Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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During Ramirez’s 2001 Wisconsin state court trial, the prevailing interpretation of the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause was that a defendant had no confrontation right to cross-examine an unavailable declarant if the declarant’s statements were adequately reliable, which could be established where the statements fell within a firmly rooted hearsay exception. Applying hearsay exceptions, the court admitted several out-of-court statements accusing Ramirez of sexually assaulting his stepdaughter. The jury convicted Ramirez of multiple counts relating to the sexual assaults. In 2004, while Ramirez’s conviction was pending on direct review, the Supreme Court held that a defendant is entitled to cross-examine a declarant if the declarant’s statements were “testimonial”—e.g., were statements that the declarant “would reasonably expect to be used prosecutorially.” Ramirez urged his lawyer, Hackbarth, to raise a confrontation claim under Crawford. Hackbarth instead raised other claims, each of which Wisconsin state courts rejected. Ramirez filed a federal habeas corpus petition, arguing that Hackbarth’s representation was ineffective based on her omission of the confrontation claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court in granting relief. An attorney exercising reasonable professional judgment would have recognized that the confrontation claim was clearly stronger than the claims Hackbarth raised. Raising a confrontation claim while Ramirez’s conviction was pending on direct review would have given him a reasonable chance of prevailing. View "Ramirez v. Tegels" on Justia Law

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Detective Mings submitted an affidavit relating that an informant had been inside PaWon’s home and seen him take a retail quantity of methamphetamine from his safe. The affidavit did not discuss the informant’s criminal history, his likely motivation for cooperation (lenience on pending charges), or his reliability. It contained some facts that corroborated his story, though many of those facts could have been learned by someone who had not been inside PaWon’s home. The informant’s statements were not recorded or transcribed. The state judge issued a warrant. The police found what they went looking for. At a hearing on PaWon’s motion to suppress, the informant did not appear and Mings had little memory of what was said in state court. The federal judge proceeded as if the informant had not testified and deemed the affidavit alone insufficient to establish probable cause but concluded that the police were entitled to rely on the warrant. After pleading guilty, PaWon was sentenced to 76 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It would not have been impossible for an officer to have “an objectively reasonable belief in the existence of probable cause.” Nor would every reasonable officer believe that unrecorded oral presentations to a judge must be ignored. A federal court must assume the state judge was doing his job, absent contrary evidence, and would have issued a warrant only after finding that probable cause existed under the governing precedents. View "United States v. Patton" on Justia Law

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In 2003, McNair was sentenced for drug crimes. The court placed his Criminal History at Category II based on an Indiana conviction for driving without a license, calculated his Guidelines range at 324-405 months, and imposed a 360-month sentence, declining to consider McNair’s argument that his conviction was invalid. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In 2005 McNair sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, again disputing the state conviction. The court denied relief, reasoning that he needed to contest that conviction in state court. McNair's subsequent motions were dismissed as unauthorized successive collateral attacks. In 2017 McNair’s Indiana conviction was vacated. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of McNair’s subsequent federal petition. A section 2255 petition based on the vacatur of a state conviction may be maintained as an “initial” section 2255 motion on the theory that the claim was unripe until the state court acted. Such a petition must be brought within a year of “the date on which the facts supporting the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.” McNair's judgment date was 2003. He first asked the state judiciary for relief in 2007. McNair did not appeal the denial of that motion. For nine years he did nothing in state court. When McNair returned to federal court in 2017, 14 years had passed since the event that requires diligent action. Ignorance of the law does not justify tolling the limitations period. View "McNair v. United States" on Justia Law

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In August 2015 Gill launched his fifth congressional campaign. Unlike his past campaigns, Gill ran as an independent. Although Gill needed 10,754 signatures to qualify for the general ballot, he came up 2,000 short, so the Illinois State Officers Electoral Board did not permit him to appear on the general ballot for Illinois’s 13th Congressional District. Gill filed suit, claiming violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court granted the Illinois State Board of Elections summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court failed to conduct a fact-based inquiry as mandated by the Supreme Court’s Anderson-Burdick balancing test, which considers the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate and identifies and evaluates the precise interests put forward by the state as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule. The court must consider the extent to which those state interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff’s rights. View "Gill v. Scholz" on Justia Law

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An Illinois prison dentist extracted one of inmate Murphy’s teeth. Two days later, a Friday, Murphy went to the prison’s healthcare unit, complaining that his cheek had swollen significantly. Rice, a prison nurse, examined Murphy and described the swelling as “softball‐size[d]” and suspected infection. Dr. Shah prescribed penicillin. Murphy received penicillin that morning. The next day, Saturday, Murphy made several trips to the healthcare unit. The nurse was unable by phone to reach Dr. Shah, who, on Monday, examined Murphy for the first time. After additional treatment attempts, Murphy was sent to an emergency room. A CT scan showed signs of an infection and the closing of Murphy’s airway. Aan oral and maxillofacial surgeon diagnosed him with Ludwig’s angina—a disease that involves infections of nearly all the anatomic spaces in the neck and requires urgent surgical treatment. Ultimately, Murphy underwent three surgeries. Murphy sued Shah for deliberate indifference. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the doctor. The record reflects not deliberate indifference but at most a medical disagreement over the course of treatment View "Murphy v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jackson was driving with Freeman as a passenger, Chicago Police Officer Petrus, on patrol with other officers, observed an object hanging from Jackson’s rearview mirror that appeared to be an air freshener. Petrus ran Jackson's license plate through a database, then pulled Jackson over for violating a city ordinance regarding the obstruction of the driver’s clear view. During the traffic stop, the officers discovered a loaded rifle beside the front passenger’s seat and two loaded handguns underneath the driver’s seat. The men were charged as felons in possession of firearms, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). At a suppression hearing, Petrus testified that she believed the law to be that a driver “cannot have anything obstructing the driver’s view” and that the air freshener obstructed the driver’s view. She explained that her “verbiage was off” when she first spoke to Jackson and said that “can’t have anything hanging from there [the rearview mirror]” and that she was “trying to gain control of the situation.” The court concluded that “this type of air freshener is enough justification to pull the car over,” finding Petrus “very credible.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. All that is required for a traffic stop is reasonable suspicion; the officer had an articulable and objective basis for suspecting that the air freshener obstructed Jackson’s clear view in violation of the city municipal code, so the stop was lawful. View "United States v. Freeman" on Justia Law

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In March 2020, Illinois Governor Pritzker issued an executive order to reduce transmission of the coronavirus that, among other things, capped at 10 the number of people who could attend religious gatherings. A list of “essential” functions exempt from the 10-person cap included organizations providing food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life. Other gatherings, such as concerts, are forbidden, regardless of size. The plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, arguing that the limit effectively foreclosed in-person religious services, even though they were free to hold multiple 10-person services, and that alternatives—online services or services in parking lots while worshipers remain in cars—are inadequate. Before the case was argued, the Governor issued a new order, which permits the resumption of all religious services, with the 10-person cap as a “recommendation.” The Seventh Circuit found that the issue was not moot but declined to grant relief. Illinois has not discriminated against religion and has not violated the First Amendment. While warehouse workers and people who assist the needy may be at the same risk as people who gather for large religious worship, movies and concerts are a better comparison group. By that standard, any discrimination has been in favor of religion. While all theaters and concert halls in Illinois have been closed since mid-March, sanctuaries and houses of worship were open, though to smaller gatherings. View "Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker" on Justia Law

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Illinois inmate Reid sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that a corrections officer used excessive force against him. The district court dismissed the action, concluding that Reid had not exhausted administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). The Seventh Circuit vacated. The prison’s communications were so obscure that they made further steps of its administrative process unknowable and, thus, unavailable to Reid. Reid had filed both a “standard grievance” and an emergency grievance, followed by an appeal to the Review Board, which was returned to him. Reid filed a second emergency grievance, which was again denied; the Board returned Reid’s subsequent appeal. The prison’s responses indicated that there was no conceivable next step for Reid. The grievance officer’s memorandum gave him conflicting messages. The Board told him that his appeal was missing specific documents but did not check the box specifying that those documents needed to be provided or that some explanation needed to be given for their absence. When the warden and the Board rejected the second grievance, neither mentioned a pending standard grievance or an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation. As far as Reid could tell, his standard grievance had been either lost in the shuffle or resolved against him. View "Reid v. Balota" on Justia Law

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Shaffer sued corrections officials, alleging that an officer attacked him and that others refused to treat his injuries. The court directed Shaffer to notify the court and the defendants if he were released, stating that it would not independently investigate his whereabouts and that failure to notify the court of any address changes could result in a dismissal. Shaffer conducted discovery and flooded the court with filings until he was released on parole 13 months later. The defendants, having had mail returned as undeliverable, moved for an order to show cause why the case should not be dismissed. The case languished for five months. On the deadline for the close of discovery, a defendant filed another motion. A month passed without any response, so the court dismissed Shaffer's case under FRCP 41(b) for failure to prosecute. Shaffer’s parole was revoked. Shaffer filed a notice of his new address, with requests for appointment of counsel and a status hearing 47 days after the entry of judgment. Shaffer asserted that his notices to opposing counsel and the court about his release must have gotten lost in the mail and that prison officials had not forwarded his mail. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Shaffer’s motion. Shaffer’s allegation that he tried to notify the court was self-serving and not credible; it was not plausible that the postal service lost multiple, separate mailings. Shaffer had not established that his failure to update the parties stemmed from mistake or excusable neglect. View "Shaffer v. Lashbrook" on Justia Law

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Samantha died from a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner concluded Samantha committed suicide. Samantha’s parents, the Harers' claim Samantha’s boyfriend, Flores—a Crest Hill, Illinois police officer—murdered Samantha during an argument at her home in neighboring Channahon. The Harers sued Flores for wrongful death and other torts and Crest Hill for its alleged unconstitutional practice of concealing officers’ misconduct, which the Harers allege emboldened Flores to kill Samantha. The Harers also sued Channahon and police officers, asserting these defendants denied the Harers their constitutional right of access to court when they engaged in a cover-up to protect Flores. The Channahon defendants moved to dismiss the access claim, arguing they did not prevent the Harers from initiating a wrongful death lawsuit against Flores within the statute of limitations. The court denied the motion, holding that the Channahon defendants still frustrated their judicial access by delaying the Harers’ suit and costing them money; clearly-established law prohibited the officers’ conduct, so qualified immunity did not shield the officers. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The backward-looking access-to-court claim is untenable because the underlying tort claims are timely, facially plausible, and still pending; their access claim is not ripe for review. Post-filing conduct generally cannot serve as a basis for an access-to-court claim. View "Harer v. Casey" on Justia Law