Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Henry: Not Ineffective Not to Put On Mental Health Experts

In Henry v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 06-13821 (June 27, 2007), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1985 murder. The Court rejected the argument that counsel was ineffective for failing to call mental health experts at the penalty phase of Henry’s second trial for murder. The Court pointed out that after these experts testified at the first trial, the jury recommended the imposition of the death sentence. Further, one of the experts characterized Henry as a "very dangerous person." At the second trial, Henry’s new counsel elected not to call mental health experts, but to put on favorable testimony from persons who knew Henry well. The Court held that in these circumstances, it was not ineffective assistance to make the tactical decision not to call mental health experts.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Douglas: Gun in Secretive Position + Threat = "Otherwise Using"

In U.S. v. Douglas, No. 06-12854 (June 19, 2007), the Court affirmed the conviction and sentence of a defendant convicted of kidnapping, robbery and carjacking.
The Court rejected the argument that the trial court should not have admitted supplemental expert opinions from the government’s fingerprint expert regarding the age of a fingerprint found on a vehicle. The district court did not abuse its discretion, because of the expert’s extensive experience and training in fingerprint analysis. His testimony assisted the jury.
Reviewing for "plain error," the Court also rejected the argument that the trial court should have been allowed to call a witness to testify in person, finding no impact on Douglas’ substantial rights in light of the overwhelming evidence of guilt.
The Court also rejected the argument that the district court should have disallowed the victim’s in-court identification of the defendant, because of earlier misdescriptions. Noting the lengthy time the victim had to see the defendant during the commission of the crime, and the consistency of her other prior identifications, the Court found the in-court identification sufficiently reliable.
Turning to sentencing, the Court upheld the firearm "otherwise using" enhancement, in the face of a jury verdict which acquitted Douglas of the gun count. The Court found that the testimony that Douglas kept the gun pointed down in a "secretive location" (his groin), and the verbal threat to use the gun, suffice for the "otherwise using" enhancement.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ogle: 7 of 8 habeas claims were exhausted

In Ogle v. Johnson, No. 06-11074 (June 15, 2007), the Court reversed the dismissal of a Georgia inmate’s federal habeas petition. The district court had dismissed the petition on the ground that the inmate had failed to raise the issues in his state postconviction proceedings. But the Court found that the record of these proceedings showed that the inmate had, in fact, raised seven of the eight issues in his prior state postconviction proceedings. The Court therefore remanded the case for further consideration of the habeas petition, except as to one unexhausted claim, which it found procedurally defaulted.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Thomas: Govt's Consecutive Sentence Recommendation Not in Breach

In U.S. v. Thomas, No. 05-16778 (June 1, 2007), the Court rejected the argument that the government’s statement during sentencing that the court give consideration to consecutive punishment violated its promises in the plea agreement.
In the plea agreement, the government agreed not to recommend a specific sentence, but reserved the right to present evidence and make arguments regarding the application of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The presentence investigation report noted that for a number of identity theft offenses, the Guidelines gave the district court discretion as to whether to run sentences consecutively or concurrently. Prior to sentencing, the government noted that Thomas committed the offenses while on probation and recommended that at least one sentence run consecutively.
The Court held that the government did not breach its plea agreement when it recommended consecutive sentences, because it had reserved the right to make a recommendation regarding the application of the Guidelines and § 3553(a).

Presley: Unsworn Allegations Suffice for Summons to Supervised Release Revocation Hearing

In U.S. v. Presley, No. 05-16778 (May 31, 2007), the Court decided two consolidated appeals, affirming a district court’s imposition of a sentence on revocation of supervised release, and likewise affirming a conviction and sentence for unlawful possession of a firearm.
The Court rejected the argument that the district court lacked jurisdiction to sentence Presley for revocation of supervised release. Presley noted that the summons that was issued to him in connection with his revocation hearing was based on unsworn allegations, and that the hearing occurred after the term of supervised release expired. The Court found that these circumstances did not affect the district court’s jurisdiction. The Court found that a person on supervised release is in "constructive custody," and therefore enjoys less rights than a person who is free. Therefore, the absence of sworn allegations did not affect the district court’s jurisdiction.
The Court also rejected the defendant’s argument that he was erroneously denied a "necessity" defense for his unlawful gun possession charge. Presley claimed that he took the firearm from children who were playing with it and hid it the gun 30 minutes before his arrest. The Court pointed out that the defendant had a cell phone when he possessed the firearm, and therefore had an opportunity to notify police of his possession of a firearm, that is, he had a reasonable legal alternative to violating the law. Consequently, the necessity defense could not apply and the district court was not required to tell the jury otherwise.