The Seventh Circuit had a busy week, with six new opinions in criminal cases. The government won all six. I’ll provide just a brief description of each. At the outset, though, it is interesting to note that five of the six involved gun charges. Even in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recognition of an individual constitutional right to possess firearms in District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008), it still appears to be business as usual in the world of gun prosecutions.
In United States v. Whitaker (No. 08-1259), the court (per Judge Ripple) affirmed the defendant’s conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm. On appeal, Whitaker argued that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated by the search of his car that turned up the incriminating firearm. The search followed two 911 calls, in which tipsters alerted police to an altercation in a parking lot. One of the tipsters further indicated that a man involved in the altercation was carrying a gun. When police officers arrived on the scene, they found Whitaker and (after a search of Whitaker’s nearby parked car) the gun. In seeking to have the gun suppressed, Whitaker relied on Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000), in which the Supreme Court held that stopping an individual solely on the basis of an anonymous tip usually falls beyond the bounds of reasonableness. However, the Seventh Circuit distinguished J.L. based primarily on the fact that the tipsters in Whitaker alterted police to an ongoing altercation; “when the police respond to an emergency as a result of a 911 call, the exigencies of the situation do not require further pre-response verification of the caller’s identity before action is taken.”