Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
by
Elgin met Garbutt at an international convention. Garbutt, who holds dual citizenship, moved from Belize into Elgin’s Gary, Indiana home and worked on her successful campaign to become Trustee of Calumet Township. Elgin hired Garbutt to work at the Trustee’s Office as her “executive aide” at a salary of $60,000 per year. Garbutt’s unofficial duties included Elgin’s political campaign work. He understood that he should not perform political work at the Township Office but began to do so. Elgin also hired her friend Shelton, who also worked on Elgin’s campaign. Elgin and Garbutt had a falling out. Elgin demoted Garbutt, docked his salary barred him from attending meetings, and took away his government car. Garbutt eventually began a partnership with an FBI agent who directed him to conduct warrantless searches of his co‐workers’ offices.Elgin took a plea deal, Shelton was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, after learning, mid‐trial, about the warrantless searches. The district court denied Shelton's post‐trial motion for relief. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court erred in finding that Shelton lacked any reasonable expectation of privacy in her office. Garbutt’s document collection, undertaken at the direction of the FBI, violated her Fourth Amendment rights. No warrant would have issued without the information gathered as a result of the unlawful searches; the evidence obtained from the search authorized by that warrant should have been suppressed. View "United States v. Shelton" on Justia Law

by
In 2012, Grzegorczyk hired two men to kill his ex-wife and others whom he deemed responsible for his divorce and the loss of custody of his son. The men he hired were undercover law enforcement officers. During a final meeting, Grzegorczyk gave the undercover officers $3,000 in cash, and showed them pictures, $45,000 in cash that he intended to pay upon completion of the murders, a semi-automatic handgun, and ammunition. Grzegorczyk was arrested.In 2014, Grzegorczyk pled guilty to murder-for-hire, 18 U.S.C. 1958(a) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)., Grzegorczyk waived the right to “all appellate issues that might have been available if he had exercised his right to trial”; he could only appeal the validity of his guilty plea and the sentence imposed. The district court imposed a within-Guidelines sentence of 151 months, with consecutive 60 months for the firearm offense, which was affirmed on appeal. The Supreme Court then invalidated the definition of a “violent felony” under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) (Johnson decision), later extending the holding to section 924(c)'s residual clause definition of “crime of violence.”Grzegorczyk sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255 from his 924(c) conviction. The district court denied relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Grzegorczyk has long unconditionally waived his right to contest the validity of his plea agreement and the legal sufficiency of the 924(c) charge. View "Grzegorczyk v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In 2005, Guenther was convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The Armed Career Criminal Act increases the penalty for that offense to a 15-year minimum and a maximum of life in prison if the defendant has three prior convictions for a “violent felony.” Guenther’s PSR identified two convictions for first-degree burglary (1990 and 1992), second-degree burglary (1986), and kidnapping (1990), all under Minnesota law. The judge applied ACCA and sentenced him to 327 months. His Eighth Circuit direct appeal failed as did his petition for collateral review under 28 U.S.C. 2255. In 2017, incarcerated in Wisconsin, Guenther sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241, arguing that his Minnesota burglary convictions are not “violent felonies”The Seventh Circuit granted habeas relief. A section 2255 motion in the sentencing court is normally the exclusive method to collaterally attack a federal sentence, but the “saving clause,” 2255(e) provides a limited exception, allowing a prisoner to seek section 2241 relief in the district of confinement if “the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” The Seventh Circuit applies the exception when the prisoner relies on an intervening statutory decision announcing a new, retroactive rule that could not have been invoked in his first section 2255 motion and the error is serious enough to amount to a miscarriage of justice. Guenther’s Minnesota burglary convictions are not ACCA predicates under Seventh Circuit law. View "Guenther v. Marske" on Justia Law

by
Triplett pleaded guilty to three charges of human trafficking, pimping and pandering, and possession of a firearm by a felon, in exchange for the dismissal of 17 charges (including attempted first-degree homicide and kidnapping), which were to be “read-in” at sentencing (essentially allowing the judge to consider them as relevant conduct), Triplett’s total sentencing exposure was reduced from 354 years to a maximum of 47.5 years. The judge confirmed with defense counsel that the dismissed charges would be read-in. Defense counsel noted that Triplett did not admit the truth of the charges. In signing his plea agreement, Triplett acknowledged that “although the judge may consider read-in charges when imposing sentence, the maximum penalty will not be increased.” The judge ordered Triplett to serve 11 years in prison followed by nine years of supervision.Triplett unsuccessfully moved to withdraw his plea. Without conducting a hearing, the court determined that even if Triplett was given incorrect advice about the read-charges, Triplett was not prejudiced. The plea questionnaire and waiver of rights warned Triplett that the court could consider those charges. The court also represented that it had not considered the read-in charges at sentencing. Wisconsin's Court of Appeals and Supreme Court upheld the decision. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. The Wisconsin court’s rejection of Triplett's ineffectiveness claim rests on an adequate, independent state ground--Triplett’s failure to allege objective facts in support of his claim of prejudice. View "Triplett v. McDermott" on Justia Law

by
Five South Bend officers were assigned to an area of the city that was considered to be a “hot spot.” One drove a fully marked police vehicle. Two officers patrolled in an unmarked car without sirens or lights; two sat in an unmarked car that had sirens and lights. Around 4:30 am, the patrolling car radioed over the tactical channel that they planned to stop a speeding car. The remaining officers promptly acknowledged the report but did not indicate that the traffic stop was an emergency, nor did they request assistance from other officers.After hearing the exchanges, knowing that no one was requesting assistance, Gorny (two miles away) roared through a residential neighborhood at 78 miles per hour, disregarding the 30 mph speed limit, with infrequent use of lights or sirens. On Western Avenue, he accelerated up to 98 mph and reached the Kaley Avenue intersection with an obstructed view. Disregarding the red light, Gorny sped across and crashed into Flores’s car, killing her.The district court dismissed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 substantive due process action. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Flores’s allegations plausibly state claims against Gorny and the city. The law does not provide a shield against constitutional violations for state actors who consciously take extreme, obvious risks. Flores’s complaint plausibly alleges that the city acted with deliberate indifference by failing to address the known recklessness of its officers as a group and Gorny in particular. View "Flores v. City of South Bend" on Justia Law

by
After an allegation that Bush had choked his son, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) began an investigation. Bush’s then-wife, Erika, obtained a court order suspending Bush’s parenting time. Bush filed a federal lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on behalf of himself and his children, alleging violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and claiming that DCFS employees’ conduct set off events culminating in a state court order infringing on his and his kids’ right to familial association.The district court dismissed, finding that Bush and his children lacked standing to bring a constitutional challenge to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act and that the Younger abstention doctrine barred the court from ruling on the remaining constitutional claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.. Bush failed to allege facts sufficient to establish standing for his First Amendment claim. Adhering to principles of equity, comity, and federalism, the court concluded that the district court was right to abstain from exercising jurisdiction over the remaining claims. View "J.B. v. Woodard" on Justia Law

by
Juarez Rogers, who lived in Illinois, was arrested for murder in Griffith, Indiana. A confidential informant in that investigation reported to police in nearby Hobart, Indiana, that Juarez’s sons, including Cortez Juarez Rogers, were threatening him. Hobart Officers investigated and found an Illinois State ID photo and associated information for an Illinois resident, Cortez Javan Rogers, who had never been to Indiana. Believing, mistakenly, that Javan was the individual about whom the informant had complained, an officer attested that he had communicated a threat to commit a felony. An Indiana judge issued an arrest warrant that was listed in a database available to law enforcement officers in other states. A Chicago police officer subsequently stopped a car in which Javan was a passenger, consulted a database, and arrested him. An Illinois judge denied bail and remanded Javan pending extradition to Indiana. The following evening Indiana moved to correct the warrant information. Chicago officers immediately released Javan, who sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Hobart officers did not purposefully engage in any activity in Illinois or direct any action in Illinois that would cause them to reasonably anticipate that they would be haled into Illinois courts. The exercise of personal jurisdiction over them would offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. None of the supposed Illinois contacts, considered separately or together, constitute the requisite “minimum contacts” among the state, the defendants, and the cause of action necessary to fulfill the requirements of due process. View "Rogers v. City of Hobart" on Justia Law

by
An Illinois jury convicted Evans of the first-degree murder of Williams, who was killed in a Chicago drive-by shooting. Only one eyewitness, Jeffers, connected Evans to the shooting. Jeffers initially only provided a few general identifying details of the shooter and did not specifically identify any shooter. Eleven months later, the police approached him while he was incarcerated; Jeffers then identified Evans as the shooter. At trial, Jeffers recanted that identification: he testified that he did not see the identity of the shooter but had identified Evans because the police told him to. During closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that Jeffers’s trial testimony was false and the jury should disbelieve it because Jeffers only changed his story after being paid a visit by a defense investigator working for Evans’s co-defendant, who was a known gang member.The state appellate court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the prosecutor’s closing argument statements, so they were not improper. Evans unsuccessfully sought state post-conviction relief.The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order granting federal habeas relief. The state appellate court’s determination that the prosecutor’s statements were proper was objectively unreasonable. The facts compel the conclusion that Evans was deprived of his right to a fair trial. View "Evans v. Jones" on Justia Law

by
In 2009, Newton pleaded guilty to bank robberies, and possessing and discharging a firearm during a bank robbery, and was sentenced to 220 months’ imprisonment. In May 2020, Newton sought compassionate release, arguing that his asthma, combined with prison mismanagement of the pandemic, constituted an extraordinary and compelling reason for his release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), and that his prolonged use of a corticosteroid to treat his asthma weakens his immune system, putting him at greater risk. Newton provided a detailed plan for his release and added that a third condition, hypertension. In July 2020, Newton contracted COVID-19. Three weeks later, a prison physician noted that his infection had “resolved” and that he “did not have a severe illness requiring hospitalization.” Newton still reported “recurrent intermittent coughs, headaches, and asthma flare-ups.” The district court denied his request, stating only: The Government contends, however, that Newton has not demonstrated extraordinary and compelling reasons to warrant a sentence reduction. I agree. … The CDC … has not been able to determine conclusively that [Newton’s conditions[ pose an increased danger.…. the prison has lately succeeded in drastically reducing active cases.”The Seventh Circuit vacated. When an inmate like Newton presents individualized arguments along with a meaningfully detailed record, the district court’s opinion must establish that it considered those individualized arguments and properly exercised its discretion. View "United States v. Newton" on Justia Law

by
Thill was convicted of sexual contact with A.M.M., his ex‐girlfriend’s eight‐year‐old daughter. A.M.M. testified that Thill had sexually assaulted her; Thill’s semen was found on her underwear. Thill’s defense was that his jilted ex‐girlfriend framed him by saving his semen for over a year, planting it on her daughter’s underwear, and coaching her to make false accusations. While cross‐examining Thill and in closing arguments, the prosecutor referenced Thill’s failure to tell the police during his initial interview that he believed his ex‐girlfriend had the means or motivation to frame him. In postconviction proceedings, Thill argued that the prosecutor impermissibly used his silence after receiving Miranda warnings to impeach him and that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals concluded Thill had not demonstrated prejudice.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that conclusion not contrary to nor an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. The state court correctly paraphrased Strickland’s prejudice standard and nothing in its analysis suggested it used a standard “‘substantially different’ from or ‘opposite to’” that standard. The state presented significant direct evidence of a specific sexual assault. Thill’s defense had significant holes that extended far beyond his failure to raise this defense to the police; it was “weak and unpersuasive” and largely rested on Thill’s “self‐serving testimony.” View "Thill v. Richardson" on Justia Law