Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mercer: Motel Room Search Valid

In U.S. v. Mercer, No. 06-13258 (Aug. 28, 2008), the Court affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress arising out of the warrantless search of the defendant’s motel room.
The defendant was arrested and taken into custody at his motel room. After he left the motel, during the night, the police, with the consent of motel employees, searched the defendant’s motel room, and found a firearm and methamphetamine. The defendant claimed that the searched violated his Fourth Amendment rights, because he had booked the motel room until the following day at noon.
The Court held that the motel employees had the authority to consent to a search of the motel room because control of the room had reverted back to the motel, in the circumstances of the defendant’s arrest.
The Court also found that a statement the defendant gave upon arrest was not obtained involuntarily, finding that defendant’s belief that his statements might help him get out of jail was not sufficient to show involuntariness.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Davis: Sentence Reduction Request Does Not Toll AEDPA

In Davis v. Barrow, No. 07-12575 (Aug. 25, 2008), the Court held that a Georgia inmate’s § 2254 habeas petition was untimely, because the inmate’s motion to reduce his sentence did not raise any legal arguments or otherwise attack the legality of his sentence. Accordingly, under Alexander v. Dep’t of Corrections, 523 F.3d 1291 (11th Cir. 2008), the motion was not the type of pleading that tolled the one-year statute of limitations of AEDPA.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Diaz: No Waiver of Right to Trial by Jury

In U.S. v. Diaz, No. 06-13782 (Aug. 22, 2008), the Court reversed a bench trial conviction because the defendant did not give a knowing and voluntary waiver of his right to jury trial.
The defendant was found competent to stand trial, despite his insistence that he was not "Michael Diaz," but had been transformed into a new person named D’Ineiehaimaye D’Inemani. Before trial, Diaz stated that he did "not want any juries infringed upon D"ine because they are not of D’Ine peers of D’Ine peoples but the plebeians and colonizers of this occupational imperialistic power structure." The district court ultimately interpreted this and other statements to waive the right to trial by jury. The court therefore conducted a bench trial, and convicted Diaz of all bank robbery charges.
Reversing, the Court found that "Diaz was unsatisfied with the persons that would form the jury, not that he wanted a bench trial." The Court pointed out that Diaz did not sign a waiver of jury form. His statements regarding his intent to waive his right to jury trial were "equivocal." The Court therefore vacated the conviction.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Benbow: Jury Instruction re: Drug-Trafficking In United States

In U.S. v. Benbow, No. 07-10560 (Aug. 18, 2008), the Court reversed a cocaine-trafficking conviction because the district court declined to instruct the jury that, in order to convict the defendant, the government had to prove that he conspired to either possess or distribute the cocaine in the United States. The Court declined to find that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to establish a conspiracy to possess cocaine in the United States.
The cocaine trafficking charge arose out of a sting operation involving a plan to sell large quantities of cocaine in Europe. Accordingly, the case implicated U.S. v. Lopez-Vanegas, 493 F.3d 1305 (11th Cir. 2007), which held that an agreement to traffic in cocaine which did not involve possession or distribution in the United States did not violate American criminal law. Thus, it was appropriate to instruct the jury, as the defendant requested, that the government had to prove a conspiracy to possess or distribute in the United States (not just in Europe), and it was reversible error to fail to do so.
The Court found that the evidence was not insufficient as a matter of law, because the cocaine at issue was going to originate in the United States and be transported to Europe. Since the defendant would have "constructive possession" of the cocaine while it was being transported, this fact could be sufficient to convict. The Court therefore declined to enter judgment in the defendant’s favor.

Vega-Castillo: Fast-track disparity still irrelevant at sentencing

In U.S. v. Vega-Castillo, No. 07-12141 (Aug. 19, 2008) (2-1, Barkett, J., dissenting), the Court rejected the argument that the sentencing court erred when it declined to consider the "disparity" created by unavailability of a "fast-track" disposition program in the district in which the defendant was convicted for illegal reentry, and sentenced. The Court noted that its prior precedent had held that this "disparity" was not a valid consideration, because it was "implicit" in Congressional policy. The Court held that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Kimbrough did not abrogate prior precedent, because Kimbrough dealt with crack/powder disparities, not the "fast-track" disparity. Kimbrough therefore merely pit "reasoning against holding," not "holding against holding."

Garey: Rejection of Appointed Counsel can voluntarily choose pro se representation

In U.S. v. Garey, No. 05-14631 (Aug. 20, 2008) (en banc), the Court, overruling its precedent in Marshall v. Dugger, 925 F.2d 373 (11th Cir. 1991), held that a defendant waived his right to counsel, even though he did not clearly request to represent himself, when the defendant rejected the only counsel to which he was constitutionally entitled, understanding that his only alternative was self-representation, with its many attendant dangers.
The Court noted that, when the defendant announced that he did not want to continue being represented by appointed counsel because of a conflict, the district court denied the defendant’s motion for substitution of counsel, and set before the defendant two constitutionally permissible choices: continued representation by prior counsel, or self-representation. The district court gave "multiple warnings" about self-representation. "By rejecting appointed counsel, Garey voluntarily chose to proceed pro se as surely as if he had made a request to do so."