Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Blake: District Court Had Authority Under All Writs Act to Order Apple to Bypass iPad Security Features

In United States v. Blake, No. 15-13395 (Aug. 21, 2017) (Ed Carnes, Fay, Parker), the Court upheld the defendants' child sex trafficking-related convictions and sentences.

First, the defendants argued that the district court should have severed child sex trafficking charges from sex trafficking by coercion charges.  The Court upheld the court's failure to do so, finding that a significant part of the latter charges were also relevant to the former charges, and there was not sufficient prejudice because both crimes were inflammatory.

Second, the defendants argued that that district court's order requiring Apple to help bypass an iPad's security features exceeded the court's authority under the All Writs Act.  The Court initially found that the defendants had both Article III standing (because the evidence gathered was used to convict them) and Fourth Amendment standing (because they had an expectation of privacy in the iPad).  The Court also assumed without deciding that suppression would be the proper remedy, and that they had prudential standing to raise a third party's (Apple) rights.  The Court, however, concluded that the order did not exceed the court's authority under the All Writs Act, applying the multi-factor test from the Supreme Court's 1977 decision in United States v. N.Y. Telephone Company.

Third, the Court rejected a challenge to warrants used to search emails and a Facebook account.  The Court found that the search warrants were supported by probable cause, and that the email warrants satisfied the particularity requirement. The Court, however, expressed serious doubt that the Facebook warrants satisfied the particularity requirement, because they unnecessarily encompassed every kind of activity on the account. But the Court ultimately did not decide the issue.  Because the issue was a close one, the Court concluded that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied.

Fourth, a defendant argued that one of the victims should not have been permitted to testify about her difficult childhood.  The Court rejected argument, finding it both relevant under Rule 401, because it made the fact that she ran away from home to prostitute herself more probable.  And there was no unfair prejudice requiring exclusion under Rule 403.

Fifth, a defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient that she trafficked one of the victims, because she did not have a sufficient opportunity to observe that the victim was a minor.  The Court rejected that argument, finding that they had five or six interactions, and one of those interactions was considerable.

Sixth, the Court rejected the defendants' sentencing arguments.  One defendant argued that he should not have received the enhancement in U.S.S.G. 2G1.3(b)(2)(B) for unduly influencing a minor to engage in prohibited sexual conduct, because the minors contacted him, not the other way around.  The Court rejected that argument because the commentary provided for a presumption of undue influence where the defendant is more than ten years older than the victim, and the defendant did not overcome that presumption. The Court also rejected the defendants' impermissible double-counting argument under U.S.S.G. 2G1.3(a)(2) and 2G1.3(b)(4), finding that they were punished only once for the fact that sexual conduct did in fact occur. Lastly, the Court rejected the defendant's substantive reasonableness arguments, as they both received downward variances.