Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Watkins: Illegal Re-entry Defendant Could Not Collaterally Challenge Underlying Deportation Order Where Judicial Review was Available

In United States v. Watkins, No. 16-17371 (Jan. 5, 2018) (Wilson, Rosenbaum, Titus) (per curiam), the Court affirmed the defendant's illegal re-entry conviction.

The defendant argued that she could not be charged with illegal re-entry, because her underlying deportation order was invalid on the ground that it was based on a grand theft conviction that no longer qualified as a crime of moral turpitude.  The Court rejected that argument on the ground that the defendant failed to meet the requirements for collaterally challenging an underlying deportation order.  Specifically, the Court found that the deportation proceedings did not deprive her of the opportunity for judicial review, because she could have sought to reopen her immigration proceeding.  And, although the legal basis of her collateral challenge did not arise until after the 90-day deadline to do so, equitable tolling applies to the 90-day deadline, the defendant sought equitable tolling in order to reopen her proceeding, and the BIA determined that equitable tolling was not appropriate in her case.  The defendant, moreover, did not seek judicial review of that denial.

The Court also found no reversible error during the defendant's bench trial.  It found no abuse of discretion in permitting the government to collect the defendant's fingerprints used to establish her identity.  And, while the district court "likely erred" in admitting the fingerprint analyst's expert testimony under Daubert as unreliable -- for failing to testify about her scientific methods -- that error was harmless, because an officer testified about the defendant's identity, and the defendant herself repeatedly admitted that she had previously been deported.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Morales-Alonso: Georgia Aggravated Assault is a Crime of Violence Under the Enumerated Offense Clause of the Guidelines

In United States v. Morales-Alonso, No. 16-14925 (Jan. 5, 2018) (Julie Carnes, Edmondson, Kathy Williams), the Court held that Georgia aggravated assault qualified as a "crime of violence" under the enumerated offense clause, which is contained in the commentary to U.S.S.G. 2L1.2 and enumerates "aggravated assault."

The Court determined that Georgia aggravated assault roughly corresponded to the generic version of aggravated assault, which the Court had previously defined in Palomino-Garcia as a criminal assault accompanied by either an intent to cause serious bodily injury or the use of a deadly weapon.  The Court initially found that Georgia's aggravated assault statute was divisible, and, using Shepard documents, determined that the defendant was convicted of aggravated assault by using a deadly weapon or other object/device/instrument that is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury when used offensively.  Although aggravated assault with a deadly weapon was generic, the defendant argued that the Georgia offense was overbroad because it could be committed with an object, device, or instrument.  The Court rejected that argument because the Georgia courts had made clear that the object/device/instrument must be used as a deadly weapon.  That sufficed because the deadly weapon, as used in the generic offense, could be dangerous due to the way in which it was used in a particular case.  Finally, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that Georgia's statute could be violated by the use of an object/device/instrumentality that just happened to cause serious bodily injury, such as a golfer accidentally hitting someone with his ball.  The Court found that such conduct would not violate the statute, and the defendant's hypothetical was not supported by any case law and represented "legal imagination" rather than a "realistic possibility."

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Foster: Rejecting Sufficiency, Loss Calculation, and Juror Misconduct Challenges to Uphold Wire Fraud Convictions and Sentence

In United States v. Foster, No. 15-14084 (Jan. 4, 2018) (Gilman, Jordan, Hull), the Court upheld the defendant's wire-fraud convictions and sentence.

First, the Court found sufficient evidence to support the convictions.  It found sufficient evidence that the defendant misrepresented the ownership of the land at the heart of the real-estate investment fraud, misrepresented purported news articles regarding the defendant's investment company, misrepresented that celebrities had purchased land through his company, and had the requisite criminal intent.

Second, the Court concluded that the district court correctly determined the loss amount for purposes of both his guideline range and restitution.  The Court rejected the defendant's argument that the value of the land should have been subtracted from the $8 million total loss figure because, even if the investors acquired a proprietary interest in the land, it was worthless as a practical matter, since they did not and likely could not obtain title to it.  The Court also refused to credit the value of the land on the ground that a fraudster is not entitled to an offset for value provided solely to conceal or perpetrate a fraud.

Third, the Court concluded that the defendant's sentence was procedurally and substantively reasonable. Aside from the sufficiency of the evidence and loss calculation, the defendant raised no additional procedural challenges.  And the Court found the 152-month sentence--imposed in the middle of the guideline range--to be substantively reasonable.

Finally, the Court found no error in the denial of the defendant's motion to vacate the verdict for juror misconduct in light of a post-trial letter, in which a juror stated that she had been bullied into the verdict and regretted her decision.  The defendant argued that he should have been permitted to question the juror under Rule 606(b)'s exception for extraneous prejudicial information improperly brought to the juror's attention.  The Court rejected that argument, reasoning that the juror's letter, referencing bullying and sway tactics during deliberations, pertained to purely internal (not extraneous) matters.  The Court further noted that the juror's letter described nothing more than typical features of juror deliberations.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Crabtree: No Double Jeopardy Violation in Medicare Conspiracy Where Defendants Acquitted at First Trial of Making False Statements

In United States v. Crabtree, No. 15-15146 (Jan. 3, 2018) (Wilson, Rosenbaum, Robreno), the Court upheld Medicare card fraud convictions and sentences.

First, the Court rejected the defendants' double jeopardy argument based on their acquittal at a first trial of making false statements.  The Court concluded that, because the false statement charges were limited to six particular therapy notes, the jury's acquittal on those charges did not necessarily include a finding that the defendants were not part of the broader conspiracy.  Double jeopardy therefore did not preclude the government from re-trying the defendants on the health care conspiracy charge (which resulted in a mistrial at the first trial).

Second, the Court found that overwhelming evidence existed to show that the defendants knew of object of the conspiracy and voluntarily joined it, given their numerous continuous acts in furtherance of the conspiracy over a number of years.

Third, the Court found no abuse of discretion in permitting the admission of testimony regarding Medicare coverage determinations, since it was relevant to the government's theory of motive, and the court issued a limiting instruction.  The Court no found abuse of discretion in permitting trial testimony about illegal kickbacks, since it was relevant one of the defendant's knowledge and involvement in the conspiracy.  And the Court found that, while it may have been error to have permitted expert testimony that one of the defendants may have violated a different law, any error was harmless given a limiting instruction and overwhelming evidence against the defendant.

Fourth, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court's dismissal and replacement of a juror who was repeatedly tardy.

Fifth, as to jury instructions, the Court found that any error giving the deliberate ignorance instruction was harmless because the court also instructed the jury on actual knowledge, and the jury could have convicted on such a theory.  The Court also rejected a defendant's challenge to an aiding and abetting instruction, as that instruction was not given in connection with the conspiracy charge.

Finally, the Court upheld two sentencing enhancements as to one of the defendants.  The Court found that a four-level enhancement for being an organizer/leader was warranted because he was the manager of the business, directed certain actions by his subordinates, authorized them to use his signature, and profited greatly from the conspiracy.  The Court also found that the vulnerable-victim enhancement was appropriate because the company served elderly patients with acute mental illness, and the defendant failed to properly treat them by signing whatever documents were put in front of him without regard to their medical needs.