Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sterling: Defendant waived right to be present at trial

In U.S. v. Sterling, No. 12-12255 (Nov. 21, 2013), the Court affirmed convictions for bank robbery, use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The Court rejected the argument that the trial court violated the defendant’s right to be present at trial. The Court noted that trial had commenced on the day of jury selection when the court informed Sterling of his rights in an interview room, and trial proceedings were explained, and Sterling waived his right to be present at trial. The Court noted that Sterling repeatedly interrupted the judge during pretrial proceedings, and provided nonresponsive answers to the court’s questions. Consequently, the court properly concluded that the public interest was served by continuing the trial without Sterling. The Court also rejected a challenge to the admission under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) of the defendants’ prior bank robbery conviction. Although the prior conviction occurred 15 years before the bank robbery at issue, both defendants were incarcerated until approximately seven years before the robbery at issue. The prior robbery was strong circumstantial evidence that one robber would know that another robber would use a gun in the robbery.