Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions
Friday, March 21, 2014
In Jones v. GDCP Warden, No. 11-14774 (March 20, 2014), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia inmate sentenced to death for a 1979 murder, findingthat Jones could not satisfy the “prejudice” prong of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Jones claimed that his counsel was ineffective for failing to introduce at the penalty phase evidence of his childhood and mental health. The Court pointed out that had counsel gone down this route, the State could have introduced strong aggravating evidence, including Jones’ “damning record from prison and the military.” The Court found the state habeas court’s rejection of the opinions of Jones’ experts to be reasonable, given their lack of reliability.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
In U.S. v. Salgado, No. 12-15961 (March 14, 2014), the Court reversed a sentence because the district court, in calculating the offense level for a money laundering offense, “mistakenly considered the defendant’s role in the drug conspiracy that generated the dirty money.” Because Salgado was convicted of heroin trafficking and money laundering, his sentence was calculated based on the Guidelines’ grouping rules., which indicated that his sentence should be based on the money laundering guidelines. The Guidelines also provide that when a sentence is calculated based on the money laundering Guidelines, USSG § 2S1.1, other sentence adjustments are based on the Guidelines for that offense, and not for the underlying offense from which the funds were laundered. Despite this instruction, the district court increased the offense level for money laundering based on Salgado’s significant role in the drug trafficking offense. The Court rejected the government’s argument that failing to take account of the fact that a defendant played a significant role in a drug offense when sentencing for money laundering would result in defendants convicted of both crimes receiving lighter sentences than defendants convicted only of the drug offense. The Court pointed out that this was incorrect, because the grouping rules require courts to use the highest offense level of the counts in the group after factoring in sentence adjustments for each count. The Court also rejected the argument that sentencing courts are required to consider “all relevant conduct.” The Court pointed out that the Relevant Conduct Guideline begins with the words “unless otherwise specified.” The Application note with regard to money laundering “does specify otherwise.”
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
In Terrell v. GDCP Warden, No. 11-13660 (March 11, 2014), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia death row inmate convicted of a 1992 murder. The Court rejected the argument that Terrell suffered prejudice as a result of his lawyer’s decision not to obtain a forensic pathologist, who would have testified that the victim was already dead when subjected to mutilation. The Court found that this evidence would have supported the prosecution’s view that the murder was done with malice and anger. The Court also found no ineffective assistance in his lawyer’s failure to challenge an armed robbery aggravating factor. Terrell’s lawyer focused on a residual doubt theory, rather than rebutting the State’s theory regarding armed robbery. The Court found that this choice did not change the outcome of the sentencing.
Friday, March 07, 2014
In U.S. v. Louissant, No. 13-11621 (March 7, 2014) (unpublished), the Court found that after pronouncing sentence, the district court failed to elicit objections as required by U.S. v. Jones, and therefore vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. During its imposition of sentence, the district court announced that it was imposing a life sentence on Louissant based in part on “the evidence at trial.” Because Louissant pled guilty, this reference to “evidence at trial” must have referred to evidence presented at the trial of Louissant’s co-conspirator. Louissant had no opportunity to rebut that evidence – some of this evidence was never discussed at sentencing nor contained in the PSI. This evidence was therefore considered by the district court in violation of U.S. v. Castellanos. The Court rejected the government’s argument that the defendant in effect had an opportunity to object, as evidenced by defense counsel asking “Your Honor, may I preserve [Louissant’s] objection for the record.” This objection merely ensured that previously raised objections were preserved, while Jones is designed to afford the defense an opportunity to raise new objections that have arisen since the defense last had an opportunity to object.
Thursday, March 06, 2014
In U.S. v. Pacquette, 13-11736 (Mar. 4, 2014) (unpublished), the Court held that the district court erred in excluding a defendant’s exculpatory statement, because the statement was admissible under the “rule of completeness.” At trial, on cross-examination of government Customs agents, defense counsel sought to elicit the fact that Pacquette, after initially saying that everything in his bag was his, disclaimed ownership of the drugs the agents found in his bag. The district court precluded this questioning, ruling that it was hearsay and an exculpatory statement, admissible only if the defendant testified. After defense counsel in closing statement told the jury that Pacquette had denied that the cocaine was his, the district court instructed the jury to disregard this argument, because there was no evidence to support it. Reversing, the Court held that under Fed. R. Evid. 106 and 611(a), and Circuit precedent, the rule of completeness applied to oral statements. Here, the officers’ testimony was “incomplete,” because it did not include Pacquette’s disclaimer of ownership of the drugs. The error was not harmless, because the prosecutor argued in closing argument that the jury should consider Pacquette’s failure to say “I got duped.” “The district court magnified the error by instructing the jury that ‘there is no evidence . . . [Pacquette] denied . . . knowing the contents of the bag.”