Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Cole: Habeas petition untimely

In Cole v. Warden, Georgia State Prison, No. 13-12635 (Oct. 6, 2014), the Court held that a habeas petition was correctly dismissed for being untimely. Cole claimed that a habeas petition filed more than fifteen years after the limitations period had expired should be deemed timely, because he only discovered a violation at his guilty plea at this time. The Court noted that the written plea form Cole signed referred to the constitutional rights that Cole claimed were not mentioned at his plea colloquy. Cole failed to establish due diligence in discovering the violation. The Court also rejected Cole’s equitable tolling argument, again finding he failed to exercise reasonable diligence.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Winthrop-Redin: Allegations of death threats to plead guilty "incredible"

In Winthrop-Redin v. U.S., No. 13-10107 (Sept. 23, 2014), the Court affirmed the denial of 2255 relief to a defendant who pled guilty to possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, rejecting the claim that the defendant was coerced to plead guilty by death threats from other members of the crew of ths ship on which the cocaine was seized. The Court found that the claim that the plea was involuntary was based only on conclusory and incredible allegations, noting that the defendant at his plea colloquy said that he was not pressured, and waited more than two years after he pled guilty to say anything about alleged threats. Further, the defendant did not specifically allege that he told his attorney about the death threats.

Reed: Failure to investigate "incredible" witness not deficient

In Reed v. Sec., Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 13-10900 (Sept. 24, 2014), the Court reversed a grant of habeas relief to a Florida inmate who claimed counsel was deficient in failing to investigate and call a witness at trial. The Court noted that the witness was unavailable around the time of trial. In addition, the witness, who had eight felony convictions, admitted he had memory problems. The State court had reasonable grounds for concluding that the witness was not credible. Further, the witness’ testimony would not have directly exculpated Reed. Finally, there was substantial remaining evidence implicating Reed.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mathis: Search of 2011 cellphone valid even if based on 2004 calls

In U.S. v. Mathis, No. 13-13109 (Sept. 24, 2014), the Court affirmed convictions of enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity, and the 480-month sentence. The Court rejected the argument that the search of Mathis’ cellphone violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the affidavit submitted in support misleadingly claimed that one could recover information from a different cellphone in 2011 evidence of a crime committed in 2004. The affidavit noted that Mathis had maintained the same phone number since 2004, and that law enforcement reasonably believed that the cell phone would contain incriminating information. Alternatively, the Court found that the police relied in good faith on the search warrant. The Court also rejected the argument that a second search of the cellphone was invalid because it occurred eight months after the expiration of the warrant’s ten-day search period. The Court noted that a search conducted after a warrant’s expiration date does not necessarily require suppression. The Court rejected the argument that the Confrontation Clause was violated when the district court admitted in evidence a non-testifying victim’s text messages. The text messages were not statements to government officers, and were not made under circumstances that would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that they would be available for use at a later trial. Turning to sentencing, the Court rejected the argument that the U.S.S.G. § 2G2.1(b)(6) enhancement for an offense involving a computer did not apply because Mathis merely used a cellphone. Deciding an issue of first impression, the Court held that the electronic high speed data processing of a cellphone meets the definition of a computer. The Court also rejected Mathis’s argument that a prior Florida conviction for lewd or lascivious conduct with a minor did not qualify as the basis for a aggravating sentence enhancement, because the offense did not require actual touching. The court noted that 18 U.S.C. § 2251(e) merely requires a prior offense “relating to” sexual abuse of a minor.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kirk: "Remaining in" burglaries qualify as ACCA predicates

In U.S. v. Kirk, No. 13-15103 (Sept. 16, 2014), the Court held that prior burglary offenses counted as violent felonies under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The Court rejected the argument that because the Florida burglary statute criminalized merely “remaining in” a structure with the intent to burglarize, as distinct from “entering” the premises, it did not qualify as a “violent felony.” The Court cited contrary Supreme Court and Circuit precedent involving “remaining in” burglaries, involving the “same risks” of injury. The Court also rejected the argument that the prior convictions were not committed on occasions different from one another. “[T]he charging documents submitted by the government show that Kirk pled guilty to burglarizing seven different dwellings, located at seven different addresses and owned by seven different people, on or about separate dates.” Finally, the Court rejected the argument that the government failed to prove that it is unconstitutional for a federal statute to punish purely intrastate conduct like firearm and ammunition possession that “substantially affected” interstate commerce. The Court cited precedent holding that a “minimal nexus” of the firearm being manufactured outside the state satisfied the jurisdictional element of § 922(g), which in turn defeated a challenge to the statute’s constitutionality.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Samak: 2255 savings clause does not apply

In Samak v. Warden, FCC Coleman, No. 13-12161 (Sept. 10, 2014), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief, holding that the savings clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) did not authorize Samak to file a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Samak claimed that the district court did not have authority to impose a life sentence without a jury recommendation for his violation of the Organized Crime Control Act (OCCA). The Court noted one requirement for the § 2255 savings clause to apply is that an argument be foreclosed by circuit precedent. Here, to the contrary, “binding Fifth Circuit precedent at the time of sentencing actually supported his claim that he should not have been sentenced to life imprisonment.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Bates: Prayer did not prejudice trial

In Bates v. Sec., Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 13-11882 (Sept. 5, 2014), the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1982 murder. The Court rejected Bates’ claim that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to an opening prayer, delivered in the presence of the jury, by a minister of the church where, trial testimony later showed, the victim’s funeral service was held. Bates claimed that this prayer urged the jury to improperly base its verdict on divine wisdom and guidance instead of the evidence adduced at trial. Rejecting this claim as speculative, the Court declined to fault trial counsel for failing to move for a mistrial. The Court also rejected the argument that the sentencing jury should have been informed of the defendant’s parole ineligibility. The Court noted that this is required only where the defendant is, as a matter of law, absolutely ineligible for parole, and the State places his future dangerousness at issue.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Green: No 3582(c)(2) sentence reduction for crack cocaine offender held accountable for 32.1 kilos

In U.S. v. Green, No. 12-12952 (Sept. 4, 2014), the Court affirmed the denial of a reduction of sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) for a defendant convicted of crack cocaine trafficking. Green claimed he was eligible for a sentence reduction based on amendments to the crack cocaine Guidelines that took effect after his original sentencing. The district court denied relief because it found that at the original sentencing it had held Green accountable for a drug quantity in excess of 10 kilograms, and as much as 32.1 kilograms – quantities for which no reduction would apply under the amended Guidelines. The Court noted that since a § 3582(c)(2) resentencing is not de novo, a district court may not make any new finding inconsistent with a finding it made in the original sentence proceeding. Thus, here the district court properly clarified that it had held Green accountable for 32.1 kilograms of cocaine base. The Court also rejected Green’s reliance on a statement it had made about the drug quantity in an earlier appeal in his case. The Court found that it had merely assumed that a Guideline amendment lowered Green’s guideline range, he was still not entitled to a sentence reduction. But this assumption by the Court did not subsequently bind the district court.