Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Rodriguez was arrested for domestic violence. He gave the police his brother’s name and date of birth. He was convicted and sentenced to probation. Although the court had learned Rodriguez’s real name, the judgment of conviction listed “Ely M. Martinez” as an alias for Rodriguez and listed Martinez’s date of birth. Rodriguez failed to report for probation. An arrest warrant was issued with the same information as the judgment. Years later, police arrested Martinez for an unrelated offense and booked him in the Milwaukee County Jail on a Wednesday. The next day, the district attorney decided not to press charges but a warrant check revealed the outstanding warrant for Rodriguez. Although jail officials made efforts to positively identify the detainee, he was not released until Tuesday morning.Martinez sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming due process violations. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that Martinez’s detention was relatively brief and Martinez could not show that the defendants failed to investigate or ignored evidence of his innocence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although the defendants could have improved aspects of their investigation, Martinez has not provided evidence showing that they were deliberately indifferent to his claims of mistaken identity. View "Martinez v. Santiago" on Justia Law

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S.B., age 13, lived with his mother in Michigan and visited relatives in Indiana. S.B.’s uncle, Hinkle, isolated and molested S.B. during two visits. By the time he was 17, S.B. used opiates and marijuana regularly and had experimented with heroin. During a family meeting to address his drug use, S.B. admitted his drug use and that Hinkle had molested him.Hinkle was charged with child molesting, sexual misconduct with a minor, and being a repeat sexual offender. Hinkle’s counsel opposed a motion to exclude evidence of S.B.’s drug use, arguing the evidence was relevant to show S.B.’s motive to fabricate allegations. The court ruled that it would not allow evidence of S.B.’s drug use except to show that it interfered with his ability to recall relevant events. At trial, Hinkle’s counsel unsuccessfully argued (outside the jury’s presence) that S.B. had falsely accused Hinkle to avoid facing consequences when his family confronted him for using narcotics. The jury heard evidence that S.B. “ha[d] a habit of playing family members against each other,” and was “really good at lying.” S.B. testified that he had convictions for credit card fraud, auto theft, and retail fraud.Hinkle was convicted and sentenced to 42 years in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his habeas petition. The Court of Appeals of Indiana did not unreasonably apply federal constitutional law in upholding the exclusion of evidence of S.B.’s drug use. View "Hinkle v. Neal" on Justia Law

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In March 2019, Lloyd robbed a Credit Union and led police on a high-speed chase, Lloyd was charged with credit union robbery and transporting stolen money interstate. On July 11, 2019, he pleaded not guilty. After a plea of not guilty is entered, the Speedy Trial Act requires that the trial begins within 70 days of the filing of the indictment or the arraignment, 18 U.S.C. 3161(c)(1), with exceptions including for delay resulting from mental competency examinations The court granted Lloyd two continuances. Trial was set for December 30, but on November 19, Lloyd’s attorney sought a competency evaluation. The court entered an order on November 22. Lloyd did not arrive at the site of his examination until February 27, 2020. The pandemic struck. Lloyd’s evaluation was completed on May 8, 2020; the psychologist’s report was finalized on May 26. Lloyd was returned to jail on July 1, 2020. On September 23, the court found Lloyd competent. The government conceded that over 70 non-excludable days elapsed. The court dismissed the case without prejudice.The government promptly brought the same charges again. Lloyd pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion. The facts and circumstances leading to dismissal weighed in favor of dismissal without prejudice. The discussions between counsel and the court at the hearing demonstrate the court’s sufficient consideration and application of all the factors within the Act. View "United States v. Lloyd" on Justia Law

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Meyers was one of seven men convicted of the 1989 gang-related murders of Williams and Kaufman in Chicago. In 1995, after Meyers’ conviction was affirmed on direct appeal, he filed a pro se petition for post-conviction, arguing that his trial counsel, Nichols, was ineffective for failing to investigate the scene of the shooting and to establish that a witness, Wilson, would not have been able to see the shooters from his second-floor vantage point. Pointing to Wilson’s post-trial recantation, Meyers added that he was wrongfully convicted based on Wilson’s perjured trial testimony and the prosecution’s subornation to commit perjury. Meyers also argued that his trial counsel, Nichols, was ineffective in failing to interview and present the alibi testimony of Parker. The Illinois appellate court rejected his claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his federal habeas corpus petition. The Illinois Appellate Court did not unreasonably apply “Strickland” in rejecting his claim that Nichols was ineffective for failing to interview and present Parker’s alibi testimony. The risk that the defense would have taken by pursuing that alibi, which contradicted statements made by Nichols after his arrest, is obvious. The state court reasonably determined that his conviction was not based on the knowing use of perjured testimony. View "Meyers v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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During a 3:30 am encounter, while South Bend Officer O’Neill was investigating reports that someone was stealing from parked cars, Logan picked up a hunting knife and approached O’Neill. The officer told Logan to stand still and put down the weapon. Logan held the knife up, came within three steps of O’Neill, and threw the knife, hitting O’Neill in the arm. O’Neill fired his gun, hitting Logan in the torso. O’Neill called for an ambulance, but Logan died at a hospital.The district court rejected Logan's estate’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that one of O’Neill’s multiple descriptions of the events implies that Logan threw the knife a second or so before O’Neill pulled the trigger and that O’Neill was safe (Logan was no longer armed) or that a jury might doubt O’Neill’s version of events because he did not activate his body camera and has been convicted of ghost employment. The physical evidence, such as the bullet track, is consistent with O’Neill’s account. Disbelief of the only witness is not proof that the opposite of the witness’s statements is true. “The fact that many shootings by police eliminate an important source of evidence is troubling, but litigation remains tied to the record," which compels a decision for O’Neill. View "Estate of Eric Jack Logan v. City of South Bend" on Justia Law

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A person arrested in Chicago can take some property into jail but must surrender other property, including cell phones. The detainee has 30 days to reclaim the property in person (if released) or by a designated friend or relative. Property remaining in the city’s hands after 30 days is sold or thrown away. In 2021, the Seventh Circuit (Conyers), rejected several constitutional challenges to that policy. Kelley-Lomax remained in custody for more than 30 days and did not have anyone retrieve his property. The city disposed of a cell phone and a wallet, including a debit card and library card, that the police had seized.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit. The disposition of the seized property is governed by the Due Process Clause. Chicago provides detainees with notice and an opportunity to reclaim their property. Rejecting a substantive due process argument, the court reasoned that property is a fundamental right but property can be abandoned. Chicago draws the abandonment line at 30 days. Physical items seized from arrested persons make claims on limited space, and for many detainees, the costs of arranging a sale to free up space would exceed the value of the items in inventory. View "Kelley-Lomax v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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White injured his knee while incarcerated and playing basketball at an Illinois prison in June 2015. From the date of his injury through November 2017, White complained about knee pain to various prison nurses and doctors, including Nurse Practitioner Woods and Doctor David, who met White’s complaints with “conservative” treatment. White did not receive an MRI for his knee until December 2017. The MRI revealed that White had a serious knee injury that required surgery.White filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Woods, David, and the prison’s healthcare provider, Wexford, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court dismissed White’s claims. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. The district court improperly granted Woods and David summary judgment on White’s deliberate indifference claims; the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to White shows a factual dispute. A jury could find that Woods’s decisions not to perform a complete examination on White and not to refer White to David, for an MRI or anything else, for nearly seven weeks were deliberately indifferent. A jury could conclude that he unreasonably delayed necessary treatment for White’s knee injury by continuing a conservative care regimen. View "White v. Woods" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin inmates undergo regular strip searches. One guard performs the search; another observes. West is a Muslim. Strip searches by guards of the opposite sex violate the tenets of his faith. He was required to submit to a strip search by a guard who is a transgender man—a woman who identifies as a man. West objected but was refused an accommodation. West unsuccessfully requested an exemption from future cross-sex strip searches. The warden stated that he would be disciplined if he objects again. West sought an injunction under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, and alleged Fourth Amendment violations. The district court dismissed the constitutional claim; circuit precedent held that a prisoner has no Fourth Amendment interest against visual inspections of his body. Rejecting the RLUIPA claim, the judge concluded that West had not shown a substantial burden on his religious exercise and that cross-sex strip searches are permissible as the prison’s only means to avoid unlawfully discriminating against transgender employees.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Intervening precedent revives the Fourth Amendment claim. West is entitled to judgment on the RLUIPA claim. His objection to cross-sex strip searches is religious in nature and sincere. The prison has substantially burdened his religious exercise by requiring him to either submit, in violation of his faith, or face discipline. The burden is unjustified under RLUIPA’s strict-scrutiny standard: providing an exemption will not violate the rights of transgender prison employees under Title VII or the Equal Protection Clause. View "West v. Radtke" on Justia Law

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Mwangangi provided roadside assistance around Indianapolis. He set out to jumpstart a car in his used Crown Victoria and activated clear strobe lights on the outside of his car. A driver that Mwangangi passed on the highway twice called 911 to report him as a police impersonator. Shortly after Mwangangi helped the stranded motorist, he found himself at a gas station surrounded by seven police officers. Mwangangi was ordered from his car, handcuffed, patted down twice, and arrested for police impersonation—charges that were not dropped until two years later, when everyone realized he had been telling the truth about his roadside assistance job.The district court entered summary judgment for Mwangangi on many of his Fourth Amendment-based claims, denying some of the police officers the protection of qualified immunity. The court found for the city and officers on other claims. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. Officer Nielsen had a “particularized and objective basis” to justify an investigatory Terry stop in the gas station and had the authority to ask Mwangangi to step out of his car to answer questions. Because of the context of the potential crime and surrounding circumstances, Officer Root’s decision to pat Mwangangi down did not amount to a constitutional violation. Officer Noland waived any challenge to the determination that his second pat down violated Mwangangi’s Fourth Amendment rights. The court stated that claims against officers for “bystander liability” required further factual development. View "Mwangangi v. Nielsen" on Justia Law

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Officer Crowder observed an SUV outside a closed business. Pace exited that vehicle. sta5int that he was lost and needed directions to Johns's house. Crowder knew of Johns's past methamphetamine use and had received complaints from Johns’s neighbors about traffic at her home. Crowder activated his emergency lights, and parked directly behind Pace’s SUV; nothing obstructed Pace’s ability to drive away. Shining his flashlight inside the SUV, Crowder did not see weapons or contraband but did see multiple musical instrument cases. Pace walked around his SUV and attempted to get one of the instruments. Pace’s behavior struck Crowder as odd and overly friendly, yet nervous. Dispatch confirmed that Pace’s license was clear and that he had no outstanding warrants but he had a history of drug possession including methamphetamine, narcotic instruments, and drug paraphernalia. Pace denied that he had weapons but declined to consent to a vehicle search. Crowder explained that Pace was not under arrest, but that he was going to place him in restraints during a canine sniff. After the dog indicated the presence of drugs in the SUV. Crowder searched the SUV and found methamphetamine and cannabis. Pace unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that ruling, a 60-month sentence, and a finding that Pace was not eligible for relief from the five-year statutory minimum sentence under the “safety valve” provision of 18 U.S.C. 3553(f). The search was based on reasonable suspicion. View "United States v. Pace" on Justia Law