Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Colon: Indiana Causation-of-Injury Battery Statute Satisfied ACCA's Elements Clause

In Colon v. United States, No. 17-15357 (Aug. 16. 2018) (Ed Carnes, William Pryor, Anderson) (per curiam), the Court held, without oral argument, that Indiana battery statutes satisfied the elements clause of the ACCA.

The Indiana battery statute required the causation of bodily injury, which was defined to include any physical impairment, including pain.  The defendant argued that the causation of physical pain did not satisfy the elements clause.  Relying on its en banc decision in Vail-Bailon, the Court disagreed, reasoning that because the statute required the causation of pain, it was necessary "capable" of causing such pain.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Castillo: Guilty Plea Waived Ability to Challenge Pre-Arraignment Delay on Appeal

In United States v. Castillo, No. 17-10830 (Aug. 14, 2018) (William Pryor, Martin, Wood), the Court affirmed the defendant's title 46 conviction and sentence.

First, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that the MDLEA's failure to permit safety-valve relief violated equal protection and due process.  Applying a rational basis test, the Court concluded that there were legitimate reasons for Congress to craft stricter sentences for MDLEA offenses than domestic drug offenses given pressing concerns about foreign relations, global treaty obligations, and deterrence.

Second, the Court rejected as foreclosed by precedent the argument that the MDELA violates due process by subjecting foreign nationals to U.S. prosecution absent a nexus to the U.S.

Third, the Court concluded that the defendant could not challenge the constitutionality of his detention on appeal.  Although he argued that a 19-delay before presentment to a magistrate judge was unreasonable and violated due process, the Court found that his guilty plea precluded him from raising that argument on appeal, citing the Supreme Court's recent decision in Class.  The defendant could not circumvent that bar by characterizing his complaint as a constitutional challenge to the MDLEA.  Thus, the Court could not reach the merits of his detention.

Judge Martin concurred in the judgment.  She agreed with the first two holdings, but disagreed with the holding that, by pleading guilty, the defendant waived his argument that a 19-day detention between arrest and first appearance violated due process.  She did not read Class or circuit precedent as supporting that result.  Nonetheless, she concluded that the delay in this case was reasonable.

Joyner: Applying Good-Faith Exception to Carpenter Error

In United States v. Joyner, et al., No. 17-10289, 17-10826 (Aug. 14, 2018) (William Pryor, Julie Carnes, Antoon) (per curiam), the Court affirmed the defendants' convictions for Hobbs Act robbery and 924(c), but vacated one defendant's sentence due to a plain guideline miscalculation.

First, the Court concluded that the district court did not err by providing the jury with a copy of the indictment listing the dates of the charged robberies in response to a jury question about the dates and times of the offenses.  The defendants argued that supplying the jury with the indictment improperly suggested that it was evidence of guilt without re-instructing the jury that it was not.  The Court concluded that, while it would have been prudent for the court to remind the jury of that, it concluded that the court did not abuse its discretion in failing to do so under the circumstances of this case. 

Second, the Court concluded that the district court's denial of a motion to suppress cell site data did not warrant reversal.  Although the Supreme Court's decision in Carpenter rendered their admission erroneous, abrogating in part prior circuit precedent in Davis, it did not abrogate the alternative good-faith holding in Davis.  The defendants made no argument for why the good-faith exception did not apply where the government complied with circuit precedent then in existence.

Third, the Court found no abuse of discretion in denying a defendant's motions for new counsel due to a breakdown in communication.  After several hearings, the court found that there was no such breakdown, and a defendant's general loss of confidence or trust in counsel, alone, is not sufficient to establish good cause.

Fourth, the Court concluded that the district court did not err by rejecting the defendant's Bruton argument.  The admission of a co-defendant's statement was not erroneous because it was not directly incriminating on its face, but rather became so only after linked with other evidence later introduced at trial.

Lastly, the Court accepted the government's concession the district court erroneously applied a 5-level enhancement rather than a 4-level enhancement under the unit-based grouping guideline in USSG 3D1.4.  Although nobody objected to that error, the Court found that it satisfied the requirements for plain error and therefore vacated the sentence.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Elbeblaway: Upholding Health Care Fraud Convictions but Vacated Forfeiture Order Under Honeycutt

In United States v. Elbeblawy, No. 16-16048 (Aug. 7, 2018) (William Pryor, Martin, Wood), the Court affirmed the defendant's health care fraud convictions but vacated the forfeiture order.

First, the Court concluded that the court did not err by admitting at trial a signed factual basis for a plea agreement that the defendant entered before changing his mind and proceeding to trial.  Although rules of evidence and procedure normally bar that admission, the defendant agreed to waive those rules in the plea agreement, and that waiver is enforceable if voluntary.  The Court rejected the defendant's argument that the waiver was unenforceable, finding that the waiver was unambiguous, and the court did not clearly err by finding a voluntary waiver due to his attorney's failure to explain it.

Second, the Court concluded that the government did not violate Brady by failing to disclose an allegedly exculpatory report about a police interview.  The Court found no reasonable probability of a different outcome from that report, but rather found that it would have had only some minimal impeachment value of a witness, and the evidence was overwhelming even without that witness' testimony.

Third, the Court concluded that the court did not constructively amend the indictment by instructing the jury on the conspiracy count.  Despite the court's slightly different wording from the pattern instruction, the court correctly stated the law and its instruction tracked the pattern almost verbatim.  It observed that cheating the government out of money or property, as charged, was indeed a kind of deceptive interference with the lawful functions of the government. 

Fourth, the Court concluded that the court did not clearly err when calculating the guideline range.  There was no ex post facto violation by sentencing him under the more recent version of the Guidelines because his offense continued after the amendment.  There was no clear error by applying the sophisticated means enhancement.  And there was no clear error in calculating the loss because it was supported by the evidence, including the signed factual basis of his plea agreement.

Lastly, as to the forfeiture  order, binding precedent foreclosed the arguments that forfeiture statutes did not authorize personal money judgments, and that the Sixth Amendment required proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, the Court found that the court erred under Honeycutt by imposing a forfeiture order that held the defendant jointly and severally liable for the proceeds of the conspiracy.  Although Honeycutt involved a different statute, the same reasoning applied to the statute for health care fraud.

Maitre: Upholding Agg ID Convictions and Loss Calculation

In United States v. Maitre, No. 17-12166 (Aug. 7, 2018) (Martin, William Pryor, Hall), the Court affirmed the defendant's convictions and sentence for access device fraud and identity theft.

First, the Court upheld the district court's deliberate ignorance instruction.  It concluded that there were facts supporting an inference that the defendant purposefully contrived to avoid learning all of the facts beyond her own denial of knowledge.

Second, the Court found that the evidence was sufficient to uphold her convictions.  As to the conspiracy count, the Court found that she had the requisite knowledge because the home she shared had stolen goods in plain view around the house, she engaged in "heat runs" to avoid being followed by the police, she accompanied the other defendants to throw away evidence.  As for the aggravated identity theft counts, the Court concluded that the defendant constructively possessed the means of identification and that she knew they belonged to real people who had been victimized.

As for the sentence, the Court found no clear error with regard to the loss calculation because credit cards, debit cards, social security numbers, and driver's licenses all qualified as "access devices."  The Court also found no clear error in refusing to deny her a minor-role reduction.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

In re Williams: Judges Wilson and Martin Criticize the Rule that Published SOS Holdings are Binding Precedent

In In re Williams, No. 18-12538 (Aug. 1, 2018) (Wilson, Martin, Jill Pryor) (per curiam), the Court denied an application by a state prisoner for leave to file a successive 2254 petition.

Judge Wilson, joined by Judges Martin and Jill Pryor, specially concurred in order to criticize the Court's recent holding in St. Hubert that all published SOS orders are binding precedent.  In a thorough opinion, he explained why that holding was problematic: SOS applications are prepared on a standardized form and often decided without counsel, oral argument, adversarial testing, or the full record; the 11th circuit publishes more SOS orders than other circuits, no other circuits considers itself bound by the 30-day deadline to decide an SOS application, and several other circuits receive briefing and oral argument in SOS application; SOS orders are unreviewable by statute, and so any mistake can be corrected only if a judge sua sponte requests rehearing en banc; and there are no formal rules on when orders can be published or reheard en banc.

Judge Martin, joined by Judges Wilson and Jill Pryor, also specially concurred in order to explain how creating binding precedent through SOS orders "goes far beyond the prima facie examination called for by the statute."  She emphasized that no other circuit examines the underlying merits at the SOS stage.  But the Eleventh Circuit, by contrast, has "entered hundreds of orders denying motions based on this merits inquiry, thus touching many lives."  And, in doing so, it has published at least eight opinions holding, for the first time, that a particular offense was a violent felony or crime of violence.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Watts: Upholding Armed Bank Robbery and Obstruction Enhancements Following Pro Se Trial

In United States v. Watts, No. 17-12066 (July 24, 2018) (Branch, Martin, Jill Pryor), the Court affirmed the defendant's convictions for armed bank robbery and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

First, the Court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions because there were eyewitness accounts, clothing found in his car matched that worn by the robber, and he possessed the same caliber ammunition as would be used in the weapon that the robber brandished.

Second, the Court concluded that the district court did not violate his constitutional right to testify on his own behalf.  Although the pro se defendant repeatedly requested to testify, he changed his mind after having off-the-record conversations with his advisory counsel.  The record did not rebut the presumption that the defendant made his decision not to testify knowingly and voluntarily, even if he later had second thoughts.  And it did not indicate that he had a mistaken belief about his ability to testify.

Third, the Court upheld the imposition of a sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice--namely, for destroying or concealing material evidence.  The Court found that the defendant did far more trying to avoid arrest; rather, he tried to alter his distinctive identifying tattoos that the investigators were looking for, thus destroying material evidence.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Hylor: Florida Attempted First-Degree Murder is a Violent Felony under the ACCA's Elements Clause

In Hylor v. United States, No. 17-10856 (July 18, 2018) (William Pryor, Jill Pryor, Restani), the Court held that Florida attempted first-degree murder was a "violent felony" under the elements clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

Relying on circuit precedent, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that murder by surreptitious poisoning would not satisfy the elements clause, because it is "capable" of causing pain or injury.  It was irrelevant that the offense was committed with indirect, rather than direct, force.  Also relying on circuit precedent, the Court found that attempting to commit murder had an attempted use of force as an element.  The Court also reiterated that, under circuit precedent, Florida aggravated assault and robbery were violent felonies.

Judge Jill Pryor concurred in the result.  Although bound by circuit precedent, she opined that the attempted murder offense should not satisfy the elements clause.  She disagreed with circuit precedent conflating an attempt to commit a violent felony with attempt to use physical force, arguing that this conflation rested on faulty logic: one could attempt to commit a violent crime without attempting to use physical force.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Guevara: Evidence Sufficient to Support Conviction for Causing Business to File False FinCEN Form, but Obstruction Sentencing Enhancement Not Sufficiently Supported

In United States v. Guevara, No. 15-14146 (July 11, 2018) (Robreno (E.D. Pa.), Tjoflat, Wilson), the Court upheld the defendant's conviction for causing or attempting to cause a sports car business to file a false FinCEN form with the IRS, but it remanded for reconsideration of whether a two-level sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice was warranted.

The Court found that the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction.  Although the defendant never tried to persuade, influence, coax, or encourage the business to file a form containing misstatements, he knowingly caused the business to do so.  The defendant negotiated and paid for the vehicles with cash; he knew that the business would be required to complete a form as a result; he solicited his friend to act as a straw owner; and, as a result, the forms contained material misstatements about the identity of the owner.

The defendant also argued, for the first time on appeal, that the evidence was insufficient because the government failed to introduce either the original or certified copy of form submitted to the IRS, but instead introduced an IRS-prepared document summarizing the transactions.  The Court agreed that the failure to admit the IRS form was error under the best evidence rule in Federal Rule of Evidence 1002.  However, applying plain error, the Court concluded that this error did not affect the defendant's substantial rights or the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the proceedings because, even without any evidence of a form containing the misstatements, the defendant still could have been convicted of attempting to cause the business to file a false form.

The Court, however, remanded for re-sentencing because the district court failed to make sufficient factual findings about how the defendant obstructed or impeded the investigation.  Instead, it made only vague and equivocal statements about his tax returns filed years before the offense, his use of a straw buyer, and his false statements that did not actually impede the investigation.  And the record did not clearly reflect how those statements supported the obstruction enhancement.  Accordingly, the Court vacated the sentence and remanded to allow the district court reconsider the obstruction enhancement and support it with factual findings.