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

Recent Criminal Law Decisions

Judge Denies New Evidence Motion for 'Making a Murderer' Defendant

Convicted murderer Steven Avery became famous after the Netflix documentary about his case, "Making a Murderer."

The publicity gained some sympathy for his nephew and co-defendant Brendan Dassey, who confessed to participating in the murder of Teresa Halbach. Avery, however, is a different story.

He raped and killed the woman, then burned her body in a fire pit. Denying a motion that could have set up another appeal, a judge cut him off.

No Problemo With Ex Post Facto

Joshua Vasquez and Miguel Cardona were upset when a new law required them to move.

They sued because they had no other suitable housing, but a trial judge threw out their case. And in Vasquez v. Foxx, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge.

It may have been a hardship for the plaintiffs, but it wasn't a hard case for the appeals court. Vasquez and Cardona are sex offenders, and the law said they can't live within 500 feet of child-care homes.

In what is sure to disappoint fans of the 'Making a Murderer' series, the United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari in the Brandan Dassey petition. The rejection effectively ends the story of Brandan Dassey, at least as far as the crime drama docu-series story.

Dassey's time on screen now may be more appropriate for a prison life series, maybe one about inmates who became famous thanks to Netflix.

Court: Lawyer's Strategy Didn't Matter in Murderer's Sentence

Fighting a life sentence for murder, Frederick Laux wanted his lawyer to throw in everything for his defense.

He claims that his broken marriage, his post-divorce depression, and his childhood problems all contributed to his crime. His father was an alcoholic and his mother a paranoid schizophrenic, he said.

His lawyer chose not to talk about his childhood, but that didn't matter to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Laux v. Zatecky. The appellate court affirmed that the defendant's trial counsel did not act unreasonably, and that the sentence was proper given that the defendant broke into his ex-wife's home, and beat her with a crowbar, killing her.

Justice is often less than precise. Some cases are easily tied in a neat little bow. Then there are cases involving 26 indictments and 40 defendants, and sentencing enhancements that get misapplied due to a deficient defense counsel filing frivolous motions.

Recently, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had the pleasure of handling one such, let's just say, rare appeal. The defendant, LeeAnn Brock-Miller, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin charge, and received a 10 year sentence. On appeal, the court seemed to agree with Brock-Miller that her attorney failed her, and the system messed up badly.

The former Subway pitchman turned social pariah, Jared Fogle, has filed a motion requesting Judge Tanya Pratt recuse herself from his case. The longshot motion is not only not likely to go anywhere, it has no bearing on his conviction or length of his sentence, as those appeals have already been taken and squashed.

In short, Fogle incredulously claims that Judge Pratt is biased against him because she has teenage daughters and Fogle's case involves convictions for child pornography with teen girls and for sex with teens as well. But at this point, Judge Pratt likely has little jurisdiction over Fogle's case and incarceration.

Teens Win Coerced Confession Case

Judge Diane Wood must be over it with coercive police interrogations.

Writing for the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, she reviewed a complaint by teenagers who allegedly confessed to murdering their uncle. Calling out the cops facing civil liability in the case, Wood sets off every so-called "confession" in parentheses.

"Even though William and Deadra 'confessed,' if a trier of fact could conclude that the officers knew that the confessions were false, then the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity for their actions," the court said in Hurt v. Wise.

Court: Brendan Dassey's 'Making a Murderer' Confession Was Voluntary

If the U.S.Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals were a trial court, Brendan Dassey would be a free man now.

The appeals court split over the case, voting 4-3 that Dassey's murder confession was voluntary. The dissent said the 16-year-old's confession came through a "perfect storm" of interrogations.

"No reasonable state court, knowing what we now know about coercive interrogation techniques and viewing Dassey's interrogation in light of his age, intellectual deficits, and manipulability, could possibly have concluded that Dassey's confession was voluntarily given," Judge Illena Rovner wrote in Dassey v. Dittmann.

Remember Jared? He was just that everyday overweight American who lost more than half his body weight by eating a submarine sandwich every day. How could you forget someone that epitomized the American dream so well?

He was one of the spokesmen that people were actually inspired by. Which was what made his recent conviction for child pornography all the more shocking. Many people pictured him as a wholesome individual, who, with hard work and eating a submarine sandwich a day, got skinny, then became famous.

Unfortunately for some people that bought into the shtick, they got neither. And the Seventh Circuit, having already rejected Fogle, was likely not pleased when another motion landed on their bench, and were probably saddened that Judge Posner was no longer on the bench as a benchslapping may have been in order for the sandwich king of cellblock 2, now a pro se litigant presenting a sovereign citizen defense.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the appeals of two animal rights activists charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act (AETA). The appeal challenged the act itself as unconstitutional, and also charged that the use of word terrorist denied the activists substantive due process rights.

After losing their motion to dismiss based on those issues, the appellants pleaded guilty to the charges on the condition that they be allowed to appeal the motion ruling. Unfortunately for them, their appeal was denied, leaving them unable to escape their sentencing, unlike the furry friends they helped.