Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions
Thursday, April 27, 2017
In U.S. v. Roy, No. 12-15093 (April 26, 2017), the Court (en banc) (8-3) in a 281-page opinion held that harmless error, not structural error, applied to determine whether defense counsel’s absence from the courtroom during the questioning of a prosecution witness at trial was reversible error. The Court recognized that in Cronic, the Supreme Court held that structural error occurs when a criminal defendant has been denied the assistance of counsel at a critical stage of the trial. But defense counsel “was present during 99.6 percent of Roy’s trial, and he vigorously represented Roy.” The Court reasoned that the 18 questions and answers that Roy’s counsel missed were not a “stage” or “critical stage” of a trial, because they did not constitute a separate step in the trial process, or a discrete phase of it. The Court also noted that it was able to make a prejudice analysis because it knew the precise questions and answers that defense counsel missed out on. The Court concluded that the error caused by counsel’s absence was harmless as to the single attempted child enticement charge, noting that in addition to the six images of child pornography mentioned during counsel’s absence, “the jury was presented with overwhelming and irrefutable evidence of Roy’s sexual interest in minor girls.” As to the counts of possession of child pornography, the evidence was also “overwhelming.”
Friday, April 21, 2017
In U.S. v. Davis, No. 15-13241 (April 20, 2017), the Court affirmed the convictions of a defendant charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, and with witness tampering and obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(b)(1) & 1503. The Court rejected Davis’ argument that the witness tampering and obstruction charges were multiplicitous because Congress did not intend for cumulative prosecution under §§ 1512 and 1503. The Court acknowledged that the Second Circuit had held that Congress intended for witness tampering to be prosecuted only under § 1512, but noted that the majority of circuits disagreed with the Second Circuit. The Court also noted that a prosecution under § 1503 involves interference with the due administration of justice, while a violation of § 1512 does not require a “pending judicial proceeding.” The Court rejected Davis’ argument that a prosecution under § 1512 for witness tampering involves an “implicit requirement” of a pending judicial proceeding, holding that so long as two offenses involve different elements, a court need look no further in determining that the prosecution of both offenses does not offend Double Jeopardy.
Friday, April 14, 2017
In U.S. v. Gonzalez-Murillo, No. 16-11464 (April 4, 2017), the Court held that when it was unclear whether, at the original sentencing, the district court, under USSG § 5G1.3(b)(1), gave the defendant credit for 13 months he served in state custody for a term of incarceration that was undischarged at the time of the federal sentencing, the Court remanded for resentencing pursuant to a subsequently amended Guideline, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The Court recognized that if the state custody was discharged, then any sentence reduction would have a discretionary departure, not subject to further reduction under § 3582(c)(2). But because the prior sentence might have not have been based on a departure, the Court remanded for resentencing.
In U.S. v. Monzo, No. 16-10222 (April 7, 2017), the Court rejected the argument that the district court erroneously failed to grant the defendant drug courier a “minor role” sentence reduction. The Court found that the district court did no erect any per se role for couriers in drug cases. The Court also rejected the argument that the district court erred in assigning three criminal history points for a prior Nevada drug-possession conviction, finding that Monzo was arrested on a probation violation, his probation was revoked, and he was sentenced to 12-30 months imprisonment. This 30-month sentence exceeded 13 months, the length of sentence sufficient to trigger three criminal history points.
In U.S. v. Osman, No. 14-14124 (April 12, 2017), the Court rejected a child pornography defendant’s challenge to a restitution order covering future therapy: “We are not dealing here with just the likelihood that a young child whose pornographic images are shared online will suffer residual effects from the reproduction of those images will need treatment. We are dealing with a child who was molested by her father, who will be informed of that fact, who will know that her father is absent from her life and suffering imprisonment based on that interaction. That is a heavy burden to place on a child. We cannot imagine that therapy will not be in order at the relevant times. Given the facts here, it seems that the need for future therapy is not just likely, but a virtual certainty.”
In U.S. v. Pridgeon, No. 15-15739 (April 12, 2017), the Court affirmed the career offender sentence for a defendant convicted of methamphetamine trafficking. The Court rejected the argument that a Florida drug trafficking violation of Fla. Stat. § 893.13 fails to qualify as a “controlled substance offense” because the offense lacks the requisite mens rea with respect to the illicit nature of the substance. The Court pointed out that this argument was foreclosed by prior Circuit precedent.
In U.S. v. Horner, No. 15-14675 (April 13, 2017), the Court rejected challenges to convictions for filing false tax returns. The Court rejected the argument that the government presented false testimony from an IRS agent. The testimony “was neither false nor misleading.” The Court also rejected the argument that the district court erroneously failed to give the jury the “good faith reliance” instruction that had been given in another case, pointing out that that this was not the “only acceptable instruction on good faith reliance.” The Court also rejected the argument that the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the “due diligence” obligations of tax preparers. The Court also rejected the argument that the district court erred in allowing the government to characterize the Horners’ cash deposits as “structuring.” “The evidence was highly probative in addressing the issue of the Horners’ financial savvy.” Finally, the Court rejected the argument that it was unfair to admit the defendants’ 2005 and 2006 tax returns. The Court found that these acts, though in earlier years, were part of the same set of actions through which the jury found the defendants committed tax fraud in 2007 and 2008.