Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, February 28, 2005

Double Jeopardy: Smith v. Massachusetts

In Smith v. Massachusetts, No. 03-8661 (Feb. 22, 2005), the Supreme Court held that Double Jeopardy principles barred a trial judge, after granting a motion finding insufficient evidence supported a gun count against a defendant when the prosecution rested its case, to change his mind and reconsider the issue after the defense rested.
The Court noted that the trial judge’s ruling on the defense motion regarding the insufficiency of the evidence was in effect an acquittal. The ruling resolved some of the factual elements of the offense charged. And even if the jury was the primary factfinder in the case, the trial judge still resolve factual issues when ruling on Rule 29-type motion.
The Court found that the acquittal triggered Double Jeopardy protection. First, the prosecution, after the ruling, did not make or reserve a motion for reconsideration, or seek a continuance. Further, the Massachusetts rules of procedure did not authorize the trial court to defer ruling on the motion. In addition, a defendant is prejudiced when the trial continues and he labors under the mistaken impression that he does not face a risk of conviction as to a certain count. This mistaken impression could lead the defendant to present inadvisable defenses, for example, admitting guilt on the acquitted count. It could also impact how co-defendants present their defense. The Court explained: "The Double Jeopardy Clause’s guarantee cannot be allowed to become a potential snare for those who reasonably rely upon it. If, after a facially unqualified midtrial dismissal of one count, the trial has proceeded to the defendant’s introduction of evidence, the acquittal must be treated as final, unless the availability of reconsideration has been plainly established by pre-existing rule or case authority." The Court noted the dissent’s contention that the defendant suffered no prejudice in this case when the judge reconsidered his ruling, but stated: "requiring someone to defend against a charge of which he has already been acquitted is prejudice per se for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause – even when the acquittal was erroneous."

Duncan: No plain error despite acquittal

In U.S. v. Duncan, No. 03-15315 (Feb. 24, 2005), the Court (Anderson, Birch & Land b.d.), vacating its prior published opinion, held that the defendant could not satisfy the "substantial rights" third prong of "plain error" because he could not show that he would have received a lesser sentence but for the Booker error of sentencing him under a mandatory regime. The court also rejected the defendant’s "creative" ex post facto argument.
In an opening footnote, the Court noted that the defendant was "not entitled" to have the Court address challenges to enhancements under Apprendi other than those raised in his initial brief, citing U.S. v. Levy, 379 F.3d 1241 (11th Cir. 2004). [Query: can one argue that because Booker, unlike Apprendi, is the type of intervening change in controlling law dictating a different result that a district court must consider nothwithstanding the "law of the case," Booker, unlike Apprendi, is not waived by the failure to raise it in an initial brief on direct appeal.]
Citing U.S. v. Rodriguez, 2005 WL 272952 (11th Cir. Feb. 4, 2005), the Court reiterated that Booker error consists not of enhancements based on judge, not jury, findings, but on the use of a mandatory Guidelines regime. The Court noted that Judge Breyer’s portion of Booker, which made the Guidelines advisory, "essentially changes what is authorized by a jury verdict – from the sentence that was authorized by mandatory Guidelines to the sentence that is authorized by the U.S. Code." The Court noted that the maximum sentence for Duncan’s offense was life. Hence, his actual life sentence did not exceed the maximum.
Further, Duncan could not show an adverse impact on his "substantial rights." The Court recognized that Duncan had been sentenced on the basis of a greater drug quantity than provided in the jury’s special verdict. However, the Court noted that, post-Booker, it is still permissible, under an advisory regime, for a judge to increase a sentence based on acquitted conduct. The Court noted U.S. v. Watts, 519 U.S. 148 (1997) and stated: "Booker does not suggest that the consideration of acquitted conduct violates the Sixth Amendment as long as the judge does not impose a sentence that exceeds what is authorized by the jury’s verdict." [Query: how can an acquittal, post-Booker, be construed to "authorize" any increment in punishment?]
Rejecting the views of other circuits, the Court noted that plain error analysis must apply the remedy portion of Booker retroactively. The Court found no discussion of plain error in Booker and did not read an implied finding of plain error in the disposition of the case. The Court found that Duncan could not meet the third prong of plain error because, as he admitted, there was nothing in the record to suggest that the defendant would have imposed a lower sentence under an advisory system.
Finally, the Court rejected the ex post facto argument that Booker could not be applied retrospectively to increase the statutory maximum. The Court pointed out that in the U.S. Code life was the maximum punishment at the time Duncan committed his offense. Thus, the U.S. Code gave Duncan fair warning of the potential punishment for his offense.

Booker plain error satisfied!

In U.S. v. Shelton, No. 04-12602 (Feb. 25, 2005), the Court (Carnes, Hull, Marcus) concluded that no Sixth Amendmetn Booker violations occurred during sentencing, but remanded for resentencing because the district court erred in sentencing under a mandatory Guidelines regime, and the defendant established a reasonable probability that the district court would have imposed a lesser sentence but for the mandatory Guidelines regime.
The Court noted that after the defendant pled guilty to crack cocaine trafficking and § 924(c) charges, the sentencing court "expressed its disapproval of the [190-month] sentence." The sentencing court commented that Shelton’s sentence was "very, very severe." The sentencing court noted that "unfortunately" the Guidelines criminal-history calculation took into account each of the defendant’s past charges and do not take into account the fact that the sentences imposed on these charges were short as a result of such factors as the youth of the defendant or the amount of drugs involved. The district court later noted that Congress had taken "a very, very hard stance when it comes to guns and drugs," and most significantly indicated that the most lenient sentence it could impose, a sentence at the low end of the Guidelines range, was "more than [was] appropriate in this situation."
Reviewing the issues for plain error (Shelton raised Booker issue for the first time in his initial brief), the Court found no error in the district court’s reliance on prior convictions to increase the defendant’s sentence, noting that Almendarez-Torres remains good law.
The Court also found no error in the sentencing court’s reliance on drug quantities no alleged in the indictment, pointing out that the defendant admitted to these drug quantities at his plea colloquy, and citing U.S. v. Frye, 2005 WL 315563 (11th Cir. Feb. 10, 2005).
Emphasizing that the defendant timely raised his Booker issues in his initial brief on direct appeal, the Court found error in the reliance on mandatory Guidelines: "Although the district court followed the correct sentencing procedure when it sentenced Shelton, the Supreme Court has now excised the mandatory nature of the Guidelines in Booker." The error is now "plain" in light of Booker. Finally, the error affected the defendant’s substantial rights, because the sentencing court "expressed its view several times that the sentence required by the Guidelines was too severe, and noted that "unfortunately" the criminal history computation overstated the defendant’s criminal background. Further, the court sentenced the defendant to the bottom of the Guidelines range. Thus, the defendant established a "reasonable probability" of a lesser sentence under a non-mandatory system.
The Court concluded that the fourth prong of plain error was also met, because the error seriously affected the fairness integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings. The Court distinguished U.S. v. Curtis, 380 F.3d 1308 (11th Cir. 2004), which had held that the fourth prong of plain error was not satisfied by a Blakely error, noting that this portion of Curtis was an "alternative ruling," that Curtis had found no "substantial rights" impact (unlike Shelton), and that the Curtis panel had assumed that the error merely involved a Sixth Amendment violation, not the use of a mandatory system, as Booker provided.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Booker not retroactive for 2255

In Varela v. U.S., No. 04-11725 (Feb. 17, 2005), the Court (Birch, Barkett, Hull) held that Blakely v. Washington, and, by extension, Booker, is not retroactive to cases on collateral review pursuant to Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989).
Varela, whose conviction became final on May 15, 2000 (Apprendi was decided on June 26, 2000), brought a § 2255 motion challenging his sentence under Apprendi. The district court denied the motion, and, on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit granted a motion for a certificate of appealability to decide whether Blakely (now Booker) could apply retroactively.
Varela argued that Blakely (now Booker) should apply retroactively because its rule is "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," and therefore qualified as "one of those very cases that should be determined to be retroactive to matters on collateral attack."
Citing Schriro v. Summerlin, 124 S.Ct. 2519 (2004), which analyzed the Ring rule under Teague, the Court noted that, as in Schriro, the rule announced in Booker was a "prototypical procedural rule." The jury vs. judge rule was not a watershed rule of criminal procedure. The Court joined McReynolds v. U.S., 2005 WL 237642 (7th Cir. Feb. 2, 2005) in concluding that Booker does not apply retroactively to cases on collateral review. The Court concluded: "Booker’s constitutional rule falls squarely under the category of new rules of criminal procedure that do not apply retroactively to § 2255 cases on collateral review."
Query: Is it still possible to argue, in light of Varela, in a § 2255, that Blakely and Booker do not announce a "new" rule. Note that Ring announced a new rule because it overruled Walton v. Arizona. But Blakely and Booker, arguably, merely applied the old Apprendi rule.
Also, Varela’s conviction became final pre-Apprendi. But what about defendants whose convictions became final after Apprendi (of after Blakely): for post-Apprendi defendants, is there any "new" rule in Blakely or Booker? And what about the distinction that in Ring, the defendant still had the benefit of a beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard, unlike the defendant in Varela? And what of the substantive law change wrought by Booker, not addressed in Varela?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

922(g) not a crime of violence

In U.S. v. Johnson, No. 04-16502 (Feb. 14, 2005), the Court (Tjoflat, Dubina, Cox) granted the defendant’s interlocutory appeal, holding that a conviction for being a felon-in-possession in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) does not qualify as a "crime of violence" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 3156(a)(4), and therefore was not a basis (as the district court ruled) for denying release after a guilty plea and pending sentencing.
The Court rejected the argument that a § 922(g) charge involves a substantial risk of physical force and therefore qualifies as a "crime of violence." The Court recognized a circuit conflict on this issue, and sided with the courts which focused on the nature of the § 922(g) offense. The Court reasoned that illegal possession of a firearm by a felon did not inherently involve a risk of physical force. The Court noted that a felon’s possession of a firearm did not necessarily pose a greater risk of physical force than a non-felon’s possession, pointing out that some felons are convicted of non-violent felonies. The Court noted that in Leocal v. Ashcroft, 125 S.Ct. 377 (2004) the Supreme Court reasoned that a DUI conviction could not count as an offense involving a risk of harm because the harm was not a "natural outcome of an illegal use of force." The Court contrasted § 922(g) with a burglary, an offense which "necessarily creates a substantial risk of violence."
The Court therefore remanded the case to the district court, for reconsideration of whether the defendant should be released pending sentencing.

Monday, February 14, 2005

No Booker error when defendant waives appeal

In U.S. v. Grinard-Henry, No. 04-12677 (Feb. 11, 2005), the Court denied a defendant’s Booker-based motion for reconsideration of the Court’s order dismissing his appeal, finding that the defendant had waived his right of appeal as part of his plea agreement.
The Court noted that the appeal waiver preserved the defendant’s right to appeal a sentence "above the statutory maximum." Reaffirming its recent holding in U.S. v. Rubbo, 2005 WL 120507 (11th Cir. Jan. 21, 2005), the Court held that this language referred only to the relevant statutory maximum, not to the Guideline maximum as construed in Blakely/Booker. The Court further noted that the appeal waiver preserved the defendant’s right to appeal "a sentence in violation of law apart from the sentencing guidelines." The Court found that this language did not permit the defendant to raise a Booker challenge to the application of the sentencing guidelines. The Court pointed out that at his plea colloquy the defendant acknowledged the district court’s power to impany any sentence "pursuant to the sentencing guidelines."

No Booker error when defendant admits facts

In U.S. v. Frye, No. 03-16377 (11th Cir. 2005), the Court found affirmed the conviction and sentence of a defendant who pled guilty to using a firearm in connection with a drug felon offense in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), attempt to manufacture more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, and manufacture of more than 500 grams of methamphetamine.
The Court rejected the argument that the plea was involuntary because of irreconciliable differences between the defendant and his lawyer, noting that the record of the plea colloquy showed that Frye was not pleading guilty involuntarily.
The Court also rejected the argument that the defendant could not be convicted of violating § 924(c) because he was not convicted of an underlying drug felony offense. The Court joined other circuits which have held that an actual violation of a drug felony statute is not necessary to establish a § 924(c) violation. § 924(c) does not require that a defendant be convicted of, or even charged with, a predicate offense.
Reviewing the factual resume at the plea colloquy, the Court further rejected the argument that the § 924(c) guilty plea was supported by insufficient facts.
Finally, the Court found no Booker violation in the imposition of sentencing enhancements for being an organizer in the conspiracy, or for risk of harm to human life or the environment, based on factors that were neither admitted by him nor proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court found that the factual resume submitted to the district court as part of the plea colloquy supported the two enhancements. Frye admitted to the conduct underlying the sentence enhancements. The sentence therefore did not violate Booker.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Bartering drugs for gun is not "use" of gun

In U.S. v. Montano, No. 03-11950 (Feb. 4, 2005), the Court (Barkett, Hill & Forrester, b.d.) held that bartering drugs to obtain a firearm cannot constitute "use" of a firearm within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). The Court recognized the circuit conflict on this issue. However, the Court found no "active employment" of a firearm when drugs are being used to obtain it, and the firearm is never actually obtained (the defendant bartered with an undercover law enforcement official). The defendant merely passively viewed the firearms, and then never again came into view of them, and never possessed them, either actually or constructively. Moreover, Montano could not, as a matter of law, conspire with government officials in the commission of an unlawful act.
The Court noted, however, that Montano was pressing this issue for the first time in a § 2255 motion and,had pled guilty to the § 924(c) offense and not challenged this on appeal. Therefore, to overcome his procedural default, had to show not just factual innocence of the § 924(c) but "actual innocence," i.e., that he was actually innocent of the other charges which the government dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea to the § 924(c) offense. The Court remanded the case for this determination.

11th Circuit Booker Plain Error

In U.S. v. Rodriguez, No. 04-12676 (Feb. 4, 2005), the Court (Carnes, Marcus, Fay) upheld a sentence against a Booker challenge on "plain error" review.
First addressing Rodriguez’ preserved error, the Court rejected the argument that the sentencing court erred in its calculation of drug quantity, finding that the court’s estimate was "anything but erroneous."
Turning to the Booker issue, the Court noted that to establish "plain error" a defendant had to show not only that there was "error," and that the error was "plain," but also that the error affected "substantial rights." The Court recognized that there was "error" and that the error was "plain" but noted that a substantial rights violation required showing that the error undermined confidence in the outcome. The Court noted that in Jones v. U.S., 527 U.S. 373 (1999), the Supreme Court had stated that where the effect of an alleged error in a faulty jury instruction’s effect on the jury is "uncertain," and one cannot say whether the error worked to the defendant’s detriment, the error does not affect a defendant’s substantial rights.
The Court further noted that since, post-Booker, the sentencing court could have imposed the now-invalid guideline drug enhancements based on its discretion to impose a sentence within the statutory range, it was uncertain whether the defendant was worse off as a result of the Sixth Amendment violation. The Guidelines remained an "important factor" for the Court’s decision.
The Court found that it did not know whether, in imposing sentencing under advisory Guidelines, a sentencing court would have imposed a lesser sentence on Rodriguez than the mid-guideline range of 109 months that it imposed. [Query: Is there a meaningful difference between uncertainty, as in Jones, over an event in the past, e.g. how a jury instruction affected a jury’s verdict, and an event in the future, as in Rodriguez, over how a changed sentencing regime might affect a resentencing? Is this the key difference between the past and the future: for the past, the doors have closed, but for the future, even when the situation objectively is hopeless, isn’t there always still room for hope?]. The Court found that it was not necessarily prejudicial error for a court to have believed that a sentence was mandatory, if the court could have imposed the same sentence under a discretionary regime. The Court recognized the conflict of its reasoning with decisions of the Second, Fourth and Sixth Circuit, but found these decisions unpersuasive.