Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Beltran-Aguilar, a citizen of Mexico, applied for cancellation of removal. The BIA affirmed the denial of his application. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. Beltran-Aguilar’s conviction for Wisconsin battery involving domestic abuse was a crime of domestic violence, rendering him ineligible for cancellation of removal under 8 U.S.C. 1229b(b)(1)(C). A “crime of violence” is “an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another,” 18 U.S.C. 16(a). The elements of the crime for which a defendant was convicted, not his underlying conduct, are determinative. Beltran-Aguilar was convicted under Wisconsin Statute 940.19(1), which prohibits “caus[ing] bodily harm to another by an act done with intent to cause bodily harm to that person or another without the consent of the person so harmed.” “Bodily harm” means “physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.” Rejecting an argument that certain types of non-qualifying conduct theoretically might be prosecuted under the statute, the court stated that there must be “a realistic probability, not a theoretical possibility," that the state would prosecute conduct that falls outside the generic definition of a crime. Beltran-Aguilar has not identified any case in which Wisconsin’s definition of “bodily harm” has been applied in a way that does not accord with precedent defining crimes of violence. View "Beltran-Aguilar v. Whitaker" on Justia Law

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During a traffic stop, Kentucky officers found marijuana and a gun in Sheperd’s car. He pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and two counts for criminal forfeiture. The judge applied an Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) enhancement based on his prior Kentucky burglary convictions and sentenced Shepherd to the mandatory minimum 15 years in prison, 18 U.S.C. 924(e). The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Though his case originated in Kentucky, Shepherd is in an Indiana federal prison. After his challenges to his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 were rejected by the Kentucky district court and the Sixth Circuit, Shepherd filed a 28 U.S.C. 2241 motion in Indiana. A section 2241 habeas petition may be allowed if the prisoner can show “that the remedy by motion [under section 2255] is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” The Seventh Circuit did not address whether Shepherd’s plea agreement waived his right to bring the collateral challenge or whether section 2241 should be available to him and if so, which precedent should apply. The court resolved the case on the merits: the Sixth Circuit held recently that Kentucky second-degree burglary qualifies as a predicate offense for an ACCA enhancement. View "Shepherd v. Julian" on Justia Law

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After pleading guilty to preparing false tax returns for her clients, 26 U.S.C. 7206(2), Johnson was sentenced to 18 months in prison plus $79,325 in restitution—the amount that Johnson’s clients unlawfully avoided paying (with respect to the counts of conviction) that had not been collected from the taxpayers before sentencing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Johnson’s argument that the prosecution should have told the judge how much more it might collect from her clients, which she characterized as exculpatory material that should have been revealed under "Brady." The collections were not concealed. The presentence report showed that the government already had collected substantial sums (the original loss exceeded $150,000) and was trying to obtain the balance from taxpayers. Johnson was free to ask how much more had been collected by the date of sentencing but did not. Brady does not apply when information is available for the asking. The restitution statute, not the Constitution, determines the prosecution’s duty—one of credit against the judgment, not of disclosure during the sentencing hearing. Johnson will receive credit against the restitution award for whatever the government collects from the taxpayers; it was unnecessary to disclose the details of collection activities before the judge determined the base restitution award. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Lee is serving sentences totaling 100 years’ imprisonment. A state judge found that Lee and Manley forcibly abducted L.M., struck and raped L.M., and displayed a pistol to make her more cooperative. L.M. escaped and ran naked to a house. Police took pictures of L.M.’s bloody face. Lee, the only defense witness, said that L.M. entered the car voluntarily and that he did not touch her sexually—though before trial Lee said that he and L.M. had consensual oral sex. The state judge found that L.M.’s testimony was “very credible” and that the pictures showing her injuries, and the testimony of the person who opened the door to L.M., negated the defense of consent. Lee’s convictions were affirmed on direct and collateral review. Lee’s federal petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254 claimed ineffective assistance of counsel. He asserts that before trial his lawyer received five affidavits that corroborated Lee’s story or provided exculpatory details, but that counsel did not interview the affiants. In Lee’s post-conviction proceedings the state judiciary did not hold an evidentiary hearing, concluding that the affidavits were not necessarily inconsistent with guilt. The federal district judge held that the state court’s decision was not unreasonable. The Seventh Circuit vacated. It is impossible to say that Lee has “failed to develop [in state court] the factual basis of” his claim. The absence of evidence about what the trial would have been like, had the affiants testified, is attributable to the state court's failure to hold a hearing. View "Lee v. Kink" on Justia Law

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Mars was the getaway driver to an armed robbery by Snyder and Higgins-Vogt. Days later, Mars’s body was found. While in jail on robbery charges, Higgins-Vogt never met with his appointed attorney but requested to meet with Brown. Brown was employed by a private entity, providing “counseling.” Higgins-Vogt had met Brown while incarcerated as a juvenile. Brown held no licenses in the field of mental health. Higgins-Vogt told Brown that he murdered Mars. Brown promised confidentiality but stated that she wanted the victim’s family to have closure. Higgins-Vogt eventually told Brown that he wanted to meet with Detective Patton about the weapon. After Higgins-Vogt waived his right to have his attorney present, the parties (including Brown and the State's Attorney) moved into an interview room so the questioning could be recorded. Higgins-Vogt provided the gun's location but claimed the information came from Snyder. Brown did not contradict Higgins-Vogt or state that he had confessed but elicited incriminating admissions. Police recovered the gun. Later, Higgins-Vogt told a Correctional Officer that he wanted to confess to a murder. On an inmate request form, Higgins-Vogt wrote: “I want to confess to the Paige Mars murder.” He told Brown that the confession was triggered by a conversation with his girlfriend. During a second interview with Detective Patton, Higgins-Vogt confirmed that he knew his rights and confessed to killing Mars. Higgins-Vogt later unsuccessfully moved to suppress the statements, arguing that Brown pressured him to confess. Brown denied any role in assisting law enforcement. Higgins-Vogt pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 years’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed while expressing its “strong disapproval” of Brown’s role at the jail. Higgins-Vogt, separate and apart from his interactions with Brown, voluntarily chose to confess to the murder. View "United States v. Higgins-Vogt" on Justia Law

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Schmidt admitted to murdering his wife but argued the Wisconsin-law defense of “adequate provocation” to mitigate the crime from first- to second-degree homicide. A state judge held a pretrial hearing on that substantive issue, allowing Schmidt’s counsel to attend but not to speak or participate. The judge questioned Schmidt directly and ruled that Schmidt could not present the adequate provocation defense at trial. A jury convicted Schmidt of first-degree intentional homicide. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not violate Schmidt’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Seventh Circuit initially granted habeas corpus relief, but, acting en banc, reversed itself and upheld the conviction. A state‐court decision can be a reasonable application of Supreme Court precedent even if it is an incorrect application, if the result is clearly erroneous, and if the petitioner presents “a strong case for relief.” While emphasizing that it did not endorse the constitutionality of the trial court’s “unusual ex parte, in camera examination” without counsel’s active participation, the court noted that the Supreme Court has “never addressed” a case like this. Even assuming this case involves a critical stage, Schmidt cannot establish that he was so deprived of counsel as to mandate the presumption of prejudice. A fair‐minded jurist could conclude that these facts were not “so likely to prejudice the accused” as to warrant the presumption of prejudice. View "Schmidt v. Foster" on Justia Law

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Dockery was arrested after a domestic dispute at his girlfriend’s Joliet, Illinois apartment. Sergeant Blackburn and Officer Higgins took him to the police station for booking on charges of trespass and criminal damage to property. He grew confrontational while being fingerprinted. The officers stated that he would be handcuffed to a bench for the rest of the booking process. Dockery pulled away, fell over, and kicked wildly at the officers. Before the officers handcuffed him, Blackburn used her Taser four times. A security camera recorded the incident. Dockery sought damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging excessive force. The officers moved for summary judgment, claiming qualified immunity based on the incontrovertible facts captured on the recording. The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of the motion. An excessive-force claim requires assessment of whether the officer’s use of force was objectively reasonable under the circumstances; based on the irrefutable facts preserved on the video, the officers are entitled to qualified immunity. The video shows that Blackburn deployed the Taser when Dockery was flailing and kicking and actively resisting being handcuffed; she used it three more times to subdue and gain control over Dockery as he kicked, attempted to stand up, and resisted commands to submit to authority. No case clearly establishes that an officer may not use a Taser under these circumstances. View "Dockery v. Blackburn" on Justia Law

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Horshaw was beaten by other inmates at Menard Correctional Center. Horshaw still suffers from pain and brain trauma. Before the attack Horshaw received an anonymous letter stating that he would be “eradicated” for disrespecting the gang’s leader. In his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, Horshaw claimed that he gave Casper, a guard, a letter describing the threat, that Casper promised to investigate yet did nothing, and that he sent a note to then-warden Atchison, asking for protection. Both Casper and Atchison deny receiving the documents or having any reason to think that Horshaw was in danger. The district court found Casper not liable because, whether or not he received the letter, it did not establish a specific or substantial threat and found Atchison not liable because he did not receive Horshaw’s note. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Casper does not contend that he deemed the threat false or that Horshaw had lost his credibility; Atchison testified that, if he had received the letter or Horshaw’s note, he would have put Horshaw in protective custody immediately. Horshaw testified that he wrote a note to Atchison, put Atchison’s name on the envelope, and saw a guard collect the note. Placing the note in the prison mail system supports an inference of receipt. The factual disputes may be hard to resolve given the lapse of time and Horshaw’s brain injury, but if his facts are accurate, neither Casper nor Atchison is entitled to immunity. View "Horshaw v. Casper" on Justia Law

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Sinn was incarcerated within the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC), 2011-2015. In 2014, at Putnamville Correctional Facility, he suffered injuries from two separate assaults by other inmates. Sinn filed suit (42 U.S.C. 1983) against various prison officials, alleging deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Putnamville was designed for 1,650 inmates, but it had a recorded average daily population of 2,490 state prisoners in 2013; the facility was unable to fill vacancies in a timely manner. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings as to Putnamville Sergeant Rodgers and Correctional Officer Hoskins; summary judgment as to former Putnamville Unit Manager Brush, former Putnamville Superintendent Knight, and former IDOC Commissioner Lemmon. The Seventh Circuit affirmed except as to Brush. Sinn did not refute Rodgers’s and Hoskins’s entitlement to qualified immunity. While Knight and Lemmon may not have known about Sinn’s individual circumstances, Sinn alleged that Brush had knowledge, the basis of deliberate indifference. Brush had an in‐person conversation with Sinn about the first attack and, per Brush’s instructions,, Sinn wrote Brush a letter the next day to further de‐cribe his concerns and relocation request; it is reasonable to infer that Brush received the letter with enough time before the second attack to read and respond to it. View "Sinn v. Lemmon" on Justia Law

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After Kuczora lost his finance job in 2007, he styled himself as the managing director of KCS Financial, a phony finance firm he ran from his Elgin, Illinois basement. Kuczora falsely represented to unwary investors that he could help them secure millions of dollars in financing; they paid him large sums of money to cover fees, which Kuczora pocketed for personal use before disappearing. He ultimately pleaded guilty to wire fraud. His Guidelines range was 33-41 months in prison. The district judge, citing the seriousness and sophistication of the offense, the devastation to the victims, and the need to deter similar crime, imposed a sentence of 70 months. Kuczora argued that the judge did not adequately explain the upward variance and failed to give him advance notice of the grounds supporting it. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district judge thoroughly explained his reasoning. The Seventh Circuit has never held that a judge must give advance warning of an upward variance. Every defendant is on notice that the court has the discretion to impose a sentence above, below, or within the Guidelines range based on the 18 U.S.C. 3553 factors. The 70-month sentence is not substantively unreasonable and the judge did not exceed his broad discretion in concluding that a heavier penalty was justified here. View "United States v. Kuczora" on Justia Law