Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

McGahee: Batson violation warrants habeas relief

In McGahee v. Alabama Dep’t of Corrections, No. 07-15602 (March 4, 2009), the Court granted a writ of habeas corpus to an Alabama death row inmate, finding that Alabama violated Batson v. Kentucky by using its peremptory strikes in a discriminatory manner at his trial for 1986 murders.
The Court found that the Alabama trial court, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, failed to properly apply Batson. The record indicated that one black juror had been struck because the State "did not want to leave him individually," a remark the Court interpreted as being because of the juror’s race. In addition, all black members of the venire were struck by the State, either for cause, or by the use of peremptory challenges. "There can be no clearer ‘pattern’ than the total removal of all African-American jurors from the venire by the State." Further, the State attempted to justify striking multiple African-American jurors because of their "low intelligence." There was no support for this finding in the record. "Furthermore, the State’s claim that several African-Americans were of ‘low intelligence’ is a particularly suspicious explanation given the role that the claim of ‘low intelligence’ has played in the history of racial discrimination from juries."
The Court called the removal of all African-American jurors from the venire "astounding." The Court found that race was a basis for striking specific black members of the venire, and a Batson violation therefore occurred.

Willis: FEMA fraud sentenced up to maximum disbursement

In U.S. v. Willis, No. 08-10305 (March 3, 2009), the Court affirmed the Guideline loss amount imputed to a defendant convicted of defrauding FEMA by seeking fraudulent post-Hurricane Katrina aid.
Under the FEMA program, an applicant Hurricane victim was entitled to $4,358 automatically. The applicant could exceed this amount by making specific application therefor. The maximum aid amount was $26,200 per application.
Willis submitted numerous fraudulent applications, some in excess of the $4,358 automatic payment. Remarkably, she submitted one application after being indicted on for the fraud. The sentencing court held Willis accountable for $26,200, the maximum possible harm, for each FEMA application she submitted.
Rejecting Willis’ challenge to this determination, the Court held that Willis’ pattern of applying for funds beyond the $4,358 automatic disbursement supported an inference that she intended to pursue additional money from her other applications, and eventually intended to pursue the maximum disbursement for each application.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Carmichael: Jury Pool Ok in Middle District of Alabama

In U.S. v. Carmichael, No. 07-11400 (March 5, 2009), the Court rejected the defendant’s challenge to the validity of his Alabama jury venire.
The Court recognized that as a result of errors and technical glitches, the Jury Administrator re-summoned more than 15% of previously deferred jurors, a court-imposed limit that was designed to prevent jury venires from being disproportionately white. However, these deferred jurors were not given a preferential position but were selected at random for venires. Thus, the violation was not substantial.
The Court also rejected a challenge to the voter list-based jury pool under the Jury Selection and Service Act, finding no requirement in this Act for voter list supplementation when they result in over- or under-representation of certain groups.
Finally, the Court rejected Carmichael’s Sixth Amendment "fair cross-section" challenge to the jury pool, finding that he had failed to establish a disparity of 10% or more between eligible and actual African American jurors in the local population.

Ambert: SORNA is constitutional

In U.S. v. Ambert, No. 08-13139 (March 6, 2009), the Court rejected a defendant’s challenge to his conviction for failing to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA").
The Court rejected Ambert’s argument that his travel in interstate commerce occurred before the Attorney General determined that SORNA’s registration requirements applied on February 28, 2007 to previously convicted sex offenders, and therefore did not subject him to criminal liability for failing to register. First, he also traveled after February 28. Second, the violation consists of a failure to register, which accrued after February 28.
The Court rejected an ex post facto challenge to the SORNA statute, noting that the registration violation occurs after the effective date of the Attorney General’s retroactivity determination.
The Court also rejected a substantive due process to the SORNA statute, finding that strict scrutiny did not apply because the right of a person convicted of sex offenses to refuse registration was not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history, and, applying rational basis scrutiny, the registration requirement was reasonably related to the goal of protecting the public from recidivist sex offenders.
Overruling the district court decision in U.S. v. Myers, the Court rejected a Commerce Clause challenge. The Court found that "when a sex offender travels from one state to another, he is an instrumentality of interstate commerce, and by regulating these persons in SORNA, Congress has acted under its commerce clause power to regulate an instrumentality."
Finally, the Court rejected a non-delegation challenge, finding that Congress laid down an adequate "intelligible principle" to guide the Attorney General’s retroactivity determination for SORNA violators.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Siegelman: Governor's Bribery Convictions Affirmed

In U.S. v. Siegelman, No. 07-13163 (March 6, 2009), in a lengthy opinion, the Court reversed two bribery-related convictions of the former Governor of Alabama, but otherwise affirmed other convictions.
The Court rejected Siegelman’s argument that a jury instruction on bribery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B), should instruct that the quid pro quo agreement must be express. The Court noted that the caselaw merely requires an "explicit" agreement, which can be achieved through winks and nods, if not through express words. Furthermore, an agreement can be implied from words and actions.
The Court also rejected Siegelman’s argument that there was insufficient evidence to support the bribery convictions, finding that the jury could have concluded that a quid pro quo existed to put Richard Scrushy on the Board of a Health Review Board in exchange for his money contribution to one of the Governor’s foundations.
The Court agreed with Siegelman’s argument that he should not have been convicted of honest services mail fraud based on Scrushy’s self-dealing once Scrushy became a Board member. The Court noted Siegelman’s lack of involvement in Scrushy’s self-dealing, or any agreement between the two on this point.
Citing U.S. v. Ramirez, 324 F.3d 1225 (11th Cir. 2003), the Court rejected Siegelman’s statute of limitations challenge, noting that he failed to raise until a motion for judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c), post-verdict. If a defendant fails to raise the statute of limitations defense at trial, the defense is waived.
The Court rejected the argument that a statement of a co-conspirator bragging about the successful result of the bribery could be admitted under Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E). Bragging informs co-conspirators that "their plan had worked."
The Court rejected new trial arguments based on juror misconduct in having looked at news articles and materials on the internet. The trial court conducted a hearing on this matter and determined that the extrinsic materials related only to the process of deliberation, not the substantive issues in the trial. There was no reasonable possibility of prejudice. The Court reached a similar conclusion regarding jury exposure to an unredacted second superseding indictment. The Court rejected other challenges to improper premature communications among the jury during deliberations, noting that Fed. R. Evid. 606(b) shields jurors from such post-trial inquiries.
Finally, the court; affirmed an upward sentencing departure based on the fact that the Governor's conduct had seriously undermined public confidence in the executive Branch of Alabama government.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Shaw: Variance to Statutory Maximum Not Unreasonable

In U.S. v. Shaw, No. 07-14693 (Mar. 3, 2009), the Court affirmed an upward variance from a guideline range of 30-37 months to the statutory maximum of 120 months, for an offender convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The Court agreed with the district court’s assessment that, in light of Shaw’s past criminal history, he was "just a step or two away from violent crime." "The public should not wait until he takes those last steps before the district court can provide it with the maximum protection the law allows."
The Court rejected the argument that the district court failed to support its prediction of Shaw’ future violence with any "empirical" study. The Court noted that district courts have "wide latitude" in applying what they have learned from other cases. Here, moreover, Shaw was arrested with ski masks in his possession, headed toward a drug hole to rob it, vindicating the district court’s assessment. The Court also rejected Shaw’s reliance on lesser punishments imposed in like cases.