Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Prevatte: Prior Georgia Conviction Valid

In Prevatte v. French, No. 07-14536 (Oct. 28, 2008), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a North Carolina inmate, rejecting his challenges to the validity of prior Georgia convictions that were used as aggravating factors in a North Carolina death penalty sentencing. The Court rejected the argument that defense counsel had a conflict of interest at trial, crediting the state court fact-finding that no conflict existed. The Court also rejected the argument that the prosecution improperly relied on the defendant’s post-arrest silence, finding the evidence of guilt overwhelming.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Thomas: Armed Career Offenders Not Eligible for Crack Guideline Reduction

In U.S. v. Thomas, No. 08-11492 (Oct. 23, 2008), the Court, applying U.S. v. Moore, 541 F.3d 1323 (11th Cir. 2008) (career offenders are categorically ineligible for the two-level reduction made retroactively available to crack cocaine offenders), held that armed career offenders, like career offenders, are not eligible for an Amendment 706 sentence reduction. The Court reasoned that the base offense level reduction relating to crack quantities had not effect on the sentencing range of an armed career offender, which is based on USSG § 4B1.4.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Singleton: Can't Assume Powder will all become crack

In U.S. v. Singleton, No. 07-13329 (Oct. 16, 2008), the Court held that the district erred in establishing the base offense for Singleton’s crack and powder cocaine offenses at level 36, instead of level 34.
The district court arrived at the weight quantity of cocaine by assuming that the powder cocaine seized at Singleton’s motel room could all be converted to crack cocaine. This resulted in a higher base offense level, since crack cocaine is punished more severely than powder. However, the motel room did not contain enough quantities of baking soda for Singleton to convert all the powder to crack. In addition, the baggies in which the powder was found indicated that Singleton also dealt in powder cocaine, not exclusively crack. Hence, the district court’s calculation was speculative. The Court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Valladares: 35 days is enough to prepare for Medicare fraud trial

In U.S. v. Valladares, No. 07-14592 (Oct. 9, 2008), the Court upheld the conviction and sentence of a defendant convicted of defrauding Medicare by bribing doctors to prescribe medically unnecessary medication.
The Court rejected Valladares’ argument that the district court abused its discretion when it denied her request for a continuance of the trial. The trial began 35 days after arraignment. The Court noted that the government had identified all the documents it intended to use. Further, Valladares failed to show how other billing records, if presented by her at trial, would have changed the outcome of the case.
Turning to the sentencing issues, the Court rejected the argument that the district court erred in using the commercial bribery guideline in USSG § 2B4.1 instead of the fraud guideline of § 2B1.1 to determine the base offense level. The Court noted that this case involved "fraud achieved through bribery" rather than "straight bribery" and the district court therefore applied the correct guideline.
The Court rejected the argument that fraud in which Valladares used her company in the scheme could not be counted for sentence enhancement purposes, or for calculating the restitution amount, finding that this part of the scheme was part of the "relevant conduct."
Finally, the Court rejected the argument that Ex Post Facto principles barred the imposition of forfeiture for the portion of the conspiracy that predated the effective date of one of the statutes of conviction. The Court noted that no Ex Post Facto violation occurs when a conspiracy does not end until after a statute takes effect.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jackson: 851 approval not jurisdictional

In U.S. v. Jackson, No 07-13374 (Oct. 7, 2008), the Court held that the requirement that the government obtain approval for an appeal of a sentence from the Solicitor General was not jurisdictional. Thus, it rejected the argument that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the government’s appeal of the defendant’s sentence. The Court also rejected the argument that, in order to appeal a district court’s striking of a sentence enhancement notice pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 851, the government must appeal before sentencing.
The Court also rejected the argument that the government’s § 851 notice was defective because it was not personally signed or approved by the United States Attorney. The Court held that this power can be delegated to Assistant United States Attorneys.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Dombrowski: 5th Amend. Right Not "Clearly Established" for Prior Conviction Admissions

In Dombrowski v. Mingo, No. 05-13140 (Oct. 3, 2008), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas corpus relief to a Florida inmate, who claimed that a Florida state judge violated his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when, without warning Mingo of the consequences, he asked Mingo to admit, for purposes of enhancing his sentence as a Florida "habitual offender," that he had several prior felony convictions.
The Court recognized that in Miranda the Supreme Court broadly stated the scope of the privilege, and recognized caselaw in other circuits which held that the privilege applies when a court inquires of a defendant’s previous convictions for habitual offender enhancement purposes. However, the Court noted that some circuits did not construe the Fifth Amendment to apply in this situation. Thus, the right was not "clearly established." Hence, the Florida state court’s failure to apprise Mingo of his Fifth Amendment privilege was not contrary to "clearly established" law – and therefore could not give rise to habeas corpus relief.