Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Brown: Upholding Police Brutality Convictions but Vacated Probation Sentences

In United States v. Brown et al., No. 18-10772, 10972 (Aug. 14, 2019) (William Pryor, Newsom, Branch), the Court affirmed the defendants' convictions but vacated their sentences.

First, the Court found that sufficient evidence supported a police officer's conviction for deprivation of rights under color of law when he beat and tased the passenger in a fleeing vehicle.  Ample evidence supported the jury's finding that the defendant willfully used excessive force under the facts and circumstances.  The Court also found no abuse of discretion in denying the defendant's motion for a new trial under Rule 33 based on a purportedly inconsistent verdict (his codefendants were acquitted) and an enhanced video of the incident that was neither "newly discovered" nor material.

Second, the Court found that sufficient evidence supported the supervising officer's conviction for obstruction of justice when he instructed his subordinates to change their reports to better reflect what happened after a video came to light, and then gave misleading answers to questions by the FBI.   The Court also found that, because he first proposed it, the defendant invited any error in connection with the pattern Allen charge, and the Court rejected his argument that the instruction was unuduly coercive.  And the Court found no abuse of discretion under Rule 606(b) when the court declined to interview a juror who alleged misconduct (e.g., that jurors were biased, bullied into voting guilty, discounted her opinion because she had "crush" on the defendant), or to compel the disclosure of the contents of a juror's post-trial conversation with a spouse of an AUSA about her experience as a juror.

Third, and on a cross-appeal by the government, the Court vacated the defendants' downward-variance sentences of probation.  To calculate the guidelines, the ultimate question was whether the officer used the taser with intent to cause bodily injury.  The district court found that he did not because there was evidence that the officer used it to gain compliance rather than to cause bodily injury.  However, it was possible that the officer intended both to gain compliance and cause bodily injury.  Because it was unclear whether the district court applied an incorrect legal standard to reach its factual conclusion, the Court vacated the sentences and remanded for re-sentencing.