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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Dingwall was charged with three counts of robbery and three counts of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. She admits the robberies but claims she committed them under duress, in fear of brutal violence by her abusive boyfriend, Stanley. Dingwall sought a ruling on evidence to support her duress defense, including expert evidence on battering and its effects. The duress defense has two elements: reasonable fear of imminent death or serious injury, and the absence of reasonable, legal alternatives to committing the crime. The district court denied Dingwall’s motion. Dingwall then pleaded guilty, reserving her right to appeal the decision on the motion in limine. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that the cases are close and difficult, often dividing appellate panels. “Dingwall surely faces challenges” Stanley was not physically present for any of the robberies, Dingwall actually held a gun, and there is a dispute about whether Stanley threatened harm if she did not commit these specific offenses. Those facts present questions for a jury; the immediate physical presence of the threat is not always essential to a duress defense. Expert evidence of battering and its effects may inform the jury how an objectively reasonable person under the defendant’s circumstances might behave. View "United States v. Dingwall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Officers used a confidential informant to arrange four controlled drug buys from Rollerson. Officers obtained search warrants for an apartment and for Rollerson’s home, then stopped Rollerson for speeding. They recovered a gun and marijuana from his car. Rollerson, a convicted felon, said that he “was the only one who had something to do with the drug sales.” In Rollerson's home, police found $150,000 in cash that Rollerson admitted were drug proceeds. Rollerson had a key to the apartment, which contained four kilograms of fentanyl, 52 grams of heroin, 97 grams of cocaine, and 236 grams of tramadol, plus digital scales, firearms, and mail addressed to Rollerson. Rollerson was convicted on certain drug and firearm charges but acquitted on other drug charges. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 276-month sentence. Rollerson claimed that the prosecution did not present sufficiently reliable information that he sold heroin and fentanyl during four controlled drug buys for which he was not charged and that those uncharged controlled buys and other drugs for which he was acquitted were not “part of the same course of conduct … scheme or plan” as his offenses of convictions. The record at sentencing on the controlled buys was sparse but absent contradictory evidence, a police officer’s affidavit attesting that the buys occurred provided the “modicum of reliability” needed to find by a preponderance of the evidence that Rollerson committed those additional crimes. View "United States v. Rollerson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 1993, Millis and Creeden committed two armed robberies. State police stopped them and searched their vehicle, which contained ammunition, a pistol, and cash from the robberies. The traffic stop was found to be pretextual but Creeden had already implicated Millis as the getaway driver. Millis was convicted of aiding and abetting: an armed bank robbery, the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, a Hobbs Act robbery, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Millis’s previous convictions, a 1992 Ohio conviction for aggravated assault and a 1991 Ohio conviction for selling marijuana, plus his federal armed bank robbery conviction qualified him as a career offender. The district judge sentenced him to a below-guidelings 410 months’ imprisonment, stating, “if I had discretion ... I would sentence him to about 25 years.”Millis repeatedly sought post-conviction relief. Attempting to benefit from intervening legal changes concerning career offender designation, Millis invoked the 28 U.S.C. 2255(e), “savings clause” to seek habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The savings clause is a narrow exception to the rule that federal sentences must be collaterally attacked under section 2255. Millis’s sentence on his guidelines counts fell within the range for a non-career offender, so his career offender designation did not result in a miscarriage of justice, as required for savings clause relief. View "Millis v. Segal" on Justia Law

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Johnson, an inmate at Dixon Correctional Center in Illinois, sued medical professionals under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs because none of them referred Johnson for surgery to repair his hernia. In 2011-2016, Dixon's medical professionals evaluated Johnson more than 90 times, including for treatment of his often-uncontrolled diabetes. Johnson complained, intermittently, of hernia pain but the hernia was at times undetectable, and even when detected, it was small and reducible. Johnson claims that the defendants told him that he would not receive surgery unless his hernia became strangulated or incarcerated. They prescribed over-the-counter pain medication and abdominal binders to manage his symptoms.A court-appointed expert, Dr. Toyama opined that the standard of care in treating a “medically fit” individual with an umbilical hernia is surgical repair but when an umbilical hernia is not strangulated or incarcerated, surgery is not urgent and usually scheduled as an elective procedure. Toyama reiterated that Johnson’s medical records showed no evidence that Johnson’s hernia was strangulated or acutely incarcerated and testified that Johson’s medical records established that his hernia never changed significantly, that he continued to be physically active. When asked whether he had any criticisms of the defendants’ treatment, Toyama answered, “No.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in the defendants’ favor. The record failed to support that they acted with deliberate indifference. View "Johnson v. Dominguez" on Justia Law

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Morrow and others participated in four robberies during two months in 2017. The first three robberies targeted Indiana electronics stores, the fourth an Ohio electronics store. As Morrow and his co-defendants fled from Ohio to Indiana, they were arrested by federal officers, who were tracking their movements. Officers recovered only the electronics from the fourth robbery. Morrow was charged with three counts of Hobbs Act robbery (the Indiana robberies), three counts of use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence (related to the Indiana robberies), one count of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery (Ohio), one count of conspiracy to use a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)), and one count of transporting a firearm across state lines. Morrow admitted guilt on each charge except for the Indiana use-of-a-firearm counts, asserting that a fake firearm was used. The jury found Morrow guilty on all counts. The district court imposed a 204-month term of imprisonment and ordered monetary restitution equal to the value of the electronics stolen in all four robberies.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, except with respect to restitution, rejecting the “fake gun” claim and arguments that the government improperly used the Hobbs Act charges as predicates for the section 924(c) charges. Because the government had the electronics from the fourth robbery in its possession, the district court erred in ordering monetary restitution for those stolen goods. View "United States v. Morrow" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Manning pleaded guilty in 2013 to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana and distribution of marijuana. He was sentenced to 210 months’ imprisonment; his prison term was later reduced to 168 months, based on changes to the sentencing guidelines. He is incarcerated in Fort Dix, New Jersey and is scheduled for release in 2025. In July 2020, Manning, pro se, moved for compassionate release based on his prediabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, together with the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court appointed the Federal Public Defender’s Office to represent Manning, stating that although it lacked authority to appoint counsel for defendants seeking relief under the First Step Act, the Federal Public Defender was “willing” to represent defendants who may be eligible for compassionate release as indicated by the district's Administrative Order 265. The federal defender appeared on Manning’s behalf but moved to withdraw. The court then appointed a Criminal Justice Act panel member, who is entitled to compensation up to $2,500.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Manning’s medical conditions are not extraordinary and compelling cause for a sentence reduction. The factors under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) weighed against his release. The court declined to address whether the district court impermissibly appointed and compensated Manning’s lawyer. View "United States v. Manning" on Justia Law

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About halfway through his prison term for fraud, Ugbah sought compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1), claiming that his medical conditions (diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure) exposed him to higher risk of COVID-19 in prison. The Seventh CIrcuit affirmed the denial of relief. Although the district court bypassed determining whether Ugbah established “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” there was no need for a remand. The district court could not grant relief. Despite Ugbah’s good disciplinary record and the likelihood that he would be deported to Nigeria if released, he cannot establish “extraordinary and compelling reasons”; he was convicted of online fraud, which reaches around the globe. COVID-19 is no longer a scourge in prisons. The Bureau of Prisons offers vaccinations to all federal prisoners. View "United States v. Ugbah" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Flowers was tipped off about q supposed stash house by a man claiming to be a disgruntled drug cartel courier. Flowers's brother and others recruited Conley to help rob that stash house. The supposed courier was an undercover ATF agent. There was no stash house or real drugs, just a convincing ruse designed to ensnare Flowers and his crew. The FBI had originally focused on Flowers through an investigation into a Chicago street gang. Flowers’s group, including Conley, met to plan the robbery. Conley agreed to participate and volunteered for a frontline role. Once the participants were in a van to go to the stash house, the undercover agent gave the arrest signal. Conley was convicted of conspiring and attempting to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 846; possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A); and being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1).Conley invoked 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his convictions, arguing that they were obtained unlawfully through racially selective law enforcement and outrageous government conduct, in violation of his Fifth Amendment equal protection and due process rights, The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion. Although the district court required “clear and convincing” evidence for Conley’s selective enforcement claim, his evidence cannot meet even the less‐demanding standard of preponderance of the evidence. The Seventh Circuit does not recognize a defense for “outrageous government conduct,” and even if it did, ATF’s conduct in Conley’s case would not satisfy the standard other circuits have applied. View "Conley v. United States" on Justia Law

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Contending that his asthma and other breathing issues put him at extra risk should he contract COVID-19 while in prison, Broadfield applied for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A). For a prisoner who is younger than 70, relief depends on finding “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Broadfield has not been convicted of a weapons offense, but the district court cited such an offense in its decision. However, section 3582(c)(1)(A) does not make a judicial finding of non-dangerousness essential to compassionate release. When Broadfield's application was denied, COVID-19 was a grave problem in America’s prisons. The Bureau of Prisons reports that 1,300 prisoners at FCI Seagoville, where Broadfield is confined, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Because risk of COVID-19, which can bear especially hard on people with pre-existing breathing conditions, was Broadfield’s sole reason for seeking compassionate release, a remand would be pointless. A prisoner who remains at elevated risk because he has declined to be vaccinated cannot plausibly characterize that risk as an “extraordinary and compelling” justification for release. The federal judiciary need not accept a prisoner’s self-diagnosed skepticism about the vaccines as an adequate explanation for remaining unvaccinated, when the responsible agencies all deem vaccination safe and effective. View "United States v. Broadfield" on Justia Law

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On December 5, 2013, individuals burglarized a closed Ann Arbor, Michigan, store, taking 24 firearms and other goods. Officers discovered that a caller, using the *67 code, had placed multiple calls to the store after it closed. Under the Stored Communications Act, officers can obtain cell‐site location information by voluntary disclosure, or “exigent request,” 18 U.S.C. 2702(c), or by court order, section 2703(d). The officers made an exigent request to Comcast, the store’s telephone service provider. After Comcast voluntarily disclosed the caller's number, officers determined that Sprint was that caller’s provider and made another exigent request. Sprint voluntarily provided cell‐site location information, which indicated that on December 3-4, the phone had pinged off Illinois cell towers. On December 4, at 11:14 p.m., the phone pinged off of an Ann Arbor tower; it pinged off Ann Arbor towers until 6:37 p.m. on December 5, then returned to Illinois. Officers discovered that the phone number had been provided to a hotel under Rosario’s name, then obtained court orders (2703(d)) to obtain the store’s phone records and the cell‐site location information.Applying then-law (prior to “Carpenter” (2018)), the court denied Rosario’s motion to suppress, holding that the acquisition of cell‐site location information from third‐party service providers did not constitute a Fourth Amendment search. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Rosario’s convictions for transporting stolen goods in interstate commerce and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. Officers relied on section 2702(c)(4) in good faith; their emergency request form stated that “the number of stolen handguns, pose[d] a significant community risk.” The inevitable discovery doctrine also supported the district court’s decision. View "United States v. Rosario" on Justia Law