Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Bowling worked for the City of Gary, Indiana for 25 years, eventually becoming a network administrator, with access to the email system. Her responsibilities included ordering the city's computer equipment. Bowling ordered 1,517 Apple products, totaling $1,337,114.06. She sold iPads and MacBooks for cash. To conceal her scheme, Bowling submitted duplicate invoices from legitimate purchases. Eventually, the fraudulent purchases outstripped the duplicate invoices she could process and one vendor, CDW, turned the city’s account over to a senior recovery analyst, Krug. Krug contacted Green, the city’s controller and sent Green invoices via FedEx. Bowling intercepted the package, accessed Green’s email account, and sent a fabricated message to Krug to reassure CDW but her scheme unraveled. The Seventh Circuit affirmed her conviction for theft from a local government that received federal funds, 18 U.S.C. 666, and her 63-month sentence. The federal funds element was satisfied; the parties stipulated that Gary as a whole received more than $10,000 in federal benefits in a one-year period. Krug’s testimony about the email was direct evidence of Bowling’s attempt to stall the city’s ultimate discovery of her fraud; there was no error in admitting the testimony under Rule 404(b). A two-level obstruction of justice sentencing enhancement was justified because Bowling faked mutism, causing a one-year delay in the proceedings. View "United States v. Bowling" on Justia Law

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Hernandez co-founded the Trust and marketed it as a company designed to assist homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages. She and her codefendants promised prospective “members” that, in exchange for fees of $3,500-$10,000, the Trust would negotiate with their lenders to take over their mortgages and stop or prevent foreclosure proceedings. The Trust promised to refund the fees if it could not purchase the mortgages. More than 50 homeowners became members and paid fees. In 2013, Illinois authorities discovered that the Trust was not licensed and did not have enough funds to purchase a single mortgage. Hernandez and her codefendants had spent the fees (more than $220,000) on meals, travel, and vehicles. The Trust did not help any homeowners; at least three homeowners who paid the Trust had their homes foreclosed on. A jury found Hernandez guilty of mail fraud. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the government did not prove that she used the mails in furtherance of the scheme to defraud and that the district court improperly delegated its authority to the Bureau of Prisons by not entering a specific restitution payment schedule for her while serving her prison sentence. There was sufficient evidence to support the verdict and the court permissibly deferred Hernandez’s restitution payments until after her release. View "United States v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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Simon, a CPA, was convicted of filing false tax returns, mail fraud related to financial aid, and federal financial aid fraud. The court imposed a prison term, and restitution of $886,901.69 to the IRS, $48,070.35 to the Department of Education, $17,000 to Canterbury School, and $101,600 to Culver Academies. Simon made no objections to the restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Simon’s convictions. Simon had not challenged his restitution obligations. Simon later unsuccessfully moved to vacate his conviction, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, but not with respect to restitution. At the government's request, the court removed Canterbury as a payee, directing Simon’s restitution payments to Culver (private victims receive restitution ahead of the government, 18 U.S.C. 3664(i)) and approved an updated balance of $48,376, without a hearing. Days later, Simon received notice of the order. Seven months later, Simon moved for reconsideration, arguing that he had a due process right to be heard on the government’s motion and that the amended balance constituted a new obligation. The schools had disclaimed any interest in restitution. Simon urged the court to eliminate his restitution and requested that the court strike all restitution to the Department of Education, claiming that his daughter had paid off her student loans so the Department was no longer at risk. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Most of Simon’s challenges could and should have been raised at sentencing and on direct appeal and were waived; the remainder were untimely. View "United States v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Holleman, a “jailhouse lawyer,” has been awarded thousands of dollars in prior lawsuits. In 2015, Pendleton Correctional Facility (Superintendent Zatecky) transferred Holleman to Wabash. Zatecky stated that Holleman had written letters complaining of the conditions at Pendleton and, given the age of the facility, the only viable solution was to transfer Holleman to a more modern facility. Zatecky claims to have believed that the transfer was in Holleman’s best interest. Holleman was housed in the general population at both maximum-security prisons, with similar restrictions. Holleman claims he witnessed more violence at Wabash and that Wabash inmates are afraid to report violence; that Holleman was the victim of violence from his new cellmate (he did not report this incident); that he only had access to the Wabash law library for four hours per week, as opposed to seven hours per week at Pendleton; and that at Pendleton he had an individual cell. Reversing the district court, the Seventh Circuit held that the transfer did not violate Holleman’s clearly established right to be free from retaliation for protected First Amendment activity, such that his suit can overcome qualified immunity. Holleman complained about inadequate conditions at Pendleton; the Defendants responded by transferring him. Even taking the facts in the light most favorable to Holleman, they do not support a finding that the transfer was motivated by the fact that he engaged in protected activity rather than the substance of his complaints. View "Holleman v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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Thomas was convicted of the voluntary manslaughter of his uncle and is serving a 40-year sentence at Indiana’s Westville Correctional Facility. He has a history of mental illness which began before his incarceration; his symptoms include suicidal ideations, paranoia, and hallucinations. Thomas has also been diagnosed with epilepsy, antisocial personality disorder, and anxiety, for which he has received various medications while incarcerated. Thomas sued state correctional officials, alleging deficient health care, inadequate conditions of confinement, and that officers treated him with excessive force. The district court found Thomas’s pro se complaint deficient and gave him opportunities to remedy its problems but ultimately dismissed his case for failure to prosecute. The court also denied three requests by Thomas for appointed counsel. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal. The district court abused its discretion by denying Thomas’s requests to appoint counsel. Thomas made reasonable attempts to obtain counsel and the court did not assess whether Thomas appeared competent to litigate the case given its difficulty. This outcome prejudiced Thomas. The court remanded for the appointment of an attorney. The district court also provided insufficient grounds on which to dismiss Thomas’s case for failure to prosecute. View "Thomas v. Wardell" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the petitioners pleaded guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. 924(c) for brandishing a firearm during a “crime of violence”—theft from a federally licensed firearms dealer, 18 U.S.C. 922(u). In 2016, both moved under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate their section 924(c) convictions, citing the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Davis” holding that a violation of section 922(u) no longer counts as a crime of violence. The district court denied relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Express collateral-attack waivers in both plea agreements are valid and bar their challenges to their convictions and sentences. The petitioners did not satisfy any recognized bases for avoiding a valid collateral-attack waiver. The court rejected their arguments that they were asserting a non-waivable “jurisdictional” challenge to the constitutionality of the statute of conviction; that allowing their convictions to stand would result in a “miscarriage of justice”; and that their section 924(c) convictions rest on a “constitutionally impermissible factor.” View "Ross v. United States" on Justia Law

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Muresanu began participating in an ATM skimming scheme when he was 17 years old and had recently arrived from his native Romania. Muresanu was charged with possession of counterfeit access devices and three counts of attempted aggravated identity theft. There is no such federal crime; the statutory definition of aggravated identity theft does not cover attempts. Muresanu’s attorney did not object to the defect in a pretrial motion but “strategically waited" and moved for acquittal on the identity-theft counts after the government rested its case. The judge ruled that Muresanu had waived the objection, then deleted the attempt language from the jury instructions and instructed the jury on the elements of the completed crime. The modified instruction conformed to the statutory offense but varied from the indictment. Convicted, Muresanu was sentenced to 34 months on count one and a consecutive mandatory 24-month sentence on the identity-theft counts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The judge correctly applied the Sentencing Guidelines to count one. Defects in the indictment are not jurisdictional and must be raised by pretrial motion but the modification of the jury instructions led the jury to convict Muresanu of crimes not charged by the grand jury, violating his Fifth Amendment right to be tried only on charges brought by indictment. That error is per se reversible. View "United States v. Muresanu" on Justia Law

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Bridgewater pleaded guilty to soliciting an obscene visual depiction of a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(3)(B)(i). The Guidelines called for a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 months in prison. The district court deviated from the Guidelines to 78 months to account for a charge of attempted enticement of a minor that the government dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea. That conduct, the court found, aggravated the nature and circumstances of the offense of conviction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the sentence was substantively unreasonable because basing it—even in part—on dismissed conduct creates systemwide disparity. The court addressed unwarranted sentencing disparities and the lack of evidence of his recidivism and gave ample weight to the Guidelines but ultimately concluded they failed to properly reflect the scope of Bridgewater’s conduct. The court’s 18-month (or 30%) deviation did not introduce unwarranted sentence disparities among similar defendants. View "United States v. Bridgewater" on Justia Law

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Bridges, a Cook County Department of Corrections pretrial detainee, fell out of the upper bunk to which he had been assigned and injured himself. He sued, asserting that his injuries were caused by the defendants’ practice of ignoring medically necessary lower bunk prescriptions. Bridges cited five lawsuits filed by detainees who alleged that, between 2005 and 2012, they were injured when using upper bunks after their lower bunk prescriptions were ignored. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. A local government may not be sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents; it is when the execution of a government’s policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the governmental entity is responsible under section 1983. The Department houses thousands of detainees, with hundreds entering and leaving on a daily basis; three or five incidents over a seven-year period is inadequate as a matter of law to demonstrate a widespread custom or practice. Nothing connected the incidents and they were not so common as to place the defendants on notice of a widespread practice. View "Bridges v. Dart" on Justia Law

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Picardi, a former Customs and Border Protection Officer at the international terminal of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, was convicted of embezzlement by an officer or employee of the United States, 18 U.S.C. 654 and was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment and a fine of $100,000. He had stolen from a traveler who was referred for a secondary inspection. While out on bond, Picardi harassed his estranged wife using electronic and other means and engaged a private detective in his efforts, falsely telling the man that he was a customs officer conducting a legitimate investigation. After Picardi was convicted, he enlisted a friend to approach his victim’s adult daughter to persuade her to convince her mother to recant her testimony. Because Picardi waived any argument regarding the amount of the fine and the adequacy of the explanation of the fine, the Seventh Circuit dismissed his appeal. Picardi and his lawyer knew what was at stake: the maximum under the Guidelines was $40,000, and the probation department recommendation was $100,000. This was not simply an inadvertent failure to object to the imposition of an above-Guidelines fine; it was a calculated, strategic decision, based on a hope that it would work to the client’s benefit on the custody determination. View "United States v. Picardi" on Justia Law