Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Plaintiffs, Jewish inmates at prisons operated by the Indiana Department of Corrections, were transferred from one DOC facility to another (Wabash Valley) in order to maintain a kosher diet. Plaintiffs allege that Liebel, the DOC Director of Religious and Volunteer Services, violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by failing to delay that transfer until the new facility offered opportunities for Jewish group worship and study. At the time of the transfer, the DOC was unable to recruit Jewish volunteers to Wabash Valley to lead worship or train inmate leaders. In their suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court granted Liebel summary judgment, citing qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that Liebel did not violate clearly established law. Plaintiffs cited no case holding that the Free Exercise Clause provides prisoners the right to group worship when outside volunteers were unavailable to lead or train inmates or holding that a prison official violates the Free Exercise Clause by transferring inmates to a facility that does not provide congregate worship and study, or by failing to delay a transfer until the new facility provides congregate worship and study. View "Kemp v. Liebel" on Justia Law

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After Foster pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), the district court considered him to have three qualifying convictions under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), and imposed the minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. Foster had convictions for dealing in methamphetamine (a serious drug offense under ACCA), and Indiana robbery, an ACCA violent felony. Foster argued that his past conviction for Indiana’s Class B burglary of a dwelling was not a violent felony. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence, finding his argument foreclosed by 2017 circuit precedent. Determining whether burglary under a given state's law is a violent felony presents a categorical question that focuses exclusively on the state crime's elements and not on the facts underlying the conviction. The state crime’s elements must be the same as, or narrower than, the elements of generic burglary as defined by the Supreme Court so that the crime covers no more conduct than the generic offense. Indiana’s Class B felony burglary is committed while armed with a deadly weapon or if the building or structure is a dwelling: Indiana Class B burglary is a violent felony. View "United States v. Foster" on Justia Law

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Brothers Daniel and John operated companies that offered remodeling services in Chicago. Through subcontractors, they performed legitimate work for clients who paid in cash, but they padded their profits by duping elderly, unsophisticated homeowners into refinancing their homes to pay substantial sums for work they never intended to finish. The Circuit Court of Cook County permanently enjoined both John and a company the brothers owned from engaging in home-repair in Chicago; the brothers circumvented the injunction by creating a new company and installing an employee as its nominal president. They falsified contracts to hide their fraudulent activity. The brothers were convicted of wire fraud and each was sentenced to 168 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed their sentences in 2014. They filed separate pro se collateral challenges under 28 U.S.C. 2255, each contending that their attorneys were constitutionally ineffective. The district judge denied both section 2255 motions without holding an evidentiary hearing. The Seventh Circuit granted Daniel a certificate of appealability, then rejected his claims that his attorneys rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to raise a “Batson” objection to the exclusion of potential jurors based on race and hire an expert witness to testify about the amount of loss attributable to Daniel for purposes of the Sentencing Guidelines. View "Sullivan v. United States" on Justia Law

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Halbach disappeared in 2005. Her family contacted police. Officers focused on Avery Auto Salvage in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, the last place she was known to have visited. Avery, who lived on the property, had called Auto Trader magazine, for whom Halbach worked, to request that she photograph a minivan that he wished to sell. The police suspected that Avery’s 16‐year‐old nephew, Dassey, who also lived on the property, might have information about Halbach and called Dassey into the police station. After many hours of interrogation over several days, Dassey confessed that he, with Avery, had raped and murdered Halbach and burned her body. Before trial, Dassey recanted. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After unsuccessful state appeals and post‐conviction proceedings, Dassey sought federal habeas relief, claiming that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel and that his confession was not voluntary. The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed the district court in granting relief. On rehearing, en banc, the Seventh Circuit reversed, citing the deferential standards of 28 U.S.C. 2254(d). The state courts’ finding that Dassey’s confession was voluntary was not beyond fair debate, but was reasonable. View "Dassey v. Dittmann" on Justia Law

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Robinson, an Illinois inmate, alleged (42 U.S.C. 1983) that Pontiac Correctional Center guards beat him and taunted him with racial slurs as punishment for filing grievances. The district court dismissed, reasoning that some of Robinson’s allegations about the altercation conflicted with his disciplinary conviction for assaulting the guards. The court recognized that Robinson’s suit would not be barred if he argued that the guards used more force than was reasonably necessary to subdue him, but concluded that Robinson “plead[ed] himself out of court” by insisting that he did nothing to provoke the beating. The Seventh Circuit vacated, holding that the district court abused its discretion in declining to recruit counsel for Robinson. Though there is no automatic right to recruitment of counsel in civil cases, a pro se litigant’s requests for counsel are entitled to careful consideration. The district court found that Robinson made reasonable efforts to obtain counsel. Robinson stated that he has only an eighth-grade education and stays “heavily medicated” with psychotropic drugs but the district court did not address or conclude that it disbelieved Robinson’s explanation that another inmate helped him draft the documents that the court looked to for evidence of his capacity to litigate. View "Robinson v. Scrogum" on Justia Law

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After being asked to leave a party, Adorno shot a gun into the crowd. During voir dire, the judge stated: Illinois does not define reasonable doubt, but any of you who may have sat on a civil jury there’s a preponderance of the evidence, reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof in our country and in our [s]tate. Those of you who may have sat on civil cases, preponderance of the evidence, if you look at this like a scale, all you have to do is tilt it. So the definition of preponderance of the evidence is, it’s more likely than not that the event occurred. Again, Illinois doesn’t define reasonable doubt. That’s up for you to decide in words, but in analogy to the scale thing, you would have to tip it like this. Adorno was convicted of attempted murder. On appeal, Adorno argued that the impromptu statement invited the jury to convict on less than the reasonable-doubt burden of proof. The Illinois Court of Appeals rejected the claim without reference to federal law. Adorno sought federal habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Seventh Circuit reversed a grant of relief. Even if the “Richter presumption” that the state court adjudicated the federal claim does not apply and de novo review is applied, Adorno’s claim fails. There is no reasonable likelihood that the jury convicted him on less than the reasonable-doubt standard. View "Adorno v. Melvin" on Justia Law

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Oberg's daughter, A., told her mother that Oberg took pictures of her “private area.” A police search of his home revealed that Oberg had 337 photos and three videos of A. exposing her genitals. Oberg pleaded guilty to sexually exploiting a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), and possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B), with sentencing ranges of 15–30 years and 5–20 years, 18 U.S.C. 2251(e), 2252(b)(1). A probation officer increased Oberg’s base by four levels because the victim was five years old, U.S.S.G. 2G2.1(b)(1)(A), two levels because the offense involved a sexual act, 2G2.1(b)(2)(A), four levels because the portrayal of a finger penetrating A.’s vagina was sadistic conduct, 2G2.1(b)(4), two levels because Oberg was her father, 2G2.1(b)(5), and five levels because Oberg took pictures on at least 24 occasions, which amounted to a “pattern of activity,” 4B1.5(b). The probation officer reduced Oberg’s offense level by two levels for acceptance of responsibility, 3E1.1(a). Oberg did not object to these calculations but objected to the Guidelines’ recommended sentence as unreasonably long. The court sentenced Oberg to 30 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The judge adequately considered the sentencing factors, 18 U.S.C. 3553, and addressed the nature and circumstances of the offense (“extremely serious”) and the impact of Oberg’s actions on A. View "United States v. Oberg" on Justia Law

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Jehan rose to become one of three “kings” of the Chicago Black Disciples street gang. He provided drugs, meted out punishment, carried firearms, and ordered violence. In 2004, federal authorities charged 47 associates of the Black Disciples. Although aware he had been indicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heroin, 21 U.S.C. 846, 841(a)(1), Jehan remained a fugitive until surrendering in 2008. Jehan pleaded guilty, acknowledging responsibility for at least 1.5 kilograms of crack, 150 kilograms of powder cocaine, and 30 kilograms of heroin. Jehan’s Guidelines sentencing range was life imprisonment. Jehan’s plea agreement provided that, if the government moved for a downward departure for substantial assistance, a 300-month sentence would apply and that Jehan might become eligible for a sentence reduction under FRCP 35(b) if he later assisted the government. The district judge accepted the plea agreement and the government’s motion for a downward departure and sentenced Jehan to 300 months. In 2015, the court granted the government’s motion to reduce Jehan’s sentence for additional assistance, to a new sentence of 240 months. In 2016, Jehan moved to further reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), based on Sentencing Guidelines Amendment 782, which lowered the base offense level for most drug crimes. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of Jehan’s motion. Jehan’s sentence is based on a binding plea agreement, not on a Guidelines range affected by the Amendment. View "United States v. Jehan" on Justia Law

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Frentz, a long-time alcoholic who was taking medication to deal with delirium tremens, was arrested for the murder of his housemate. He claimed to be suffering hallucinations and filed notice that he would pursue a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity. After consulting with an expert, his attorney did not pursue the defense. Frentz was convicted of the murder and associated drug charges. The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed. His state postconviction petition alleged ineffective assistance of counsel for not pursuing the insanity defense. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of his petition. Frentz sought habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The Indiana court did not unreasonably apply federal law in denying Frentz’s postconviction petition. Counsel’s decisions were consistent with researching and deciding for strategic reasons not to pursue the insanity defense: Frentz changed his story several times, suggesting attempts to fabricate a cover story, rather than confusion or an inability to remember what had happened. The testimony of jailhouse informants, if credited, indicated a callous disregard for the victim's life and suggested that Frentz had attempted to conceal his crime, beginning almost immediately after the shooting when he reportedly drove his truck up and down the road (as corroborated by other witnesses). A jury could have relied on this evidence in disbelieving any claim of mental incapacity. View "Frentz v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Rodriguez entered the U.S. without inspection in 1999. In 2000, her boyfriend obtained a temporary restraining order against her, claiming that he feared for his safety after episodes of domestic violence. Rodriguez later testified that because she had nowhere else to go, and because she had small children and all her belongings in their shared apartment, she did not leave. Rodriguez pleaded no contest to knowingly violating a TRO and to misdemeanor bail jumping. Rodriguez sought cancellation of her removal as an alien continuously present in the U.S. for 10 years, 8 U.S.C. 1229b(b)(1)(A) and “a person of good moral character” during that time, indicating that removal would cause an “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to her five dependent children (including a cancer survivor) and that she had not been convicted of certain enumerated offenses, including violation of a protection order. The IJ decided that Rodriguez’s conviction was determinative, reasoning that Wisconsin law requires a judge to consider the danger posed to a victim and any pattern of abusive conduct by the perpetrator, so a misdemeanor conviction for violating a TRO is “categorically a removable offense.” The BIA and Seventh Circuit rejected her appeals. It does not matter that Rodriguez may not have acted violently by remaining on the premises; her violation of the avoidance-of-residence provision is enough. View "Rodriguez v. Sessions" on Justia Law