Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Puentes: Rule 35(b) does not authorize reduction of restitution

In U.S. v. Puentes, No. 14-13587 (Oct. 5, 2015), the Court held that a district court lacks authority to reduce the amount it had ordered in restitution when it grants a reduction in sentence to a cooperating defendant pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 35(b). The Court noted that, as its title suggests, the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act mandates restitution. Further, 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(a)(1) makes restitution mandatory “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law.” In addition, § 3664(o) lists the ways a restitution order can be modified; Rule 35(b) is not on the list. The Court also noted that a “correction” of sentence under Rule 35 is not the same thing as the “reduction” of a sentence.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Denson: No 2255 relief for career offender

In Denson v. U.S., No. 14-10211 (Sept. 30, 2015), the Court rejected the claim of a movant under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 who claimed that his counsel was ineffective for failing to claim that his prior conviction for possessing a sawed-off shotgun in violation of Fla. Stat. § 790.221(1) did not qualify as a “crime of violence” under the career offender Guideline. The Court that this argument would have been “meritless,” because it ran counter to the express language of the Guidelines. Further, the argument would not have found support in the Supreme Court’s Begay decision, because Begay interpreted the Armed Career Criminal Act, and the Guideline commentary differed from this statute because it designated the possession of a short-barreled shotgun as a crime of violence. Finally, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Johnson, which held that the residual clause of ACCA was unconstitutionally vague, did not affect Denon, because Matchett recently held that vagueness doctrine does not apply to the advisory sentencing guidelines, and because counsel is not ineffective for failing to predict new developments in the law.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Maddox: Accomplice's gun use was reasonably foreseeable

In U.S. v. Maddox, No. 14-15064 (Sept. 30, 2015), the Court affirmed the imposition of sentence enhancements on a defendant convicted of aiding and abetting an attempted armed robbery in violation of the Hobbs Act, based on the brandishing of a firearm by an accomplice, and injury caused by this accomplice. The Court reasoned: “once one concludes that the defendant knew that [his accomplice] was armed with a gun, it makes perfect sense that he could also reasonably anticipate that [the accomplice] might well show that gun to the person whom he was trying to force to hand over the store’s money. After all, isn’t that the primary purpose of brining a gun to a robbery? As to the injuries suffered by the store manager, . . . the defendant could also reasonably anticipate that his admittedly erratic co-conspirator might well use that gun, in some way, on anyone who thwarted his efforts to obtain the sought-after money. Thus . . . the district court’s determination regarding the reasonable foreseeability of the above acts does not give rise to a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.”

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Martin: Evidence Sufficient to support mortgage fraud

In U.S. v. Martin, No. 14-11019 (Sept. 30, 2015), the Court affirmed convictions for fraud arising out of fraudulently obtained mortgage loans, affirmed the sentence but reversed the restitution award. The Court rejected Martin’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, noting her participation in a scheme involving her father’s submission of fraudulent income statements to lending institutions. The scheme “affected” a financial institution, even if a lender suffered no loss (by selling the loan to another institution), because the fraudulent statements resulted in “an increased risk of loss through default.” Turning to sentencing, the Court rejected Martin’s challenge to the denial of a minor role sentence reduction. The Court noted Martin recruited her father to participate in the scheme. With regard to restitution, the Court held that a “successor lender” can qualify as a “victim” for restitution purposes. The successor lender purchased the loan without an awareness of its true value, due to the fraud. The Court, however, recognized that the district court did not consider the actual purchase price that the successor lender paid for the loans. If this purchase price was less than the price at which the successor lender sold the loan, the successor lender would actually make a profit. The Court therefore remanded the case for recalculation of the restitution to be awarded, if any.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pineda: Counsel not ineffective in not moving to suppress evidence

In Pineda v. Warden, No. 14-13772 (Sept. 21, 2015) the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia inmate who claimed his lawyer was ineffective in failing to move to suppress cocaine found in a vacant apartment. The Court agreed with Pineda that the Georgia Court of Appeals incorrectly found that officers had a view of the vacant apartment that they later searched, because such a view was physically impossible. The Court also noted that counsel was not reasonable in believing that a motion to suppress the contents of the apartment would jeopardize a trial defense that Pineda did not live in the apartment and therefore could not have owned the cocaine. Evidence presented in a separate hearing on the search could not have been admissible at trial. But counsel was reasonable in believing that Pineda lacked standing to challenge a search of the apartment, because Pineda had abandoned it. Trial counsel knew that Pineda had not lived in the apartment for several weeks, had a new lease with his aunt at a new apartment, had given away his garage remote and had no access to the apartment. Counsel reasonably decided that Pineda lacked standing to challenge a search of the vacant apartment. Though counsel could have argued against abandonment, reasonable jurists could agree that counsel was not deficient in not perfecting a motion to suppress.

Monday, September 28, 2015

McLean: Insufficient Evidence of Jurisdictional element of federal bribery

In U.S. v. McLean, No. 14-00061 (Sept. 24, 2015), the Court rejected the government’s appeal of the district court’s grant of a judgment of acquittal for a defendant charged with bribery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666. The Court found insufficient evidence of the jurisdictional element of the statute, that an organization, here, the Margate Community Redevelopment Agency (“MCRA”) of which McLean was a Commissioner, receive in excess of $10,000 under a Federal program. The Court recognized that the City of Margate received federal funds and the City in turn provided funds to MCRA, and the County used federal funds to construct six bus shelters which were placed in MCRA’s care. But this “minimal” showing was insufficient to establish a relationship to the structure operation and purpose of a federal scheme. A mere “stimulus” package is not a federal program. The Court rejected the government’s argument that the jurisdictional element was a question of law, finding, to the contrary that it was a question of fact for the jury to find.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Matchett: Vagueness does not apply to Sentencing Guidelines

In U.S. v. Matchett, No. 14-10396 (Sept. 21, 2015) (Pryor, J. Carnes & Siler), the Court rejected the argument that the defendant was stopped in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and rejected the argument that the Guideline’s residual clause definition of a “crime of violence” was unconstitutionally vague in light of Johnson v. U.S. A police officer stopped Matchett when he saw him walking down a residential street holding an unboxed flat-screen television during the morning of a weekday. The Court held that because residential burglaries were common during work hours, commonly involved flat-screen tvs, and common in this neighborhood, the police officer had sufficient reasonable suspicion of illegal activity to stop Matchett. The officer also had reason to frisk Matchett once Matchett’s demeanor changed, and he looked left and right as if he was going to flee, and Matchett, while going through his pockets looking for identification, never touched his right front pocket (where he had a gun). Turning to sentencing, the Court affirmed the district court’s ruling that Matchett’s two prior convictions for burglary of an unoccupied dwelling were “crime[s] of violence” because they “involve[d] conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another,” the residual clause of the Guidelines’ career offender provision. The Court explained that because the Guidelines are merely advisory, they cannot violate a defendant’s right to due process by being vague. The Court rejected the analogy to the Ex Post Facto Clause, which applies to the Guidelines, finding that it “in no way” informed the Due Process vagueness analysis. The Court noted the policy argument against applying a residual clause that “lacks precise meaning,” stating that this argument “is properly addressed to the Sentencing Commission.” The Court noted that no other Circuit has held that the Guidelines can be unconstitutionally vague [citing cases that all preceded the Supreme Court’s 2013 in Peugh, which held that the Ex Post Facto Clause applied to the advisory Guidelines]. The Court held that burglary of a dwelling creates the kind of risk that qualifies as a “crime of violence.” Finally, the Court affirmed the imposition of a two-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3C1.2 for recklessly creating a substantial risk of death or substantial bodily injury, based on Matchett’s struggle with the police officer while a handgun was in his pocket. The Court noted the risk that the gun could have gone off accidentally. [Query: Was the panel correct that Ex Post Facto principles “in no way” guide the Due Process analysis, or could one reason that, since the Ex Post Facto Clause requires notice of advisory Guideline punishment at the time an offense is committed, the Due Process Clause in turn requires that this advance notice be clear?]