Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jones: No Crack Reduction for 1994 12kilos offender

In U.S. v. Jones, No 08-13298 (Nov. 19, 2008), the Court upheld the denial of a § 3582(c)(2) sentence reduction to a crack offender.
Jones was originally sentenced in 1994 based on Guideline offense level 38, for a quantity of crack cocaine he admitted was in excess of 12 kilos. The current Guidelines still provide for level 38 for offenders at this quantity of cocaine, even after the recent Guideline amendments. Accordingly, Jones did not qualify as an offender who guideline range was lowered, and therefore was not eligible for a sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(2).
The Court rejected Jones’ reliance on Booker. The Court pointed out that his sentence might be higher today as result of a Booker variance. Further, § 3582(c)(2) allows sentence reduction only when lowered by the Sentencing Commission. Booker was therefore inapplicable.

Friday, November 14, 2008

James: No 3852 reduction when offense level unchanged

In U.S. v. James, No. 08-12067 (Nov. 12, 2008), the Court held that a crack cocaine offender was not eligible for Amendment 706’s retroactive sentence reduction, because the Amendment did not affect the calculation of James’ offense level in a way favorable to him. At his original 1989 sentencing, the base offense level for James 10-15 kilos of crack cocaine was 36. The Guidelines were later amended to increase the punishment to level 38. As a result, James was not entitled to resentencing under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Steed: Alabama statute not "clearly unconstitutional" for 4th Amend. purposes

In U.S. v. Steed, No. 08-10557 (Nov. 10, 2008), the Court affirmed a marihuana trafficking conviction.
The Court rejected the argument that the marihuana seized from the tractor-trailer the defendant was driving should have been suppressed because the Alabama statute pursuant to which the police officer inspected the truck’s paperwork and equipment (and ultimately discovered marihuana) was clearly unconstitutional. Without reaching the question whether the Alabama statute was, in fact, unconstitutional, the Court held that it was not "clearly unconstitutional," and the police could therefore in good faith rely on it and conduct the inspection.
The Alabama statute permitted police in effect to inspect trucks at any time, at any place, and for any reason. The Court nonetheless concluded that it was not "clearly unconstitutional."
The statute gave "notice" that specifically designated officials may inspect vehicles. The scope of the inspection was limited to "commercial motor vehicles." Although the statute in effect allowed inspections at any time, this was reasonable because commercial trucks operate at all hours. Although the state lacked a limitation with respect to place, this too was reasonable because it is easy for trucks to avoid designated checkpoints. Finally, although the statute placed no limitation on the police’s discretion to inspect, this presented no concern.
The Court rejected the argument that the police officer, testifying as an expert, was permitted to give hearsay testimony about police knowledge of trends in drug trafficking. The Court found no violation of FRE 703, noting that the testimony was not improperly conveying conversations between the police officer and non-testifying witnesses and co-defendants, but instead properly establishing how his "personal training and experience" formed the basis for his knowledge of drug trafficking, criminal indicators, and the commercial trucking industry.
The Court also rejected the argument that the officer violated Rule 704(b) by testifying as to the defendant’s state of mind, an issue that should have been left to the trier of fact. The Court found that the officer properly testified about the nervousness of the defendant, but left it to the jury to decide whether this nervousness established a guilty state of mind.
The Court rejected a challenge to the "deliberate ignorance" instruction, finding that any impropriety in giving this instruction was not prejudicial because the judge also gave the jury an "actual knowledge" instruction and there was sufficient evidence to support this instruction, in light of the defendant’s nervousness and the suspicious state of his paperwork.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Garey: Upholding Domestic Terrorism Enhancement

In U.S. v. Garey, No. 05014631 (Oct. 31, 2008), the Court, on remand from an en banc decision that affirmed the defendant’s conviction, affirmed the defendant’s sentence.
Garey argued that the increase in his Guideline sentence for a felony that "involved or was intended to promote a ‘federal crime of terrorism’" was unwarranted, because the enhancement requires conduct that transcends national boundaries, and his crime was "purely domestic." The Court found that the plain language of the Guidelines references conduct calculated to influence the conduct of government, without regard to national boundaries. Although a defendant’s conduct must transcend national boundaries to sustain a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2332b, the Guidelines do not predicate an upward adjustment on this basis.
The Court also rejected Garey’s challenge to the reasonableness of his 360-month sentence, pointing out that it was below the low-end of the Guideline range.

Anton: Court failed to explain reliability of hearsay relied on at sentencing

In U.S. v. Anton, No. 07-13124 (Oct. 30, 2008), the Court affirmed a conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, but vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.
The Court rejected Anton’s argument that his nolo contendere plea to a prior Florida state crime precluded qualifying it as a "felony." The Court pointed out that the Florida state court did not withhold adjudication, and the prior crime therefore counted as a felony.
Turning to the sentence, the Court found that the district court relied on hearsay statements in determining the number of firearms that Anton should be held accountable for, yet failed to make any findings regarding the credibility and reliability of these hearsay statements. The Court therefore remanded the case because the district court relied on "supported conclusions."

mcNeese: Govt Controls Rule 35(b) resentencing minimum

In U.S. v. McNeese, No. 08-10093 (Nov. 3, 2008), the Court held that the government does have the authority to limit a Rule 35(b) motion for reduction of sentence to one count of an indictment, and thereby preclude a district court from resentencing a defendant to sentence less than that previously imposed on a separate count of the indictment.
The defendant was convicted on two counts. On one count the court imposed a life sentence, on the other count it imposed a 240-month sentence. After the defendant gave "substantial assistance" to law enforcement, the government moved, under Rule 35(b), to reduce sentence on the count for which a life sentence was imposed, but not on the other count. The defendant wanted a sentence below 240 months. The court imposed a 240 month sentence, noting that it could not resentence below 240 months because the government had not moved for a Rule 35(b) reduction for that count.
The Court rejected McNeese’s argument that the sentencing court had authority to sentence below 240 months. The Court noted that the government could control McNeese’s sentence, and that its failure to seek a sentence reduction could only be challenged if it had "unconstitutional motives" for not doing so – something McNeese did not allege.