Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Cabezas-Montano: Upholding MDLEA Convictions and Sentences Over Numerous Challenges

In United States v. Cabezas-Montano et al., No. 17-14294 (Jan. 30, 2019) (Hull, Rosenbaum, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the defendants' title 46 convictions and sentences in an 80-page opinion.

First, the Court rejected, as foreclosed by precedent, the defendants' argument that the MDLEA was constitutional on various grounds.

Second, the Court concluded that the government met its burden to prove that the vessel was a stateless vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Third, applying plain error, the Court rejected the argument that the government purposely delayed presenting the defendants the United States by 7 weeks.  Because this argument was raised for the first time on appeal, there was no evidence to support the assertion that the delay was purposeful or unnecessary.  The Court declined to apply a presume undue delay.  And the Court found that the 48-hour requirement for presentment did not apply in this context.

Fourth, the Court held that binding precedent foreclosed the defendant's argument that the Fifth Amendment prohibited the government from using his post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence as evidence of guilt.

Fifth, the Court found that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions.

Sixth, the Court found no abuse of discretion in denying a motion for mistrial based on the failure to turn over Brady material because he could not show that the evidence was favorable rather than incriminating.

Seventh, the Court held, in accordance with circuit precedent, that the safety valve did not apply to the MDLEA (before the First Step Act) and that this did not violate equal protection.  The Court again left open whether the safety valve's truthful disclosure requirement violated the right against self-incrimination.

Eighth, the Court upheld the denial of a minor-role reduction to the defendants.  Because they did not identify other participants in the offense, the district court was not required to consider the relative culpability of unknown higher-level co-conspirators who recruited them and organized the offense.

Ninth, the Court found that the district court provided a sufficient explanation of the reasons for its sentence under 3553(c).

Tenth, the Court rejected the defendants' argument that the district court refused to vary downward because they exercised their right to go to trial.

Lastly, the Court found that the defendants' low-end sentences were not substantively unreasonable.