August 31, 2014 CJS: Around the Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

A quarterly case summary digest of recent federal circuit court opinions

by Lindsey Lachanski

United States v. Harris, No. 13-1741 (7th Cir. August 18, 2014).

Defendant and a former co-worker, Ashley Drummond, applied for credit cards using personal information stolen from patients’ files. Drummond would access the information through her employment at a hospital and then Drummond and defendant would fill out applications with the stolen information. Defendant and Drummond were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and identity theft. At trial, and after voir dire, the judge explained juror anonymity to the jurors. On appeal, defendant argues the court wrongly empaneled an anonymous jury.

Held: Anonymous juries should only be used in extreme cases. In evaluating this claim, the court concluded that the jury was not anonymous - - at sidebar, the judge explicitly named a juror on the record; the judge did not make a statement that demonstrated the jury was anonymous; and, during voir dire, jury members disclosed specific personal information about themselves. These factors show that, under a plain error doctrine analysis, defendant was unable to meet her burden of demonstrating the trial court’s clear error.

United States v. Maranda, No. 13-3917 (7th Cir. July 31, 2014).

Defendant was convicted of sexual offenses towards a child. Part of his sentence included two years of supervised release. Defendant completed his prison sentence but remained in federal custody, awaiting a decision on whether he would be civilly committed under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Defendant argues that his term of supervised release began when his criminal sentence to prison expired, despite that he remained in prison. However, the federal government argues that supervised release did not begin until defendant was released from prison custody.

Held: The court found that the term of supervised release did not begin until he was released from custody. The court looked at Congressional intent when interpreting statutory provisions, finding that it would make little sense to allow a defendant convicted of sexual offenses to serve his supervised release inside a prison, when the supervised release is, in part, to rehabilitate defendant.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court already adopted the "ordinary, commonsense meaning" of the word "release" as "freed from confinement" United States v. Johnson. 529 U.S. 53, 57 (2000).

United States v. Harden, No. 13-1323 (7th Cir. July 14, 2014).

Defendant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. With defendant’s consent, the district court allowed a magistrate judge to conduct a plea colloquy. The decision was justified by a local rule that allows magistrate judges to accept felony guilty pleas. The magistrate judge accepted defendant’s guilty plea and defendant was sentenced by the district court. Defendant now appeals, arguing that the magistrate judge’s acceptance of the guilty plea was a violation of the Federal Magistrates Act; 28 U.S.C. 636; and the U.S. Constitution.

Held: The court found that the Federal Magistrates Act does not authorize a magistrate judge to accept a guilty plea to a felony charge, even with a defendant’s consent. The court first identified a guilty plea as a waiver to a defendant’s core constitutional right to a fair trial. Defendant was denied a plea colloquy, required by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which notifies the defendant of his core constitutional rights. The court found that, without an explicit authorization from Congress, a district court may not delegate an important task of authority to a magistrate judge.  The Government argued that Defendant waived any objection by affirmatively consenting to the magistrate's acceptance of the plea and was not harmed by the error.  However, the Court notes that if it invariably dismissed all claims on the ground of forfeiture, the issue would never be resolved, as magistrates can only hear cases with the consent of both parties.  The Court declined to consider the Defendant's constitutional claim that the magistrate's actions violated the structural guarantees of Article III, as the statutory violation is clear.

The brief indicates that the court found the magistrate's acceptance of a guilty plea to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution.  This is inaccurate. While the court notes that the plea colloquy is a core constitutional right, it resolved the case by deciding that the magistrate clearly acted without statutory authority.  In fact, the Court expressly declines to address the constitutional question (p. 10). 

United States v. Timmsen, No. 3-12-0481 (7th Cir. July 25, 2014).

Defendant was stopped by police after he made a U-turn before a safety check. Defendant was convicted of driving with a suspended license. He made a motion to suppress any evidence obtained as a result of the safety check. The court denied the motion to suppress, stating that police had a reasonable articulable suspicion for stopping the car.

Held: The court found that while an officer can briefly stop a person if there are articulable facts to warrant suspicion, officers could not stop a defendant who did not subject himself to a roadblock and committed no traffic violations.  The mere act of avoiding a roadblock is generally not sufficient to constitute reasonable suspicion and must be coupled with other articulable facts.  As the defendant engaged in a legal U-turn, did so at a railroad crossing which was the only legal place to make a U-turn, and properly signaled, his avoidance of the roadblock did not provide articulable suspicion for a traffic stop.   The Court also notes that the U-turn did not occur in a high-crime area, there was no indication of flight such as speeding or screeching tires, nor suspicious behavior such as a driver and passenger switching places. 

The brief needs further clarification as the Court notes that there are situations in which a failure to stop at a safety check would constitute articulable suspicion. It engages in a highly fact-specific analysis to determine that no such factors are applicable in the instant case.  The brief, as originally drafted, suggests that avoiding a roadblock is categorically not suspicious so long as no traffic laws are violated.  That is an overly broad reading of the decision.

United States v. Davis, No. 13-1978(7th Cir. August 1, 2014).

Defendant pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine in a written agreement with the State. The government agreed to provide sentencing recommendations to the court. However, defendant appeals, arguing that his guilty plea should be withdrawn because the state offered facts different than in the guilty plea.

Held: The court found that the government’s change in sentencing recommendation did not warrant a defendant to revoke his guilty plea because he received every benefit that the government promised him when he pled guilty. When evaluating defendant’s claim, the court looked at whether the government had made a substantial breach to defendant’s reasonable expectations when he entered the plea agreement. The court ultimately found that the difference between the government’s statement and the details in the plea agreement was not a substantial breach because the plea agreement was simply a negotiated figure. Although the Government made statements counter to that in the plea agreement regarding drug quantity, it did so in response to Defendant's insistence that the drug quantity the parties negotiated was unsupported.  Nonetheless, throughout the hearing the Government honored its commitment to recommend  that the Defendant be sentenced according to the plea agreement despite evidence that he in fact distributed a larger quantity of drugs. 

Lindsey Lachanski is a 3L at The Northern Illinois University College of Law. She currently interns at the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office and hopes to work in criminal law after graduation.


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This case summary digest was promulgated by the Criminal Justice Section’s Young Lawyers Committee.  Any interpretations of the statutes, regulations, or other law cited; or regarding the courts’ opinions as to the legal issues addressed, are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the American Bar Association.

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