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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Kelerchian was a licensed firearms dealer. His co-conspirators were Kumstar, the Deputy Chief of the Lake County, Indiana, Sheriff’s Department, and Slusser, a patrolman who was the armorer for the department’s SWAT team. The trio defrauded firearms manufacturer H&K and the laser sight producer Insight into selling them machine-guns and laser sights restricted to law enforcement and military use. After many fraudulent transactions, the three were indicted. Kumstar and Slusser pleaded guilty. Kelerchian was convicted on four counts of conspiracy and four counts of making false writings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A machine-gun counts as a firearm for purposes of 18 U.S.C. 924, so Kelerchian was properly charged with conspiracy to violate the Act by submitting documents falsely telling H&K that the buyer of all the machineguns would be the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. Kelerchian was properly charged with a violation of 18 U.S.C. 371. There was sufficient evidence to prove the charges involving the “demonstration letters” that enabled Kelerchian to buy machine-guns for his personal collection and the money-laundering conspiracy charge. The court rejected challenges to jury instructions and a claim of “constructive amendment” of the indictment. View "United States v. Kelerchian" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Janusiak called 911 to report that Payten, a friend’s baby in her care, was not breathing. Paramedics took Payten to the hospital while officers talked to Janusiak. The police returned about eight hours later, and Janusiak, then eight months pregnant, agreed to go to the police station for an interview. Police questioned her about Payten’s death for about seven hours. Toward the end of the interrogation, Janusiak made statements about what happened to Payten that were used to impeach her testimony at trial. After Peyten died Janusiak was convicted of first‐degree intentional homicide. On direct appeal, Wisconsin courts rejected her argument that statements she made during the interrogation were involuntary and should have been suppressed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of her petition for habeas corpus relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court rejected Janusiak’s arguments that her statements were coerced by comments that law enforcement made to her about keeping access to her children, the length and other features of the interrogation, and her vulnerability as a pregnant woman and mother. The state appellate court reasonably applied the correct standard to determine that Janusiak’s statements were voluntary. View "Janusiak v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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U.S. Customs Officer Parra spent December 8, 2010 “cracking open containers” at a warehouse near the Los Angeles seaport. Opening one from South Korea to inspect its freight, Parra found a fully assembled, five-foot-tall industrial turbo blower. A placard riveted to the side read, “Assembled in USA.” The discovery led to a federal investigation that traced back to Lee. Prosecutors charged Lee with executing a scheme to defraud local governments by falsely representing that his company manufactured its turbo blowers in the U.S. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his wire fraud convictions, reasoning that Lee’s misrepresentations were material under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 123 Stat. 115 (2009), which includes a “Buy American” provision. The evidence adequately supports Lee’s participation in a scheme to defraud and his intent to do so. Lee used interstate wires as a part of that scheme. The indictment afforded Lee ample notice of the case the government presented at trial and included specific details of the crimes alleged to avoid double jeopardy risk; no impermissible constructive amendment or variance occurred. The court also upheld Lee’s smuggling convictions under 18 U.S.C. 545. The mislabeling served an important function in Lee’s broader scheme to deceive customers about the origin of the turbo blowers. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Simon was stopped for failing to signal sufficiently ahead of turning. A drug-sniffing dog alerted on Simon’s car. Officers searched it. They did not find drugs, but found a gun. The government charged Simon as a felon-in-possession. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Simon’s motions for recusal, suppression, and supplementation. The court rejected an argument that the judge should have recused himself because, before he was a judge, he supervised a prior prosecution of Simon. The district court properly assessed credibility and found that the officers had probable cause to initiate the traffic stop and did not prolong the stop to allow for the dog sniff. The mere absence of drugs does not undermine the probable cause to search for drugs, provided there was probable cause in the first place. The judge conducted the proper Harris evaluation and concluded the dog’s satisfactory certification and training provide sufficient reason to trust his alert. The judge did not abuse his discretion in denying a motion to supplement the record, after the denial of the suppression motion, with a nighttime video. The nighttime video would not capture the actual visual capabilities of the officers, who credibly testified about how close Simon was to the intersection when he signaled. View "United States v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Hopper, part of a community of methamphetamine users and sellers in southern Illinois, was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), 846 and 18 U.S.C. 2. Several charged individuals signed proffer letters, agreeing to provide testimony against Hopper in exchange for leniency. At Hopper’s trial, the government presented the testimony of approximately 20 witnesses. The court denied Hopper’s motion for disclosure of the proffer letters. The jury found that the conspiracy involved an amount of 50 grams or more. Based on interviews with other conspiracy participants, the probation officer determined that Hopper’s relevant conduct involved 1.968 kilograms of ice methamphetamine. The court applied a two-level sentence enhancement for maintaining a residence for the purpose of distributing methamphetamine; calculated a guidelines imprisonment range of 235-293 months; and sentenced Hopper to 235 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not err when it denied Hopper’s motion for disclosure of the proffer letters and properly concluded that Hopper was subject to the two-level sentence enhancement. However, the court plainly erred when it calculated Hopper’s relevant conduct and corresponding guidelines range. In their separate interviews, two witnesses were describing the same transactions. By including the amounts described by both in the calculation of Hopper’s relevant conduct, the presentence report erroneously double-counted those drug quantities. View "United States v. Hopper" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Johnson defrauded his employer and was charged with wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343. During an in-chambers conference among court and counsel, Johnson’s attorney withdrew an objection to the restitution amount ($211,428) to be paid to the victims of his client’s wire fraud. Johnson was not present. In open court, Johnson confirmed he no longer disputed restitution, recognized the plea agreement included an appeal waiver, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced. Johnson then challenged his 21-month sentence and restitution order, arguing that he did not waive this appeal and his sentence was unconstitutional because he was not present when his attorney dropped the restitution objection. The Seventh Circuit upheld the appeal waiver and dismissed Johnson’s appeal.m, Johnson’s circumstances do not present a due process exception to the rule that most written appeal waivers are effective. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Adams, his girlfriend, Brandon, and another person were stopped for speeding. Adams was the subject of anonymous tips regarding drug activity at his house and had a previous conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. The third person was also the subject of anonymous tips regarding drug activity and had outstanding arrest warrants. During the traffic stop, the deputy smelled marijuana from the car. The car was searched, and deputies found a meth pipe, paraphernalia used with marijuana, and marijuana. Brandon, after receiving Miranda warnings, told the deputy that additional drug paraphernalia, a gun, and a safe containing methamphetamine pipes were at Adams’ house; that she also stayed in the house; and that she had been there earlier that day. She described the house’s layout, Adams’ bedroom, the gun, and paraphernalia. The police obtained a state-court search warrant, which they executed the same day as the traffic stop. In Adams’ room, they found a locked plastic gun case that Brandon had described, a handgun, and loaded magazines. Adams later admitted that Brandon bought the gun for him. Charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), Adams unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The issuing judge had a “substantial basis for determining the existence of probable cause” and, if “it didn’t ... there is good faith.” The district court properly calculated Adams’ guideline range, taking into account his prior drug conspiracy conviction. View "United States v. Adams" on Justia Law

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Clark was convicted under 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), having been found in a hotel room with more than 80 grams of a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, a digital scale, and cellophane bags. He appealed the denial of his motion for a Franks hearing challenging the search warrant; the denial of his motion to suppress without an evidentiary hearing; the guideline treatment of his conviction for drug distribution that occurred in Illinois seven months after his Wisconsin arrest and one condition of supervised release. The Seventh Circuit vacated Clark’s conviction and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on his Franks challenge. Merely to obtain a Franks hearing, a defendant need only make a substantial preliminary showing that the warrant application contained a material falsity or omission that would alter the issuing judge’s probable cause determination and that the affiant included the material falsity or omitted information intentionally or with a reckless disregard for the truth. Clark asserted that the police investigator who applied for the warrant deliberately or recklessly omitted critical information affecting the credibility of the unidentified informant who told police about drug distribution at the hotel. Here, the foundation for probable cause independent of the credibility of the informant was so meager that the informant's credibility was material for Franks purposes. The police had provided no information about the informant’s credibility. The court rejected Clark's other claims. View "United States v. Clark" on Justia Law

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While Giles was in solitary confinement following state robbery convictions, FBI agents questioned Giles about another bank robbery. DNA recovered from a glove found next to dye-stained stolen money matched Giles’s DNA. Giles agreed in writing to be questioned without an attorney present. After he was shown the DNA report, Giles confessed to the robbery and agreed to a cheek swab after being advised of his right to refuse. Giles was indicted for bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2113, and using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence 18 U.S.C. 924(c). He unsuccessfully moved to suppress the confession, arguing that neither his Miranda waiver nor his confession were voluntary, given his long-term confinement in a “small windowless cell” with little opportunity for human interaction. A psychiatrist who had conducted a forensic psychiatric evaluation and reviewed medical records testified that prolonged isolation could result in impaired function and that Giles's history of psychological disorders and head trauma made him particularly vulnerable to the effects of isolation. A fellow inmate testified that he spoke to Giles regularly. Bacha testified that Giles showed no signs of mental distress. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and upheld his sentence, which effectively added 18 years to the term he was serving, reasoning that there was enough evidence to convict Giles without the confession. His conduct and statements reflected a clear, intelligent, and knowledgeable thought process. View "United States v. Giles" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Higgs murdered three women at a Maryland federal property. He was convicted in federal court and sentenced to death. Higgs claimed that the government failed to turn over exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland. His 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Park Police sought a complete copy of everything pertaining to the convictions. The Park Police produced some information, then referred the request to the FBI. Higgs filed suit, challenging the FBI’s decisions to redact or withhold information under FOIA Exemptions, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(6), (b)(7)(C), and (b)(7)(D). Exemptions (6) and 7(C) cover materials that would invade personal privacy; Exemption 7(D) covers information that “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, … and, in the case of a record or information compiled by criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation … information furnished by a confidential source.” The district court concluded that the FBI properly withheld certain documents under Exemption 7(D), but did not justify the invocation of Exemption 7(C), and had to release all of the names of still-living people, contact information, reports of interviews, fingerprints, and rap sheets. T. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The court erred when it found that the public interest prevailed over the privacy interests of the persons involved under Exemptions 6 and 7(C). The court affirmed with respect to Exemption 7(D) materials. View "Higgs v. United States Park Police" on Justia Law