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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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David Perez, while on federal supervised release, was recorded by a police surveillance camera holding what appeared to be a firearm. His conditions of release, as well as federal law, prohibited him from possessing a firearm. At a revocation hearing, the government presented the surveillance video as evidence. The district judge asked Perez's probation officer to narrate the video, to which Perez objected and requested to cross-examine her. The district court denied this request, asserting that the probation officer was not a witness and that the narration was only for the hearing transcript. Perez's counsel did not take up the judge's offer to suggest questions for the probation officer.Perez appealed, arguing that the probation officer was effectively an adverse witness and that his rights were violated by the refusal to allow cross-examination. He also contested the district court's finding that he possessed a firearm and the subsequent revocation of his supervised release.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed that Perez should have been allowed to cross-examine the probation officer. However, the court found this error to be harmless, as the district court did not rely on the probation officer's testimony in its finding that Perez possessed a firearm. The video provided ample evidence of Perez's possession of a firearm, and the court did not abuse its discretion in revoking his supervised release. Therefore, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "USA v. David Perez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves William Campbell, who, along with his cousin, burglarized an Indiana home and stole over 25 firearms. They sold these firearms to another person. Law enforcement was able to recover eight of the stolen firearms, but the rest remain unaccounted for. Campbell was indicted for possessing the eight recovered firearms as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 96 months of imprisonment by the district court. The court, in its explanation for the sentence, remarked that the missing guns were likely in the hands of other felons, as they are the people who buy stolen guns.The district court adopted the presentence investigation report, which calculated an adjusted offense level of 29 and a criminal history category of III, resulting in an advisory Guidelines range of 108 to 120 months’ imprisonment. The court, however, decided to sentence Campbell to a below-Guidelines sentence of 96 months’ imprisonment. The court explained its sentence with reference to the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors, discussing the mitigating and aggravating circumstances of Campbell’s case.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Campbell argued that the district court's statement about the missing guns being likely in the hands of other felons amounted to impermissible speculation, requiring the sentence to be vacated. The appellate court, however, disagreed. It reviewed the procedural challenge de novo and found that the district court did not rely on speculative or inaccurate information in imposing the sentence. The court's concern was that the firearms are now unaccounted for, somewhere in the public, where authorities cannot track their owners and whereabouts. The judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "USA v. Campbell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In October 2019, Randall Craft pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute over fifty grams of methamphetamine. He was sentenced to 150 months in prison and five years of supervised release. The district court applied two sentencing enhancements: one for maintaining a premises for the purpose of manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance, and another for Craft's role as a manager or supervisor of the scheme.The district court's decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The appellate court found that the district court erred in applying the premises enhancement, as the record did not support the conclusion that Craft used his home for the primary or principal purpose of manufacturing or distributing drugs. However, the court agreed with the district court's application of the two-level role enhancement, given Craft’s extensive role in the conspiracy.Therefore, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated Craft’s sentence and remanded his case to the district court for resentencing, taking into account the appellate court's findings regarding the two sentencing enhancements. View "USA v. Craft" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Bryant D. Aron was indicted by a grand jury for possession of a firearm and ammunition as a felon, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Initially, Aron agreed to plead guilty under a binding plea agreement, which recommended a sentence of 96 months' imprisonment. However, the district court refused to accept this sentencing recommendation. As the plea agreement was binding, Aron was given the option to withdraw his guilty plea, which he did. Instead of negotiating a different plea agreement, Aron chose to proceed to trial. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to the statutory maximum of 120 months' imprisonment.The district court's refusal to accept the sentencing recommendation in the plea agreement led to Aron's decision to withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to trial. After his conviction and sentencing, Aron appealed, raising several challenges to the indictment and the plea and sentencing process. He argued that the indictment failed to include a known and necessary element, that he had good cause for not raising this objection in the district court, and that the deficiency in the indictment was either structural error or met the plain error standard.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected Aron's arguments. The court found that the indictment was not defective and that Aron had failed to raise his objection in a timely manner. The court also found that Aron had not demonstrated good cause for his failure to raise the objection pretrial. Therefore, the court did not conduct a plain error review of his claim.Aron also challenged the district court's rejection of his binding plea agreement. He argued that the court had improperly inserted itself into the plea negotiation process, failed to provide a sound reason for rejecting the plea agreement, and did not provide enough notice of its rejection of the plea agreement. The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments as well, affirming the decision of the district court. View "USA v. Aron" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves plaintiffs Tabatha Washington and Donte Howard who were charged with first-degree murder. They were detained for over a year before being acquitted. They then filed a suit against the City of Chicago and three police detectives, alleging unlawful pretrial detention under the Fourth Amendment and malicious prosecution under Illinois law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.Previously, the Circuit Court of Cook County had found probable cause to detain both plaintiffs without bail. A few weeks later, a grand jury indicted them on charges of first-degree murder, including a felony-murder theory premised on felony mob action. The plaintiffs argued that the detectives deliberately misled judges and the grand jury to secure these determinations of probable cause.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that even if the detectives' alleged misrepresentations and omissions were accepted as true, the prosecutors' independent fact-gathering and the remaining undisputed evidence still supported probable cause to detain the plaintiffs. Therefore, the judicial determinations of probable cause were presumed to be valid, and the pretrial detention of the plaintiffs did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court also held that the plaintiffs' malicious prosecution claims failed for the same reason. View "Washington v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The case involves Jacob Lickers, who was convicted for transporting and possessing child pornography. The conviction was based on evidence found on Lickers' devices, which were seized during a traffic stop and subsequent arrest for drug possession. The initial search of the devices was authorized by a state court warrant, which later suppressed the evidence due to the unconstitutionality of the initial stop and arrest. However, the case was referred to federal authorities who conducted a second search of the devices under a federal warrant. The federal warrant application did not mention the state court's suppression ruling.In the lower courts, Lickers' attorney challenged the constitutionality of the initial stop and arrest, and the adequacy of the state search warrant. The state court agreed, suppressing all evidence seized during the stop and any statements made by Lickers. The state charges were subsequently dismissed. However, in the federal court, the same arguments were unsuccessful. Lickers pleaded guilty, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The district court sentenced him to concurrent terms of 132 months' imprisonment on each count.In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit, Lickers argued that his trial and appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to argue that the federal agent acted in bad faith by omitting the state court's suppression ruling from the federal warrant application. The court disagreed, finding that the link between the state court's suppression ruling and the federal warrant application was too attenuated to obligate the attorneys to explore the possibility of bad faith. The court affirmed the district court's denial of relief. View "Lickers v. United States" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Anthony Gay, a convicted felon, who was found guilty of possessing firearms and ammunition, both of which he was prohibited from possessing due to his prior felony convictions. Gay was a passenger in a car that was stopped by the police, and upon being pursued, he fled on foot. The police testified that they found a gun where Gay had fallen and later discovered bullets in a motel room he had rented. Gay was subsequently indicted and convicted on one firearms count and one ammunition count, leading to a sentence of 84 months' imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently, plus three years' supervised release.Previously, Gay had contested the admissibility of the bullets found in the motel room, arguing that their discovery violated his Fourth Amendment rights. However, the district court denied his motion to suppress the bullets, stating that Gay's right to occupy the room had expired, the motel manager had found the bullets before the police were involved, and the manager had the right to admit the police under state law. Furthermore, the court noted that Gay, being on parole, had a diminished expectation of privacy.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Gay argued that the evidence did not support his conviction on the firearms charge, suggesting that the weapon may have been planted. However, the court found that the evidence, including the bullets found in the motel room, supported the firearms charge. The court also dismissed Gay's argument that the reduction of two weeks in preparation time for his second trial was prejudicial, stating that the parties had just been through a trial and the evidence had been assembled.Gay also contended that the prosecution was unconstitutional, arguing that the Second Amendment permits persons with felony convictions to possess firearms and ammunition. However, the court affirmed the lower court's decision, citing precedents that upheld the validity of "longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons." The court concluded that Gay, having been convicted of 22 felonies and being on parole, did not fit the description of a "law-abiding, responsible citizen" who has a constitutional right to possess firearms. View "United States v. Gay" on Justia Law

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The case involves two defendants, Christopher Yates and Shawn Connelly, who were convicted for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. The conspiracy operated out of Macomb, Illinois, and lasted thirteen months, from January 2019 to February 2020. Yates supplied the drugs, initially from an unknown source in Joliet, Illinois, with alleged Mexican cartel connections. After the arrest of that supplier, Yates sought a new source. Connelly was among the distributors. The government conducted one seizure and nine controlled buys from members of the conspiracy during its investigation.In the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, both defendants pleaded guilty without a plea agreement. The main dispute at Yates’s sentencing was the classification of the methamphetamine attributable to him as “ice” or “actual” (i.e., pure) methamphetamine, as opposed to its generic variant. The district court found that all 737.1 grams of methamphetamine for which the conspiracy was accountable was “ice” methamphetamine. Connelly raised two objections to the PSR at his sentencing hearing. He argued that the court could not rely on the statements of his coconspirators, Amber Phelps and Jeanna Rechkemmer, for purposes of determining the amount of methamphetamine handled by the conspiracy. He also contended that the full drug weight attributed to the conspiracy was not reasonably foreseeable to him. The district court denied both objections.In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit, Yates challenged the district court’s finding that the methamphetamine attributable to the conspiracy was “ice” methamphetamine. Connelly once more attacked the district court’s calculation of the total drug weight attributable to him. The court vacated Yates’s sentence and remanded. The court found that the government must supply reliable evidence making that approximation reasonable. Because such evidence was lacking, Yates is entitled to resentencing. The court affirmed Connelly’s sentence. View "United States v. Yates" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves two defendants, Christopher Yates and Shawn Connelly, who were convicted for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. The conspiracy operated out of Macomb, Illinois, and lasted thirteen months, from January 2019 to February 2020. Yates supplied the methamphetamine, initially purchasing the drugs from an unknown source in Joliet, Illinois, with alleged Mexican cartel connections. After the arrest of that supplier, Yates sought out a new source. Connelly was among the distributors.The United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois sentenced both defendants. Yates argued that the government failed to prove the purity of all the methamphetamine involved in the conspiracy, having only tested a small, unrepresentative amount. Connelly argued that the court should not have relied on his coconspirators’ statements to calculate the total drug weight, and that the full weight was not reasonably foreseeable to him. The district court rejected both arguments and sentenced Yates to 168 months in prison and Connelly to 188 months’ imprisonment.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated Yates’s sentence and remanded the case. The court found that the government did not provide reliable evidence to support the district court's finding that the conspiracy involved at least 737.1 grams of “ice” methamphetamine. Therefore, Yates was entitled to resentencing. However, the court affirmed Connelly’s sentence, finding that the district court did not err in its calculation of the total drug weight attributable to him. View "United States v. Connelly" on Justia Law

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The case involves Harold McGhee, who was convicted and sentenced for drug trafficking. In August 2021, law enforcement received information from a confidential source about a drug dealer distributing large amounts of cocaine in Peoria, Illinois. The dealer was said to drive a Chevy Malibu and supplied cocaine to a house on West Millman Street. With this information, along with details from other informants and a tracking warrant, the police identified McGhee as the suspected dealer. They conducted three controlled buys and a trash pull at McGhee's residence, which led to the discovery of rubber gloves and baggies with a white powdery residue that tested positive for cocaine. This evidence led to a search warrant for McGhee's residence, vehicle, person, and electronic devices, resulting in the discovery of nearly a kilogram of various drugs, a handgun, and other drug trafficking paraphernalia.McGhee sought to suppress the evidence recovered at his residence and moved for a hearing to challenge the validity of the search warrant. He argued that the affidavit's use of "SUBJECT PREMISES," in reference to both his residence and the Millman Street house, was impermissibly ambiguous. The district court denied the motion. McGhee later renewed his motion to suppress, arguing that the trash pull was constitutionally unreasonable because it was executed without a warrant. The court denied this motion as well.On appeal, McGhee raised ten challenges to the criminal proceedings resulting in his convictions and sentence. The court considered some of his arguments on the merits and resolved others on procedural grounds. Ultimately, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all respects. View "United States v. McGhee" on Justia Law