who discounted Al-Awadi’s claim that the girl injured herself on his watch while she was playing on his lap and he was checking for injury. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his convictions for making and attempting to make child pornography, rejecting arguments concerning evidence that Al‐Awadi digitally penetrated the girl, an uncharged act. The “more likely than not” pattern jury instruction accurately told the jury how to assess evidence of acts other than charged crimes. The jury was also instructed that the government had to prove the elements of charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. Evidence of the molestation was permissible because Al-Awadi placed his intent in taking the pictures at issue. Sufficient evidence supported the conclusion that Al‐ Awadi used the girl to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of the conduct. View "United States v. Al-Awadi" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Holton pleaded guilty to robbing an Illinois grocery store, carrying and using a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A); a jury found him guilty of conspiring to commit Hobbs Act robbery (robbery affecting interstate commerce), 18 U.S.C. 1951. He was acquitted of robbing two other stores. In sentencing Holton on the conspiracy count, the judge imposed a prison term roughly four years above the Guidelines sentence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court has held that a judge may consider evidence of conduct that is relevant to the offense of conviction, even if that conduct is uncharged, “so long as that conduct has been proved by a preponderance of the evidence.” The judge stated that she was not considering acquitted conduct, but that the conspiracy began with “robbing drug dealers” (uncharged) and evolved into robbing other businesses, so that the drug-dealer robberies were “connected in a substantial way to the conspiracy charge and conviction,” and were “significantly relevant ... uncharged conduct which I have authority to consider.” Although the judge did not state explicitly that Holton more likely than not robbed drug dealers, she said enough to show that she reached this conclusion and therefore did not err. View "United States v. Holton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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After his conviction for a felony in Illinois, Rodriguez-Contreras, a lawful U.S. permanent resident, was found in possession of a weapon and was convicted under 720 ILCS 5/24–1.1(a). The Board of Immigration Appeals concluded that he was removable as an alien convicted of an “aggravated felony,” 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43); violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), which bars anyone convicted of a felony from possessing a firearm, is an aggravated felony. The Seventh Circuit remanded. The BIA did not address whether the substantive elements of the state offense match those of the federal law, which defines "firearm" as “any weapon … designed to … expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.” Compressed air is not an explosive, so pneumatic weapons are not “firearms.” Illinois law defines a firearm as “any device ... designed to expel a projectile ... by the action of an explosion, expansion of gas or escape of gas.” Illinois law is broader than the federal law. The court rejected an argument that the Illinois statute is “divisible” and permits judges to determine which statutory provision was involved. Illinois has a single crime of weapon possession by a felon, with multiple ways of committing that crime. A definitional clause does not create a separate crime. Federal law does not foreclose Rodriguez-Contreras’ obtaining discretionary relief from removal. In exercising discretion the BIA may consider that Rodriguez-Contreras possessed a weapon that is subject to both state and federal prohibitions. View "Rodriguez-Contreras v. Sessions" on Justia Law