Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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At 3:55 a.m. people were loitering outside a lounge when Lopez sideswiped an SUV parked in front of the lounge. Bystanders swarmed Lopez’s car, punching him through an open window. A passenger exited Lopez’s car and fired a warning shot. Lopez exited the car, grabbed the gun, and walked toward the bystanders. Raines, a Cook County correctional officer, out celebrating, arrived at 3:56:11. Lopez walked back toward his car, stopping to fire two shots at an upward angle. Raines approached Lopez with his own gun drawn. Lopez reached to open his car door. Raines started shooting at 3:56:27. Lopez, injured, dropped his gun and staggered away. Raines continued to fire. Raines pursued Lopez, who was leaning against a wall. Lopez’s passenger, Orta, picked up the dropped gun and fired at Raines at 3:56:32 a.m. For about three minutes, Orta and Raines engaged in a standoff. Raines simultaneously restrained Lopez, wounded but conscious, and used him as a human shield. At 4:00:10 a.m., Orta fled. Police and paramedics arrived. Lopez faced criminal charges.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. Raines was entitled to qualified immunity because his use of deadly force did not violate clearly established law although the video footage of the events conveys the impression that Raines might have been able to avoid any use of lethal force. View "Lopez v. Sheriff of Cook County" on Justia Law

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Jones and Wansley worked at Illinois Post Office branches. Working with Smith and other co-conspirators, they arranged and executed a scheme to ship packages containing marijuana and marijuana derivatives through the mail. Jones and Wansley intercepted the packages and handed them off to others for cash bribes.They were charged with bribery, 18 U.S.C. 201(b)(2)(C), conspiracy to commit obstruction of correspondence and theft of mail, 18 U.S.C. 371, and obstruction of correspondence, 18 U.S.C. 1702. The government presented evidence of trash pulls at Smith’s home, surveillance of Jones improperly scanning packages, text messages concerning addresses and payments, observation of hand-offs, and “controlled” deliveries of packages that the government had intercepted and repackaged. Jones and Wansley made statements to postal inspectors following their arrests, admitting to the crimes and describing some of the transactions. At trial, Jones testified that Smith was simply a customer who was having trouble with deliveries, so Jones offered to help intercept Smith’s packages and that the payments from Smith were tips for good service. Wansley testified that she was just following orders from Jones, her supervisor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed their convictions and their sentences, Jones to eight months’ imprisonment and Wansley to 30 days’ imprisonment, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Todd and Shelly Cibulka drove to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where their daughter Emily was a freshman. They went to a bar and imbibed for several hours. Upon leaving, they were clearly intoxicated. Emily, wanting to get them home, called the police non-emergency number. Conducting a welfare check, Officer Johnson said he could give them a ride but the Cibulkas would not identify the location of their truck. Todd staggered toward Johnson Street. Officer Erwin thought Todd might tumble into the busy street, grabbed Todd, and told Todd to sit down. Todd would not comply. It appeared that Todd might strike the much-smaller officer. The officers took Todd to the ground to reduce the risk of harm, told him to stop resisting, and handcuffed him. Todd declined medical attention. The officers walked Todd to the squad car. Todd resisted and was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer. He was lifted into a police van and taken to jail. He was released at 2:30 the next morning, returned to his truck, and smashed through the gate instead of paying the exit fare.The Cibulkas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The officers are entitled to qualified immunity. It was reasonable for the officers to believe there was probable cause to arrest Todd for disorderly conduct and for resisting an officer; the officers stopped well short of such unnecessary roughness. View "Cibulka v. City of Madison" on Justia Law

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Coe, then age 18, and two accomplices traveled from Indiana to Illinois where they robbed a Verizon store at gunpoint, fleeing with more than $25,000 in merchandise and cash. Police tracked them down. Coe pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act robbery and brandishing a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. The district court imposed a sentence of 117 months' imprisonment, the bottom of the Guidelines range.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the judge improperly considered Coe's race (Black) and committed procedural error by failing to adequately consider his argument about “brain science” and the psychological immaturity of young men in their late teens. The judge gave several reasons for her decision to give little weight to the absent-father argument—most notably, Coe’s strong support from his mother and other family members. Most of the sentencing analysis focused on the violent nature of Coe’s crimes and criminal history. Read fairly and as a whole, the judge’s remarks make it clear that the sentencing decision was overwhelmingly driven by these factors and was uninfluenced by her perceptions about absent fathers in the black community. The judge reasonably concluded that Coe’s crimes could not be explained away by his youth View "United States v. Coe" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Sanders pled guilty to six drug offense counts. She was sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment and is serving her sentence at Federal Correctional Institution Coleman Low in Florida. In 2020, Coleman Low experienced outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease and COVID‐19. In July 2020, Sanders filed an “Emergency Motion for Compassionate Release” under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), citing her health problems: cardio obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, obesity, and Type II diabetes. She is 59 years old and a former heavy smoker. The government’s response indicated that Sanders had tested positive for COVID‐19 on July 15 and that any symptoms had subsided by July 23.On August 4, the district court denied Sanders’s motion, detailing her criminal history and medical history and finding that section 1B1.13 of the Sentencing Guidelines and the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors weighed against her release. The court concluded that home confinement would be unsuitable, noting that a methamphetamine lab had been found in her kitchen. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although Sanders was foreclosed from addressing the medical records attached in the government’s response, the district court did not abuse its discretion or deny Sanders due process. View "United States v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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Wylie pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. He admitted that he had been hired to transport drugs and money and that he had made the trip four times before his arrest without being caught. Although he had a previous DUI arrest, he had never been convicted of any crimes. The court adopted the PSR, which noted that Wylie’s offense carried a statutory minimum of 10 years to life in prison and at least five years’ supervised release. Because Wylie met all of the requirements for the “safety valve,” 18 U.S.C. 3553(f), the court could impose a sentence below the statutory minimum. The Guidelines range was 97-121 months’ imprisonment with a two-five year range of supervised release.The court imposed a 97-month prison sentence. As for supervised release, the court proposed sentencing Wylie to five years, saying: “The crime of conviction requires that you get a term of supervised release that’s at least five years long.” Wylie’s counsel did not object. The Seventh Circuit vacated the term of supervised release, which was imposed under the erroneous belief that the court was bound by the statutory minimum, without reference to the Guidelines range. View "United States v. Wylie" on Justia Law

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Jackson made a career of armed bank robbery. A district judge concluded that only life imprisonment without the possibility of parole would end his criminality. In 1986, when he committed his final robbery, Jackson was 35. At age 70, he sought compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1), citing “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” Jackson suffers from hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which create extra risk for someone housed in close quarters during the pandemic.The Bureau of Prisons, a district judge, and the Seventh Circuit denied relief. Jackson is not covered by section 3582, having committed his crime before November 1987, when the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 took effect. Section 3582, added to Title 18 by the 1984 Act, provides that it “shall apply only to offenses committed after the taking effect of this chapter.” People whose crimes predate November 1987 are governed by the law in force at the time of their offenses, which provides for parole, or a judge could reduce a prisoner’s “minimum term” on a motion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons. Given his no-parole sentence, which lacks a minimum term of years, Jackson retains only the possibility of a commutation. The 2018 First Step Act permits prisoners to seek their own release but did not abolish section 3582. One other circuit has considered the issue and found that the 2018 Act does not make old-law prisoners eligible for section 3582(c)(1) release. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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On April 21, 1992, two gunmen fired multiple shots at Johnson and his friends. Both friends died. Johnson survived, identified one shooter by his street name “Duke,” and described the car he drove. Hours later, the police pulled over a vehicle matching Johnson’s description and arrested Kirkman and Cal, who matched Johnson's description. Kirkman had the name Duke tattooed on his arm. Johnson identified the men as the shooters from a photo array and at trial--the only evidence linking them to the crime. Defense witnesses testified that Cal stood observing the crime scene for 45 minutes and that a month after the shooting, Johnson stated that the defendants were not the shooters. Both defendants were sentenced to mandatory life without parole. The court later reduced Cal’s sentence to 60 years because he was 17 at the time of the crimes. Cal has been granted supervised release.After Johnson recanted, stating under oath that neither Cal nor Kirkman were the shooters, Cal brought an actual innocence claim. The Illinois court denied relief. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit denied Cal habeas corpus relief as it had denied Kirkman’s petition. While the Illinois court’s decision was not “flawless,” it considered that the recantation was internally inconsistent and implausible, Johnson had no motivation to lie at trial, and he backpedaled from his trial testimony out of loyalty to his former gang. Even a strong case for relief does not mean that a state court’s contrary conclusion was unreasonable. View "Cal v. Garnett" on Justia Law

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Fort Wayne officers received tips about Bacon, who had previously been arrested for selling cocaine from his home. They conducted two controlled buys using confidential informants who had proven reliable in past cases. In both cases, the informant was searched before and after the buy but the actual purchases were conducted by acquaintances of the informants. Each acquaintance acquired drugs and stated that Bacon had weapons all over his apartment. The officers heard these conversations; the informant was wearing a wire. A state-court judge issued a warrant authorizing a search of the apartment. Officers found guns, ammunition, a bulletproof vest, suspected bombs, large quantities of meth, cocaine, and fentanyl, a digital scale, and a drug ledger. Officers stopped Bacon and searched his car; they found drugs and several guns. Both "acquaintances" were later arrested on drug charges,The district court denied a motion to suppress and a motion for a Franks hearing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While these controlled buys present novel risks, they were reliable indicators that Bacon was selling drugs from his home. By all appearances, the middlemen did not know that they were participating in controlled buys and had no apparent motive for deception. That the officers did not know or search the middlemen and that neither they nor the confidential informants saw or heard the actual purchases was “clear from the face of the affidavit” so a Franks hearing was not required. View "United States v. Bacon" on Justia Law

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In March 2019, Jordan, convicted of crimes involving crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841, began three years of supervised release. For three months, Jordan consistently tested negative on drug tests and called the probation office to find out about his next required tests. Over two days in June 2019, he missed a drug test and two assessments, prompting his probation officer to petition to revoke his supervised release. Jordan claimed that he was mistaken about the dates of the test and assessments at issue and emphasized his efforts to comply. The district court ruled that Jordan had committed the violations, revoked his supervised release, and sentenced him to six months in prison followed by 26 months of supervised release (including 120 days in a halfway house). The Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court did not sufficiently explain its decision, consider Jordan’s defense that his violation was unintentional, or otherwise ensure that its sentence conformed to the parsimony principle of 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). The court needed to say explicitly why it thought that six months in prison was necessary for a defendant who had tested negative on every test and committed no other violations. View "United States v. Jordan" on Justia Law