Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Watkins: Reversing Order Granting Suppression and Remanding With Instructions

In United States v. Watkins, No. 18-14336 (Sept. 16, 2021) (Luck, Ed Carnes, Marcus), on remand from the en banc Court, the Court reversed and remanded to the district court for further proceedings.  

The Court originally reversed the district court's order granting the defendant's motion to suppress on the government's interlocutory appeal.  Though the government conceded that it violated the Fourth Amendment when GPS tracking devices placed inside an intercepted package re-activated inside the defendant's home, the Court held that there was a "reasonable probability" that the evidence would have inevitably been discovered because the agents would have conducted the same knock and talk with the same result.

The case was then reconsidered en banc.  The en banc Court held that the standard of proof that the government must meet in order to establish that evidence would have been inevitably discovered is the preponderance of the evidence, not a "reasonable probability."  The en banc Court remanded the case back to the original panel for further proceedings consistent with its holding.  

On remand, the Court, applying the preponderance of the evidence standard--whether the evidence more likely than not would have been discovered--concluded that it would have been.  In so holding, the Court found that the district court clearly erred when it disregarded the magistrate judge's credibility findings without holding a new hearing.  

The Court reversed the district court's order granting suppression and remanded the case to give the district court an opportunity to decide whether to conduct a de novo evidentiary hearing or to accept the fact findings of the magistrate judge.  The Court noted that, if accepted, those finding compel the end finding that it is more likely than not that the challenged evidence ultimately would have been discovered, without the constitutional violation, through lawful means.          

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Braddy: Upholding Denial of Suppression Motion Based on an Alabama Traffic Stop and Dog Sniff

In United States v. Braddy, No. 19-12823 (Aug. 31, 2021) (Rosenbaum, Lagoa, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed the denial a motion to suppress.

First, the Court held that the officer had reasonable suspicion make the traffic stop after observing bicycles obstructing the car’s Florida license plate.  The defendant argued that Alabama traffic law did not apply to him as a non-resident Florida driver.  The Court held that, regardless of whether the defendant’s interpretation of Alabama law was correct, the officer’s interpretation by the officer was objectively reasonable.

Second, the Court held that the officer did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop.  The officer’s questions about the driver’s travels plans and itinerary, as well as the address on his license and ownership of the vehicle, were ordinary inquiries related to the purpose of the stop.  A dog sniff of the car also did not unlawfully prolong the stop because the sniff was conducted while the officer was still waiting for a warrant check to come back before issuing a warning.

Third, the drug-sniffing dogs were sufficiently reliable to provide probable cause to search the car.  The district court did not clearly err by crediting the officers’ testimony about the dogs’ training and certification over the defense expert’s contrary testimony.  The officers testified that the dogs’ positive alert, although “very quick” and not “final,” was consistent with their training, and the district court credited that testimony.

Judge Rosenbaum concurred in part and dissented in part.  In her view, the officers’ observations were too subjective and were closer to a hunch, since the dog behavior was so quick and subtle (and not confirmed by her review of the video) that it could have easily been normal dog behavior.  She would not defer to the officers’ subjective interpretations of dog behavior, which would effectively insulate their conduct from Fourth Amendment scrutiny.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Korf: Upholding Denial of Injunction Prohibiting Use of Taint Team and Filter Protocol

In In re: Sealed Searched Warrant and Application for a Warrant by Telephone or Other Reliable Electronic Means (United States v. Korf et al.), No. 20-14223 (Aug. 30, 2021) (Martin, Rosenbaum, Luck) (per curiam), the Court upheld the denial of a motion to enjoin the use of a government filter team.

The government executed a search warrant at a suite of offices, and included in the materials seized were those from the office of an in-house attorney.  Relying on Rule 41(g), the clients intervened and sought an injunction prohibiting the government’s filter team—consisting of government attorneys and staff who were not involved in the investigation—from reviewing any potentially privileged documents without their consent or court approval.  On appeal, the Court first concluded that it had appellate jurisdiction because the intervenors sought only the return of their property, not invalidation of the seizure, and that was sufficiently independent of any forthcoming criminal judgment.  However, the Court found no abuse of discretion in denying the request for injunctive relief because the intervenors could not show a substantial likelihood that they would succeed on their claim that a government filter team per se violates their rights, or that the filter protocol in place here would violate their rights.  The filter protocol here allowed the intervenors to conduct an initial privilege review, and it required their permission or a court order before releasing any purportedly privileged documents to the investigation team.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Mitchell: It is Unconstitutional for Prison Officials to Open Legal Mail Outside Inmate's Presence

 In Mitchell v. Duvall County et al., No. 19-14505 (Aug. 26, 2021) (Branch, Grant, Tjoflat), the Court re-affirmed that it clearly violates the First Amendment for prison officials to open an inmate’s legal mail outside of his presence. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Watkins: En Banc Court Holds Preponderance of Evidence, Not Reasonable Probability, Governs Inevitable Discovery Exception to Exclusionary Rule

In United States v. Watkins, No. 18-14336 (Aug. 20, 2021), the en banc Court—in a joint opinion by Judges Martin and Ed Carnes—granted the defendant’s rehearing petition and vacated the panel opinion without oral argument. 

The en banc Court held that the standard of proof that the government must meet in order to establish that evidence would have been inevitably discovered is the preponderance of evidence, not a “reasonable probability.”  All prior Eleventh Circuit precedents to the contrary are overruled.  The Eleventh Circuit remanded the case back to the panel for further proceedings consistent with this new holding.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Gonzalez: SR Sentences May be Reduced Under Section 404 of First Step Act

In United States v. Gonzalez, No. 19-14381 (Aug. 19, 2021) (Jordan, Newsom, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the denial of a motion for a reduced sentence under Section 404 of the First Step Act.

Joining two other circuits, and accepting the government’s concession, the Court held that a sentence imposed upon revocation of supervised release can be reduced where the underlying offense is a “covered offense.”  However, the Court affirmed the denial of the motion because the district court’s alternative discretionary denial was supported by the record and 3553(a) factors.  The Court declined to follow a Seventh Circuit decision (and arguably Fourth and Sixth Circuit decisions) categorically requiring the district court to calculate and consider the defendant’s new guideline range before exercising discretion under Section 404(b).

Judge Tjoflat concurred because he was bound by precedent, but he believed that, because the text of Section 404 includes no standard guiding the district court’s discretion, the court of appeals cannot review discretionary denials at all.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Coats: Aiding/Abetting Georgia Burglary Is Generic Burglary Under the ACCA

In United States v. Coats, No. 18-13113 (Aug. 12, 2021) (Martin, Newsom, Julie Carnes), the Court, in a 75-page opinion, affirmed the defendant’s felon in possession conviction and affirmed his ACCA sentence.

As to the conviction, the Court found no plain error under Rehaif.  Although the district court committed error that was plain by accepting his guilty plea without advising him of the mens rea element, he could not establish prejudice, as required by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gary, because he made no attempt to show that he would have proceeded to trial but for the Rehaif error, and he had numerous prior felony convictions.

As to the sentence, the Court held that the defendant’s 2003 Georgia burglary conviction qualified under the ACCA’s enumerated clause.  In an extensive discussion, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that Georgia’s “party to a crime” statute, which included aiding and abetting liability, rendered his offender non-generic.  Georgia law required an accomplice to burglary to take affirmative action and to intend to facilitate the crime, as required by the generic standard for aiding and abetting articulated by the Supreme Court in Rosemond.

Finally, the district court did not err by declining to grant acceptance of responsibility because, despite pleading guilty, the defendant obstructed justice.  The record did not clearly establish that this was an extraordinary case where a reduction was warranted notwithstanding the obstruction, especially given that the obstructive act was a violent assault of a key witness.  It was not enough that the obstruction preceded the indictment.