Seventh Circuit Rejects Retroactivity for Padilla

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In Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010), the Supreme Court held that a lawyer provides ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to inform a client of the deportation risks that result from a guilty plea.  However, the Court did not clearly indicate whether its holding must be applied retroactively to cases on collateral review, leaving the lower courts to sort out the mess.  A handful of district courts have already split on this issue.  Now, with the Seventh Circuit’s ruling last week in Chaidez v. United States (No. 10-3623), the circuits are also split.  A divided panel in Chaidez rejected both retroactivity and the Third Circuit’s reasoning to the contrary in United States v. Orocio, 645 F.3d 630 (3d Cir. 2011).

As the Chaidez majority observed, the key legal issue is whether Padilla announced a new rule, or merely provided an application of the established principles of ineffective assistance from Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).  Under Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), a new rule may not be applied retroactively unless it falls into one of two exceptions that plainly do not encompass the Padilla holding.

Teague and least some of its progeny suggest what seems effectively a strong presumption in favor of a “new rule” finding (and hence against retroactivity).  Here is how the Chaidez majority characterized the law:

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Two Circuits Approve Use of Uncounseled Convictions Against Native Americans

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In Burgett v. Texas, 389 U.S. 109 (1967), the Supreme Court held that a prior conviction cannot be used to enhance a defendant’s sentence under a recidivism statute if the prior conviction was obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional right to counsel. Native Americans, however, must deal with an apparent loophole in the Burgett rule: the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies to proceedings in federal and state courts, but not tribal courts. If an uncounseled prior conviction in tribal court does not violate the Constitution, it may arguably fall outside the Burgett prohibition and be used against the defendant in a later case.

By some apparent coincidence, the Eighth and Tenth Circuits last month both addressed the use of uncounseled tribal-court convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 117(a), which makes domestic assault by a habitual offender a federal crime. Both courts approved use of such convictions to satisfy the criminal-history element of the offense.

The Eighth Circuit decision, which actually drew a dissent, seems the more carefully reasoned.

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Seventh Circuit Decides That Reckless Injury and Statutory Rape Are Not “Crimes of Violence”

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Category: Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Seventh Circuit
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seventh-circuit51In a series of posts (e.g., here and here), I have been tracking the fallout in the Seventh Circuit of the Supreme Court’s decision in Begay v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 1581 (2008).  Begay adopted a new approach for deciding when former convictions count as “crimes of violence” that trigger the fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

Earlier this week, the Seventh Circuit had another in its increasingly long line of post-Begay decisions holding that this or that specific offense does not fit the new definition of “crime of violence.”  More specifically, in United States v. McDonald (No. 08-2703) (Sykes, J.), the court held that first-degree reckless injury (in violation of Wis. Stat. § 940.23) and second-degree sexual assault of a child (what would be colloquially called “statutory rape,” in violation of Wis. Stat. § 948.02(2)) do not count as crimes of violence.  Read more »

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Seventh Circuit Clarifies Application of Fourth Amendment to Searches of Computer Hard Drives

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Category: Circuit Splits, Computer Law, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Seventh Circuit
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seventh-circuit51While working as a life guard instructor, Matthew Mann covertly installed a video camera in a locker room in order to take footage of women changing their clothes.  After the camera was discovered and turned over to the authorities, police executed a search warrant at Mann’s home for “video tapes, CD’s or other digital media, computers, and the contents of said computers, tapes, or other electronic media, to search for images of women in locker rooms or other private areas.”  In connection with the search, police seized computers and an external hard drive from Mann.  Police later ran forensic software on this equipment that revealed the presence of child pornography, which formed the basis of a federal prosecution.

The district court denied Mann’s motion to suppress the images found on his hard drives.  Mann then pled guilty, but preserved the right to litigate his Fourth Amendment claim on appeal.  In United States v. Mann (No. 08-3041) (Rovner, J.), the Seventh Circuit affirmed.  Although the scope of the warrant was limited by its terms to a search for “images of women in locker rooms or other private areas,” the court held that police did not exceed the scope of the warrant when they collected and viewed Mann’s collection of child pornography.  Read more »

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Seventh Circuit: Earlier Sentence Served in Juvenile Detention Facility Can Make Defendant a Career Offender

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seventh circuitAfter pleading guilty in federal court to various drug-trafficking offenses, Isaiah Gregory received an eye-popping sentence of 327 months in prison — more than 27 years behind bars.  Driving this extraordinary sentence was the district court’s finding that Gregory was a “career offender” under the federal sentencing guidelines.  It was the career offender guideline that raised Gregory’s guidelines range from either 120-135 months (as he calculated it) or 121-151 months (as the government calculated it) to 262-327 months.   Thus, the career-offender finding likely added more than fourteen years to Gregory’s sentence.

Although the term “career offender” may conjure up images of a hardened criminal with a rap sheet down to your knees, the guidelines require only two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense in order to trigger the career-offender sentence enhancement. 

Even at that, Gregory hardly seems the sort of defendant that the Sentencing Commission must have had in mind when it drafted the career-offender guideline.  In particular, one of his two qualifying convictions was a $30 robbery he committed when he was only fifteen (he is now in his mid-20’s) — a robbery for which he was sent, not to prison, but to a juvenile detention facility.  Although it is not clear that the conviction should have counted under the plain terms of the career-offender guideline, the Seventh Circuit nonetheless affirmed his sentence last week in United States v. Gregory (No. 09-2735).  Read more »

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Punishment Permitted for Both Attempt and Conspiracy in Seventh Circuit

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seventh circuitPolice found marijuana hidden in a car that Maurice Crowder and a colleague tried to ship from Arizona to Illinois.  Crowder was then charged with, convicted of, and sentenced for two crimes: attempted possession with intent to distribute and conspiracy, both in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.  Sounds like double-dipping, right?  After all, both crimes of conviction arose from the same underlying criminal plot.  Crowder appealed to the Seventh Circuit on this basis, arguing that he could not be punished for both crimes.

Crowder’s appeal raised an issue that has divided other circuits.  The Ninth Circuit prohibits double punishment for attempt and conspiracy under § 846 if both convictions arise from a “single course of action.”  By contrast, the Sixth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits permit double punishment in these circumstances.

In United States v. Crowder (No. 08-3320) (Kanne, J.), the Seventh Circuit sided with the Sixth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits, and affirmed Crowder’s conviction and sentence.  Read more »

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Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Good Enough for Government Work

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seventh-circuit51Under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), certain drug offenders face a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment if they have two prior drug felony convictions.  As befits such a draconian statute, special procedural protections have been adopted to ensure that the mandatory minimum does not take defendants by suprise at sentencing.  Thus, 21 U.S.C. § 851(a)(1) requires that “before trial . . . the United States attorney [must] . . . serve[] a copy of [an] information on the [defendant] . . . stating in writing the previous convictions to be relied upon.”  But the statute does not specify under what circumstances, if any, a failure to comply with the rule precludes imposition of the mandatory minimum.

By the statute’s literal terms, there can be no doubt that the prosecutor in United States v. Williams (No. 09-1924) failed to comply.  In the § 851 notice he served on Williams, the prosecutor identified only one prior conviction (not the requisite two) and then merely stated, “Further information concerning the defendant’s criminal history can be obtained from the United States Probation Office and specifically the Pretrial Services Report in this matter . . . .”  The Pretrial Services Report, which listed a second drug conviction, was not actually served on the defendant until after trial.  Indeed, it appears that the prosecutor himself had not even received and read the Report before his attempt to incorporate it by reference into the § 851 notice.  This was very sloppy work, and the Seventh Circuit righly chastised both the individual prosecutor and his office (the Northern District of Indiana), which lacked any protocol on how to make § 851 notices.  But sloppiness, even inexcusable sloppiness, is not the same thing as reversible error, and the court (per Judge Posner) affirmed Williams’ life sentence.  Read more »

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Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Halfway Houses Back on the Menu

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seventh circuitIf Congress makes an obvious error in drafting a statute, can a court correct that error by effectively adding something to the statute that is not there?  Such was the interesting jurisprudential question the Seventh Circuit confronted last January in United States v. Head, 552 F.3d 640 (2009).  Because of a mix-up with statutory cross-references, the statute that lists permissible conditions of supervised release in the federal system does not include assignment to a halfway house.  However, the first seven circuits to consider the question held that sentencing judges could indeed order placement in a halfway house, reasoning that a literal interpretation of the statute would produce an absurdity.  In Head, the Seventh Circuit bucked the trend and rejected the government’s absurdity argument.  (My post on Head is here.)  Although Congress corrected its drafting error with a 2008 amendment, Head held that the amendment could not be applied retroactively, meaning that assignment to a halfway house seemed to be off the table as a sentencing option for a large group of defendants still moving through the court system in this region.

But now the court has significantly limited the significance of Head in United States v. Anderson (No. 09-1958).  Read more »

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Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Reversing a Liddell Progress on Crack Sentencing

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seventh circuitThe Seventh Circuit continues to struggle with the question of what it means for the federal sentencing guidelines to be “advisory.”  In United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), the Supreme Court held that the then-mandatory guidelines system violated the Sixth Amendment.  The Court corrected the constitutional problem by converting the guidelines from mandatory to advisory.  Then, in Kimbrough v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 558 (2007), the Court confirmed what even the government had recognized and conceded: “advisory” means that a district court judge may impose a sentence outside the recommended guidelines range on the basis of a policy disagreement with the guidelines.

But the intermediate federal appellate courts have been slow to follow Booker to its logical conclusion — which is why Kimbrough was necessary in the first place.  Even after Kimbrough, several circuits, including the Seventh, have maintained that policy choices contained in § 4B1.1, the career offender guideline, remain binding on district court judges.  This is particularly important, and unfortunate, to the extent that § 4B1.1 contains the infamous 100:1 disparity in the treatment of crack and powder forms of cocaine.  That is a policy choice that district court judges ought to reject, and many doubtlessly would reject, if they were free to do so.

Last year, in United States v. Liddell, 543 F.3d 877 (7th Cir. 2008), a panel of the Seventh Circuit suggested that the court might be willing to reconsider its precedent on § 4B1.1.  But then Friday’s decision in United States v. Welton (No. 08-3799) slammed the door shut.  Read more »

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Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: What Can Be Inferred From a Lie?

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seventh-circuit51

When a person is caught in a lie, we normally assume that he is covering something up.  But, if a defendant in a criminal case lies on the witness stand, is it fair to assume that he actually did what he was accused of doing?  Such was the question in United States v. Edwards (No. 08-1124).

Edwards was arrested after making arrangments to sell crack to a government informant.  The intended sale did not actually take place, but that is no barrier to conviction for drug trafficking.  And, once convicted, a drug dealer becomes responsible under the federal sentencing guidelines for the entire quantity of drugs he has ever sold that counts as “relevant conduct.”  (For an earlier post on the pitfalls of relevant conduct, see here.)  In order to establish the amount that Edwards sold, the sentencing judge relied on, among other things, $765 in cash that Edwards was carrying at the time of his arrest.  Edwards tried to explain away the cash with an unsubstantiated and seemingly implausible story about selling his minivan, but the judge was not convinced.  If the minivan story was fabricated, then Edwards must have earned the money from selling crack, right?  The sentencing judge concluded as much, and increased Edwards’ drug quantity accordingly.

On appeal, however, the Seventh Circuit held that the judge moved to this conclusion too quickly.  Read more »

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Seventh Circuit Week in Review: Corporate Criminal Liability, Reconsideration of Suppression Rulings, and More

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The Seventh Circuit had four new opinions in criminal cases this week.  The cases addressed the mens rea requirements for corporate criminal liability, procedural aspects of suppression hearings, child pornography sentencing, and conditional guilty pleas.  Taking the cases in that order:

In United States v. L.E. Myers Co. (No. 07-2464), the defendant corporation was convicted of criminal OSHA violations in connection with the electrocution death of one its employees.  The Seventh Circuit (per Judge Sykes) reversed and remanded for a new trial in light of erroneous jury instructions.  The errors related to mens rea issues.  Myers was convicted under a statute that bases liability on the knowing creation of a hazardous condition in knowing violation of an OSHA requirement. 

The problem is that a corporation, as a legal construct, cannot really know anything; the only way a corporation knows something is to the extent the law is willing to impute the knowledge of particular employees to the corporation.  Seventh Circuit precedent indicated that “corporations ‘know’ what their employees who are responsible for an aspect of the business know.”  More specifically, the corporation was said to know what an employee knows if the employee has a duty to report that knowledge to someone higher up in the corporation. Read more »

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