Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cavallo: Vacating conviction because of prohibition on consultation with counsel

In U.S. v. Cavallo, No. 12-15660 (June 22, 2015), the Court reversed the conviction of one defendant because the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when it prohibited him from consulting with his attorney during the three days of trial and two overnight recesses during which his testimony lasted, but affirmed the convictions and sentences of the two other defendants, except for the restitution portion of the judgment. Under Geders v. U.S., 422 U.S. 80 (1976), the district court’s prohibition on a criminal defendant’s consultation with counsel violates the Sixth Amendment. The Court noted that this holding was subsequently limited by Perry v. Leeke, 488 U.S. 272 (1989), which held that a prohibition on consultation during a fifteen-minute recess did not violate the Sixth amendment. But here, Geders, not Perry, governed, because the prohibition extended to two overnight recesses. The Court noted that the district court permitted the defendant to consult his attorney concerning his “constitutional rights,” but found that this limitation did not salvage the prohibition, pointing out that based on other statements, the defendant understood the prohibition to prohibit all contact with his attorney, and noting that the Sixth Amendment allows more than communication about constitutional rights. Accordingly, the Court vacated this defendant’s conviction. Turning to the argument of a co-defendant, the Court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion once it found that, post-verdict a defendant initiated a contact with a juror, and as a sanction for this violation of Middle District of Florida Rule 5.01(d), and declined to consider the evidence of extrinsic influence on the jury’s verdict suggested by an email from a juror. The Court noted the strong interest in protecting jurors against needless harassment from unsuccessful parties. The Court noted that Fed. R. Evid. 606(b) narrowly limits the kind of testimony a juror can give about a verdict. Turning to sentencing, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s loss calculation, finding that a preponderance of the evidence supported including certain transactions for which the jury acquitted the defendants. The Court also rejected a substantive reasonableness challenge to the sentence, pointing out that having sought a lenient sentence for his co-defendant spouse, one defendant now could not complain that his sentence was disproportionately higher than hers. As to restitution, the Court found that the district court erred in failing to offset any value that the victim may have derived from a fraudulent scheme. The Court therefore vacated the restitution portion of the order, and remanded for resentencing on this part of the judgment.