- Case Type:
- Case Status:
- 17-2244 (7th Circuit, Jun 06,2018) Published
- The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision, finding, among other things, that the district court: (i) did not violate the 6th Amendment’s Confrontation Clause when it limited the scope of the debtor’s cross-examination of certain witnesses; and (ii) did not err in its application of certain Guidelines offense-level enhancements.
- Procedural context:
- Beginning in 2003, over a period of six years, the debtor filed a total of five Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions, which were all ultimately dismissed by the bankruptcy court. Thereafter, the debtor was indicted on five counts for bankruptcy fraud. After a week-long jury trial, the jury found the debtor guilty on all five counts, and the district court sentenced the debtor to a below-Guidelines prison term of 46 months. The debtor appealed, and the 7th Circuit affirmed.
- Prior to her first bankruptcy filing in 2003, the debtor-appellant, Charlise Williams (“Williams”), purchased two condominium units and eventually fell behind on her payments to various creditors. Subsequently, over a period of six years, Williams filed a total of five Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions. In each bankruptcy case, Williams failed to make all of her required payments under her Chapter 13 plan; the bankruptcy court consequently dismissed her case; and Williams, in turn, filed a new Chapter 13 petition. Eventually, in 2014, Williams and another defendant, Ekkehard Wilke, were charged in a five-count indictment for bankruptcy fraud under 18 U.S.C. §§ 157(1) and (2). During the jury trial, Williams’ counsel sought to cross-examine two witnesses about a class action lawsuit she had filed against their organization to show bias. The district court permitted Williams’ counsel to question the witnesses to establish bias but restricted her inquiry into the substance of her allegations. The jury found Williams guilty on all five counts charged in the indictment. At the sentencing hearing, the plaintiff argued for certain offense-level enhancements, calculating the total loss at $193,291. Williams contested the victim enhancement, asserting that the loss totaled $45,694. Ultimately, the district court imposed a below-Guidelines prison term of 46 months, and Williams appealed. On appeal, Williams argued that the district court erred when it: (1) limited the scope of her cross-examination of certain witnesses in violation of the 6th Amendment’s Confrontation Clause; and (2) imposed a two-level sentencing enhancement – the calculation of the total loss amount and determination of the number of total victims – in determining Williams’ offense level. Ultimately, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, finding, among other things, that: (1) the district court did not violate the Confrontation Clause because the court permitted Williams to establish bias on cross-examination; and (2) creditors can be considered victims in bankruptcy fraud cases in order to determine a Guidelines offense-level increase.
- Flaum, Sykes, and Hamilton
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