Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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The Southern Illinois Drug Task Force investigated Jackson and his associates. After a confidential source (CS) completed three controlled drug purchases from Jackson, each recorded via an audiovisual device, agents obtained a warrant and raided Jackson’s residence. They found methamphetamine, other drugs, cash, scales, and multiple loaded firearms. Jackson had previously twice pleaded guilty to felony drug charges and faced a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment on count 4. The government determined not to call the CS as a witness. The judge admitted into evidence the recordings showing the CS purchasing drugs from Jackson. In a pretrial hearing, the judge noted that he had no discretion to modify the mandatory life sentence for a conviction on count 4. Jackson stated that, contrary to his lawyer’s advice, he wished to proceed to trial. The jury found Jackson guilty of counts 1 through 4. The First Step Act, Pub. L. 115-391, then became law, reducing the mandatory minimum sentence for 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A)(viii) (Jackson’s count 4) from life to 25 years. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Jackson’s convictions and life sentence, rejecting arguments that the government failed to lay the appropriate foundation before the recordings were admitted; the investigators should not have been allowed to “narrate” portions of the recordings; and that admission of the recordings without the CS’s presence and testimony violated the Confrontation Clause. The First Step Act is not retroactive and Jackson’s sentence was not unreasonable. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Zacahua, a citizen of Mexico, lived as an unauthorized alien in the U.S. for over 20 years. Although he was employed by a Hilton hotel, Zacahua also transported heroin. Zacahua and codefendants were indicted for conspiracy to distribute heroin. During Zacahua’s bond hearing, the government invoked Zacahua’s immigration status to argue that he was a serious flight risk because he faced the likelihood of removal. The court held a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 hearing, advised Zacahua that he faced a 120-month mandatory minimum sentence, and informed Zacahua of his rights and the potential consequences of a felony conviction. The court never told Zacahua that he might be removed from the U.S. and denied future admission as a consequence of his guilty plea, as Rule 11(b)(1)(O) requires. During an interview with a Probation Officer, Zacahua acknowledged his unauthorized status and that he faced deportation. He expressed hopes of working at a Hilton hotel in Mexico and of caring for his ailing parents. At his subsequent sentencing hearing, the court acknowledged the likelihood of deportation and discussed Zacahua’s employment prospects in Mexico. Zacahua spoke of returning to Mexico as quickly as possible. The court sentenced him to the mandatory minimum: 120 months. The Seventh Circuit rejected his attempt to withdraw his plea based on the Rule 11 violation. Zacahua does not demonstrate a reasonable probability that, had the court provided the warning, he would not have pleaded guilty. View "United States v. Zacahua" on Justia Law

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Dr. Johnston, a prison psychologist, provided psychological services to Nigl, a Wisconsin Department of Corrections prisoner, serving a 100-year sentence. On Johnston’s last day of work, Nigl kissed her. The two began communicating by mail, email, and phone and became engaged. Johnston returned to employment with the Department and submitted a “fraternization policy exception request” but did not disclose their romantic relationship. Johnston’s supervisor never processed the request, but the two continued to have contact, in violation of Department policy. The Department learned about the relationship and terminated Johnston. Johnston later requested to visit Nigl. The request was denied under state rules because she had been a Department employee less than 12 months earlier. During investigations, staff found letters and photographs from Johnston in Nigl’s cell; some were sent under an alias. Some photographs depicted Johnston in sexually suggestive poses. Johnston had also set up a phone account under the alias and engaged in phone sex with Nigl. The Department reported the relationship to the Psychology Examining Board, which suspended Johnston’s license. Johnston submitted additional unsuccessful visitation requests. Nigl requested permission to marry Johnston and grieved the denial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment, rejecting their 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit. The denial was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Nigl and Johnston engaged in a pattern of rule-breaking and deception in furtherance of their relationship and the Psychology Examining Board concluded that Johnston violated rules designed to protect patients. The 2017 decision is not tantamount to a permanent denial. View "Nigl v. Litscher" on Justia Law

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In 1991 Daniels was sentenced to 35 years in prison for drug-trafficking crimes he committed while leading a violent Milwaukee street gang in the 1980s. Based on two of his many prior crimes, he was sentenced as a career offender under the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines but the designation did not affect his sentencing range: 360 months to life. More than two decades later, Daniels moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 citing the Supreme Court’s 2015 Johnson decision, which invalidated the “residual clause” in the Armed Career Criminal Act as unconstitutionally vague. Daniels argued that the identically phrased residual clause in the career offender guideline is likewise unconstitutionally vague and that one of the predicate convictions for his career-offender status qualified only under the residual clause. The district judge disagreed, relying on the Supreme Court’s 2017 Beckles decision, which forecloses vagueness challenges to the post-Booker advisory Sentencing Guidelines. In the meantime, the Seventh Circuit held that defendants who were sentenced under the mandatory Guidelines may bring Johnson-based vagueness challenges to the career-offender guideline. The Seventh Circuit nonetheless affirmed Daniels’s sentence. Daniels was wrongly designated a career offender but the error was harmless because it did not affect his sentence. View "Daniels v. United States" on Justia Law

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Collins and others engaged in a scheme to defraud banks by submitting stolen and altered checks. The scheme netted $93,215.50. Collins pleaded guilty to bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344. The presentence investigation report noted that Collins was eligible for up to five years of supervised release and recommended discretionary conditions requiring Collins to remain in the “jurisdiction” where he would be supervised, unless granted permission to leave and allowing a probation officer to visit him at work at “any reasonable time” and a special condition requiring Collins to perform at least 20 hours of community service per week at the direction of the Probation Office until gainfully employed, not to exceed 200 hours of service. Collins filed a memorandum objecting to several issues but did not dispute any of the conditions proposed in the PSR. The district court reviewed the PSR and imposed a sentence of 55 months’ imprisonment plus five years of supervised release. At sentencing, the court read the conditions, Collins asked questions about restitution but did not inquire about or object to the supervised release conditions. The Seventh Circuit upheld the imposition of the Jurisdiction, Visitation, and Community Service Conditions, noting that Collins had waived his objections. The court remanded with instructions for the district court to amend its written judgment to substitute the term “federal judicial district” for the word “jurisdiction” in the Jurisdiction Condition. View "United States v. Collins" on Justia Law

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Gardner was arrested after firing a gun at two vehicles thought to be driven by rival gang members. While in pretrial custody, he engaged in additional violent behavior. Before trial, Gardner was diagnosed with major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and chronic posttraumatic stress syndrome; a second evaluation found that Gardner “appears to [have] borderline personality disorder traits, i.e., a propensity toward marked impulsivity and reactivity without sufficient forethought or moral compunction.” He pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The district judge imposed an above-Guidelines sentence based in part on Gardner’s use of violence in a prior burglary, U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(a)(1)– (4). Gardner had a lengthy criminal history. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 100-month sentence, rejecting an argument that the “categorical approach” applies when a judge exercises Booker discretion to impose an above-Guidelines sentence based on a defendant’s aggravating conduct in a prior crime. The sentencing judge may consider aggravating circumstances in a defendant’s criminal record without the constraints imposed by the categorical approach that usually applies to statutory sentencing enhancements and the determination of offense-level increases and criminal-history points under the Guidelines. Gardner waived arguments that the judge inadequately addressed his mental-health challenges and relied on inaccurate information in the presentence report. View "United States v. Gardner" on Justia Law

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In September 2011 Chicago Police Officers stopped and searched the plaintiffs without justification and took them to Homan Square, which was later exposed as a den of police misconduct. The officers interrogated them for several hours, omitting Miranda warnings and ignoring repeated requests for an attorney. The plaintiffs were denied food, water, and access to a bathroom. The officers tried to coerce false confessions and threatened to file false charges against the plaintiffs if they told anyone about their mistreatment. Fearing for their safety, the plaintiffs did not seek legal redress. In early 2015 a newspaper ran an exposé on Homan Square. In March the plaintiffs sued the city and the officers. The 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit was dismissed under the two-year statute of limitations. A minute order issued on March 31, 2016. The judge issued her opinion on January 31, 2018, with a Rule 58 judgment. A week later, the plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal and docketing statement. By operation of Federal Rule 4(a)(7)(A), the time to file a notice of appeal expired 180 days after the minute order. The Seventh Circuit declined to dismiss an appeal but affirmed the dismissal. The defendants’ Rule 4(a) objection was untimely under Circuit Rule 3(c)(1) but the suit was untimely. Precedent forecloses the plaintiffs’ equitable estoppel theory. View "Vergara v. Chicago" on Justia Law

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Davis, an Illinois prisoner suffering from kidney disease, received dialysis on a Saturday. He subsequently told a prison nurse that his mind was fuzzy and his body was weak. Both complaints were similar to side effects he had experienced in the past after dialysis. The nurse called Dr. Kayira, the prison’s medical director, who asked her whether Davis had asymmetrical grip strength, facial droop, or was drooling—all classic signs of a stroke. When she said “no,” Dr. Kayira determined that Davis was experiencing the same dialysis-related side effects as before rather than something more serious. He told the nurse to monitor the problem and call him if the symptoms got worse. Dr. Kayira did not hear anything for the rest of the weekend. On Monday morning he examined Davis and discovered that Davis had suffered a stroke. Davis sued, alleging deliberate indifference to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment and a state-law medical-malpractice claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Kayira. The deliberate-indifference claim failed because there is no evidence that Kayira was aware of symptoms suggesting that Davis was suffering a stroke. The state-law claim failed because Davis lacked expert testimony about the appropriate standard of care. A magistrate had blocked Davis’s sole expert because he was not disclosed in time, Davis never objected to that ruling before the district court. View "Davis v. Kayira" on Justia Law

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Segal was convicted in 2004 of racketeering, mail and wire fraud, making false statements, embezzlement, and conspiring to interfere with operations of the IRS. His company, NNIB, was convicted of mail fraud, making false statements, and embezzlement. Segal and his wife, Joy, divorced after his conviction. After Segal served prison time, he was ordered to forfeit $15 million and his interest in NNIB. NNIB was ordered to pay restitution and a fine. The government initially restrained $47 million worth of assets of Segal and NNIB. Joy intervened and settled her claims with the government, which released to her about $7.7 million in restrained assets. Joy relinquished all further claims—save one contingent future interest. Liquidation proceedings continue. Segal and the government agreed on a court-approved settlement that fulfilled Segal’s $15 million personal forfeiture obligation. Segal later sought to rescind or modify that agreement. The district court denied his attempt and denied Joy’s attempt to intervene in the liquidation proceedings because her contingent future interest is not yet ripe. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court rejected Michael’s unconscionability argument, noting that he previously won strict enforcement of the settlement agreement, preserving his right to repurchase an interest in the Chicago Bulls. He is judicially estopped from pursuing this challenge. The court also rejected a “windfall” argument and, noting the number of appeals, stated that if there are further proceedings, the parties and their counsel will be subject to Rule 11. View "United States v. Segal" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Greco threatened to put a pipe bomb in his ex-girlfriend’s car. She obtained a protective order. He put the bomb in her car. It exploded, injuring her and destroying her car. Greco pleaded guilty to manufacturing and possessing an unregistered pipe bomb. 26 U.S.C. 5861(d) and 5861(f). The government informed the court that this was the third time in 10 years Greco had detonated a pipe bomb. Greco's 180-month prison sentence ended in 2015. Greco was to remain on supervised release until April 2018. One condition of that release was that he would “not commit another federal, state or local crime.” He violated that condition when he posted threatening Facebook messages about another ex-girlfriend despite a court order not to contact her. A federal judge approved a warrant for Greco’s arrest in March 2018. Seven months later another judge revoked his supervised release and ordered a new term of imprisonment, with a new term of supervised release. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the court lacked jurisdiction to revoke Greco's supervised release because the warrant was not supported by probable cause. The judge received a report explaining how Greco had broken the terms of his release by violating state law, which was enough to establish probable cause. The court remanded for clarification of the conditions the court imposed for his second term of supervised release. View "United States v. Greco" on Justia Law