Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, August 07, 2020

Henry: Downward Adjustment Under USSG 5G1.3(b) is Mandatory Notwithstanding Booker

 In United States v. Henry, No. 18-15251 (Aug. 7, 2020) (William Pryor, Grant, Antoon), the Court vacated the district court’s refusal to adjust the defendant’s sentence under USSG 5G1.3(b) based on time served on a related state case.

Although there was no dispute that the criteria for an adjustment under 5G1.3 were satisfied, the district court refused to apply it because it determined that the Guidelines were advisory.  Disagreeing with other circuits, the Eleventh Circuit reached the contrary conclusion, holding that an adjustment under 5G1.3 is mandatory, notwithstanding Booker.  The Court reasoned that Booker rendered advisory only the Guideline provisions that relate to the guideline range.  But 5G1.3 relates to the imposition of the sentence and comes in to play only after the guideline range has been determined.  And because its application can only reduce (not increase) the defendant’s sentence, treating it as mandatory does not violate the Sixth Amendment.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Knights: Encounter Between Officers and Defendant Was Consensual, Not a Seizure

In United States v. Knights, No. 19-10083 (Aug.  3, 2020) (William Pryor, Rosenbaum, Michael Moore), the Court upheld the denial of a motion to suppress.

Officers parked a patrol car close to the defendant’s car and then approached him.  The Court held that this was a consensual encounter that did not rise to the level of a seizure because a reasonable person would have felt free to leave.  In fact, the defendant’s companion ignored the officers and left, and the defendant could have also driven away.  The officers did not display their weapons, touch the defendant, or even speak to him, much less issue any commands.  Nor did they activate their lights or siren.  The defendant was free to abandon his car in a high-crime area because two officers were there, and he could have returned when they left, and the officers’ use of a flashlight to did not communicate a show of authority.

Competa: No Additional Competency Hearings Required Before Trial and Sentencing

In United States v. Cometa, No. 19-11282 (Aug. 3, 2020) (William Pryor, Rosenbaum, Luck), the Court upheld the denial of additional competency hearings before trial and sentencing.

The Court found no abuse of discretion because an expert opined that he was competent before trial.  And the defendant’s continued understanding of the proceedings, ability to consult with counsel, and ability to assist with his defense established that there was no bona fide doubt about his competency after the district court initially found him competent.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Melgen: Upholding Medicare Fraud Convictions Over Multiple Challenges

In United States v. Melgen, No. 18-10991 (July 31, 2020) (Grant, Martin, Lagoa), the Court affirmed the defendant’s Medicare fraud convictions and sentence.

First, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the district court erred by giving the pattern instruction on materiality.  The Court rejected the defendant’s reliance on a Supreme Court case addressing the False Claims Act.

Second, the Court found no error in the introduction of summary charts comparing the defendant’s billing to peer physicians.  The charts were admissible under Rule 1006.  The Confrontation Clause did not permit the defendant to cross examine decision-makers about the criteria used to make the charts (namely, the prosecutors).  And no expert witness was required to admit the charts.

Third, the Court rejected five errors about his trial.  First, the district court did not err in admitting evidence of multi-dosing, since it was probative of his profit motive.  Second, no mistrial was required due  to a witness’ false testimony because the court immediately issued a thorough curative instruction.  Third, the court’s refusal to instruct the jury that a sample of patient files was not statistically random did not require a mistrial, because the court instructed the jury to disregard any statements concerning statistical confidence.  Fourth, the district court did not commit plain error by giving the jury unredacted copies of the indictment because the court told the jury that it was not evidence of guilt and there was no potential prejudice.  Finally, no mistrial was required by contact between the government and defense witnesses after the court conducted a hearing and determined that the contact had not been prejudicial or altered any testimony.

Fourth, the Court concluded that sufficient evidence supported the convictions, as the defendant’s argument went to the weight of the evidence.

Fifth, the Court upheld the denial of a motion for new trial based on a Brady violation, which was based on medical testimony by a government witness at sentencing.  This testimony was neither new nor likely to change the outcome of the trial.  And it was merely impeachment evidence, and so not the basis of a new trial under Rule 33. 

Finally, as to the sentence, the Court found no clear error in the loss amount, as the government presented enough evidence that the sample patient group was representative of the defendant’s patient population.  And his below-guideline sentence was not substantively unreasonable.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Smith: Upholding Hobbs Act Robbery Conviction Against Individual Victims and Holding that Section 403 of the First Step Act Does Not Apply Retroactively

In United States v. Smith, No. 18-13969 (July 30, 2020) (Ed Carnes, Luck, Marcus), the Court affirmed the defendant’s Hobbs Act robbery and 924(c) convictions.

First, the Court held that the district court’s finding that a photographic lineup was not unduly suggestive was not clearly erroneous.  And the Court held that admission of the defendant’s rap video at trial did not violate the First Amendment or Rule 403, as it had significant probative value for contested issues of identity and display of a firearm.

Second, as to one Hobbs Act robbery conviction, the Court held that the defendant’s proposed jury instruction about how to satisfy interstate commerce element in the context of an individual (as opposed to a business) was incorrect, because it changed illustrative examples to exclusive examples.  The Court also held that the evidence was sufficient to show that his robbery affected interstate commerce because he stole a thumb drive containing software that the victim used for her business, and that business was engaged in interstate commerce.

Third, and joining other circuits, the Court held that Section 403 of the First Step Act, limiting the stacking of 924(c) convictions, applies only to cases where a sentence has not yet been “imposed.”  And a sentence is “imposed” when the district court enters a final judgment, not when the sentence becomes final on appeal.

Finally, the Court rejected the defendant’s challenges to his 92-year sentence.  It found no Eighth Amendment violation because he robbed four people at gunpoint and caused severe injury to one, and the sentence was below the statutory maximum.  The sentence was also not substantively unreasonable because all but 121 months were mandated by statute, and the court did not abuse its discretion in considering the 3553(a) factors.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Carmichael: Upholding Denial of 2255 Motion Based on IAC

In Carmichael v. United States, No. 17-13822 (July 22, 2020) (Proctor (ND Ala), Wilson, Newsom), the Court affirmed the denial of a 2255 motion based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

The government conceded, and the Court agreed, that counsel performed deficiently by failing to communicate Carmichael’s total 40-year sentence, seek a negotiated plea as requested, or relay 10-year and 20-year plea offers.  However, the Court concluded that Carmichael could not show prejudice because he could not show that he would have accepted the plea offer had it been communicated to him.  The offers were conditioned on his substantial assistance and “super-cooperation,” and Carmichael did not show that he was willing or able to do so before he went to trial and was convicted, or that the government would have deemed his cooperation satisfactory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Hall: Upholding 40-Year Child Pornography Sentence

In United States v. Hall, No. 18-14145 (July 21, 2020) (Ed Carnes, Rosenbaum, Vinson (ND Fla)), the Court affirmed the defendant’s 40-year sentence for receiving child pornography, an upward variance from a guideline range of 15 years.

First, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the sentencing court improperly relied on unreliable hearsay evidence from an earlier sexual abuse case.  The Court concluded that the defendant did “not even come close” to meeting his burden to prove that the evidence was unreliable.

Second, the defendant argued that the district court failed to give notice required by Rule 32(h) before imposing an upward departure.  The Court rejected that argument because the district court expressly imposed an upward variance (not a departure), for which no notice is required.  And the reasons for the sentence above the guideline range were based on the 3553(a) factors, not a departure provision in the Guidelines.  It did not matter that those reasons might have also fit under a departure provision.

Third, the Court concluded that the sentence was not substantively unreasonable.  The Court emphasized that the defendant had engaged in repeated acts of sexual abuse of children over two decades, even after he went to prison for it and was released; he blamed the victims rather than showed remorse; and he inflicted substantial and long-lasting harm to the victims.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Deason: Upholding Enticement and Obscene Transfer Convictions

In United States v. Deason, No. 17-12218 (July 17, 2020) (Ed Carnes, Branch, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions for enticement of a minor and attempted transfer of obscene material.

First, the Court upheld the denial of a motion to suppress statements made by the defendant in his home without receiving Miranda warnings.  The Court concluded that the defendant was not “in custody” based on the totality of the circumstances.

Second, the Court found the evidence sufficient to convict on one of the obscene transfer counts.  The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the government did not put all of the underlying videos as a whole into evidence, and instead admitted only screenshots from each video and had an agent testify about the contents.  The Court concluded that the evidence admitted was sufficient to establish that the material was obscene; the entire videos were not required.

Third, the Court concluded that the defendant invited any error with respect to the sufficiency of the indictment because the government superseded the indictment in response to the defendant’s specificity objection, and the defendant indicated that the problem had been cured.

Finally, the Court rejected three evidentiary claims under plain error.  First, the defendant argued that various rules of evidence were violated when the government admitted screenshots and testimony rather than the videos themselves, but the Court concluded that the defendant could not show than any error affected his substantial rights because, had he objected, the government would have simply admitted the videos.  Second, the Court concluded that, even if the obscene transfer charges were duplicitous for including multiple obscene images/videos in each count, any error did not affect his substantial rights because the jury would have unanimously agreed that at least one image in each count was obscene.  Lastly, the Court concluded that, for the same reason, the defendant could not show any effect on his substantial rights in failing to give an instruction to cure the duplicity problem.