Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, September 29, 2006

Day: No ACCA conviction where defendant did not plead guilty to the charged burglary

In U.S. v. Day, No. 05-15676 (Sept. 27, 2006), the Court held that the district court should not have relied on a prior Florida third-degree burglary conviction as a basis for sentencing the defendant as an armed career criminal, and vacated the sentence.
Three prior "violent felonies" qualify a defendant for sentencing as an armed career criminal. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). One of Day’s prior convictions arose out of a case where he was charged in Florida State court with second-degree burglary, but pled guilty only to a lesser offense, third-degree burglary, which could not have involved a dwelling and not have qualified as a violent felony. The guilty plea to third-degree burglary contained insufficient information to determine whether Day was convicted of burglarizing a structure or a conveyance. The district court relied on the charging document, which charged second-degree felony.
Reversing, the Court recognized that charging documents are among the materials a court can ordinarily look to in determining whether a prior offense is the type of burglary that qualifies as a violent felony. Here, however, reliance on the charging document was improper, because the defendant pled guilty to a different offense than the one with which he was charged.

Davis: No habeas relief on Giglio/Brady

In Davis v. Terry, No. 04-13371 (Sept. 26, 2006), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia death row inmate.
The Court noted that it was reaching the merits of Davis’ challenges to the fairness of his trial, even though he procedurally defaulted these issues by failing to raise them on direct appeal of his state sentence, because Davis accompanied these arguments with a claim of actual innocence.
The Court rejected the Giglio claim that the prosecution presented knowingly false testimony. The Court noted that there was no evidence the State knew the evidence was false when it presented it.
The Court also rejected a Brady claim that the State failed to disclose exculpatory material during trial. The Court noted that the exculpatory evidence was revealed during the trial, and that defense counsel declined to recall a witness to the stand to go over this evidence. Thus, the defense was aware of the evidence, and the failure initially to advise the defense of the evidence was not material because the defense elected not to recall the witness.
Finally, the Court rejected an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, pointing out that the defense presented a viable defense of mistaken identity. Moreover, none of the testimony which Davis asserted should have been elicited would have changed the outcome of the trial.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Arevalo-Juarez: Fast-Track Disparity Not Unwarranted

In U.S. v. Arevalo-Suarez, No. 05-16313 (Sept. 15, 2006), the Court, on a government sentencing appeal, reversed the district court’s grant of a four-level sentence reduction based on the sentencing disparity resulting from the unavailability of a fast-track sentencing departure in the Southern District of Georgia. The fast-track program makes defendants who plea guilty early eligible for a sentence reduction, but only in districts designated by the Attorney General.
Citing U.S. v. Anaya-Castro, 455 F.3d 1249 (11th Cir. 2006), which held that a district court was not required to depart based on the disparity caused by the fast-track program, and citing caselaw in other circuits, the Court held that the fast-track program disparity was not "unwarranted" because it was adopted pursuant to Congressional authorization. Hence, the district court erred in relying on the disparity as a basis for its sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

Owens: No error in higher sentence than co-conspirators

In U.S. v. Owens, No. 06-11448 (Sept. 15, 2006), the Court rejected the argument that a sentence was unreasonable because the district court failed to consider the sentences given to other defendants in the case.
The Court noted that the district court had stated that it thought the sentence was reasonable and it had consulted the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors. The district court acknowledged that Owens’s sentence was longer than some of others arising out of the same fraudulent scheme, but specifically found that other § 3553(a) factors outweighed this problem. The Court found the sentence reasonable, noting that Owens’s cooperation, while "admirable," did not "undo the harm he had caused."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wilks: Roper does not affect treatment of youthful offenses

In U.S. v. Wilks, No. 05-14262 (Sept. 13, 2006), the Court affirmed a 212-month sentence imposed on a defendant convicted of drug-trafficking.
The Court rejected the argument that reliance on youthful offenders convictions to qualify for enhanced sentences under the career offender guideline and the Armed Career Criminal Act violated Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), which held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of individuals who were under 18 at the time the offense was committed.
The Court noted that its precedent since Roper had affirmed reliance on youthful offenders convictions. Further, Roper "does not deal specifically – or even tangentially – with sentence enhancement."
The Court also rejected the argument that several youthful offender convictions should have deemed "related" because Wilks was sentenced for them on the same day in State court. The Court noted that offenses are considered separate and not related if there is an intervening arrest. Here, there was an intervening arrest, and the fact that Wilks’ State sentencing for multiple offenses occurred at the same time did not alter the analysis.
Finally, the Court rejected the challenge to the sentence as "unreasonable," pointing out that the sentence was fifty months shorter than the low-end of the Guideline range.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pham: Evidence Independent of Cooperation Proper for Sentence Enhancement

In U.S. v. Pham, No. 06-10880 (Sept. 11, 2006), the Court affirmed the sentence imposed on a defendant convicted of conspiracy to distribute ecstasy, and of money laundering.
The defendant claimed that the sentencing court erred in relying on evidence of drug quantity derived from information he provided after entering his plea agreement and cooperating with the government, in violation of USSG § 1B1.8. The Court, reviewing the issue for clear error, found that the evidence on which the sentencing court relied had been obtained independent of the defendant’s cooperation. Consequently, the evidence was properly relied on.
The Court also rejected the argument that the sentence should not have been enhanced based on a co-conspirator’s use of a firearm. The Court noted that the use of a firearm was reasonably foreseeable, both based on the evidence, and on the nature of the large-scale drug enterprise.