Seventh Circuit Week in Review, Part II: Attempted Enticement of a Minor

As I mentioned in the first installment of “Week in Review,” the Seventh Circuit decided two cases this past week arising from convictions for attempted enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity.  As a general matter, one is not guilty of a criminal attempt unless one takes a “substantial step” towards the completion of the intended crime.  This is a rather vague standard, and courts have struggled to delineate exactly how far a person must travel down the criminal path in order to become liable for an attempt. 

Earlier this year, the Seventh Circuit addressed the question in another enticement case, United States v. Gladish, 536 F.3d 646 (7th Cir. 2008).  Gladish was caught in an Internet sting.  A government agent posing as a fourteen-year-old girl encountered Gladish in an Internet chat room.  After engaging in sexually graphic communications, the two “agreed” to have sex, resulting in Gladish’s arrest.  However, the Seventh Circuit determined that Gladish’s plan did not proceed far enough to support an attempt conviction: despite the agreement to have sex, there was never any specific time or place determined for the tryst.  Without something more than graphic Internet communications and a vague agreement, there was no “substantial step” and, hence, no attempt liability.

The two new opinions, both authored by Judge Wood, elaborate on the meaning of Gladish, but still leave the “substantial step” line more gray than black and white.

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Seventh Circuit Week in Review, Part I: Search & Seizure, Interrogation, and Sentencing

The Seventh Circuit had a busy week, with seven new opinions in criminal cases.  Two dealt with the same question of what constitutes a criminal attempt to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity.  I’ll discuss those two opinions in a separate post.  The remaining five, considered below, addressed a diverse range of issues relating to Fourth Amendment rights, police interrogation, and the application of the federal sentencing guidelines.

In United States v. Budd (No. 08-1319), the defendant was convicted of possessing child pornography on his home computers.  After Budd left one of his computers at a shop for repairs, a shop employee found a file titled, “A Three Year Old Being Raped,” and reported the matter to police.  An officer took custody of the computer, but police otherwise did almost nothing on the case for the next month.  Eventually, Budd contacted the police department himself to report what he believed to be the theft of his computer by the repair shop.  Budd’s phone call led to his interrogation at the police station, a search of his apartment (where another computer was found), and (finally) a search warrant for the computers.  After he was charged, Budd moved to suppress incriminating statements he made to police, as well as images found on the computers, contending that these were all “fruits of the poisonous tree” of the illegal seizure of the first computer.  The district court denied the motion. 

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Seventh Circuit Week in Review: A Good Week for Defendants

The Seventh Circuit had two new opinions in criminal cases last week, both of which delivered partial wins to the defendant.  In United States v. Colon (No. 07-3929), the defendant was arrested after purchasing cocaine from two sellers, Saucedo and Rodriguez, who happened to be under police surveillance at the time.  Colon was then charged and ultimately convicted of (1) possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, (2) conspiring with Saucedo and Rodriguez to distribute cocaine, and (3) aiding and abetting the conspiracy.  However, the Seventh Circuit (per Judge Posner) ultimately found that the evidence did not support convictions on the latter two charges. 

Criminal law students (at least my criminal law students) will immediately recognize the basic legal issue: when does a buyer-seller relationship give rise to conspiracy and complicity liability? 

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