Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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From 2006-2012 Packerland deceived at least one of its customers about the protein content of its Whey Protein Concentrate. Land O’Lakes purchased Packerland’s protein concentrate for use in making foods for calves and other young animals. Buyers infer protein levels from measuring nitrogen: a seller can add another nitrogen-rich substance to produce higher scores. The Ratajczaks, who owned Packerland, started adding urea to its protein concentrate. in 2006. Land O’Lakes suspected that the concentrate was high in nonprotein nitrogen but could not learn why; the Ratajczaks made excuses that Land O’Lakes accepted. The Ratajczaks sold Packerland in 2012. The new owner kept them as employees; they kept adding urea until the buyer learned what the truth. The Ratajczaks lost their jobs and settled for about $10 million before the buyer filed a complaint. Land O’Lakes stopped buying Packerland’s product and asserted claims of breach of contract, fraud, and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Packerland’s insurers refused to defend or indemnify it or the Ratajczaks; the Ratajczaks’ personal insurer refused to indemnify them for their settlement with Packerland’s buyer. The district court dismissed Land O’Lakes’s suit and ruled in favor of the insurers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Land O’Lakes’ claim to treble damages under RICO and state-law and the Ratajczaks’ claims that Packerland’s insurers and their own insurers had to defend and indemnify them. View "Land O'Lakes, Inc. v. Ratajczak" on Justia Law

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Moreno sold Alpha‐PVP, a designer drug that produces a powerful stimulant effect in its users before that drug was listed as a controlled substance. It was listed on the federal government’s Schedule I of controlled substances in 2014. Moreno pled guilty (21 U.S.C. 812(b)(1)(A)-(C)) to importing Alpha‐ PVP from China and dealing the drug in northwestern Wisconsin. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 80-month sentence, rejecting Moreno’s argument that the district court assigned the wrong offense level to Alpha‐PVP when calculating the Sentencing Guidelines range. Alpha‐PVP is not specifically listed in the Sentencing Guidelines drug‐quantity tables, so the Guidelines required the district court to determine the “most closely related” controlled substance, U.S.S.G. 2D1.1, appl. n.6, and then use that drug’s offense level for Alpha‐PVP. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the district court found that the most closely related drug is methcathinone, another Schedule I controlled substance. View "United States v. Moreno" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In 2010, more than 100 people, including Bell, were arrested as part of the “Operation Blue Knight” investigation. In 2012, Bell and Walter were both charged with conspiring to sell more than 1,000 grams of heroin, 21 U.S.C. 846 and were convicted. The court sentenced Walter to 335 months and Bell to 276 months. The government’s case rested on evidence that Bell was inexplicably wealthy, physical samples of heroin seized from organization members, and expert testimony about drug trafficking. There were no controlled buys or recorded incriminating statements. The government’s case hinged on testimony from seven witnesses that had been charged with drug crimes; six were testifying pursuant to agreements that held out the possibility of reduced sentences. Bell’s lawyer elicited testimony that three of those witnesses had been arrested during the investigation but avoided revealing two instances in which Bell sold heroin in controlled buys, and that he was arrested in 2010 for doing so. The prosecution then elicited testimony about a recording of Bell selling heroin to a confidential informant. The prosecution also failed to disclose a damaging remark by one of its witnesses about a key government witness, who was a career criminal and relatively senior organization member. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the “Brady” error required new trials for both defendants. View "United States v. Bell" on Justia Law

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Carson raped and threatened a 17-year-old girl, knowing her age, and then arranged encounters, during which time she traded sex for money three or four times a day. He isolated her from outside communications. His other three sex-trafficking victims were not minors, but were long‐time drug addicts, homeless, desperate for drugs and had nowhere to go. He abused, threatened, and isolated them. A jury convicted Carson on four counts of violating the federal sex‐trafficking statute, 18 U.S.C. 1591(a). Carson had the opportunity at sentencing to submit expert testimony about his Bipolar I Disorder, his problems with drug abuse, and his abusive family background. The court sentenced Carson to 47 years’ imprisonment, below the Sentencing Guideline recommendation of life and below the government’s recommended 55‐year sentence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Carson’s claims that he was prevented from eliciting relevant testimony from his victims about their prior acts of prostitution and from effectively cross examining a key witness who testified concerning his knowledge of the minor’s age, that the district court errantly admitted evidence of uncharged “bad acts” in Carson’s relationships with other women, and that he was prejudiced by incorrectly worded jury instructions on “reckless disregard.” View "United States v. Carson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In 2009, Lopez created financial investment business entities and solicited funds from family and friends. He received approximately $450,000 total from five people, stating that he intended to invest in companies such as Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo, Visa, American Express, and Procter & Gamble. Documents the investors signed reserved Lopez’s discretion to invest where he saw fit. Lopez deposited their funds into accounts that he controlled and never invested in the companies listed in his advertising materials. Lopez used much of the money for personal expenses. Lopez unilaterally changed the terms of each investors’ promissory note; they were not aware of these changes, did not give Lopez permission to make them, and did not sign documents. After an investor complained to the Indiana Secretary of State and the IRS investigated Lopez’s businesses, Lopez was convicted of 15 counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343; four counts of money laundering, 18 U.S.C. 1957; and securities fraud, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), 77ff(a). The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that the district court erred in allowing a government witness to testify that payments Lopez made to his investors were “lulling payments,” that the government’s references to Bernie Madoff in its closing argument denied him a fair trial, that the court erred in denying Lopez’s request to label his witness an “expert” in front of the jury, that the court improperly prevented him from introducing extrinsic evidence of a government witness's prior inconsistent statement. View "United States v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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Edwards is a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Mongolia in 1996. She was hired as an officer with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2009. Edwards went through a federal background investigation in 2009 and reinvestigation in 2014. Asked whether she “EVER provided financial support for any foreign national,” and whether she “ever helped anyone enter or stay in the U.S. illegally,” Edwards answered no. Both answers were false. She was convicted of two counts of witness tampering, 18 U.S.C. 1512(b)(3) and two counts of making false statements on an official questionnaire for federal employment. 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2). The trial judge, skeptical about the strength of the government’s evidence and whether the case merited criminal prosecution, imposed a below‐guideline sentence of two years of probation and a $2,000 fine. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part, first rejecting arguments that the witness tampering statute was void for vagueness and that the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions. The jury instructions for the witness tampering charges were faulty, however; under section 1512(b)(3), Edwards could be convicted only if she “corruptly” attempted to persuade another person to hinder, delay, or prevent communication of information to federal criminal investigators. The instructions given at trial failed to include the corruption element. View "United States v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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Around 8:30 p.m., Milwaukee officers responded to a complaint by a store employee that a Mercury Grand Marquis drove around the store’s parking lot five times. Officer Newport believed this was consistent with preparation for a robbery. He knew that this store had been robbed recently, with firearms. The store closed at 9 p.m. and would soon be empty. Newport observed a Mercury Marquis about 30 feet from the store's entrance, parked next to a Chevrolet Malibu, driven by Green. Newport claims, and Green disputes, that Lindsey, the Marquis driver, stood next to the Malibu's front passenger door, leaned inside, and stood back up. Newport suspected that Lindsey had concealed a weapon. The officers told the men to put up their hands and directed Green to exit the vehicle. Newport claims, and Green disputes, that Green exited with his right arm kept tight to his body while his left swung freely and that after asking Green to raise his arms, Green raised only his left arm. Newport grabbed Green’s wrist but Green resisted. Newport proceeded to pat him down and discovered a handgun in Green’s waistband. Green sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1988. The court ruled that the investigatory stop violated a clearly established constitutional right, and denied qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Newport had a plausible reason to suspect that Green was armed and dangerous. View "Green v. Newport" on Justia Law

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While on supervised release following his conviction for failing to register as a sex offender, White pleaded guilty to new charges of credit‐card fraud and theft. The court revoked White’s supervised release and ordered him re-imprisoned for 20 months, consecutive to the term for the new charges. White argued that the prosecutor and probation officer made inaccurate statements during the revocation hearing by: without evidence, challenging White’s version of the facts underlying his sex offense and his conviction for failing to register; misrepresenting that the court had modified White’s release conditions to allow him to live with his family, when actually the court had only permitted unsupervised visits with his grandchildren; alluding to nonexistent supervised release violations; stating that White had continuously failed to follow the law; and launching a “vicious personal attack.” White contends that the statements prompted the judge to impose a longer prison term. The Seventh CIrcuit affirmed, acknowledging the inappropriate statements, but characterizing them as not “misinformation of a constitutional magnitude.” The district court explained the need for a consecutive prison term, without further post‐incarceration supervision, to specifically address White’s poor adaption to supervision. That term, less than what the Sentencing Commission and the probation officer had recommended, was justified by the record. View "United States v. White" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Doornbos was leaving a Chicago train station when a plainclothes police officer confronted him, grabbed him, and with the help of other plainclothes officers, forced him to the ground. Doornbos was acquitted of resisting arrest. He sued the officers and the city for excessive force and malicious prosecution, claiming that Officer Williamson failed to identify himself as an officer and then used excessive force. Williamson claims that he properly identified himself and that Doornbos fled when Williamson attempted to stop and frisk him. The Seventh Circuit vacated a verdict in favor of the defendants. The court properly admitted evidence that Dornbos had marijuana in his pocket. Although the marijuana was unknown to the officers at the time, it arguably tended to corroborate their account of Doornbos’s behavior. The jury instructions on Terry stops, however, were inadequate. Over Doornbos’s objection, the court instructed the jury only on investigatory stops but not frisks. Williamson’s testimony indicated that he was starting a frisk when he first approached Doornbos and that he did not have reasonable suspicion that Doornbos was armed and dangerous. Doornbos was entitled to have the jury know that the attempted frisk, which produced the use of force, was unjustified. In addition, the jury asked whether plainclothes officers must identify themselves when conducting a stop. The judge said no. In all but the most unusual circumstances, where identification would itself make the situation more dangerous, plainclothes officers must identify themselves when initiating a stop. These errors were not harmless. View "Doornbos v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Willis and Simmons were convicted of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and sentenced to 235 months’ and 108 months’ imprisonment, respectively. They appealed, claiming there was an impermissible variance from the indictment and that the jury pool failed to include a fair cross‐section of their community because only one of the 48 members of the venire was black. Simmons also challenged a jury instruction related to the amount of heroin involved in her offense and argued that the court erred in enhancing her sentencing offense level for possession of a gun during the commission of a drug offense. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The defendants cannot show that the underrepresentation of blacks in the jury pool was due to a systematic exclusion of that group. The indictment adequately alleged conspiracy. The evidence that Simmons conspired with Willis to sell 100 grams or more of heroin was overwhelming. The evidence sufficiently established that Simmons constructively possessed the gun given that it was in the closet of the bedroom she shared with Willis and near drugs and drug paraphernalia. View "United States v. Simmons" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law