Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Vargas: Duration of traffic stop not unreasonable

In U.S. v. Vargas, No. 16-14714 (Feb. 16, 2017), the Court affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds, rejecting the argument that the police detained the defendant for an unreasonable time after a traffic stop. The Court pointed out that neither the driver nor the passenger of the vehicle that had been pulled over for a traffic infraction had a driver’s license. The police therefore had a duty to continue to detain them, and prevent them from driving off.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Votrobek: Georgia and Florida conspiracies were separate

In U.S. v. Votrobek, No. 14-12790 (Feb. 13, 2017), the Court affirmed the convictions and sentences of defendants convicted of conspiring to distribute drugs and money laundering. The Court rejected the argument that Double Jeopardy barred prosecution for a Georgia conspiracy on the ground that it was the same conspiracy for which a defendant was acquitted after a jury trial in Florida. The Court concluded that the defendant committed two separate conspiracies, noting that the conspiracies did not overlap in time, and involved different co-conspirators. Though the offenses were almost identical, this factor is least important to the Double Jeopardy analysis. Moreover, the overt acts were different – and the conspiracies took place in two separate States: Florida and Georgia. The Court also rejected a challenged failure to hold a Franks hearing to determine whether the probable cause affidavit supporting a warrant lacked a basis. The Court cited the information detailed in the affidavit, and found that it supported the need for a wiretap. The Court further rejected the argument that the district court should have given an “entrapment by estoppel” defense jury instruction. Entrapment by estoppel occurs when a defendant reasonably relies on an official’s approval of the conduct at issue. Here, at no point did an official communicate to a defendant that his conduct was in compliance with the law.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Scheels: Enhancement for sadistic conduct

In U.S. v. Scheels, No. 15-15405 (Jan. 31, 2017), the Court rejected the argument that the four level enhancement of U.S.S.G. § 2G2.1(b)(4) for an offense involving material that portrays sadistic or masochistic conduct should not apply when the sadistic or masochistic conduct in the pornography was directed at the defendant, not at the child victim. The Court pointed out that the Guideline covered conduct that “involved” sadistic or masochistic conduct, not that the conduct be directed at the victim. The Court noted past cases involving conduct directed at the victim, but found that these cases merely hold that conduct directed toward a child is sufficient to warrant the enhancement, not that it is necessary. The Court affirmed the 600-month sentence.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Golden: Turner remains binding precedent

In United States v. Golden, No. 15-15624 (Jan. 24, 2017), the Court held that it was bound by its precedent in Turner v. Warden Coleman FCI to hold that a Florida conviction for aggravated assault, in violation of Fla. Stat. § 784.021, constitutes a crime of violence for Guideline enhancement purposes. [Jill Pryor, J, concurring, urged the Court to reconsider the viability of Turner en banc. She argued that Turner conflicts with other Circuit precedent, and with the analytical approach of subsequent Supreme Court cases.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Stein: Signalife investor loss amount vacated

In United States v. Stein, No. 14-15621 (Jan. 18, 2017), the Court affirmed all fraud convictions arising out of a scheme to inflate the stock price of Signalife, but vacated his conviction and remanded for resentencing. The Court rejected Stein’s Brady claim, finding that the evidence at issue was exculpatory, and was available to him with reasonable diligence. The Court also rejected Stein’s Giglio claim, finding that the prosecution did not speak falsely, and its statements did not involve testimony that would have materially affected the judgment. Turning to the sentence, the Court noted that the district court calculated the loss amount based on a finding that all 2, 415 shareholders who owned shares of stock of the company whose value Stein inflated suffered a loss during the period the stock was artificially inflated. The Court noted that there was no direct evidence, and insufficient circumstantial evidence, that 2,415 investors relied on the fraudulent information Stein disseminated. The Court noted that on remand, the district court could try again to prove the losses of the Signalife investors, or rely on the defendant’s actual gain, instead of the actual loss, as a measure of the loss for Guideline purposes. The Court also agreed with Stein that, in calculating loss, the district court erroneously failed to account for “intervening events” that may have affected the stock price, specifically, the short-selling of over 22 million shares of Signalife and the across-the-board decline of the market in 2008. The Court instructed the district court to determine whether these intervening events affected the price of Signalife, and, if so, whether Stein reasonably foresaw this.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Garcia-Martinez: Florida Second Degree Burglary is not a Violent Felony

In U.S. v. Garcia-Martinez, No. 14-15725 (Jan. 11, 2017), the Court held that a prior conviction for second-degree burglary of a dwelling in violation of Fla. Stat. § 810.02(3) does not count as a violent felong for purposes of USSG 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii). Noting a Circuit conflict on the meaning of a “dwelling,” and siding with the majority view, the Court held that a generic dwelling is a space intended for use as “a human habitation.” Florida, however, includes the “curtilage” of a space within its definition of a “dwelling.” This takes Florida’s definition outside the generic definition. Further, the dwelling and the curtilage are not alternative elements of a burglary, just different means of committing the offense. Thus, the locational element is indivisible. The Court therefore vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rushin: Defense precluded from asking cooperating witnesses about specific future sentences

In U.S. v. Rushin, No. 14-15622 (Dec. 21, 2016), the Court affirmed the convictions and sentences of prison guards charged with abusing prisoners and covering up the incidents. The Court declined to address whether the district court erroneously limited one defendant’s counsel CJA voucher, finding that no appellate jurisdiction existed because the notice of appeal did not indicate that counsel intended to participate as an appellant. The Court rejected the defendants’ challenge to the district court’s ruling that during cross-examination of the government’s cooperating witnesses who had pled guilty, the defense could not inquire regarding the specific sentences these cooperating witnesses might have received, absent their cooperation. The Court noted that the defendants were permitted to ask whether the cooperating witnesses would have faced a more severe penalty, or expected a lesser sentence. However, “the precise number of years the cooperating witnesses may have faced provides little, if any, value above those questions defense counsel were permitted to ask.” Moreover, “due to the fact that the sentence range applicable to these witnesses would reveal the sentence range for defendants, the proposed additional examination could invite jury nullification. The risk of jury nullification is accentuated by the fact that defendants were guards and the victims prisoners.” The Court also rejected the defendants’ claim that the district court unduly limited their defense when it precluded them from introducing evidence of “unrelated inmate violence.” The Court explained that unrelated inmate violence did not make the defendants’ assaults more or less likely or more or less justified. Moreover, jury nullification appeared to be the reason for introducing this evidence – an improper basis. Turning to sentencing, the Court rejected the argument that the district court unduly relied on the conduct underlying the civil rights violations, for which the defendants were acquitted, to punish them for obstruction of justice. A district court may rely on acquitted conduct at sentencing. [Jordan, J., concurring, stated that in certain cases it could be a Confrontation Clause error to preclude the defense from asking a cooperating witness about the mandatory minimum sentence he would otherwise be facing.]