Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, December 04, 2020

Graham: Upholding Conviction Under Marinello for Obstructing IRS Collection Action

 In United States v. Graham, No. 18-15299 (Dec. 4, 2020) (Grant, Marcus, Julie Carnes), the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for obstructing the IRS.

In addition to proving that the defendant knowingly and corruptly tried to obstruct or impede the administration of the tax laws, the Supreme Court’s decision in Marinello also required it to prove a nexus between the defendant’s conduct and a particular administrative proceeding.  The Court held that the IRS’s extensive collection activities qualified as such a proceeding, and there was otherwise sufficient evidence to support the conviction based on the defendant falsifying a bill of exchange to the IRS.

The Court also rejected the defendant’s evidentiary challenges.  It reviewed the exclusion of evidence for plain error because he failed to make a proffer about what the evidence would show.  First, the Court found no plain error in limiting a defense witness’ testimony because  the defendant was permitted to present his defense, and he failed to draw a connection between that defense and the limits placed on the witness.  Second,  there was no error under Rule 404(b) in admitting the defendant’s prior misdemeanor conviction for failing to file a tax return.  Third, there was no plain error in striking an answer the government’s expert gave on cross-examination because it did not affect his substantial rights.  And, finally, there was no error in excluding evidence of the defendant’s other efforts to comply with the IRS because good character evidence is inadmissible.


Thursday, December 03, 2020

Watkins: Reversing Order Granting Suppression Based on the Inevitable Discovery Exception

In United States v. Watkins, No. 18-14336 (Dec. 3, 2020) (Ed Carnes, Luck, Marcus), the Court reversed an order granting the defendant’s motion to suppress on the government’s appeal.

The government conceded that it violated the Fourth Amendment when a GPS tracking device placed inside an intercepted package re-activated inside the defendant’s home.  However, the Court concluded that the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule applied.  The Court reasoned that, based on leads and evidence already in the agents’ possession, there was a reasonable probability that the evidence would have inevitably been discovered because the agents would have conducted the same knock and talk with the same result.  The district court erroneously disregarded the magistrate judge’s credibility findings without holding a new hearing.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Johnson: Upholding 922(g)(9) Conviction Against Rehaif Challenge

In United States v. Johnson, No. 19-10915 (Rosenbaum, Martin, Tallman (CA9)), the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9) for being a domestic-violence misdemeanant in possession of a firearm.

In a lengthy opinion, the Court held that, after Rehaif, the defendant must know three things to violate 922(g)(9): 1) he was convicted of a misdemeanor; 2) to be convicted of that crime, he had to knowingly or recklessly use at least the “slightest offensive touching”; and 3) he knew that the victim was his spouse.  Those are the facts that render his offense a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  And because the record—namely, a bench trial stipulation and undisputed PSI facts about a prior Florida battery conviction—established the defendant’s knowledge of all three points, he could not show that his substantial rights were affected under the third prong of plain-error review.   Because he knew the facts that established his unlawful status, it was no defense that he did know that status prohibited his firearm possession.  Nor was it a defense that his civil rights were never abrogated.  The Court also found no plain error with respect to the defendant’s equal protection and commerce clause claims.

Judge Martin dissented.  She believed that Rehaif requires the government to prove that the defendant knew his conviction qualified as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under federal law.  She also believed that the government must prove knowledge of that status as the time of the firearm possession; by referring only to the stipulation and PSI facts, the majority instead looked to the defendant’s knowledge of that status at the time of the federal trial.  Finally, she believed that, given the absence of such knowledge and the complexity of the “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” analysis, plain error was satisfied, and the majority created a split with a Seventh Circuit decision.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Bobal: Supervised Release Condition Banning Computer Use for Life Not Plainly Unconstitutional After Packingham

In United States v. Bobal, 19-10678 (Nov. 30, 2020) (William Pryor, Hull, Marcus), the Court affirmed the defendant’s enticement conviction and lifetime supervised release condition prohibiting him from using a computer.

As for the conviction, the Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a motion for a mistrial based on the prosecutor’s comments at closing.  The comments were not improper and did not substantially affect the verdict.

As for the supervised release condition, and applying plain error, the Court found that the lifetime computer restriction was not plainly unconstitutional in light of Packingham.  The Court found that Packingham was distinguishable because it applied to those who completed their sentences, it applied even to sex offenders who did not use a computer to commit the offense, and the restriction here contained an exception for work.  The Court joined three other circuits who have found no plain error in a similar restriction, and it rejected a Third Circuit opinion that ruled that blanket computer restrictions would rarely be permissible after Packingham.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Trader: No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Email/IP Addresses Post-Carpenter

In United States v. Trader, No. 17-15611 (Nov. 25, 2020) (William Pryor, Hull, Marcus), the Court affirmed the defendant’s enticement conviction and life sentence.

First, the Court held that the Supreme Court’s decision in Carpenter did not establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in email addresses or IP addresses.  The Court held that the third-party doctrine applied because the defendant affirmatively and voluntarily conveyed that information when he downloaded and used an app.  The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that email and IP addresses are akin to cell phone or location records, as neither directly records an individual’s location and is only incidentally associated with cell phones.

Second, the Court held that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the warrant application established probable cause to believe that the defendant’s home contained evidence of a crime.

Third, the Court held that the life sentence was not substantively unreasonable.  The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the district court gave too much weight to the guidelines and too little weight to his redeeming qualities.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Shah: No Proof of Motive Required for Conviction to Accept Healthcare Kickbacks

In United States v. Shah, No. 19-12319 (William Pryor, Hull, Marcus), the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for receiving healthcare kickback payments.

The parties ultimately agreed that the statue requires no proof of the defendant’s  motivation for accepting the kickbacks, so long as he accepts it knowingly and willfully.  The Court agreed, though it distinguished the case of a payee (no motive required) from that of a payor (motive required).  Although the jury instruction in this case was erroneous, the Court found that the error was harmless because, if anything, the instruction harmed the government by requiring the government to prove more than what was required, and the district court properly instructed the jury on willfulness.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Delgado: Upholding Drug and Silencer Convictions

In United States v. Delgado, No. 19-11997 (Nov. 23, 2020) (Baker (S.D. Ga.), Newsom, Branch), the Court affirmed the defendant’s drug and silencer convictions.

First, the Court concluded that a search warrant was supported by probable cause to believe that there would be drugs in the defendant’s home.  Authorities intercepted packages from overseas that were addressed to the defendant at his residence; it didn’t matter that the packages were not actually delivered.  And, in any event, the good faith exception applied.

Second, the district court did not clearly err by considering as relevant conduct another package that was addressed to the defendant, even though it was the subject of a count that was dismissed.  The Court found it unnecessary to determine whether the Supreme Court’s decision in McFadden applied to relevant conduct for sentencing purposes because the government proved by a preponderance of circumstantial evidence that the defendant knew the package contained a controlled substance.

Finally, the district court did not clearly err by imposing an enhancement in USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) for possessing a firearm in connection with a drug offense.  There were numerous firearms and silencers found at the home with the drugs, and the defendant could not meet his burden to establish that their connection was improbable.