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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
by
Major pleaded guilty without the benefit of a plea agreement to three charges stemming from his activities dealing heroin and fentanyl. Major was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. On appeal, he argued that the district court’s factual findings were erroneous and caused it to calculate an incorrect Sentencing Guidelines range and that his designation as a “career offender” overstated his past criminal conduct.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the district court’s findings that Major sold the drugs that caused a death, that he had obstructed justice by trying to influence a co-defendant’s testimony, and that he had not accepted responsibility. Major was convicted of two prior offenses that qualify him for the career offender designation: a previous felony drug conviction and a conviction for aggravated kidnapping in 1993. The court did not abuse its discretion by sentencing Major as a career offender and imposing a Guidelines sentence of 240 months in prison. View "United States v. Major" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Smith was a passenger in Naylor’s car. Chicago police officers pulled them over for running a red light. Smith was “shaking.” Officer Holden asked Smith to step outside. Smith complied but immediately rested the front of his pelvis against the car. Holden asked Smith to step back, then performed an initial pat-down focused on Smith’s waistband, pockets, and lower leg. Holden did not find any contraband but placed Smith in handcuffs. Holden asked Smith to walk several steps. Smith “had that side-to-side walk, as if he was holding something in his crotch area.” Smith then rested his pelvis against the front of the police car. Holden performed the second pat-down by jiggling Smith’s pant legs. Nothing fell out. Holden then asked Smith to walk again and observed an exaggerated limp. About one minute later, Holden conducted the final pat-down, focusing on Smith’s groin area, and removed a loaded handgun from Smith’s underwear. Approximately 11 minutes elapsed between the initiation of the stop and the discovery of the gun.Smith was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court granted Smith’s motion to suppress certain statements but denied his motion to suppress the gun. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Under the totality of the circumstances—a nighttime traffic stop of an individual who appeared very nervous, walked strangely, and repeatedly rested his pelvis against cars as if to prop something up— reasonable suspicion supported the final pat-down. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
The FBI conducted extensive surveillance, made more than 10 controlled purchases of heroin from Lottie, and secured court orders authorizing the interception of Lottie’s cellphone communications. Agents learned that Lottie agreed to a large heroin purchase. The supplier, who had recently suffered a leg injury, planned to arrive at a Rockford location to complete the transaction. To prepare for the deal, Lottie went to houses where he stashed drugs and money before returning to his residence. Shortly after, a white Corolla pulled into his driveway for 10-15 minutes before leaving. Law-enforcement officers followed the car and pulled it over after observing two traffic violations. Ochoa-Lopez was the driver; the suspected supplier was the passenger. One officer noticed that the passenger had a leg injury that required the use of an assistive device. Ochoa-Lopez claimed the two men were transporting the car for a company. Agents searched the vehicle and discovered a backpack containing $47,000 in cash.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress the evidence recovered during the warrantless search of the car. The agents had probable cause to search the car; based on the totality of the circumstances, there was a “fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime” would be found there. View "United States v. Ochoa-Lopez" on Justia Law

by
In 2015-2019, Wood defrauded homeowners facing foreclosure, convincing them to "refinance" and make their mortgage payments to him. Wood convinced some clients to stall foreclosures by manipulating the bankruptcy process. A Wisconsin bankruptcy judge enjoined Wood from continuing his scheme. Wood disregarded that order, defrauding 73 victims of almost $400,000. Many were evicted from their homes. Wood was charged with six counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343; one count of mail fraud, section 1341; one count of bankruptcy fraud, section 157; and criminal contempt of court, section 401(3). Wood violated his pretrial supervision by contacting his victims and soliciting money for mortgage services. Wood pled guilty to wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud; his PSR recommended a sentence of 72 months, based on a Guidelines range of 70-87 months. The court expressed skepticism about Wood’s allocution, citing Wood’s previous fraudulent crimes, his “heartlessness,” and the profound, non-monetary harm to his victims and legitimate creditors. Concluding that the Guidelines inadequately accounted for Wood’s behavior, the court observed Wood’s “crime stands apart" and that the closest comparator was a fraudulent scheme in another case (Iriri). The court observed that Iriri was induced to commit fraud, whereas Wood committed his crime completely unprompted.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Woods' 144-month sentence. Wood’s sentence turned on the unique characteristics and qualities of his crime. That is not an abuse of discretion. The court’s reference to Iriri “is so limited as to flirt with irrelevance.” View "United States v. Wood" on Justia Law

by
In 2012, Patlan pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. He began supervised release in April 2017. Because of violations, in January 2019, the court added six months of home confinement. After additional violations district court revoked his supervision and sentenced him to 18 months’ imprisonment plus three years of supervised release, including six months of home confinement. Patlan began his second period of supervised release in September 2020. In December 2020, he tested positive for drugs; in January he committed domestic battery. The Probation Office classified the drug possession as a Grade B violation, calculating his guidelines range as 18-24 months of imprisonment. Following Patlan’s concession of guilt, the court entertained Patlan’s “policy objection,” then sentenced Patlan to 18 months’ imprisonment (including 61 days of home confinement remaining when his supervision was revoked), plus 24 months of supervised release.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court erred when it failed to recognize that it had the discretion to reject the inference that he possessed controlled substances from a positive drug test and to treat a failed drug screening as a Grade C violation, failed to provide justifications for the six‐month term of home confinement, and failed to pronounce that condition orally during the hearing. View "United States v. Patlan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Gmoser ran an operation that distributed child pornography over the dark web. A jury rejected Gmoser’s insanity defense and convicted him under 18 U.S.C. 2252A(g). Judge Bruce conducted the trial. While the case was on remand to deal with the lesser included offenses, the private bar learned that for several years Judge Bruce had been sending emails to the U.S. Attorney’s office without copying counsel for the defense. Judge Bruce was removed from criminal cases. Judge Shadid, to whom Gmoser’s case was transferred concluded that a single ex parte email sent during the Gmoser proceedings did not evince any actual or potential bias. Gmoser was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court rejected arguments that a psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution should not have been allowed to do so because he did not personally examine Gmoser and that evidence supplied by Carnegie Mellon University in response to a subpoena should not have been admitted. The University produced the evidence without protest. Gmoser is not entitled to enforce the University’s rights. Gmoser was not entitled to a new trial based on Judge Bruce’s involvement. Gmoser’s trial was not even arguably affected by any improper communication or any material discretionary decision. View "United States v. Gmoser" on Justia Law

by
In 2014, Franklin was sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), based on six prior convictions, including three for Minnesota burglary and two for Illinois residential burglary. Franklin neither appealed nor pursued 28 U.S.C. 2255 collateral relief within a year. He sought habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241 after the Supreme Court’s 2016 “Mathis” decision clarified that the Minnesota convictions did not qualify as ACCA predicates. Because three qualifying convictions remained, the district judge denied relief. The Seventh Circuit subsequently held that Illinois residential burglary convictions do not qualify as ACCA predicates. The government conceded that Franklin’s sentence is unlawful but opposed section 2241 relief, arguing that Franklin could have challenged the use of his Illinois burglary convictions as ACCA predicates on direct appeal or in a timely section 2255 motion.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of relief, citing its “Davenport” holding that a federal prisoner should be permitted to seek habeas corpus "if he had no reasonable opportunity to obtain earlier judicial correction of a fundamental defect in his conviction or sentence because the law changed after his first 2255 motion.” Before the Mathis decision, any challenge to the use of his Minnesota or his Illinois burglaries as ACCA predicates was destined to fail given Eighth Circuit precedent. The limitations period in section 2255(f) blocked a Mathis-based motion in the sentencing court. View "Franklin v. Keyes" on Justia Law

by
Gaddis cut branches from McCombs’s tree that extended into his yard and threw them into McCombs’s yard. McCombs asked Gaddis to pick up the branches but he ignored her. Upon learning that a neighbor, Winstead, had spoken to McCombs about the branches Gaddis went to Winstead’s home and told Winstead to mind his own business. McCombs called the police. Officers arrived. After talking to neighbors, they told Gaddis through the door that he was being arrested for disorderly conduct. Gaddis refused to come out of his home. He stepped outside after officers stated he could also be charged with resisting arrest. Gaddis was arrested for disorderly conduct. Neighbors claimed that Gaddis was erratic and threatening. Gaddis brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the officers, the city of Marion, and the neighbors, asserting false arrest.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The police report provides ample information from which officers could have reasonably believed probable cause existed to arrest Gaddis for disorderly conduct. The consensual discussions between the officers and Gaddis did not amount to a “seizure.” At the time of Gaddis’s arrest, it was not clearly established that the officers’ statements that he would be charged with resisting arrest, followed by his choice to come out and face arrest, would violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on routine warrantless arrests inside the home. View "Gaddis v. DeMattei" on Justia Law

by
An ATF agent was shot. An arrest warrant was issued for Godinez. Agents obtained cellphone location data that placed a known telephone of Godinez at or near Segoviano’s apartment building. Agents entered the building to find Godinez. One occupant, Segoviano, stated that there was no one else in his apartment and consented to a search. The agents removed Segoviano, handcuffed him, and conducted a limited search. For 20‐30 minutes of questioning, Segoviano remained handcuffed; the agents then removed the handcuffs but continued the questioning. When Segoviano asked whether he was under arrest, they responded that he was “detained.” Segoviano acknowledged possessing marijuana and cocaine and the presence of firearms for which he possessed a FOID card. The agents informed Segoviano that based on that admission they could obtain a search warrant, Segoviano then signed a consent to search. The agents never provided Miranda warnings. The search yielded four firearms, marijuana, and cocaine. Segoviano was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of Segoviano’s motion to suppress. The agents had no objective basis to suspect Segoviano of criminal wrongdoing other than his presence in the same building with some potential connection to the fugitive; those facts are insufficient to support a finding of reasonable suspicion and insufficient to support prolonging the detention. View "United States v. Segoviano" on Justia Law

by
In 2017, 21 people, including Gomez and Hidalgo-Sanchez. were indicted (21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), 846; 18 U.S.C. 2) for their roles in a drug-trafficking conspiracy. DEA agents had monitored phones used by members of the organization and used information obtained from calls to surveil the organization using pole cameras and in-person observation. Gomez, the purported leader of the organization, was in communication with suppliers in Mexico and he oversaw the importation of controlled substances to the Milwaukee area. DEA agents seized four vehicles used to transport the drugs and collected GPS location information for all of the phones used in intercepted calls.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the convictions of Hidalgo-Sanchez and Gomez, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, the propriety of venue in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and the failure of the trial judge to give a limiting instruction to the jury concerning a bill of lading that was admitted into evidence. The government’s use of bolstering testimony about the process of obtaining approval for wiretaps constituted an error, but the error does not warrant reversal. The court concluded there “is more than enough evidence to support the jury’s verdict.” View "United States v. Gomez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law