Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Insurance executive Menzies sold over $64 million in his company’s stock but did not report any capital gains on his 2006 federal income tax return. He alleges that his underpayment of capital gains taxes (and related penalties and interest imposed by the IRS) was because of a fraudulent tax shelter peddled to him and others by a lawyer, law firm, and financial services firms. Menzies brought claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Illinois law. The district court dismissed all claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part. Menzies’s RICO claim falls short on the statute’s pattern-of-racketeering element. Menzies failed to plead not only the particulars of how the defendants marketed the same or a similar tax shelter to other taxpayers, but also facts to support a finding that the alleged racketeering activity would continue. A fraudulent tax shelter scheme can violate RICO; the shortcoming here is one of pleading and it occurred after the district court authorized discovery to allow Menzies to develop his claims. Menzies’s Illinois state law claims were untimely as to the lawyer and law firm defendants. The claims against the remaining financial services defendants can proceed. View "Menzies v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP" on Justia Law

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Shoffner was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm. The Seventh Circuit vacated his below-Guidelines sentence of 84 months’ imprisonment because the district court had miscalculated the base offense level. The district court had not specified whether its imposition of a six-level increase for punching the arresting officer, U.S.S.G. 3A1.2(c)(1), was based on a belief that it was required to find, as a matter of law, that the punch created a substantial risk of serious injury or whether the court had found, as a factual matter, that the punch created a serious risk of injury. On remand, the district court, a different judge presiding, conducted a sentencing hearing. Even though the Seventh Circuit decision had decreased his applicable advisory guidelines range, Shoffner received the same sentence. The Seventh Circuit again vacated and remanded. The district court erred procedurally by not explaining why it believed that the imposed sentence was appropriate and by failing to engage with his arguments in mitigation. View "United Statesx v. Shoffner" on Justia Law

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Robinson pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). The probation officer recommended the statutory maximum term of 180 months’ imprisonment. At his sentencing hearing, the district court considered and rejected defense counsel’s argument that the Sentencing Guidelines calculation double-counted Robinson’s past convictions. Robinson raised the argument again when he had the opportunity to speak. He also attempted to mitigate his conduct by explaining the circumstances surrounding his arrest. He explained that his prior convictions were based on events that happened about 20 years ago and that he was now a steadily-employed family man. The court rejected those arguments as frivolous and then revoked the three-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility that it had granted him earlier. The Seventh Circuit vacated the 188-month sentence. The district court clearly erred in concluding that Robinson did not accept responsibility. Robinson did not attempt to disclaim his criminal conduct but simply made a mitigation argument explaining why he was in possession of the gun. The court rejected Robinson’s double-counting argument. View "United States v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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After an argument with his girlfriend, Eatman pounded on her apartment door, yelling to be let inside. Chicago police officers arrived in response to a 911 call, frisked Eatman, seized a loaded handgun, and placed him in handcuffs. Officers asked Eatman to produce the gun’s registration. His girlfriend refused to sign a police complaint. Officers took Eatman to the police station, where a background check revealed two prior felony convictions. Eatman was indicted for possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Eatman unsuccessfully moved to suppress the gun. The district court found that the officers had reasonable suspicion when they found Eatman attempting to gain access to the apartment and that the officers arrested Eatman only after inquiring whether he had registration for the gun. Eatman entered a conditional guilty plea. On appeal, Eatman conceded the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct a frisk but argued he was arrested without probable cause when he was handcuffed, so his felon status should be suppressed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding the use of handcuffs on Eatman to be reasonable. The use of handcuffs was not an arrest but a method to de‐escalate the situation and allow the officers to investigate. The officers likely had probable cause to arrest Eatman for either the domestic battery or disturbing the peace. View "United States v. Eatman" on Justia Law

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Knight, a Wisconsin prisoner, sought treatment for a knee injury. Dr. Grossman, who worked at a hospital that provided medical services to state prisoners, diagnosed Knight with a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament and performed reconstruction surgery. A few years later, Knight reinjured his knee and returned for treatment. Dr. Grossman examined Knight, ordered x-rays, and, without consulting an MRI, diagnosed him with a torn ACL revision. Dr. Grossman offered Knight the option of undergoing a revision procedure to repair the tear. During surgery, he determined that Knight did not have a tear but had degenerative joint disease or arthritis. Not knowing when Knight would be available for surgery again, Grossman performed an alternate procedure, which he had not discussed with Knight. Knight did not learn of the change in course until his follow-up visit. In Knight’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Dr. Grossman. The court stated that prisoners retain a liberty interest in refusing forced medical treatment while incarcerated, with an implied right to the information necessary to make an informed decision about treatment. Knight did not establish a violation of that right because no reasonable jury could find that Dr. Grossman acted with deliberate indifference to Knight’s knee condition or to his right to refuse treatment. View "Knight v. Grossman" on Justia Law

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Atwood pleaded guilty to federal drug crimes. The presentencing report calculated a Guidelines range of 188-235 months. Judge Bruce sentenced Atwood to 210 months’ imprisonment, citing the 3553(a) factors and stating, "if I have made a mistake in the guideline calculations … my sentence would still be the same.” It later became known that while Atwood’s case was pending, Judge Bruce engaged in extensive ex parte communication with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about other cases. Bruce had been a federal prosecutor at that Office before his appointment to the judiciary. A newspaper exposed that communication and published emails. Judge Bruce was removed from cases involving the Office. The ex parte communications never explicitly mentioned Atwood’s case. The Seventh Circuit Judicial Council found no evidence that Bruce’s improper communications actually affected his decision in any case but stated that his actions violated the Code of Conduct. Bruce remained unassigned to any case involving the Office until September 2019. The Seventh Circuit vacated Atwood’s sentence and remanded for resentencing by a different judge. The federal recusal statute, 28 U.S.C. 455(a), requires a judge to recuse himself from any proceeding in which his impartiality may reasonably be questioned. The disclosure of the ex parte correspondence invited doubt about Bruce's impartiality in proceedings involving the Office. Because of the judge’s broad discretion in sentencing, Bruce’s failure to recuse himself was not harmless error. View "United States v. Atwood" on Justia Law

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Kimbrough dated the mother of daughters, ages five and seven, who eventually revealed Kimbrough had molested them for two years. Kimbrough was convicted and sentenced to 80 years’ imprisonment. The judge considered Kimbrough’s lack of criminal history and Kimbrough’s abuse of a position of trust. Kimbrough's counsel argued the court abused its discretion in imposing that sentence but never challenged his sentence under Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B), which allows the court to revise a sentence that "is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.” A split panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals sua sponte reduced his sentence under Rule 7(B). The Indiana Supreme Court vacated, holding Rule 7(B) should not have been invoked sua sponte. Kimbrough then sought post-conviction relief, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to challenge the sentence under Rule 7(B). The trial court and Indiana Court of Appeals denied relief, stating: “Kimbrough has not established that there is a reasonable probability that, if appellate counsel had made a Rule 7(B) challenge, the result ... would have been different.” Granting Kimbrough’s petition for federal habeas relief, the district court found that because panels of the Indiana Court of Appeals reached opposite conclusions, Kimbrough necessarily had a reasonable probability of success and had satisfied Strickland’s prejudice prong. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that a federal court considering a 28 U.S.C. 2254(d) habeas petition cannot disagree with a state court’s resolution of a state law issue. View "Kimbrough v. Neal" on Justia Law

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Haldorson, a fireworks enthusiast and a drug dealer, was arrested on his way to a second controlled buy. Along with drugs, officers found three pipe bombs in his car. He was charged with several counts related to drugs, explosives, and a firearm. Haldorson unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence and was convicted on four counts of the seven-count indictment: distribution of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); possession with intent to distribute cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); possession of MDMA, or ecstasy, and cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 844(a); and possession of an explosive during the commission of a felony, 21 U.S.C. 844(h)(2). The court vacated Count Three because it was a lesser-included offense of Count Two and sentenced Haldorson to 192 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the denial of the motions to suppress. Probable cause, based on the controlled buy three weeks earlier, supported the arrest and exigent circumstances existed for the warrantless search of his bedroom. There was a legitimate concern that other homemade explosive devices were in Haldorson’s bedroom and were dangerous to others. The jury instructions did not constructively amend the indictment for unlawfully carrying an explosive and permit the jury to convict him on a broader basis than charged. View "United States v. Haldorson" on Justia Law

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Hanson was indicted in 2009 for conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine in excess of 500 grams. The prosecution established Hanson’s three prior drug offenses and Kentucky felony third-degree residential burglary conviction. Hanson pleaded guilty with a plea agreement; the government listed only one prior felony drug conviction under 21 U.S.C. 851, instead of three potentially qualifying convictions, and relied in part on Hanson’s burglary conviction for a recommended Guidelines sentencing range. The Probation Officer calculated Hanson’s Guidelines range as 262-327 months, U.S.S.G. 4B1.1(c)(3). The court sentenced Hanson to 262 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of his collateral challenge to his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Noting that the challenge was untimely, the court rejected an argument that the district court erred when it included his third-degree burglary as a crime of violence, enhancing Hanson’s status to a career offender, and resulting in a “miscarriage of justice.” The government conceded that the Kentucky third-degree burglary statute does not inherently involve “purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct” of a “crime of violence” as part of the career offender designation but the court did not rely solely, or even principally, on the Guidelines; it referenced multiple considerations in imposing Hanson’s sentence, including the Guidelines, the lengthy presentencing report, the argument of the parties, and factors set forth in section 3553(a). View "Hanson v. United States" on Justia Law

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While on supervised release for possessing a firearm as a felon, Shockey tested positive for methamphetamine, which he later admitted using. A probation officer petitioned to revoke his supervision, charging Shockey with a Grade B violation for conduct constituting an offense punishable by a prison term exceeding one year, U.S.S.G. 7B1.1(a)(2). Shockey asked the court to find that he had merely used methamphetamine, rather than possessed it. Use is a Grade C violation that does not mandate revocation. He argued that he violated the requirement of his supervised-release condition to refrain from using drugs—a violation that is not a felony. The district court rejected Shockey’s argument, implying that use supports an inference of possession. With a sentencing range of 21-24 months in prison, the court sentenced him to 15 months, recognizing that Shockey had stayed sober for seven months before using methamphetamine and committed no other crimes. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Shockey was notified before the hearing by the probation officer in writing that he was alleged to have violated the Indiana “Possession of methamphetamine” statute and that this constituted a Grade B violation because the offense is punishable by more than one year in prison. The district court reasonably could infer possession from use. View "United States v. Shockey" on Justia Law