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Renken v. United States

April 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar


Before this Court is a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence filed by Henry Renken ("Renken") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons set forth below, this motion is DENIED.


On November 13, 2002, a tall masked man wearing green, hooded, and fur-trimmed parka drew a gun and robbed the Gurnee branch of NorthSide Community Bank. A teller observed the man making his getaway on a bicycle. After an arriving police officer realized that he had just passed a cyclist in a green parka headed toward a bike path, he backtracked and found the bicycle. It lay abandoned 20 yards away from a green Chevy Blazer registered to Renken's wife.

About three hours later, Chief Kevin Tracz, handler of a trained bloodhound, arrived at the scene. Tracz offered the bloodhound the bicycle seat for a scent. After being issued the "find" command, the dog immediately led Tracz to the Blazer. Before the bloodhound had begun its work, a police officer, wearing gloves and taking to care to avoid touching the bike seat, had moved the bicycle from its original location to a spot nearer to the Chevy Blazer, then back again.

After determining that Renken's wife owned the Chevy Blazer, a team of federal and local law enforcement officers converged on Renken's home in Lake Bluff. Three officers approached the front door, entering after Renken's wife answered. It is disputed whether she expressly gave them permission to do so.

Renken was showering upstairs at the time. After he finished, FBI agents escorted Renken downstairs to the kitchen, where they found a green parka matching the description of the jacket worn by the bank robber. Before heading downstairs, a detective observed socks and shoes sullied with bits of dried leaves and branches in the bathroom.

Without issuing Miranda warnings, the agents questioned Renken about the robbery. He initially denied involvement. After the police confronted him with several pieces of evidence linking him to the crime, Renken confessed and revealed the location of the gun and money. He was then advised of his Miranda rights, after which Renken gave a detailed oral confession and signed a written statement. He also signed a consent form authorizing the search his house and the Chevy Blazer. The police found the gun and money in the woods, where Renken had indicated they would. Renken had consumed a single beer that day.

Renken was charged with bank robbery and using a firearm during a crime of violence. Before the trial, Renken moved for the suppression of his confessions, the evidence seized as a result of those confessions, and the signed consent to search, arguing that his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were violated. After a January 30, 2004 hearing, this Court suppressed the incriminating statements petitioner had made when confronted at his home on November 13, 2002. On September 2, 2004, petitioner filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence that had been seized on the date of his arrest. This Court denied the motion on October 27, 2004. On the same day, the Court granted the government's motion seeking the admission into evidence of certain physical and testimonial evidence deriving from petitioner's second confession.

A jury trial commenced on February 7, 2005. On February 9, this Court held a hearing outside the presence of the jury and denied petitioner's motion to exclude testimony offered by Tracz, the bloodhound handler.

On February 15, 2005, the jury convicted petitioner on both counts. On June 8, 2005, this Court sentenced petitioner to consecutive terms of imprisonment of fifty months on the bank robbery count and eighty-four months on the firearm count. Petitioner was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $25,000, as well as restitution to the bank and bank employee he robbed.

Petitioner appealed his conviction. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, holding that (1) this Court did not clearly err when finding that Renken's wife voluntarily consented to the officers entering petitioner's residence; (2) this Court did not clearly err when finding that, under the totality of circumstances, petitioner voluntarily provided written consent for the police to search both his residence and the Chevy Blazer; and (3) this Court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the testimony of Tracz, a decision that, at most, amounted to harmless error because the evidence against petitioner was overwhelming. United States v. Renken, 474 F.3d 984, 984-89 (7th Cir. 2007). Petitioner's petition for writ of certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court on October 1, 2007. Renken v. United States, 128 S.Ct. 135 (2007). Petitioner's § 2255 motion is timely. Horton v. United States, 244 F3d 546,551 (7th Cir. 2001).


Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, federal prisoners can challenge the imposition or length of their detention if their conviction or their sentence is based on an error that is "jurisdictional, constitutional, or is a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice." Oliver v. United States, 961 F.2d 1339, 1341 (7th Cir. 1995) (internal quotations and citations omitted). If the reviewing court determines that any such defect exists in the judgment or sentence, it "shall vacate and set the judgment aside and ...

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