Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Evans: Brain Damage evidence is basis for habeas relief

In Evans v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 10-14920 (May 23, 2012) (2-1) (Edmondson, J., dissenting), the Court reversed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1998 murder.
The Court found that the Florida Supreme Court had unreasonably discounted the mitigation evidence that Evans’ trial counsel failed to present at his sentencing hearing. The evidence would have established Evans’ brain damage dating from an accident he had as a child. The Court pointed out that in Porter v. McCollum, the Supreme Court held that unpresented mitigating evidence must be considered by a reviewing court from the point of the view of the jury that never heard the evidence. The Florida Supreme Court failed to consider the possibility that competent counsel could have used the brain damage evidence in mitigation.

Perez: Lafler did not "break new ground"

In In Re Michael Perez, No. 12-12240 (May 25, 2012), the Court held that a § 2255 petitioner was not entitled to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in a second or successive § 2255 motion. Perez claimed that Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper were “new rules of constitutional law” upon which he could rely in a second or successive § 2255 petition. The Court, however, found that these cases did not “break new ground,” because in Hill v. Lockhart the Supreme Court had already extended Strickland’s test for ineffective assistance to the plea bargaining process. In addition, the fact that the Supreme Court decided these two cases on habeas petitions eliminated any doubt as to whether they broke new ground, because, under AEDPA, habeas petitioners must show a decision contrary to “clearly established law” in order to prevail.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Schneider: Florida False Imprisonment is Violent Felony

In U.S. v. Schneider, No. 10-15863 (May 24, 2012), the Court held that a prior conviction for false imprisonment in violation of Fla. Stat. § 787.02(1)(a), qualifies as a violent felony for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

The Court rejected the government’s argument that the defendant waived the issue by failing to object to the underlying facts set forth in the PSI. The Court noted that while Schneider’s objection to the factual paragraph of the PSI focused on a legal argument rather than setting out any factual dispute, he did state that false imprisonment includes “nonviolent” conduct. In addition, the premise of the argument at sentencing was that the factual allegations did not suffice to support the ACCA enhancement.

The Court noted that in false imprisonment cases in which a defendant “secretly” – i.e., by ruse, abducted another person, a risk of injury can result once the victim might try to resist or escape. The Court analogized the risk to the risk of injury caused by a vehicular flight, which the Supreme Court found to be a violent felony in Sykes v. U.S. The Court rejected the defendant’s analogy to a perpetrator’s failure to report for scheduled weekend confinement, which Chambers v. U.S. held did not qualify as a violent felony.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Zuniga-Artega: Aggravated Identity Theft Can Involve Dead Person

In U.S. v. Zuniga-Arteaga, No. 11-673 (May 21, 2012), the Court held that aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1) can involve the identity of a person who is no longer living.
The statute makes it a crime to use a "means of identification of another person." The Court noted that the word "person" had no "definitive legal meaning." But the context of the use of the word indicated that the statute did not mean to distinguish between the living and the dead. The statute also criminalized use of a "false identification document," conduct that can involve a dead person. In addition, use of the identification of a dead person "has very real consequences for the living, such as the beneficiaries of the decedents."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kaley: Defendant may not try case twice

In U.S. v. Kaley, No. 10-15048 (April 26, 2012), the Court held that, in a pretrial hearing on whether a post-indictment restraining order on a defendant’s disposition of assets encroaches on the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to pay for his counsel of choice, the defendant may not challenge whether the conduct alleged in the indictment supports probable cause.
The Court found that the "paramount importance" of not forcing the government to "tip its hand" prematurely about the strength of its case outweighed the defendant’s constitutionally-protected right to counsel.
The Court recognized that it is Due Process that requires a hearing on the permissibility of a restraint on a defendant’s assets, as Congress neglected to provide for such a hearing by statute when it empowered the government to restrain a defendant’s assets pre-trial. To determine the requirements of Due Process, the Court cited the legislative history of the statute that neglected to provide for a hearing.
The Court explained that "defendants are not entitled to try their entire case twice," and pointed out that, even without counsel of choice that a defendant could pay for, at trial "the defendant will have counsel (appointed, if necessary)."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stephens: Pleading guilty in mitigation not ineffective

In Stephens v. Sec. Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 11-11727 (May 1, 2012), the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1997 murder.
The Court rejected the argument that a death sentence for felony murder violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, pointing out that the jury was properly instructed to find the requisite mens rea.
The Court rejected ineffective assistance of counsel claims, including a claim that counsel was deficient at the penalty phase. The Court noted that counsel made a strategic decision to present Stephens as a "good guy," and that other evidence would have been adverse to this defense. The Court also did not fault counsel for convincing the defendant to plead guilty to certain charged to show mitigation at the penalty phase.

Register: Grouping does not require common scheme

In U.S. v. Register, No. 11-12773 (May 4, 2012), the Court held that the sentencing court erroneously failed to group all of Register’s tax related offenses into a single group pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3D1.2(b) or (d).
The Court found that the offenses, though subject to two different Guidelines, were "of the same general type" and "closely related." The Court also noted the "substantial [factual] overlap" among the offenses. The Court noted that there is no requirement for grouping that counts involve a common criminal objective or a common scheme; the counts can arise from various schemes.

Mansfield: Miranda error Harmless under AEDPA

In Mansfield v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 09-12312 (May 9, 2012),
the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1995 murder.
At trial, a videotaped confession obtained in violation of Miranda was erroneously admitted. The Florida state courts concluded that the error was harmless.
The Court, viewing the harmless error "through the [deferential] lens of AEDPA," credited the Florida Supreme Court’s reliance on evidence in support of Mansfield’s conviction. The Court noted evidence that Mansfield went swimming shortly after committing the murder in order to wash off any blood, a mark on the victim left by Mansfield’s ring, and evidence linking Mansfield to the crime scene. This and other "substantial" evidence made the erroneous admission of the videotape harmless.

Peruz-Peruz: No safety valve for Title 46 offenses

In U.S. v. Pertuz-Pertuz, No. 10-15800 (May 11, 2012), the Court held that a defendant convicted of conspiring to possess cocaine while aboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, in violation of 46 U.S.C. § 70503, and penalized pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 960, could not benefit from a safety valve sentence below the mandatory minimum sentence.
The Court noted that the safety valve statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), lists "offenses" for which a safety valve reduction may be available, and no offense in Title 46 is on the list. The Court rejected the argument that the defendant could qualify for safety-valve because his offense cross-referenced the punishment set forth a 21 U.S.C. § 960. The Court pointed out that the safety valve statute refers to offenses, not sentences.