Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Halbach disappeared on Halloween 2005. Her family contacted police after she did not show up at the photography studio where she worked and her voice mailbox was full. Officers focused on the Avery Auto Salvage yard in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, the last place she was known to have gone. Avery, the son of the business owner, lived on the property. That day, Avery called Auto Trader magazine, for whom Halbach worked, to request that she photograph a minivan that he wished to sell. The police suspected that Avery’s 16‐year‐old nephew, Dassey, who also lived on the property, might have information about Halbach’s murder and called Dassey into the police station. After many hours of interrogation over several days, Dassey confessed that he, with Avery, had raped and murdered Halbach and burned her body. Before trial, Dassey recanted his confession. The state failed to find any physical evidence linking him to the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After unsuccessful state appeals and post‐conviction proceedings, Dassey sought federal habeas relief, claiming that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel and that his confession was not voluntary. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court in granting relief. The state court did not apply the proper standard; juvenile confessions require more care. “If a state court can evade all federal review by merely parroting the correct Supreme Court law, then the writ of habeas corpus is meaningless.” View "Dassey v. Dittmann" on Justia Law

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Lombardo, a long-time member of the Chicago Outfit, the lineal descendant of Al Capone’s gang, is serving a life sentence on his convictions for racketeering, murder, and obstruction of justice. After the Seventh Circuit affirmed his convictions and sentence on direct appeal, he retained a new attorney to argue that ineffective assistance of counsel. His new attorney misunderstood when the one-year limitations period for motions under 28 U.S.C. 2255 began running and filed Lombardo’s motion too late. The attorney represented that he miscalculated the deadline due to his mistaken belief that the statute of limitations began running only when the Supreme Court denied a petition for rehearing, not when it denied a petition for certiorari and that this error was “based on misinformation provided by a trusted paralegal.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. An attorney’s miscalculation of a statute of limitations does not justify equitably tolling the limitations period for a motion under section 2255, even if the result is to bar a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. View "Lombardo v. United States" on Justia Law

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Owens, an Illinois state prisoner, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that nearly two dozen prison employees deliberately ignored his medical needs and retaliated against him for filing grievances and lawsuits. He is primarily dissatisfied with the adequacy of the toothpaste, mail supplies, and laundry detergent he received at three different prisons over a six-year period. The district court narrowed the list of defendants at screening, 28 U.S.C. 1915A, and later granted summary judgment for the remaining defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. “This lawsuit is not the first one in which Owens has tossed into a single complaint a mishmash of unrelated allegations against unrelated defendants.” Owens engaged in “nearly constant” litigation during 2009 and 2010. View "Owens v. Godinez" on Justia Law

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Ferrill was hired as Edgewood Elementary School's principal for an initial two-year term with an automatic third-year rollover unless the Board of Education opted out. Ferrill is black; the district serves predominantly white suburbs on the southern edge of Milwaukee County. While she was principal, Edgewood's staff had exceedingly low morale. Ferrill had multiple performance complaints. Staff described her as confrontational, inconsistent, and quick to claim racism. The superintendent hired a consultant to improve Ferrill’s performance. The consultant recommended termination. The Board opted out of the rollover, at the superintendent's recommendation. Ferrill found a new job, which the Board treated as a functional resignation. She sued, alleging racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and 42 U.S.C. 1981, and retaliation under Title VII and the First Amendment. The district judge granted the Board summary judgment on some claims. A jury rejected others after less than 30 minutes of deliberation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Ferrill’s shortcomings were well documented and confirmed by an independent consultant, so she did not establish that she was meeting legitimate performance expectations and thus did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The retaliation claim failed for lack of evidence connecting the Board’s decision to activity protected by Title VII. View "Ferrill v. Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Jackson was convicted and Kelly pleaded guilty to cocaine-related charges. The Seventh Circuit remanded Jackson's 360-month sentence for consideration under the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) based on the Supreme Court’s 2012 "Dorsey" holding. With a new Guidelines range of 262-327 months, the court sentenced Jackson to 200 months’ imprisonment. Jackson then filed a pro se 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Jackson testified that his attorney, Ratcliffe, advised that the only way to preserve an FSA claim was to go to trial. Kelly testified that he told Jackson that he could take a plea agreement and preserve his right to argue that the FSA on appeal and that Jackson wanted to discuss this information with Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe testified that “Jackson never told [him] that he wanted to explore plea agreements.” A magistrate recommended granting Jackson’s petition, finding that Jackson established deficient performance and prejudice. The credibility assessment came out in Jackson’s favor. The district court nonetheless denied Jackson’s petition, stating that Jackson was unable to establish prejudice and rejecting the magistrate’s credibility determinations. The Seventh Circuit vacated. A district court may not reject a magistrate’s credibility findings, based on a witness’s live testimony, without first holding a de novo evidentiary hearing. View "Jackson v. United States" on Justia Law

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Officers executed a search warrant at Minney’s apartment. The warrant listed items to be seized: a Panasonic television, a Sony television, a Nintendo Wii, an Xbox 360, and 10 Xbox games. While searching Minney’s bedroom, Detective Vasquez found ammunition in the bedside table. Minney admitted that he was on parole for dealing cocaine. Officers arrested Minney as a felon in possession of ammunition. The search resumed. Vazquez found multiple guns in Minney’s bedroom. Officers recovered most of the electronics, but never found the second television. The court denied a motion to suppress the guns. Minney pled guilty to one count of being a felon in possession. The government dismissed two counts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the suppression ruling. When executing a search warrant that specifically lists items to be seized, officers are entitled to search anywhere those items are likely to be discovered. Officers may seize the items named in the warrant and any evidence that falls under the plain‐view doctrine. Vazquez was lawfully searching under the warrant; the electronic devices could have reasonably been found in any of the places where Vazquez found Minney’s guns; the guns were in plain view in those places and were immediately incriminating because Minney was on parole for a felony. View "United States v. Minney" on Justia Law

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Menominee Tribal Officer Nickodem was summoned to a school, concerning seven-year-old T. T. told a school counselor that her one-year-old brother had a head injury and that her mom’s boyfriend beat her mom and hurt her brother. Nickodem never met T. but asked a child protective worker to accompany him on a welfare check. Nickodem knocked and announced his presence. He heard movement and saw a curtain move. He knocked again. He heard a door lock. He could not see inside the home; there were no obvious signs of distress. Nickodem called his supervisor who was with the tribal prosecutor. Nickodem did not state that he was not certain who was in the house. The prosecutor stated that he should enter the home. Nickodem again knocked and announced, then kicked down the door. Officers entered, found T.’s mother, Tepiew, a four-month-old infant, and the one-year-old child, who had apparent head injuries. Tepiew had an injury around her eye. The officers heard noises and found her boyfriend, Johnson, in a closet. There were active warrants for Johnson’s arrest. Tepiew was treated as a victim and was not arrested. One-year-old D.T. had a fractured skull, multiple bruises, a healing tibial fracture, and indications of a liver injury. Eventually, Tepiew admitted that she had inflicted D.T.'s injuries while intoxicated. She was charged with assault resulting in serious bodily injury, 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(6) and 1153. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of her motion to suppress, finding the warrantless search justified by an emergency. View "United States v. Tepiew" on Justia Law

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After leaving rehab, Sweeney asked Wilson if he “wanted to get high one more time.” Wilson agreed and called Waldrip, who supplied the heroin, then left. Sweeney drove Wilson to purchase supplies for injecting heroin. Wilson injected himself and Sweeney. Sweeney passed out, woke up, and told Wilson to take her home. Wilson stayed at Sweeney’s house that night, woke up in withdrawal, stole Sweeney’s belongings, and left. Sweeney’s sister found Sweeney dead. Wilson claimed that Sweeney was alive when he left and agreed to testify that Waldrip sold the heroin. Officers arrested Waldrip after an undercover DEA agent bought heroin from Waldrip three separate times. The government charged Waldrip with distributing heroin to Sweeney and Wilson and three counts of distributing heroin to the agent. 18 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). Waldrip agreed to stipulate that government experts (a pathologist and a forensic toxicologist) would testify that, but for her use of heroin right before her death, Sweeney would not have died. The jury convicted Waldrip of selling the heroin that caused Sweeney’s death. Section 841(b)(1)(C) imposes a 20‐year mandatory‐minimum sentence on one who distributes a controlled substance and “death … results from the use of such substance.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed Waldrip’s 280-month sentence, rejecting arguments that the government provided insufficient evidence to prove that the heroin was a but‐for cause of death, that section 841(b)(1)(C) is unconstitutionally vague, and that the 280‐month sentence violated the Eighth Amendment’s proportionality requirement. View "United States v. Waldrip" on Justia Law

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Lockett was arrested while carrying a bag containing individually wrapped bags of heroin and cocaine. He pled guilty to two counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1)—one count for the heroin and one for the cocaine. Because of prior felony drug offenses, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines classified Lockett as a career offender. The district court sentenced Lockett to 151 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that his plea was unknowing because it was imposed before anyone noticed a potential double jeopardy issue and that his sentence violated the Double Jeopardy Clause. The court applied plain error review and stated: It is not “clear or obvious” that Lockett committed only one crime. View "United States v. Lockett" on Justia Law

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Chagoya‐Morales, a citizen of Mexico, illegally entered the U.S. In 2008, he was convicted of aggravated robbery. In 2009, he was deported. Chagoya‐Morales did not obtain permission to reenter. In 2015, Chicago Police conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle in which Chagoya‐Morales was a passenger. The officers allegedly observed Deantes using her cell phone while driving. Approaching Deantes’s car, the officers smelled a strong odor of cannabis emanating from the vehicle, conducted a pat down search of Chagoya‐Morales, and recovered a small plastic bag containing marijuana. Chagoya‐Morales was charged with illegal reentry into the U.S., 8 U.S.C. 1326(a) and 6 U.S.C. 202(4). Chagoya‐Morales filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the traffic stop was illegal and so that the government’s knowledge of his name and his immigration status should be suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” The Seventh Circuit upheld the denial of the motion and the addition of 16 offense levels under the “crime of violence” enhancement in U.S.S.G. 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii). The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit police from requiring a person to identify himself, nor does it guarantee a defendant the right to conceal his identity during a criminal prosecution. Chagoya‐Morales’s prior 2008 conviction is a crime of violence under the guidelines. View "United States v. Chagoya-Morales" on Justia Law