Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, March 16, 2017

McCullough: reassignment of judge permissible after guilty plea

In U.S. v. McCullough, No. 15-15430 (March 15, 2017), the Court held that Fed. R. Crim. P. 25(b)(1), which bar reassigning a case to a new judge after a guilty verdict unless the judge who presided “at trial” is absent or disabled does not bar reassignment after a guilty plea. The Court noted that guilty pleas are governed not by Rule 25, but by Rule 11. The decision to separate Rules 25 and 11 suggests that Rule 25 does not apply to defendants who plead guilty. The Court also rejected the argument that the sentencing judge was too unfamiliar with the record. Turning to the Fourth Amendment suppression issue, the Court held that a traffic stop based on the police’s determination that certain portions of a vehicle’s Alabama licence plate were not clearly visible, in violation of a provision of the Alabama Code. This provided an objectively reasonable basis for the traffic stop. The Court also rejected the argument that the officer’s interpretation of the traffic code was inconsistent with the decision of an Alabama appellate court. Finally, the Court found that McCullough waived his argument in a supplemental authority letter that he was not a career offender, by failing to make this argument in his opening brief.