Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Melvin pled guilty to possessing with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine. The probation office prepared a presentence investigation report (PSR) and filed it with the court electronically. Melvin’s crime carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release. The probation office mailed Melvin’s attorney a letter, stating that the PSR had been electronically filed and that, “Pursuant to Judge Myerscough’s directive, a copy of the report has not been provided to the defendant and you should not provide a copy to them. You are responsible for reviewing the report with Mr. Melvin.” Melvin’s attorney reviewed the PSR with Melvin without giving the PSR to Melvin. Melvin’s attorney's objections to the PSR were resolved. At his sentencing hearing, Melvin asked if he could get a copy of the PSR. Judge Myerscough denied Melvin’s request, explaining that “[t]here is confidential information ... that would be harmful” to Melvin and his family. The district court sentenced Melvin to 15 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not violate 18 U.S.C. 3552(d), which only requires “disclosure,” but did violate Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(e)(2) by denying Melvin a copy of his PSR but the error was harmless. Melvin’s sentence could not be lower if he were resentenced. View "United States v. Melvin" on Justia Law

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LaBrec, an inmate at a maximum-security institution, with a history that included prior assaults on inmates and staff, was transferred to the Restricted Housing Unit and was placed in a cell with McNeely, who was in the Unit following an assault on his prior cellmate. LaBrec was designated a “pair with care” inmate; Psychological Services were supposed to be consulted prior to assigning a cellmate. LaBrec informed the staff repeatedly of that status and was allowed to see Dr. Persike in Psychological Services. LaBrec informed Persike that McNeely was talking about beating up his last cellmate and that LaBrec did not feel safe with McNeely. LaBrec continued to ask to be moved, complaining did not feel safe. At one point he had an anxiety attack and began crying and asking for help. LaBrec was not reassigned. Three days after the cell assignment, McNeely stabbed LaBrec with a pen behind his ear, in the back, and in his shoulder. The district court rejected LaBrec’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to some defendants who were unaware of surrounding circumstances that could render plausible LaBrec’s claim of a threat to his safety. The court reversed with respect to others; a jury could reasonably infer that those defendants possessed a subjective awareness of a serious risk to LaBrec and failed to take the minimal, reasonable action of inquiring further and investigating the situation. View "Labrec v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Dowthard pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g). Because of his prior state convictions, he was sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), section 924(e), to 186 months in prison. Although he did not raise the argument in the district court, he argued on appeal that the Supreme Court’s 2019 Rehaif decision invalidated his plea because he was not informed that knowledge of his status as a previously convicted felon was an element of his section 922(g) charge. Alternatively, he disputed his classification as an Armed Career Criminal, arguing that two of the four prior offenses used to sentence him did not qualify as violent felonies. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence. Dowthard had the burden of showing that a misunderstanding of the elements of his offense affected his substantial rights but he did not even assert that he would not have pleaded guilty if he had properly understood the elements. His prior Illinois conviction for attempted aggravated domestic battery has as an element the attempted use of physical force and counts as an ACCA “violent felony.” With that conviction and the two he did not challenge, he has the three necessary predicates for an enhanced sentenced under section924(e). View "United States v. Dowthard" on Justia Law

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Police found more than 80 grams of red methamphetamine in a car. The ensuing investigation resulted in the indictment of 12 people for a drug-distribution conspiracy; 11, including Garcia, pleaded guilty. Pineda-Hernandez stood trial and was convicted. The Seventh Circuit found that the judge improperly enhanced Garcia’s sentence based on a prior drug conviction. That conviction involved an Indiana law that then banned manufacturing or delivering “marijuana, hash oil, hashish, or salvia.” Decisions by Indiana’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals show the statute is not divisible and the modified categorical approach does not apply. Inclusion of salvia in the statute excludes it from the federal definition of “felony drug offense,” so Garcia’s prior conviction is not a “felony drug offense” and does not support the sentencing enhancement. The court affirmed with respect to Pineda-Hernandez, who spoke little English, rejecting claims of multiple errors involving an alleged language-interpretation debacle and that the judge improperly augmented his sentence based on his role. No widespread or particular interpretation errors deprived Pineda-Hernandez of due process. Pineda-Hernandez’s arguments that he was not the leader or organizer do not overcome the bulk of the evidence showing he exercised some significant control and was responsible for some significant organization of others. View "United States v. Pineda-Hernandez" on Justia Law

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Ingram committed three robberies and one attempted robbery. Police identified Ingram from his social media postings and two anonymous tips. Charged with three counts of Hobbs Act robbery and one count of attempted Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a), and four counts of brandishing a firearm in connection with each of those crimes of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c), Ingram admitted guilt as to Counts 1–4 but contested the four 924(c) charges. During the first robbery, Ingram shoved into the store clerk’s back what she believed was a gun. The clerk did not see, and the security cameras did not capture an image of, the object that Ingram shoved against her back. During the next robbery, he pulled out a gun and demanded money. Three days later, Ingram robbed another salon, threatening a clerk and customers with a gun. Ingram then tried to rob a store. Despite her terror at Ingram’s weapon, the clerk could not open the register. Ingram argued that the government had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the object he had brandished was actually a firearm. The district court rejected that argument; he was convicted on all counts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that there was insufficient evidence for a conviction and that his conviction on Count 8 cannot stand because attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a crime of violence. View "United States v. Ingram" on Justia Law

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Dodds applied for a passport using his brother’s personal information, rather than his own because he was restricted by a condition of probation. He pleaded guilty under 18 U.S.C. 1542. He did not object to any of the proposed supervised-release conditions, which concerned: refraining from excessive alcohol use; remaining within the jurisdiction unless granted permission to leave; permitting a probation officer to visit places including work; submitting to searches of person, property, residence, vehicle, papers, electronic communications, or office upon reasonable suspicion; community service until gainfully employed; not maintaining employment that includes access to personal information; and, as directed by a probation officer, third-party notifications. The court asked, “can [I] impose these conditions without reading them verbatim?”, counsel responded, “yes,” then asked: “Are there any objections ... to any of the proposed conditions of supervised release?”, counsel stated, “No.” Dodds later objected to the search condition. The court rejected his argument, explaining, “the needs for reasonableness and to take into account Mr. Dodds’s privacy while balanced against the need to make sure that Mr. Dodds is not misusing identities or identity documents or engaged in financial wrongdoing, which his history suggests he poses some risk of doing.” Dodds was sentenced to six months in prison and three years’ supervised release. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the challenged conditions were unconstitutionally vague or lacked adequate justification. Dodds waived any objection other than to the search condition. View "United States v. Dodds" on Justia Law

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Day, age 18, weighed 312 pounds and had an underlying heart condition. Day was confronted outside a store after apparently shoplifting a watch. Day refused to return to the store. A mall security officer noticed Day had a gun. A chase ensued; Day eventually collapsed. Police arrived. Day’s gun was out of his reach. Officers handcuffed Day behind his back. Day stated he was having trouble breathing; officers instructed him to take deep breaths. Day would not maintain a seated position. Officers positioned Day to lie on his side to prevent Day from asphyxiating by rolling onto his stomach. An ambulance arrived to evaluate Day five minutes later. Day appeared to breathe normally, stated he had no preexisting medical conditions and was able to speak clearly. After multiple tests, paramedics concluded Day did not need to go to a hospital. When the jail wagon arrived, Day was unresponsive, lying on his back with his hands still cuffed. A second ambulance arrived 43 minutes after the first. Day was pronounced dead. There were no visible signs of trauma. The autopsy report listed his cause of death as “Sudden Cardiac Death due to Acute Ischemic Change” with contributory causes: “Sustained respiratory compromise due to hands cuffed behind the back, obesity, underlying cardiomyopathy.” Day had never complained about the handcuffs. In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the court concluded the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed. There is no precedent clearly establishing that the officers violated any right of an out-of-breath arrestee to not have his hands cuffed behind his back after he complains of difficulty breathing. There was no evidence that the handcuffs were the cause of Day’s breathing difficulty before the autopsy report. View "Day v. Wooten" on Justia Law

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In 1998, an Illinois state court convicted Williams, a teenager, of first‐degree murder. Williams was paroled in 2008 but had his parole revoked after pleading guilty to domestic battery. In 2017, he traded cocaine to his employer for a firearm. His employer cooperated with the government. Williams pled guilty to possession of a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). The court confirmed Williams’s admission that he possessed a firearm; that the firearm had traveled in interstate commerce; and that he had been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year. The court sentenced him to 96 months’ imprisonment, below the Guidelines range. Four months later, the Supreme Court held that an element of a conviction under section 922(g), 924(a)(2), is the defendant’s knowledge of his status as a felon or alien illegally in the U.S. The government would have needed to prove—or Williams to admit—that he knew he had “been convicted in any court of[] a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” Williams sought to vacate his conviction and withdraw his guilty plea. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction. Williams failed to carry the burden of showing that his erroneous understanding of section 922(g) affected his decision to plead guilty. Williams cannot plausibly argue that he did not know his conviction had a maximum punishment exceeding a year. Williams would have to convince a jury that he either had no knowledge of where he spent 12 years or that he believed Illinois had imprisoned him 11 years beyond the maximum punishment for first‐degree murder. Most defendants would want to avoid informing the jury of a murder conviction. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Subdiaz‐Osorio stabbed his brother to death during a drunken fight in Wisconsin. He attempted to flee but was stopped in Arkansas while driving to Mexico. At Subdiaz‐Osorio’s request, the interview in Arkansas was conducted in Spanish. Neither Subdiaz‐Osorio nor Officer Torres had any trouble understanding each other. Subdiaz‐Osorio signed a waiver of his Miranda rights, indicating that he understood his rights. During the interview, after discussing the extradition process, Subdiaz‐Osorio asked in Spanish, “How can I do to get an attorney here because I don’t have enough to afford for one?” The officer responded: If you need an attorney‐‐by the time you’re going to appear in the court, the state of Arkansas will get an attorney for you. The interview continued for an hour with Subdiaz-Osorio’s full cooperation. Denying a motion to suppress, the court concluded that Subdiaz‐Osorio’s question about an attorney was not a request to have an attorney with him during the interview; he was asking about how he could obtain an attorney for the extradition hearing. The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed, that Subdiaz‐Osorio did not unequivocally invoke his Fifth Amendment right to counsel. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Subdiaz‐Osorio’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. 2254(d). The state court finding was not contrary to or based on an unreasonable application of established Supreme Court precedent. View "Subdiaz-Osorio v. Humphreys" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Guerrero, a Chicago police officer who participated in drug trafficking, pleaded guilty to conspiring to participate in racketeering activity, conspiring to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and 1000 kilograms or more of marijuana, interfering with commerce by threats or violence, and using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to crimes of violence and drug trafficking. Guerrero’s guideline range for the first three counts was life in prison and for the fourth count was 60 consecutive months. He provided substantial assistance in prosecuting co-conspirators and the government recommended that he serve 228 months. Sentencing Guidelines Amendment 782 became effective in 2014, retroactively reducing by two levels the offense levels for most drug-trafficking crimes. Guerrero sent the district court a letter requesting that he be appointed counsel in order to seek resentencing under the amendment. The district court rejected Guerrero’s 2015 request and additionally found that Guerrero was eligible for a two-level reduction under Amendment 782 but that the reduction would make no difference to his ultimate sentence: Guerrero filed a motion for clarification. The court construed that as a late motion to reconsider and denied it. In 2018, Guerrero tried again, with counsel. The district court denied the motion without considering the merits. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The 2015 proceedings should not be counted against Guerrero as his one chance to seek relief under Amendment 782. View "United States v. Guerrero" on Justia Law