Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Iowa closed the Iowa Girls State Training School. Palmer, Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, subsequently contracted to use the Wisconsin Girls State Training School (Copper Lake). Plaintiffs claim that, since its 2011 opening, Cooper Lake “has had a very high turnover rate of employees,” leading to “over-worked and untrained staff” and has received criticism from Wisconsin judges regarding its “sordid” and “inhumane” treatment of juveniles. Iowa juvenile courts ordered Plaintiffs to be placed at Copper Lake in 2015. Both were 16 years old. Plaintiffs claim that Copper Lake subjected them to prolonged “isolation,” and that they received little or no educational instruction. Both attempted suicide. Plaintiffs also claim they were subjected to excessive force and that staff sprayed them with mace on multiple occasions. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, and deprivation of due process. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of their claims. The district court acted prematurely in deciding Palmer’s entitlement to qualified immunity at the motion to dismiss stage. At the time plaintiffs were allegedly in Palmer’s custody, isolation of pre-trial juvenile detainees not “reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective”could rise to the level of a constitutional violation. On the record, it is impossible to determine whether such a constitutional violation occurred in plaintiffs’ cases. View "Reed v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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Secret Service agents used a peer‐to‐peer sharing network to download eight images of child pornography from a computer using an internet protocol address assigned to Burrows’s home, then executed a search warrant. A forensic search of a computer at the residence revealed files received through the peer‐to‐peer sharing program, including videos depicting sexually explicit content of females as young as six years old. Burrows waived his Miranda rights and stated that before deleting his collection 10 days earlier, he had 20-30 movies and several thousand images of child pornography on his computer. Burrows unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(2)(A) is unconstitutionally vague. Burrows entered a conditional guilty plea. The court concluded that Burrows’s Guidelines range was 121–155 months’ imprisonment. The court examined the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, stating that it believed Burrows, age 33, posed a “greater risk to recidivate than other similarly situated individuals” based on his “juvenile history” and “pattern of violent outbursts” but also addressed mitigating factors, including abuse Burrows suffered as a child, and imposed a 121‐month sentence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that section 2252A “is unconstitutionally vague because it does not distinguish receiving child pornography from possessing it, which does not impose a mandatory minimum sentence.” The court noted that one cannot receive child pornography without possessing it but one can possess child pornography without receiving it View "United States v. Burrows" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Eight men stole 104 new Ruger firearms, in original packaging, from a cargo train parked in a Chicago rail yard. The men divided the stolen firearms among themselves and sold them on the black market. Most of the guns have not been recovered, but at least 17 have been recovered from crime scenes. The men were charged with possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony, 18 U.S.C. 922(g); possession of a stolen firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(j); and cargo theft, 18 U.S.C. 659. Shelton pleaded guilty to Counts One and Two. Lewis pleaded guilty to Counts One and Three. Edwards pleaded guilty to Counts One and Two. Walker pleaded guilty to Counts One and Three. All four challenged their sentences, arguing that the court improperly imposed multiple offense-level enhancements under U.S.S.G. 2K2.1 (stolen firearm, trafficking, and other felony offense enhancements) in violation of double counting principles. Shelton challenged the application of three criminal history points for a prior burglary conviction. The Seventh Circuit rejected the arguments and affirmed their below-Guidelines terms of 132 months, 180 months, 120 months, and 150 months, each with three years of supervised release. Any error in calculating Shelton’s criminal history score was harmless, given the below-Guidelines sentence. View "United States v. Shelton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Santiago was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1000 grams or more of heroin and five or more kilograms of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 846; distribution of heroin, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); and money laundering, 18 U.S.C. 1956. Before trial, Santiago unsuccessfully moved to suppress phone recordings secured through a wiretap under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. 2510–2520. A jury convicted Santiago on all charges. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the ruling on the motion to suppress, rejecting arguments that the application incorrectly stated that the investigators did not know his identity, that the application failed to establish that the wiretap was necessary to obtain relevant evidence and that he made a substantial preliminary showing that the application contained a deliberate or reckless misstatement of material fact that required a hearing under Franks v. Delaware. The warrant application’s failure to identify Santiago by his name rather than simply by his nickname did not affect the issuing court’s probable‐cause analysis. The application also established that traditional investigative techniques had been employed, but were unlikely to uncover critical evidence about the targets. Santiago did not make the necessary showing to obtain a Franks hearing. View "United States v. Santiago" on Justia Law

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Mohsin and Khan pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell drugs (commonly known as synthetic marijuana) misbranded as incense or potpourri (18 U.S.C. 371) during approximately eight months in 2011 from a store Mohsin owned in the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois. A customer died in an auto accident after smoking the product. In their plea agreements, Mohsin and Khan admitted that the synthetic marijuana products they sold contained inadequate consumer warnings, failed to identify the products’ active ingredients, and were mislabeled in an effort to mislead regulators regarding the products’ status as drugs—all in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The district court found that the defendants consciously or recklessly disregarded the risk that the mislabeled products could cause death or serious injury, significantly increasing their advisory ranges under U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(15)(A). The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded for resentencing. The record before the district court, while supporting a conclusion that Mohsin and Khan knew customers (and perhaps teenagers) were smoking the products to obtain marijuana‐like highs, did not support a determination that either Mohsin or Khan knew the products presented lethal risks to users. View "United States v. Khan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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An Illinois jury convicted Czech of first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm for his role in a gang-related drive-by shooting that resulted in the death of a 14-year-old bystander. Czech argued on direct appeal that his counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the felony murder instruction that was submitted to the jury in conjunction with a general verdict. The Illinois Appellate Court determined that the felony murder instruction violated Illinois law, but concluded the error was harmless. The Supreme Court of Illinois declined further review. The federal district court denied 28 U.S.C. 2254 relief, reasoning that, although the conviction violated clearly established federal law, the error did not have a substantial and injurious effect on the verdict. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In 2004, when the Illinois court affirmed the conviction, no Supreme Court precedent clearly established that a conviction entered on a general verdict was unconstitutional merely because the jury instructions included a legal theory that was invalid under state law Even subsequent law did not expressly hold that instructing a jury on multiple theories of guilt, one of which is legally improper, is a constitutional error. In addition, Czech is not entitled to relief because, even if constitutional error were shown, the error was harmless: a properly instructed jury would have delivered the same verdict. View "Czech v. Melvin" on Justia Law

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Bradford was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 846; transfer of a firearm to a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(1); two counts of distribution of cocaine base, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B), (b)(1)(C); possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, section 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(D); and possession of a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The jury acquitted him of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting his challenge to the denial of his motion to suppress evidence recovered in a search of his home pursuant to a warrant. Bradford claimed that the warrant application relied on statements from a confidential informant but omitted information damaging to the informant’s credibility. The informant’s information was quite detailed and robustly corroborated with ample additional evidence from the ATF’s investigation. Considering the warrant application as a whole, the omission of facts bearing negatively on the informant’s credibility was not fatal to the probable-cause finding. The court also upheld the denial of his pretrial motion to exclude evidence that he used the firearms seized in the search or directed others to use them; Rule 403 is a balancing test and there was no plain error. View "United States v. Bradford" on Justia Law

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Hrobowski was convicted of federal firearms offenses in 2006 and sentenced to 264 months’ imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e) based on prior Illinois state‐law convictions: aggravated battery, second‐degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and aggravated fleeing from a police officer. Hrobowski first unsuccessfully moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel; he then unsuccessfully sought authorization to file a successive petition alleging a "Brady" violation. He then filed an unsuccessful petition under Descamps and Alleyne. Hrobowski then sought authorization to file a successive section 2255 petition following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Johnson decision, invalidating ACCA’s residual clause. Petitions based on Johnson errors generally satisfy the requirement for filing a successive section 2255 petition: the Johnson decision was a new rule of constitutional law, and the Supreme Court made the rule retroactive. Hrobowski claimed that he was discharged from the second‐degree murder conviction in 1998 and from the aggravated discharge of a firearm conviction in 2002 and that his civil rights were fully restored. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of the petition. One prior conviction was based on the residual clause but the Johnson violation was harmless as Hrobowski had three other prior violent felonies. His claim that two of his other convictions should not be considered prior violent felonies because his rights were restored is procedurally barred. View "Hrobowski v. United States" on Justia Law

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Perez‐Gonzalez pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for his role in a gang‐related killing and agreed to cooperate. His plea agreement stated: Any deviation from that truthful [testimony against a co-defendant] will be grounds for the [state] at [its] sole discretion–to withdraw its agreement to delete reference to a firearm as well as to withdraw its agreement to vacate the 15‐year add‐on. In such event, the defendant would then be required to serve the terms of the initial agreement. It makes no reference to refusal to testify. More than one year later, as the trial of a co‐defendant approached, Perez‐Gonzalez declined to testify. He was convicted of contempt of court, resulting in an additional 10‐year sentence. After exhausting his state court remedies, Perez‐Gonzalez sought habeas corpus relief, asserting the state breached the plea agreement by requesting the contempt sanction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, rejecting an argument that the plea agreement immunized Perez-Gonzalez from contempt proceedings. Although he presented a reasonable interpretation of the agreement, he has not proved that the state appellate court’s alternative interpretation was unreasonable; the agreement contained no express or implied promise that the state would not bring contempt charges. Perez‐Gonzalez must do more than provide an alternative reading of the plea agreement. View "Perez-Gonzalez v. Lashbrook" on Justia Law

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Milwaukee County hired Thicklen in 2012 as a jail corrections officer. A zero-tolerance policy forbids corrections officers from having any sexual contact with inmates. The county repeatedly instructed Thicklen not to engage in any such contact and trained him to avoid it. Thicklen gave answers to quizzes indicating he understood the training. He nonetheless raped Shonda Martin in jail. Martin sued him and sued the county for indemnification under Wisconsin Statute 895.46. A jury awarded her $6,700,000 against the county, finding that the assaults were in the scope of employment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Martin and the verdict, no reasonable jury could find the sexual assaults were in the scope of Thicklen’s employment; that the sexual assaults were natural, connected, ordinary parts or incidents of contemplated services; that the assaults were of the same or similar kind of conduct as that Thicklen was employed to perform; or that the assaults were actuated even to a slight degree by a purpose to serve County. No reasonable jury could even regard the sexual assaults as improper methods of carrying out employment objectives. Martin presented no evidence that his training was deficient or that Thicklen did not understand it. View "Martin v. Milwaukee County" on Justia Law