Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires states to permit "overseas voters" to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections, 52 U.S.C. 20302(a)(1). An “overseas voter” resides outside the U.S. and would otherwise be qualified to vote in the last place in which the person was domiciled in the U.S. Illinois law provides that “[a]ny non‐resident civilian citizen, otherwise qualified to vote," may vote by mail in a federal election. "Non‐resident civilian citizens" reside “outside the territorial limits" of the U.S. but previously maintained a residence in Illinois and are not registered to vote in any other state. Former Illinois residents, now residing in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, challenged the laws as violating their equal protection rights and their right to travel protected by the Due Process Clause. The territories where the plaintiffs reside are considered part of the U.S. under the statutes, while other territories are not. The district court held that there was a rational basis for the inclusion of some territories but not others in the definition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to the Illinois statute but concluded that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the UOCAVA, which does not prevent Illinois from providing the plaintiffs absentee ballots and does not cause their injury. The plaintiffs are not entitled to ballots under state law. View "Segovia v. United States" on Justia Law

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Officers Garcia and Murphy observed Sanchez fail to stop his van as required at intersections and fail to maintain his lane; his sliding door was completely open. Garcia activated his siren and lights. Sanchez did not stop. Sanchez eventually stopped and exited his van, stumbling. Garcia noted that Sanchez, driving on a suspended license, smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot eyes, and was mumbling vulgarities. Sanchez refused instructions and took a swing at Garcia. Garcia performed an emergency takedown. The officers found an open beer can and marijuana in the van. Sanchez claimed Garcia struck him unprovoked. At the police station, an officer observed Sanchez lying on the floor, smelling of alcohol and mumbling profanities, and requested medical assistance. Paramedic Ragusa detected the odor of alcohol, but found Sanchez able to answer questions. Ragusa made a notation ruling out battery as a cause of Sanchez’s injuries. After he declined treatment, Sanchez was returned to the jail. The lockup keeper noted that Sanchez did not appear visibly intoxicated. Sanchez was convicted of aggravated driving under the influence. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed his conviction and denied post-conviction relief. In federal court, Sanchez claimed excessive force and that Garcia lacked probable cause for arrest. The court instructed the jury that it must take it as conclusively proven that Sanchez was driving under the influence and allowed introduction, without objection, of Murphy’s deposition testimony, with Murphy’s accounts of what Garcia said, and of Ragusa’s paramedic’s report. The court excluded the lockup report. The jury ruled in favor of Garcia. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that a new trial was not required. View "Sanchez v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Baer admitted that he murdered a 24-year-old woman and her four‐year‐old daughter in their home. He did not know the victims. Convicted of two murders, robbery, theft, and attempted rape, he was sentenced to death. He filed a direct appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, asserting prosecutorial misconduct. His convictions and death sentence were affirmed. Baer filed unsuccessful state post‐conviction proceedings alleging that his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas corpus relief on his convictions but granted relief with respect to the death penalty. The Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling was unreasonable under “Strickland.” Evidence of Baer’s mental health and drug use were the cornerstone of Baer’s defense, and defense counsel’s sole strategy for avoiding a death sentence was ensuring that the jury considered and gave effect to that evidence. Yet, Baer’s trial counsel failed to object to instructions that effectively blocked consideration of this crucial mitigating evidence. Counsel also deficiently failed to object to a pattern of prosecutorial prejudicial statements. “The record reflects that the trial judge missed numerous opportunities to stop or clarify the prosecutor’s statements and his absence was noticeable throughout trial.” View "Baer v. Neal" on Justia Law

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Easterling, a Wisconsin inmate with convictions for sexually assaulting a minor and armed robbery, sued correctional officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, contending that they violated his constitutional rights to due process and freedom of association by denying him visits with his daughter in 2004 and 2013. Easterling, having inquired about visitation in 2013, was told that he would first have to complete a sex offender program that was not then available. Instead of filing a formal request, Easterling filed suit. The court dismissed the claims based on 2004 as time‐barred. With respect to the claims based on 2013, it entered summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that other defenses blocked that claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The claims arising out of actions taken in 2004 were barred by the six-year statute of limitations. The remaining defendants permissibly denied him visits in 2013 because he did not use the correct procedure to request them. Easterling’s “information requests” in 2013 were not formal “denials” of visitation; the warden Haines and the probation officer were not liable for violating Easterling’s rights. View "Easterling v. Thurmer" on Justia Law

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Williams was charged with two counts of Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a); bank robbery, section 2113(a), (d); and three counts of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of those crimes, section 924(c). On the firearm counts alone, he faced a statutory minimum of 57 years in prison. The government offered a plea deal that would reduce his sentencing exposure by more than 39 years. After sending the terms to Williams’s attorney, the prosecutor emailed the proposal to Judge McCuskey pursuant to the judge’s standard practice. The judge replied by email, stating that the deal was “exceedingly fair” and “[o]nly a fool would refuse.” Williams pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison pursuant to the agreement. A year later Williams moved to set aside his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, claiming that the judge impermissibly participated in plea negotiations in violation of FRCP 11(c)(1) and the Due Process Clause. He alleged ineffective assistance based on his lawyer’s failure to raise that violation and request recusal. A new judge denied the motion without a hearing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Rule 11(c)(1) forbids any judicial participation in plea negotiations, but this violation was harmless. That Williams would not have taken the plea deal but for the judge’s email is “not remotely plausible.” The government’s case was rock solid and the plea deal substantially reduced Williams’s prison exposure. View "Williams v. United States" on Justia Law

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Owens, an Illinois prisoner, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that 43 prison employees and the Illinois Department of Corrections obstructed his access to courts in violation of the First Amendment. Owens alleges that at four different correctional facilities, over the course of seven years, he had insufficient access to the law library and his excess legal storage boxes, was unable to send mail required to prosecute his cases, and was denied supplies. The district judge dismissed several claims and defendants and later entered summary judgment for the remaining defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Owens’s strongest claim for relief, that prison officials declined to advance him funds for legal mail in 2006-2010. was untimely. The court noted that “Owens—no stranger to the courts in this circuit—again filed an omnibus complaint against unrelated defendants and with claims arising from alleged conduct at four different prisons. As we have told him before, this scattershot strategy is unacceptable under Rule 20(a)(2) … and the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. 1915(b), (g).” View "Owens v. Evans" on Justia Law

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Freeman, charged in Illinois state court with kidnapping and murder, moved to proceed pro se although the state had announced its intent to seek the death penalty. The judge denied his request, finding that he did not possess the necessary experience and abilities. Freeman proceeded to trial with the public defender and was convicted. While acknowledging that the right to self-representation cannot be denied based on limited education and legal abilities, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the denial, finding that Freeman's request was not unequivocal. The Seventh Circuit granted Freeman’s habeas petition, 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(1). The state court holdings were contrary to and unreasonable applications of the Supreme Court’s 1975 holding, Faretta v. California. A judge’s inquiries into a defendant’s technical legal knowledge are not relevant to an assessment of his knowing exercise of the Sixth Amendment right to defend himself. Nothing in the record indicates Freeman took vacillating positions on his desire to represent himself. Neither a request to proceed pro se that is accompanied by a request to appoint standby counsel nor dissatisfaction with counsel makes a self-representation request equivocal. It was improper for the court to require Freeman to justify why he wished to proceed pro se beyond what he had explained in his motion. View "Freeman v. Pierce" on Justia Law

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In 2010, before her baby was born, Sebesta had both physical problems and a psychotic break. She had a history of mental illness. A hospital social worker harbored concerns about Sebesta’s ability to care properly for her newborn daughter and contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which conducted an investigation. Although DCFS employees pressured Sebesta to accept certain at-home services, they never removed Sebesta’s daughter from her custody. A year later, Sebesta brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state common law, accusing the medical and DCFS defendants of violating her federal substantive due process right to familial integrity, by their acts of reporting, investigating, and “indicating” her. She also claimed invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Neither the hospital worker nor the DCFS employees stepped over any constitutional line. They reasonably dealt with a sensitive situation in which they had to decide what would serve the child’s best interest. View "Sebesta v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Arun Gopalratnam purchased an HP laptop computer that contained a DynaPack battery pack with Samsung lithium-ion battery cells. Months later, the Menomonee Falls Fire Department responded to a major fire in a basement bedroom of the Gopalratnam’s home. After the fire was extinguished, firefighters discovered Arun deceased on the floor of the room. Am autopsy classified smoke inhalation as the cause of death, with no evidence of pre-fire injury or disease, and no drugs or alcohol in Arun’s system. Special Agent Martinez concluded that the fire originated in the basement bedroom where Arun’s body was located. Martinez excluded multiple potential sources of the blaze (electrical and gas meters, electrical distribution panels, gas-fueled furnaces, electrical plugs, light switch, and ceiling light fixture) but could not ascertain the fire’s ultimate cause. He did not eliminate a possible mattress fire. The remains of Arun’s HP laptop, cell phone, and the laptop battery cells, were in the debris. In the Gopalratnams’ suit, alleging negligence, strict products liability, and breach of warranty, the plaintiffs claimed that a defective battery cell in Arun’s laptop caused the fire. The district court granted motions to exclude plaintiffs’ expert witnesses on causation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court applied the proper legal standard: The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert. The experts failed to account for other possible explanations. View "Gopalratnam v. ABC Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In 2007, Perry pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines, based on his prior convictions for attempted murder and attempted armed robbery. The career offender Guideline, U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a), used a definition of a “crime of violence” that included a “residual clause” that mirrored the “violent felony” definition in the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B). In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the ACCA residual clause as unconstitutionally vague. Perry challenged his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. In 2017, however, the Supreme Court rejected such challenges because the Guidelines are only advisory. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Perry’s argument that the law of the Seventh Circuit did not make the Guidelines sufficiently advisory in 2007. Courts are free to reject the Guidelines based on sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). Once the Supreme Court declared the Guidelines advisory, they remained advisory notwithstanding some erroneous applications in the district and circuit courts. Appellate courts cannot change constitutional law established by the holdings of the Supreme Court. If Perry believed he was sentenced under a mandatory guidelines regime contrary to Supreme Court precedent, he could have appealed. View "Perry v. United States" on Justia Law