Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
by
During a traffic stop, a detective and a police officer worked in tandem to search Colbert’s vehicle and frisk him, uncovering on his person a brick-shaped package later confirmed to contain a controlled substance. Colbert moved to suppress this evidence, arguing that the frisk violated his constitutional rights. The district court denied the motion. Colbert entered a conditional guilty plea to possession with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of a mixture containing a detectable amount of fentanyl, 21 U.S.C. 841(a).The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The officers had reasonable suspicion to frisk him based on two officers observing the smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle, Colbert’s erratic driving, evasive and nervous behavior, a bulge in his pocket, and unwillingness to follow directions. Colbert had read and signed a form, giving the officer permission to search his vehicle. View "United States v. Colbert" on Justia Law

by
The FBI was alerted to a predatory scheme involving various Facebook accounts and (apparently) many victims, including minors. The perpetrator used a Facebook account under a false name, telling the victims that he had nude photos of them, taken from a Facebook account he had “hacked.” He said he would leak the photos if the victims did not meet his demands—chiefly, sending more explicit material. The FBI tracked the internet address associated with some of the messages to Burns Construction, where Cox worked. Agents went to Burns Construction without a search warrant. An owner agreed to allow the agents to search and image the computer in Cox’s office. Cox was not present. The agents then went to Cox’s home. They assured Cox that he could end the conversation at any time and that he would not be arrested that night. When Cox proposed helping the FBI investigate the broader sextortion network in exchange for leniency, the agents responded that such an arrangement was beyond their control. Cox nonetheless made numerous incriminating statements and let the agents take his personal laptop.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Cox’s convictions, rejecting Cox’s claims of Fourth Amendment violations based on the warrantless search, Fifth Amendment violations based on the failure to give Miranda warning, and Sixth Amendment violations based on the court’s evidentiary and procedural decisions. There was sufficient evidence to support his convictions. View "United States v. Cox" on Justia Law

by
Moran was convicted of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm for a 2006 Calumet City, Illinois shooting. After the trial, the prosecution learned that exculpatory evidence, including a ballistics report linking the gun used in the Calumet City shooting to a different shooting, had not been turned over to the defense as required by Brady v. Maryland. Moran sought postconviction relief. A state court vacated his conviction. Moran was retried and acquitted in 2017.Moran then filed a federal suit (42 U.S.C. 1983) against the city, two detectives who investigated the shooting, and a crime scene technician who mishandled the ballistics report, seeking redress for the decade he spent incarcerated. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, noting that Moran’s allegation that an Assistant States Attorney knew about the report was a judicial admission that negated an essential element of the claim; prosecutorial knowledge of exculpatory evidence blocks civil liability for police officers. The court stated that even without that judicial admission, the record could not allow a reasonable jury to find that the evidence had been suppressed. Moran moved for leave to amend his complaint. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of that motion. Moran unduly delayed seeking to amend his complaint; he should have known that his complaint contained factual errors at the outset. View "Moran v. Calumet City, Illinois" on Justia Law

by
Gan lived in Mexico and worked with U.S. associates to launder money for drug trafficking organizations. One of Gan’s couriers began cooperating with the government and participated undercover in three cash pickups coordinated by Gan. Recordings from those undercover operations and testimony from the courier were central to the government’s case. Gan was convicted on three counts of money laundering and one count of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business but was acquitted on one count of participating in a money laundering conspiracy. He was sentenced to 168 months in prison.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that a law enforcement expert improperly provided testimony interpreting communications the jury could have understood itself. Gan waived an argument that jury instruction misstated the mens rea required for the money-laundering convictions. The prosecution’s closing remarks were not improper. Binding Supreme Court precedent allows consideration of acquitted conduct at sentencing when, as in this case, the judge finds the conduct proved by a preponderance of the evidence. View "United States v. Gan" on Justia Law

by
Based on a child’s report that West molested him and paid him for a nude photograph, police searched West’s home and business and found a laptop computer and flash drives that contained roughly 1000 photographs and videos of child pornography. West was charged with possessing child pornography, sexual exploitation of a minor, receiving child pornography, and commission of an offense by a registered sex offender. West stipulated that certain images found on his devices were part of known child pornography series identified by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, produced outside Illinois, and distributed on the internet. The court admitted those exhibits. At trial, the government briefly showed several images from West’s devices to the jury. An FBI agent testified that six images found on West’s devices were from a child pornography series he had investigated; the government briefly published exhibits as the agent identified each child, without objection. As the prosecutor asked about Exhibit 5E, West unsuccessfully objected.The Seventh Circuit affirmed West’s conviction, rejecting his argument that the admission and publication of the exhibits violated Federal Rule of Evidence 403 on the theory that the content of the images was not in dispute, so their admission was needlessly cumulative and unfairly prejudicial. He also argued, unsuccessfully, that because he had stipulated that child pornography was found on the devices recovered from his home and business, their admission violated Supreme Court precedent. View "United States v. West" on Justia Law

by
Mercado, age 41, used an Internet application to meet “Alexis,” a profile operated by an FBI agent conducting an undercover investigation of adults with sexual interests in children. After just minutes of texting, “Alexis” told Mercado she was 15 years old. For the next five days, they texted, exchanged photos, and spoke by phone. Mercado raised sexual topics, describing sexual acts he wanted to engage in with “Alexis.” Mercado sent “Alexis” sexually graphic and suggestive messages and emojis and asked her to smoke marijuana and drink alcoholic beverages with him. They arranged to meet at a house that was actually an FBI operations center. When Mercado arrived, he was arrested. Mercado exhibited health problems. He was taken to a hospital and administered medication. Later, he was interviewed at the hospital, waived his Miranda rights, and made inculpatory admissions.Mercado was charged with attempted enticement of a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2422(b), and use of interstate facilities to attempt to transmit information about a minor, section 2425. He unsuccessfully opposed a government motion to preclude an entrapment defense. That court denied Mercado’s motion to suppress his statements and evidence obtained in his hospital interview. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding those rulings and rejecting an argument that his statements were involuntary as he was under the influence of drugs when he talked to agents, who coerced his statements. View "United States v. Berrios" on Justia Law

by
Illinois State Police Officer Myers supervised 10 controlled drug purchases by a confidential source (CS) at a Cairo residence. Each purchase was recorded on video. The CS initially said that “Cornelius Dean” was selling crack cocaine at the house. Eventually, the CS found out the dealer’s name was Ed. Ed later told the CS that his surname was “Johnson.” Myers searched for an image of an “Ed or Edward Johnson” in the Illinois Secretary of State database but found no match. Alexander County Sheriff Brown suggested Ed’s last name might be Osborne. Myers again checked the state database and discovered that “Phillip Edward Osborne” resided in Cairo. Myers obtained Osborne’s driver’s license photo and concluded that it matched the dealer in the drug buy videos. Myers reported that the CS, upon seeing the photo, unequivocally, identified Osborne. Myers obtained an arrest warrant. Osborne was arrested and remained incarcerated for seven days before being released on bond. The state eventually dismissed the charges.Osborne sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed the claims against the county and granted Myers summary judgment on the false arrest claim, finding no evidence to undermine probable cause to arrest Osborne and that Myers was entitled to qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plaintiff failed to overcome the presumption of validity accorded to the warrant and the underlying information, with little more than bare allegations that Myers lied in his warrant application. View "Johnson v. Myers" on Justia Law

by
Bennett contends that Division 10 of Cook County Jail does not satisfy the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act because it lacks grab bars and other fixtures that disabled inmates need in order to use showers and toilets safely. Bennett cited a regulation providing that as of 1988, "construction[] or alteration of buildings” must comply with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), 28 C.F.R. 42.522(b)(1). UFAS requires accessible toilets with grab bars nearby and accessible showers with mounted seats, Division 10 was constructed in 1992.In 2020, the Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of class certification, stating that Bennett “proposes a class that will win if the Standards apply (and were violated, to detainees’ detriment).” On remand, the district court certified a class. More than two years later, the judge decertified the class, reasoning that some class members, although using aids such as wheelchairs, may not be disabled under the statutes.The Seventh Circuit again reversed. The 2020 decision identified an issue relevant to every Division 10 detainee. Class certification under Rule 23(c)(4) resolves the issue, not the whole case. Class members could receive the benefit of a declaratory judgment on the issue but would need to proceed in individual suits to seek damages; if the class loses, every detainee would be bound by issue preclusion. The application of UFAS can be determined class-wide while leaving to the future any particular inmate’s claim to relief. View "Bennett v. Dart" on Justia Law

by
Confidential informants participated in controlled purchases from Ramirez that tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine and fentanyl. Officers executed a traffic stop; inside a vehicle operated by Ramirez, they discovered 184.79 grams of a substance that tested positive for methamphetamine and fentanyl. Ramirez pleaded guilty to possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); (b)(1)(B).The court sentenced him as a career offender (Sentencing Guideline 4B1.1) because he had prior Wisconsin felony convictions for possessing with intent to deliver tetrahydrocannabinol and for manufacturing or delivering cocaine. The court sentenced him to 120 months’ imprisonment. Ramirez asked the Seventh Circuit to reconsider its 2020 “Ruth” holding that an offense need not involve a substance controlled by the Controlled Substances Act to qualify as a predicate “controlled substance offense” under the career offender enhancement, and argued that the district court failed to consider adequately his primary mitigating sentencing argument.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, declining to overrule Ruth. Until the conflicting circuit positions are reconciled, it is arguable "that undercounting career offenders works a substantial injury by failing to protect the public from recidivist drug criminals.” The district court addressed, explicitly and extensively, Ramirez’s arguments about his upbringing, including in reference to the factors and goals of sentencing. View "United States v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

by
Moore was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison for drug offenses. One factual foundation for the sentence was the district court’s finding that 55.6 grams of methamphetamine found in Moore’s home were 100% pure. Moore argued that a chemist’s affidavit that he submitted was “some evidence” sufficient to call the purity finding into question and that the government failed to support the finding on purity. Moore claimed that the district court erred by placing a burden on him to perform independent testing and by assuming, without supporting evidence, that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s methods for testing purity are reliable and were applied correctly in Moore’s case.The Seventh Circuit remanded for re-sentencing. Moore has a due process right to be sentenced based on reliable information. The district court’s assumption about the general reliability of DEA testing protocols was not supported by any evidence in the record. The “some evidence” standard is not a demanding one. The chemist’s affidavit here did not purport to resolve conclusively the accuracy of the DEA test results, but it raised a fair question about them. View "United St v. Mooatesre" on Justia Law