U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Recent Criminal Law Decisions

Court to Rehear 'Making a Murderer' Case

Call it 'Making a Murderer -- the Sequel.'

That's because Brendan Dassey, a convicted murderer featured in the Netflix documentary, will get another chance at infamy or redemption. The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to rehear a decision that he involuntarily confessed to raping and killing Teresa Halbach at a salvage yard in 2005.

Dassey told investigators that he and his uncle Stephen Avery committed the crimes. In the documentary, filmmakers told the story about how Avery was wrongfully convicted and spent 18 years in prison.

City Traffic Ordinance Claims Dismissed

When a judge says 'hodge-podge' to describe your complaint, you might have a problem.

But if the writing on the wall was not clear enough for the plaintiffs who sued to dispatch their traffic tickets, then the federal appeals court spelled it out for them in the end. Cases, dismissed.

"Although people raise an astonishing variety of claims in the federal courts of this country, the fact remains that there are limits on the subject-matter jurisdiction of those courts," Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote in Lennon v. City of Carmel, Indiana.

Indiana Burglary Includes Fenced Area, 7th Cir. Rules

Can justice be blind when there is an elephant in the room?

It hardly seems possible in a case from Indiana, where an appeals court affirmed a burglary conviction as a "violent felony." An Indiana burglary includes "outdoor, fenced in areas," the court said in United States of America v. Perry, resulting in a sentence enhancement.

Jason Perry complained because, coupled with firearms violations, he got 360 months for his crimes. The elephant in the room, however, was the man had just murdered his ex-girlfriend.

7th Cir. Overturns Conviction of Brendan Dassey From 'Making a Murderer'

Is it bigger news that another murder conviction was overturned, or that the alleged killer was featured in a television series?

In either case, there will be a second season to "Making a Murderer," the Netflix documentary that told the story of Steven Avery, who spent 18 years in prison for being wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder.

That's because now there is a new story to tell. Brendan Dassey, who was convicted with Avery in a later murder, has been exonerated by a federal appeals court.

A U.S. district court in Chicago recently denied a warrant that would have allowed the government to compel any individual at the searched location to unlock his iPhone, iPad, or other Apple electronic device that was protected Touch ID. The warrant application raises serious Fourth and Fifth Amendment concerns, the court explained, and fails to establish sufficient probable cause for the request that "is neither limited to a particular person nor a particular device."

Last summer, the U.S. government obtained a similar warrant to compel anyone in a building in California to unlock their phones with their fingerprints, but the recent ruling out of Illinois shows how such requests can meet resistance.

No Reduced Sentence for a Snitch Who Ran Too Soon

Tyran ran.

That was the problem for Tyran Patton, a government informant who lost out on a sentence reduction because he took off in the middle of an investigation. A major drug dealer in the Chicago area, he was supposed to testify before a grand jury but disappeared before returning to face his own charges.

Because he had helped authorities bust some street-level offenders, Patton wanted prosecutors to ask the court for a lower sentence. They declined, and the court sentenced him to 224 months in prison.

Brendan Dassey was convicted in 2007, alongside his uncle Steven Avery, of the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. That conviction, however, was based on a confession a federal judge found to be coerced. Halbach's murder, and the investigation that followed, were the subject of Netflix's 2015 hit, "Making a Murderer" and Dassey's manipulation by prosecutors, and by his own attorney, became one of the major stories to emerge from the film.

Now Dassey's case is before the Seventh Circuit, where a three-judge panel recently heard oral arguments over whether or not Dassey's confession was valid.

The Supreme Court has held that the Sixth Amendment's right to a public trial extends to the voir dire process. But that right doesn't require a new trial for two Wisconsinites who were convicted after their judge barred the public from voir dire, the Seventh Circuit ruled last week.

Why? Lack of objection from the defense attorneys. In a brief opinion penned by Judge Richard Posner, the Seventh ruled that those attorneys "forfeited their clients' right to an audience by failing to object to the judge's ruling excluding the audience in whole or part."

$77.8 Million RICO Award Gets Two-Thirds Reduction

The Seventh Circuit has concluded that RICO does not apply to the 2014 conviction of disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich because there was "no specific threat" of a scheme existing at the time.

The result is that the $77.8 million that had been awarded to a casino group would get the haircut of the century: a reduction to $25 million.

Jared Fogle's Pitch for Mercy Fails at the 7th Circuit

Last month Jared Fogle attempted to convince the court that his 188-month sentence had been unjustifiably enhanced and should be reduced. The case made headlines in particular because of the controversial theory his lawyer pushed: fantasizing about having sex with minors is not a crime.

Now, the Seventh Circuit has affirmed the district court's ruling, effectively closing the door to further calls for mercy unless an appeal to SCOTUS is made.