Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Jehan led a Chicago street gang's conspiracy to distribute drugs. After he and others were indicted, Jehan fled and remained a fugitive for four years. After Jehan was arrested, the parties entered a plea agreement: Jehan admitted responsibility for conspiring to distribute more than 150 kilograms of cocaine, more than 30 kilograms of heroin, and more than 1.5 kilograms of crack, matching the thresholds for the highest base offense level on the drug‐quantity table, yielding a guidelines range of life in prison. In exchange for his acceptance of responsibility and aid to the government in other cases, the agreement specified that Jehan would receive a 300‐month sentence. In 2015, the court reduced Jehan’s sentence to 240 months because of his assistance in another case. In 2016, Jehan moved to reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), citing Guidelines Amendment 782, which retroactively increased the drug quantities required for each base offense level for most federal drug offenses. The court denied Jehan’s motion because his sentence was “based on” the parties’ Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreement, not the Guidelines. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. After the Supreme Court held, in 2018, that section 3582(c)(2) relief should be available to defendants with plea agreements, Jehan filed a second, unsuccessful motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the district court held Jehan responsible for the quantities of narcotics necessary for the highest base offense level on the current drug‐quantity table. In deciding Jehan’s second 3582(c)(2) motion, the court determined that the same base offense level applied and let Jehan’s sentence stand; the court did not “retroactively increase” Jehan’s punishment, but only held that he was not entitled to the benefit of new policy changes. View "United States v. Jehan" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin inmate Glover sued prison medical staff and Department of Corrections officials for deliberate indifference and for violating his right to equal protection after they denied him medicine prescribed for post‐surgical erectile dysfunction, 42 U.S.C. 1983. Glover alleges that treatment of his erectile dysfunction following his prostate cancer surgery was necessary for penile rehabilitation and time-sensitive because he was at risk of suffering permanent loss of erectile function if his condition was left untreated for too long following surgery. Glover unsuccessfully moved to substitute the Department’s new medical director, Dr. Holzmacher, as a defendant. The court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court abused its discretion by not allowing Glover to amend his complaint: “It is difficult to see why, under these circumstances, it would not be in the interest of justice for Glover to be able to sue the person that all agree is responsible for denying him access to Cialis.” The defendants argued that, absent precedent specifically recognizing that erectile dysfunction is a serious medical need, it would not have been clear to Holzmacher that the prison was obligated to heed the advice of Glover’s off‐site urologist and prison physician and approve a Cialis prescription; the court declined to resolve the matter of qualified immunity. The answer to the question is not so obvious that permitting Glover to bring Holzmacher into the case would necessarily constitute a futile act. View "Glover v. Carr" on Justia Law

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Around 2004, LeBeau's health club located on 10 acres in Aurora, Illinois, ran into difficulties. LeBeau teamed up with Bodie to redevelop the land as a condominium project. Bodie ran two mortgage companies. They submitted a loan application to Amcore, a federally insured financial institution. The bank gave them a $1,925,000 mortgage loan. LeBeau and Bodie executed full personal guarantees on the loan and listed Bodie’s two companies as guarantors. LeBeau failed to disclose more than $130,000 in outstanding personal loans. The two fell behind on the loan and obtained a forbearance agreement (later amended) from Amcore. The two men were indicted in 2014 on multiple counts of bank fraud and making false statements to the bank in connection with the loan and forbearance agreements. In 2017, they were convicted. The court sentenced each one to 36 months’ imprisonment and restitution of more than a million dollars. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court erred by failing to give the jury an instruction on materiality for the bank-fraud offenses; that the court should not have admitted evidence related to certain victims’ losses in the scheme and their status as prior victims of fraud; and that LeBeau received ineffective assistance of counsel at the sentencing stage, where his lawyer failed to challenge the amount of restitution. The court also rejected Bodie’s argument that his superseding indictment was time-barred and his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. View "United States v. Lebeau" on Justia Law

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Pontiac inmate Robertson was held in isolation, allegedly in deplorable conditions, for several days before he attempted suicide. He filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and a motion, seeking to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). He claimed he had no assets other than $219 in his prison account and no income except an occasional allowance from his mother. The court granted the motion. Years later, days before trial, the state moved to dismiss his case because he had failed to disclose in his IFP affidavit that the state had agreed to pay him $4,000 to settle previous cases. Robertson actually received the money about a year after filing the affidavit. In addition, the prison never sent the required filing fee. The district court dismissed the case. The Seventh Circuit reversed, concluding that the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. 1915(a), requires only disclosure of assets that may currently be used to pay the filing fee, and in the alternative, even if expected payments should have been included, the affidavit is “untrue” only if the prisoner’s statement was a deliberate misrepresentation. View "Robertson v. French" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Dozier was indicted for conspiracy and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Under the Controlled Substances Act then in effect, Dozier faced increased penalties if he had a prior conviction for a “felony drug offense,” 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A),(b)(1)(B)(viii)--a drug‐related offense “that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year under any law of the United States or of a State.” Dozier had a 2006 conviction for unlawful possession of cocaine, a “state jail felony” punishable by imprisonment of six months to two years. In a plea bargain, the prosecutor agreed to a nine‐month sentence; Texas Penal Code 12.44(a) gives the judge discretion to punish a person convicted of a state jail felony with a period of confinement permissible for a Class A misdemeanor— a term not to exceed one year. Dozier pleaded guilty but objected to using the 2006 conviction to enhance his sentence. The judge imposed a 20-year sentence, rejecting Dozier’s argument that the Texas conviction was not a qualifying predicate because the terms of his plea agreement exposed him to confinement of not more than one year. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Dozier pleaded guilty to and was convicted of a two‐year state jail felony. It does not matter that the sentencing judge accepted the plea bargain and exercised the discretion conferred by state law to sentence Dozier as if he were a misdemeanant. View "United States v. Dozier" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Dotson was indicted for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The indictment listed six prior felony convictions and alleged that Dotson qualified for the 15-year minimum sentence mandated in the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e). The PSR identified three convictions as qualifying for ACCA enhancement (Indiana armed robbery, dealing in cocaine, and attempted robbery) but was silent on whether any of Dotson’s other convictions (Indiana burglary, marijuana possession, and theft and receipt of stolen property) qualified. Nobody raised the issue. The district court sentenced Dotson as a career offender to 188 months and denied his subsequent post-conviction petition, finding that Dotson had four qualifying ACCA predicates—the three originally designated as such in the PSR plus one for burglary. After the district court’s decision, one of the predicates the PSR originally determined qualified under ACCA (attempted robbery) was eliminated. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The government can save the enhanced sentence by substituting another of Dotson’s convictions—one listed in the PSR as part of Dotson’s criminal history but not designated as or found to be an ACCA predicate at sentencing. The court reasoned that the substituted conviction included in the indictment and the PSR and Dotson recognized in legal filings and apparently believed that his burglary conviction had served as an ACCA predicate at his sentencing. View "Dotson v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Martinez was shot dead. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed Hartsfield's convictions for first-degree murder and home invasion. Hartsfield claimed ineffective assistance of counsel, insisting that he repeatedly told counsel that he wished to testify, that counsel asked his mother to “convince” him not to testify, and counsel told Hartsfield that he would “get his chance” when the judge admonished him about his right to testify, but the judge never did that. Hartsfield claims counsel “shushed” him. Hartsfield’s mother supported his statements. The Illinois court affirmed the dismissal of Hartsfield’s postconviction petition, applying the “Strickland” standard and finding that counsel made “a tactical decision,” that Hartsfield was aware that testifying was ultimately his decision, and that Hartsfield’s failure to contemporaneously assert his right barred his claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Hartsfield’s federal habeas petition, first agreeing that the “Strickland” standard applied to the allegation. Without clearly established federal law, it is not clear that the Illinois court unreasonably decided that Hartsfield did not meet his burden of proving that his attorney actually prohibited his testimony. It is not reasonably probable that his proposed testimony would have affected the verdict. Two eyewitnesses placed Hartsfield at the scene of the crime, armed with a weapon and a motive. Hartsfield’s comments later that night further implicated him. Hartsfield’s uncorroborated story, that he was alone, driving around during the time of the murder, is “little more than a generic denial of guilt," insufficient to establish prejudice. View "Hartsfield v. Dorethy" on Justia Law

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The defendants each pleaded guilty to federal drug crimes and were sentenced to terms of imprisonment and supervised release. Before their hearings, both received PSRs that proposed a supervised release condition providing that they “not patronize any taverns, bars, liquor stores, nightclubs or other establishments where the primary item of sale is alcohol.” Both objected in writing to certain supervised release conditions, one contending that an alcohol condition was unnecessary; neither raised a concern that the alcohol condition was unconstitutionally vague. At their sentencings, both defendants confirmed that they had read their PSRs, reviewed the reports with their counsel, and waived an oral reading of the proposed conditions. Neither challenged the alcohol condition as vague. The Seventh Circuit upheld the condition, finding the argument waived. A defendant waives an objection to a condition of supervised release when he has notice of the proposed conditions, a meaningful opportunity to object, and asserts (through counsel or directly) that he does not object to the proposed conditions, waives reading of those conditions and their justifications, challenges certain conditions but not those challenged on appeal, or otherwise evidences an intentional or strategic decision not to object. This is not the “rare and limited instance” when a court may overlook a waiver because the challenged condition concerns activity protected by the First Amendment. View "United States v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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After a 2005 home invasion, Cook and Egerson were charged with armed robbery, armed burglary, false imprisonment, battery, theft, and mistreatment of an animal causing death. Cook claimed that Hall, not Cook, was Egerson’s accomplice. He was sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit granted Cook habeas relief. Applying the “Strickland” standard, Cook demonstrated that Wisconsin’s court of appeals unreasonably assessed his contention that he did not receive the effective assistance of counsel. In a trial that the presiding judge later characterized as unworthy of confidence, Cook’s attorney failed to locate or produce Hall, a long‐time friend of Egerson, friends with two women accomplices, and ex‐boyfriend of the victims’ daughter. Hall resembles Cook in appearance. The court also noted counsel’s failure to object to hearsay testimony, unsupported by a proper foundation, about cell phone records; failure to bring out the de facto immunity given the women accomplices in exchange for their testimony; failure to object to a victim’s unanticipated in‐court identification of Cook; withdrawal of question to an accomplice about Hall’s possession of a gun immediately before the crimes; and failure to object to testimony that Cook temporarily discontinued his police interrogation. To establish prejudice, Cook did not need to prove “that counsel’s deficient conduct more likely than not altered the outcome in the case” but only had to show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result would have been different. View "Cook v. Foster" on Justia Law

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Police seized 143.7 kilograms of marijuana from Helding’s car and apartment. Harding pleaded guilty to possessing over 100 kilograms. At sentencing, the court held him responsible for the equivalent of 4,679.7 kilograms, based solely on the Presentence Investigation Report’s account that confidential informants told law enforcement Helding was dealing significant quantities of methamphetamine during the relevant period. The drug quantity determination resulted in his ultimate sentence of 18 years’ imprisonment; the quantity of 143.7 kilograms carries a sentencing range of 120-150 months. The quantity determined by the court carried a sentencing range to 210-262 months (plus five years for a firearm offense). The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for resentencing. A sentencing court acts within its discretion when it credits confidential informants’ statements about drug quantity, but when a defendant objects, the evidence supporting that quantity must be found to be reliable. The statements here fell short of that threshold. There was no description of the informants’ past work with law enforcement, their criminal history, the reliability of the accounts they had provided before, or whether and why officers believed the information provided to the probation office was reliable. View "United States v. Helding" on Justia Law