Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Based on his assault on his wife and her parents, Minnick was charged with aggravated battery, attempted first‐degree murder, and several counts of first‐degree reckless endangerment and attempted burglary, while using a dangerous weapon. Minnick agreed to plead no contest, except for attempted murder, which was dismissed and read‐in, and leave sentencing to the court, exposing him to 73 years of confinement. The court sentenced Minnick to 27 years.Wisconsin courts rejected his argument that his trial attorney improperly guaranteed and unreasonably estimated that he would receive a much shorter sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court denied review. Wisconsin courts then rejected his post-conviction argument that counsel was constitutionally ineffective because she failed to advise him that he could withdraw his no-contest pleas before sentencing if he provided a “fair and just reason” and that, when counsel learned that the PSR recommended a sentencing range exceeding what she had advised, she should have moved to withdraw his pleas.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief. Although Minnick’s claims could have been analyzed differently—including whether the state court’s decision on counsel’s sentencing advice warranted deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. 2254, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals did not unreasonably apply the Strickland deficient‐performance prong in concluding that a plea withdrawal claim was not clearly stronger than the argument that Minnick’s postconviction counsel advanced. View "Minnick v. Winkleski" on Justia Law

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In each of two consolidated cases, a prisoner seeking a shorter sentence filed, within the time allowed for appeal, a motion asking the district judge to reconsider an adverse decision under the First Step Act of 2018. Each notice of appeal was filed within 14 days of the decision on the motion to reconsider but more than 14 days after the original decision.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the motions after declining to dismiss the appeals. A motion to reconsider a decision under the First Step Act suspends the decision’s finality and extends the time for appeal. The prisoners are not appealing from the imposition of their sentences but are invoking the First Step Act, which authorizes the reduction of a sentence long after the time allowed for appeal. Any prisoner serving a sentence for a covered crack-cocaine offense is entitled to ask a judge to treat him as if the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 had been in force on the date of his original sentence. Resolution of a motion under a retroactive guideline is not a form of full sentencing; the procedures applicable to initial sentences do not govern. The court rejected the petitions on the merits, citing one prisoner’s plea bargain and prior felony conviction and noting that the other prisoner’s mandatory life sentence had already been commuted to 30 years’ imprisonment. View "United States v. Turner" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought federal habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that his counsel was ineffective by not challenging whether his prior drug convictions were predicates, as Indiana law defined cocaine isomers more broadly than federal law.The Seventh Circuit concluded that, although petitioner forfeited his theory of ineffectiveness in the district court, it is subject to plain error review. The court also concluded that, because it was objectively reasonable for petitioner's counsel not to advise risking a mandatory life sentence to pursue the isomer argument, the district court did not plainly err in ruling that counsel's performance was constitutionally adequate. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief. View "Harris v. United States" on Justia Law

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During a funeral, Stevenson drew a revolver, fired one shot into the grave, waved the gun toward the crowd, and fled. Police officers quickly arrested Stevenson and recovered the gun. He pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1); 924(e). The PSR applied the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e), based on prior Illinois state convictions: a. 1989 conviction for attempted murder; a 1989 conviction for manufacture and delivery of cocaine; and a 2010 conviction for robbery. The guidelines range was 135-168 months but because Stevenson qualified as an armed career criminal—warranting a minimum 15-year sentence—the PSR recommended 180 months’ imprisonment. Stevenson claimed he received an Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) letter restoring his civil rights discharging him from his 1989 convictions. A former IDOC computer programmer testified “the restoration-of-rights discharge letters were generated when an offender ‘completed the term of parole.’”From Stevenson’s “convoluted” history of incarceration, parole, and re-arrest, the court concluded that Stevenson was not discharged from parole on either the drug trafficking charge or the attempted murder charge and sentenced Stevenson to 15 years’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not clearly err in concluding that Stevenson did not establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the letter in question pertained to those predicate convictions View "United States v. Stevenson" on Justia Law

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Grainger, the victim of cyberattacks against its computer systems, isolated the source of the intrusions to a single internet protocol (IP) address, coming from a high-rise apartment building where disgruntled former employee Soybel lived. Grainger reported the attacks to the FBI, which obtained a court order under the Pen Register Act, 18 U.S.C. 3121, authorizing the installation of pen registers and “trap and trace” devices to monitor internet traffic in and out of the building generally and Soybel’s unit specifically. The pen registers were instrumental in confirming that Soybel unlawfully accessed Grainger’s system. The district court denied Soybel’s motion to suppress the pen-register evidence.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Soybel’s convictions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The use of a pen register to identify IP addresses visited by a criminal suspect is not a Fourth Amendment “search” that requires a warrant. IP pen registers are analogous in all material respects to the telephone pen registers that the Supreme Court upheld against a Fourth Amendment challenge in 1979. The connection between Soybel’s IP address and external IP addresses was routed through a third party, an internet service provider. Soybel has no expectation of privacy in the captured routing information. The court distinguished historical cell-site location information, which implicates unique privacy interests that are absent here. The IP pen register had no ability to track Soybel’s past movements. View "United States v. Soybel" on Justia Law

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Kenosha officers McDonough and Kinzer responded to a 911 call from an apartment building’s manager who reported that there was a woman inside Ferguson’s apartment who was “causing problems” and did not live there. McDonough spoke with Rupp-Kent who was alone inside Ferguson’s apartment and who reported that Ferguson had been violent with her. McDonough observed bruises on Rupp-Kent’s leg and neck and saw the knife Ferguson purportedly pointed at her. McDonough learned that Ferguson was on probation for robbery, had his driving privileges revoked, and drove a Chrysler. He reviewed Ferguson’s booking photo. McDonough, in his squad completing the paperwork, saw Ferguson drive past and followed. The parties dispute the events that occurred as McDonough attempted to arrest Ferguson. McDonough ultimately deployed his taser for five seconds.Ferguson sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. McDonough moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion, concluding that genuine issues of material fact remained for a jury to decide. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal. McDonough and Ferguson offered competing accounts and the dashcam video of the incident did not conclusively support either party’s account. Under one version of the events, Ferguson was not resisting and a reasonable officer would have known that an officer’s substantial escalation of force in response to an individual’s passive resistance violated the individual’s Fourth Amendment rights against excessive force. View "Ferguson v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Ballard has a long and violent criminal history: the court listed 50 convictions between the age of 17 and his current age, over 50. In 2018, Ballard pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The judge determined Ballard was an armed career criminal and sentenced him to 232 months. Ballard appealed, arguing that two prior Illinois attempted residential burglary convictions were not violent felonies after the Supreme Court held the Armed Career Criminal Act's residual clause unconstitutional. At his 2019 resentencing, Ballard's guideline range was 33-41 months. The judge imposed a sentence of 108 months. The Sixth Circuit remanded.At the third sentencing, in 2020, Ballard's guidelines range was 33-41 months. The government and Ballard both recommended a sentence of 63 months. The judge sentenced Ballard to 92 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the sentence is procedurally and substantively unreasonable and that the judge failed to justify the 125% variance and failed to consider disparity and mitigation. The judge complied with the remand instructions, addressing the Sixth Circuit’s concerns specifically, in detail. The serious nature of the offense, Ballard’s age, the long and dramatic and dangerous criminal history, the continual recidivism, and the continued need for deterrence and incapacitation for the protection of the public, “overwhelm the relatively minor potential mitigating factors.” View "United States v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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Chavez and her aunt owned a clothing store on the south side of Chicago where they sold socks and t-shirts out of the front and kilogram quantities of heroin and cocaine out of the back. In 2015, one of their customers started cooperating with federal law enforcement; eventually, Chavez was indicted for conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute heroin and distribution of heroin under 21 U.S.C. 846 and 841(a)(1). Chavez proceeded to trial where the cooperator’s testimony and videos he had recorded in the store were key pieces of evidence in the government’s case. The jury convicted Chavez; she was sentenced to 108 months’ imprisonment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the prosecutor, during the rebuttal portion of closing argument, made a litany of improper statements vouching for the informant’s truthfulness, maligning her defense counsel, and inflaming the jury’s fears, and that she must be resentenced because the district court relied on inaccurate information in determining her sentence. The district court clarified its reasoning in its written statement of reasons, clarifying that the aggravating factor upon which it relied at sentencing was Chavez’s lack of economic need to commit the crime. View "United States v. Chavez" on Justia Law

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On August 9, 2005, a group of men fired bullets into a crowd of rival gang members gathered outside a Wisconsin garage. There were no fatalities; three of the victims suffered gunshot wounds. The shooters wanted to prevent retaliation against members of their own gang, including Adeyanju’s brother, who had robbed members of the rival gang. Adeyanju was convicted of three counts each of attempted first‐degree intentional homicide and of endangering safety by use of a firearm. His primary defense was that he was not involved, as no physical evidence connected him to the crime, and that the state’s witnesses could not be trusted. Adeyanju’s counsel contended that the shooters—whoever they were—intended to scare but not to kill their rivals, so they were guilty of endangering safety but not attempted homicide.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Adeyanju’s habeas petition, rejecting an argument that his counsel was ineffective for failing to request a jury instruction on a lesser‐included offense to attempted homicide—first‐degree recklessly endangering safety--so that the jury could have found that he was among the shooters but did not intend to kill anyone. The jury already had that option with the endangering safety by use of a firearm charge, which it chose not to take. Adeyanju failed to show that he was prejudiced by counsel’s purported error. View "Adeyanju v. Wiersma" on Justia Law

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Schutt, her children, and her boyfriend were driving into her Fort Wayne apartment complex when the car was hit with bullets; one grazed her boyfriend's scalp. Schutt saw her ex-boyfriend, Parker, shooting, wearing a red hooded sweatshirt. Other witnesses agreed about the hoodie and seeing a long gun. The police found ammunition and a spent shell casing. A Ford Fusion in the parking lot had a red hoodie lying inside. Parker appeared with the keys to the Ford, which contained Parker’s debit card and paperwork and a rifle in the trunk with ammunition in the chamber.Parker was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The owner of the Ford testified that on the day of the shooting she loaned the car to Parker, among others; the keys in Parker's possession were the only keys to the vehicle. She had never before seen the gun. Parker’s counsel asked the crime scene investigator if he collected DNA samples from the gun. The district court prohibited the question under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, noting that Parker was not challenging the reliability of any specific investigative steps but was impermissibly arguing generally that the investigation was shoddy because it did not attempt DNA testing. The police department’s latent fingerprint examiner testified that he found no prints of value on the gun or magazine.After his conviction, the court sentenced Parker to 114 months in prison. The district court and Seventh Circuit rejected a Confrontation Clause argument. It is beyond reasonable doubt that any exclusion of cross-examination about the DNA evidence did not contribute to the verdict obtained. The evidence of Parker’s guilt was overwhelming. View "United States v. Parker" on Justia Law