Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Inmate’s allegation that prison dentist intentionally sutured inmate’s gum without removing pieces of broken drill bit was sufficient to withstand screening. While Dr. Craig was extracting a wisdom tooth from Echols, an Illinois inmate, a drill bit broke. Craig sutured Echols’ gum with gauze and at least one half‐inch long piece of the broken bit still inside, where it caused pain for about two weeks before it was finally removed. Echols alleges that Craig sutured the site after intentionally packing it with non‐soluble gauze and without first locating the missing shards from the broken drill bit. The district court screened Echols’ 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915A, and dismissed it, stating that Echols’ allegations were factually frivolous. The Seventh Circuit vacated, holding that Echols’ allegations are quite plausible and state a claim for violation of the Eighth Amendment. Echols sufficiently alleged that Craig’s actions were so inappropriate that the lawsuit cannot be dismissed at screening. View "Echols v. Craig" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit upheld Milwaukee's residency requirement for law enforcement and emergency personnel. Milwaukee’s corporate charter previously required all city employees to live within city limits. In 2013, the Wisconsin legislature prohibited local governments from imposing a residency requirement as a condition of employment, exempting requirements that law enforcement, fire, or emergency personnel reside within 15 miles of jurisdictional boundaries. Milwaukee announced its intent to enforce its original residency requirement, citing the Wisconsin Constitution’s home‐rule provision. The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected that argument. The city amended its charter to require all law enforcement, fire, and emergency personnel to reside within 15 miles of city limits, giving affected employees six months to comply, with extensions available for hardship. In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment on the pleadings for the city. Municipal employees do not have a fundamental right to be free from residency requirements, for purposes of substantive due process. Rejecting a procedural due process argument, the court stated that no vested right was impaired. The amended charter does not apply retroactively. View "Milwaukee Police Association v. City of Milwaukee" on Justia Law

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Order that juveniles submit to psychological evaluation before court ruling on motion to transfer for adult prosecution is not subject to immediate appellate review. Juveniles allegedly robbed a pharmacy. They were charged with Hobbs Act Robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a), and possession of a firearm during that robbery, 18 U.S.C. 924(c). The government sought transfer for adult prosecution, 18 U.S.C. 5032 and moved to have the juveniles examined by government psychologists. The juveniles argued that the examinations—without counsel present—would violate their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. The magistrate granted the motion, ordering that the psychologists “not talk … about the specific allegations.” The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an interlocutory appeal for lack of jurisdiction, without addressing the merits. The order did not fit within the “small class” of nonfinal orders that “finally determine claims of right separable from, and collateral to, rights asserted in the action, too important to be denied review and too independent of the cause itself to require that appellate consideration be deferred until the whole case is adjudicated.” The juvenile will not be irreparably harmed by failure to review his constitutional claims now; he can raise these same claims on an immediate appeal if the district court grants the motion to transfer. If the court denies that motion, the government will be prohibited from using at any subsequent prosecution any information obtained during the examination. View "United States v. Sealed Defendant Juvenile Male (4)" on Justia Law

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Tabb was not entitled to relief from his convictions for attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, and attempted aggravated vehicular hijacking, although he produced evidence calling into question the objectivity of the lineup procedures in which he was identified and the ensuing validity of the witness identifications of him at trial, and that evidence about how the lineup was conducted was kept from the defense and then destroyed. The Seventh Circuit upheld findings that Tabb had not shown that the lineup was suggestive; that the destruction of handwritten notes was routine and was not in bad faith; and that there was nothing indicating that the notes contained exculpatory information. View "Tabb v. Christianson" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial (without an evidentiary hearing) of a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255, which had claimed that Spiller’s counsel was constitutionally ineffective during the plea-bargaining process after Spiller was charged with two counts of distributing a controlled substance 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), and one count of selling a firearm to a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(1). The government had filed a notice, under 21 U.S.C. 851, that it would seek an enhanced mandatory minimum sentence based on Spiller’s three prior drug felonies. The government had offered an agreement that, it conceded, did “not offer a whole lot beyond a blind plea.” Spiller executed a blind plea. With a Guidelines range of 262-327 months, Spiller was sentenced to 240 months; the Seventh Circuit affirmed. In rejecting the ineffective assistance claim, the Seventh Circuit noted that his attorney reviewed Spiller’s plea options, specifically inquired of the government whether there were differences, examined the government’s response, and suggested that Spiller plead blindly, reserving the right to challenge the government’s Guidelines calculation, a right he would have sacrificed under the government’s proposal. The record was sufficient to explain counsel’s decision as strategic, thereby eliminating the need for an evidentiary hearing. View "Spiller v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit reversed summary judgment for the defendants in a suit by Johnson, an inmate of the Rushville Treatment and Detention Facility for persons believed prone to sexual violence, claiming that staff had caused Johnson to take the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, for more than a month, without Johnson’s knowledge or consent. The staff did not follow Illinois’s procedures for ordering forced medication; Johnson had not been found to be dangerous to himself or others. The doctor prescribed Risperdal after Johnson complained about feelings of aggression and hopelessness, even though Johnson refused to consent. The doctor stated that he wrote the prescription so that Johnson could take the medication if he wanted it. The nurse, not knowing what the pill was, included the Risperdal with Johnson’s medications for blood pressure, cholesterol, and stomach problems, so Johnson took the drug without noticing it. The Seventh Circuit noted that the Supreme Court has recognized a “significant liberty interest,” under the due process clause in “avoiding the unwanted administration of antipsychotic drugs,” which can have “serious, even fatal, side effects.” While Johnson was not forced to take the pill, the doctor “must have known that pills were delivered to the inmates, unlabeled, in little cups.” View "Johnson v. Tinwalla" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit directed the district court to dismiss, as moot, a lawsuit by a Chicago-area family-owned firm, challenging the “contraception mandate” under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, 124 Stat. 119. Ozinga regards certain of the contraceptives covered by the mandate as potential abortifacients, the use of which is proscribed by its owners’ and managers’ religious tenets, and sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb, in 2013. The government had established an accommodation for certain religious employers that provided for alternate means of ensuring employee access to the contraceptive services specified by the mandate without payment or direct involvement by an objecting employer; the accommodation was not then available to for-profit employers like Ozinga. In light of Seventh Circuit precedent, the district court granted Ozinga a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court subsequently decided, in “Hobby Lobby” (2014), that the contraception mandate, as applied to closely-held private firms whose owners objected on religious grounds to contraceptives covered by the mandate, substantially burdened the exercise of religion by those owners and their companies, in view of the fines to which they were subject for noncompliance. The government then extended the accommodation to private employers, including Ozinga, rendering its suit moot. View "Ozinga v. Price" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of defendant’s motion to suppress evidence gathered pursuant to search warrants executed on his home. Defendant cared for young children at his Wisconsin home. After a parent reported to the Rock County Sheriff that she had found a video camera concealed in the bathroom of defendant’s house, officers discovered that he was on the sex‐offender registry and applied for a search warrant. The supporting affidavit listed several categories of items the detective believed could be found in connection with hidden‐camera recordings, indicating that defendant had violated Wis. Stat. 942.09, “Representations depicting nudity.” About a week after the initial search, officers requested a follow‐on search warrant for evidence of child pornography, supported by evidence gathered during the initial search. On the basis of evidence collected from those searches, defendant was charged with unlawfully creating child pornography (18 U.S.C. 2251(a)). After denial of a motion to suppress, defendant pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal that denial, and was sentenced to 25 years’ incarceration. The district court found, and the Seventh Circuit agreed, that the warrant was supported by probable cause, was not overly broad, and in any case was subject to the good‐faith exception. View "United States v. Wenzel" on Justia Law

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Trask was gambling at the Horseshoe Casino when she picked up a $20 bill from the floor. The customer who had dropped the money thought he had been short-changed and reported the loss. Casino personnel reviewed security videos. For 70 minutes Trask was detained by agents of the Indiana Gaming Commission. At the request of the agents, she dumped the contents of her purse and agreed to be patted down; her cell phone was temporary taken from her. Agents seized $8 from the purse. Trask could not find her driver’s license. Agents escorted her to her car, where she found the license and $5, both of which the agents confiscated. She was told she was banned from the casino and would be arrested if she tried to return. Trask filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Indiana law. Trask, acting pro se, contacted the casino's lawyer and accepted a settlement of $100. She later left a voicemail, rejecting the settlement, stating that “I had a change of heart and I called you within 24 hours.” The court ordered the settlement enforced and her claims dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Trask’s notarized letter to the casino admitted that she agreed to accept $100 in satisfaction of her claims; her belief that she could back out is “unfounded in the law.” View "Trask v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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After Brown was charged with sexually abusing his children, before trial, the court three times allowed Brown’s appointed counsel to withdraw because Brown would not cooperate. Brown appeared pro se but after “multiple outbursts” and attempts “to intimidate the victim‐witnesses,” the court held that he had “forfeited his right to represent himself.” Brown was convicted. The Public Defender’s Office appointed attorney Rosen to represent Brown on appeal. Brown objected, arguing Rosen was acting without his “consent or participation.” Brown sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of “his constitutional right to represent himself on appeal” and that a lawyer had deprived him of legal documents and prevented him from requesting legal help from a nonprofit organization. The district court screened Brown’s complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915A and concluded that his claim that Rosen had been ineffective in representing him was barred because it implied that his conviction may have been invalid and there is no constitutional right to self‐representation on appeal. The Supreme Court has held that in an appeal the state’s “interest in the fair and efficient administration of justice” outweighs the defendant’s interest in autonomy because there is no longer the presumption of innocence and because the Sixth Amendment does not refer to appellate proceedings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, held that Brown’s appeal was frivolous, and imposed two strikes on him under 28 U.S.C. 1915(g). View "Brown v. Milwaukee County Public Defender's Office" on Justia Law