Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Watts: Upholding Armed Bank Robbery and Obstruction Enhancements Following Pro Se Trial

In United States v. Watts, No. 17-12066 (July 24, 2018) (Branch, Martin, Jill Pryor), the Court affirmed the defendant's convictions for armed bank robbery and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

First, the Court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions because there were eyewitness accounts, clothing found in his car matched that worn by the robber, and he possessed the same caliber ammunition as would be used in the weapon that the robber brandished.

Second, the Court concluded that the district court did not violate his constitutional right to testify on his own behalf.  Although the pro se defendant repeatedly requested to testify, he changed his mind after having off-the-record conversations with his advisory counsel.  The record did not rebut the presumption that the defendant made his decision not to testify knowingly and voluntarily, even if he later had second thoughts.  And it did not indicate that he had a mistaken belief about his ability to testify.

Third, the Court upheld the imposition of a sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice--namely, for destroying or concealing material evidence.  The Court found that the defendant did far more trying to avoid arrest; rather, he tried to alter his distinctive identifying tattoos that the investigators were looking for, thus destroying material evidence.