Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Maples: No Excuse for Procedural Default

In Maples v. Allen, No. 07-15187 (Oct. 26, 2009), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to an Alabama death-row inmate.
After his murder conviction and death sentence were affirmed on direct appeal in the Alabama courts, Maples, represented by counsel, filed for collateral relief in Alabama state court. The court denied relief, and Maples’ lawyers neglected to file a timely appeal. The Alabama courts found that the deadline for filing an appeal barred Maples from pursuing collateral relief. Maples brought a federal habeas action, alleging the same claims asserted in the Alabama collateral relief suit. The Court found that these claims were procedurally defaulted.
The Court found that Maples could not excuse the procedural default, because he was not entitled to representation in his collateral proceeding, and therefore could not establish ineffective assistance.
The Court rejected Maples’ argument that the Alabama trial court should sua sponte have given the jury an instruction regarding manslaughter and voluntary intoxication. The Court found no such requirement in the caselaw, and noted that the evidence would not have supported a voluntary intoxication defense.

Velez: Criminal Defense attorney transactions exempt

In U.S. v. Velez, No. 09-10199 (Oct. 26, 2009), the Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a money-laundering count in a prosecution against a criminal defense lawyer, in which the government charged that the lawyer approved of the transfer of funds for a drug dealer’s defense knowing that they were derived from criminal activity.
The Court relied on 18 U.S.C. § 1957(f), which exempts from money-laundering prosecution "any transaction necessary to preserve a person’s representation as guaranteed by the sixth amendment." The Court rejected the government’s argument that the plain meaning of this statute had been modified by a subsequent Supreme Court decision. The Court pointed out that this decision involved a different, civil forfeiture statute. Consequently, the decision had no bearing on the exemption statute.

Lee: "Walkaway" offense not "violent felony" under ACCA

In U.S. v. Lee, No. 08-14724 (Oct. 26, 2009), the Court, citing Chambers v. U.S., 129 S.Ct. 687 (U.S. 2009), held that a prior "walkaway" escape conviction is not a "violent felony" and therefore vacated the defendant’s 15-year mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The Court affirmed the felon in possession conviction.
The Court rejected Lee’s Fourth Amendment challenge to the seizure of a gun from the glove compartment of a car in which he was a passenger. The Court found that, as a passenger, Lee lacked standing to challenge the search of the vehicle.
The Court also rejected Lee’s argument that the judge should not have used his own ruler and car keys to demonstrate for the jury the concepts of actual and constructive possession.
Turning to sentencing, the Court applied the approach of the Supreme Court in Begay and Chambers, and concluded that Lee’s prior conviction, which was based on his leaving a halfway house without permission, was not a crime of violence. The Court cited similar decisions in other Circuits which reached the same conclusion in light of Begay and Chambers. The Court noted that Lee’s walkaway offense did not involve "aggression," and was not the type of conduct "that one hears about and remarks, ‘that’s the kind of thing an armed career criminal would do.’"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quintina: Ethnicity not basis for police encounter

In U.S. v. Quintana, No. 08-12967 (Oct. 22, 2009), the Court rejected a defendant’s claim that his right to Equal Protection was violated when the police initiated a consensual encounter with him – an encounter which ultimately led to a conviction for illegal re-entry in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a) – based on their belief that he appeared to be of Middle Eastern ethnicity. The Court found that it did not need to reach the question whether a consensual encounter can give rise to an Equal Protection violation, because the record showed that the encounter in Quintana’s case was not based on Quintana’s apparent race or ethnicity, but on the police’s interest in questioning him about why he showed up a nightclub with a video camera and did not want to go in, and took flight upon seeing the police.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chavez: Simultaneous Bench and Jury Trials Ok

In U.S. v. Chavez, No. 08-12638 (Oct. 16, 2009), the Court affirmed drug trafficking convictions and sentences.
Several defendants were indicted in the case. One pled not guilty. Four pled guilty but reserved the right to have a bench trial requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt as to the drug quantities. The five went to trial together. The trial court did not disclose to the jury that some defendants had pled guilty; the verdict form ultimately only sought a verdict as to one defendant.
The Court rejected this defendant’s argument that his motion for a severance should have been granted. While acknowledging the novelty of simultaneous jury and bench trials, and declining to endorse the technique, the Court found no prejudice.
The Court rejected the argument that a mistrial should have been granted when a government witness, in response to a question on cross-examination, answered: "The only way to know [the answer] is through the Defendant." The Court found that curative instructions cured the error, which was all but invited by defense counsel’s question.
The Court also rejected a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, noting the abundant circumstantial evidence, and other evidence.
Turning to sentencing, the Court rejected a challenge to the reasonableness of Chavez’ life sentence. The Court noted that the sentence was consistent with the Guidelines.
The Court rejected another defendant’s sentencing challenge. The Court noted that the sentence was based on cash found at the defendant’s residence, which the sentencing court converted to methamphetamine quantities. The Court found the inference that the cash came from drug trafficking to be reasonable.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Martinez: Orchestrator not automatically organizer

In U.S. v. Martinez, No. 08-13846 (Oct. 5, 2009) (Marcus, Hill & Voorhees, b.d.), the Court reversed an "organizer or leader" sentence enhancement, under USSG § 3B1.1(a), that had been imposed on a defendant convicted of marijuana trafficking.
At his plea colloquy, Martinez admitted that he "orchestrated" weekly shipments of mail parcels containing marijuana from Texas to various locations in the Middle District of Florida. Despite this admission, the Court concluded that the government failed to establish that Martinez was an "organizing or leader," as defined by the seven explanatory factors listed in Comment four of USSG § 3B1.1.
The Court found that the term "orchestrate" is not synonymous with control. Orchestrate may mean no more than coordinating a transaction, as opposed to creating or managing it.
Further, the government presented no evidence that Martinez had decision-making authority. The "bare" record also did not indicate Martinez’ relative responsibility in relation to others. Nor was there evidence that Martinez recruited any co-conspirators, claimed a larger share of the proceeds of the crime, or whether he acted at the behest of a supervisor. At the sentencing hearing, Martinez alleged that he did not know who the leader of the group was. While Martinez admitted that he had co-conspirators, the evidence did not indicate that these persons were his subordinates.
The Court stated that at re-sentencing, the government could present evidence in support of the claimed leadership enhancement.