Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Elysee: Affirming 922(g) Conviction and Sentence After Disallowing Testimony Regarding Another Person's Confession to the Charged Crime

In United States v. Elysee, No. 18-14214 (Apr. 8, 2021) (Newsom, Tjoflat, Ginsburg), the Court affirmed the defendant's conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. 

This case involved police pursuit of a Kia Optima, thought to contain a man in the passenger seat--dressed in yellow sneakers and a blue and yellow shirt and pant--who had been observed by officers jumping out of the car, pointing a gun at a Ford Mustang, and then speeding away.  Police pursued the Optima, and it eventually hit a light pole.  The passenger-side door opened and a man got out holding a black firearm, thought to be wearing a yellow and blue top and yellow shoes.  The man dropped the firearm and ran away.  He was eventually found curled up on the floorboard of another parked car.  He was arrested.  That man was the defendant.  Officers discovered a firearm near the right front tire of the Optima.  One week later, Darius Deen, the other occupant of the Optima, went to the police station and told Detective Raul Cabrera that he, and not the defendant, was the Optima's passenger and that the firearm found at the scene was his.  Defendant was charged with being a felon-in-possession, proceeded to trial, and was found guilty.          

On appeal, defendant raised four arguments: (1) the district court abused its discretion in precluding him from questioning Detective Cabrera about the substance of Deen's confession to show its effect on the listener; (2) the district court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence the document establishing defendant's prior conviction for armed robbery without redacting the document's references to "armed robbery" and "deadly weapon"; (3) the indictment was insufficient to charge a 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) offense after Rehaif, which was decided after the defendant's conviction; and (4) the district court erred in finding that a prior conviction for Florida armed robbery qualified as a "violent felony" under the ACCA. 

With regard to the first issue, defendant argued that the district court erred in invoking the hearsay rule to preclude him from questioning Detective Cabrera about the substance of Deen's confession to show its effect on the listener--the "effect" being that neither Cabrera nor any other office involved in the investigation did any additional digging to determine whether Deen's confession was truthful.  Defendant argued that this showed that the police failed to act as reasonably diligent officers under the circumstances because their minds were made up that the defendant was the culprit.  The Court, after a "painstaking examination of the trial transcript," including the transcript of a jail call wherein the defendant allegedly admitted to cooking up a scheme to have someone else confess to the crime, rejected defendant's arguments. While the Court agreed that Deen's statements would not have been hearsay if offered merely to demonstrate their "effect on the listener," his confession was still inadmissible because the "affirmative defense" it intended to prove--that Cabrera's conduct in response to the confession fell below the reasonable officer standard of performance--was irrelevant, and the confession's probative value was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, and wasting time under FRE 403.  The Court refused to hold that a defendant in a criminal case may use out-of-court statements to mount an attack on the quality of the investigation that led to his indictment.  The Court similarly refused to acknowledge the existence of an affirmative defense based upon the failure of police to conduct an investigation as reasonably diligent officers.  

With regard to the indictment issue, the Court reviewed for plain error and found that defendant failed to show a reasonable likelihood that, but-for the error in his indictment, he would not have been found guilty at trial.  

With regard to allowing the jury to see the unredacted document relaying defendant's prior convictions, the Court found no clear abuse of discretion.  

Finally, the Court rejected defendant's arguments regarding Florida armed robbery not being a "violent felony" under the ACCA as precluded by the Supreme Court's decision in Stokeling.