Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, November 30, 2007

Straub: No Subject Matter Jurisdiction needed for Criminal Contempt

In U.S. v. Straub, No. 06-14354 (Nov. 29, 2007), the Court affirmed the criminal contempt conviction of a defendant who violated a court order to not be present during the removal of property from specific premises.
The defendant claimed that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hold him in criminal contempt, because the court later determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Rejecting this argument, the Court analogized criminal contempt to sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure – which can be imposed regardless of whether a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131 (1992). The Court distinguished contrary dicta in its caselaw as "inapposite."
The Court also concluded that the order that Straub was charged with violating was "reasonably specific," and further rejected Straub’s claim that his conduct was not "willful."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dohan: No Improper Vouching

In U.S. v. Dohan, No. 06-14320 (Nov. 28, 2007), the Court affirmed the conviction of a defendant charged with fraud and money-laundering.
Reviewing for "plain error," the Court rejected the argument that the government should have corrected a cooperating witness testimony that he was testifying of his own volition, when he was in fact still subject to supervised release. The Court noted that the issue involved the witness’ beliefs, and that the witness had been subject to vigorous cross-examination.
The Court also rejected the argument that the government improperly vouched for credibility of the witness’ credibility by suggesting that he had been "checked" by the prosecutor, and also by the judge earlier in reducing the witness’ sentence for giving substantial assistance. The Court found no error and no prejudice. The Court also found no error in the witness’ testimony that he was a "moral, Christian man."
Finally, the Court rejected the argument that the district court erred in giving a "specific intent" jury instruction, as provided in the Eleventh Circuit Model Jury Instructions, as being the mens rea of the laundering offense. The Court noted that its own caselaw no longer required specific intent, but mere knowing and voluntary participation in the conspiracy. The caselaw trumped the old Model Instruction.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Foley: Sentencing Court abdicated responsibility

In U.S. v. Foley, No. 06-11145 (Nov. 21, 2007), on a government appeal of a sentence of a defendant convicted of fraud, the Court reversed the sentence and remanded for resentencing.
The Court agreed with the government that the district court erred in believing that the forfeiture amount found by the jury bound the court when calculating the amount of "loss" for sentencing purposes. The Court noted that forfeiture and loss are distinct, and require distinct calculations. Loss takes account of "relevant conduct." The sentencing court therefore "abdicated its responsibility" to make independent Guideline findings.
The Court also found that the district court erred, when calculating the number of victims, in relying on the number of persons who had responded to a probation office questionnaire. The Court noted that these responses did not "establish how many people sustained the loss."
The Court further found that the district court erred when it abdicated its responsibility to determine whether the defendant obstructed justice.
The Court noted that these cumulative errors were not harmless, since they resulted in a sentence 250 months below the bottom of the otherwise potentially applicable Guidelines range – a factor the district court must still consider.
The Court rejected all of Foley’s arguments on cross-appeal. The Court noted that the restitution statute now defined a "victim" more broadly than before, therefore making Foley liable to "any victim" of his fraud scheme. The Court rejected all of Foley’s remaining arguments as meritless.

Hurtado: Misuse of Identification Does not require theft

In U.S. v. Hurtado, No. 07-11138 (Nov. 21, 2007), the Court affirmed the conviction of a defendant convicted of unlawfully using another person’s identification, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1).
The Court rejected the argument that the conviction should be vacated because proof that the defendant "stole" the identification of another, and proof that the defendant knew that the identification was of an "actual person," were elements of the offense, which the government failed to prove. The Court explained that the statute criminalizes use of identification "without lawful authority," and this definition encompasses situations other than theft of the identification. The Court further explained that knowledge of that there is an actual person is not an element of the offense, because this is not required to avoid convicting the defendant of non-culpable conduct.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Drury: Denial of rehearing not AEDPA limitations start point

In Drury v. U.S., No. 07-12130 (Nov. 13, 2007), the Court held that, for purposes of determining the starting point for AEDPA’s one-year statute of limitations for § 2255 claims, the period begins to run when the Supreme Court denies certiorari, not thereafter, when the Supreme Court denies a motion to rehear the denial of certiorari. The Court joined other circuits to have so held, and noted that under the Supreme Court rules, a motion to rehear the denial of certiorari does not suspend the order of denial.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Davis v. Jones: Appearance of Impartiality not required by due process

In Davis v. Jones, No. 06-15530 (Nov. 8, 2007), the Court denied habeas relief to an Alabama inmate who claimed that the fact that the State’s attorney was the brother of the Alabama judge who presided over certain pre-trial proceedings created an appearance of impartiality that violated Due Process.
The Court noted that, under Supreme Court caselaw, only actual bias, not the appearance of bias, rises to a Due Process violation. Although the federal recusal rules would have required recusal in these circumstances, Due Process did not so require. Hence, the Alabama proceedings did not violate Due Process.

Jackson: Physical evidence resulting from un-Mirandized statement

In U.S. v. Jackson, No. 06-15186 (Nov. 9, 2007), the Court affirmed the denial of a Miranda-based motion to suppress.
The defendant gave an un-Mirandized statement to police, as a result of which the police found a firearm and ammunition in his home. The statement itself was voluntary, and the defendant was not seeking to suppress the statement, but the fruit of the search based on the statement. Citing the narrowest grounds for the decision in United States v. Patane, 542 U.S. 630 (2004), the Court held that a Miranda violation that produces a voluntary statement does not entail suppression of the physical evidence found as a result of the un-Mirandized statement.

Mintmire: Lawyer Obstruction Conviction Upheld

In U.S. v. Mintmire, No. 06-11212 (Nov. 13, 2007), the Court affirmed the convictions of a Florida lawyer charged with attempting to obstruct a grand jury investigation into a stock sale.
The Court rejected a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. The Court found ample evidence that Mintmire had attempted to coach a witness to give false testimony before the grand jury.
The Court also rejected a challenge to the jury instructions, finding that the trial court properly instructed the jury on the affirmative defense that Mintmire was acting as a lawyer and giving bona fide legal representation at the time he committed the charged conduct.
Finally, the Court found no prejudicial spillover in the fact that Mintmire was prosecuted in a single trial for two separate obstruction counts.