Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Garcia-Cordero: "Bring and Present" Requirement does not violate Privilege

In U.S. v. Garcia-Cordero, No. 09-10292 (June 29, 2010), the Court held that 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(2)(B)(iii), which imposes a duty on individuals transporting international passengers to “bring and present” those passengers to appropriate immigration officers at a designated point of entry immediately upon arrival into the country, does not violate a defendant’s privilege against self-incrimination.

The Court noted that the “regulatory regime” doctrine permits the government to compel conduct without violating the privilege against self-incrimination. The Court noted that drivers involved in accidents are required to exchange names and addresses with the drivers of other vehicles, and that persons are required to file income tax returns, even when doing so may expose them to criminal charges.

The Court noted that immigration law is properly classified as regulatory rather than criminal. The “bring and present” requirement is part of the federal regulatory scheme through which the government controls the national borders. The requirement therefore did not run afoul of the caselaw that prohibits invasions of privilege when imposed on “highly selective groups.”

Rothenberg: Online chats are basis for sentence enhancements

In U.S. v. Rothenberg, No. 08-17106 (June 29, 2010), the Court affirmed the sentence of a defendant who pled guilty to using a computer to induce an individual under 18 to engage in criminal sexual activity, and to possessing child pornography.

The defendant argued that online chats in which he discussed with adults possible sexual acts with minors should not have been the basis for a sentence enhancement under the Guidelines. The Court found that “a sexually solicitous communication” could constitute a substantial step toward commission of an offense, and therefore qualified for the enhancement. “Rothenberg’s chats were specific instructions to adults with influence over young children; these graphic guides to sexual exploitation showed the adults both how, physically, to molest the children and how, emotionally, to persuade the children to comply with the abuse.”

Vining: Judge's Consultation of Extra-Record Evidence Not Prejudicial

In Vining v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 07-15681 (June 28, 2010), the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1987 murder.

The Court rejected Vining’s argument that he was denied a fair trial because the state trial court considered extra-record information. Applying Brecht v. Abrahamson’s standard of review, the Court determined that any error did not have a substantial effect on the jury’s verdict. The Court noted that none of the extra-record materials that the judge reviewed were presented to the jury, which reached a verdict independent of the judge’s investigation. The Court also noted that the trial judge’s familiarity with hypnosis was irrelevant because of independent evidence that showed that prosecution witnesses were not hypnotized. Finally, at the penalty phase, the jury recommended death, and the judge’s consultation of extra-record information did not affect his decision to impose the jury’s recommended sentence.

The Court also rejected Vining’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims, noting that no reasonable probability existed that the trial would have come out differently.

Marshall: Jury Override Not Arbitrary

In Marshall v. Sec., Dep’t of Corrections, No. 09-15419 (June 28, 2010), the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida death-row inmate convicted of a 1988 murder.

Marshall argued that when the Florida trial court overrode the jury’s recommendation of a life sentence, and sentenced him to death, it violated Florida’s rule limiting such overrides to cases where it was clear that virtually no reasonable person could differ. The Court pointed out that the evidence showed that Marshall did not act in self-defense when he killed another prison inmate. Further, on federal habeas review, the courts ought not “second-guess” a Florida court’s application of its jury-override ruling, but can only overturn if it was arbitrary or discriminatory. Nothing in the record so suggested.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Suggs: No Prejudice in Failure to Present Mental Deficit History

In Suggs v. McNeil, No. 09-12718 (June 24, 2010), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1990 murder.

The Court rejected the argument that the Florida Supreme Court unreasonably applied the prejudice prong of Strickland when it determined that counsel’s failure at the penalty phase to adequately present a defense based on Suggs’ mental health did not prejudice the outcome.

The Court rejected the argument that the Florida courts were not entitled to deference because they compartmentalized the different aspects of prejudice. The Court noted that the Florida Supreme Court stated that it had considered the penalty phase “as a whole.”

The Court recognized that the jury had split 7-5 in favor of death, but found that Suggs had not shown that new evidence of his mental deficit, along with new aggravating evidence, would not have caused a single new juror to vote for life and no new jurors to vote for death. Even in light of the closely divided jury, the evidence of Suggs’ mental deficit would not have changed the outcome, because of he fell “well within the normal range of general intellectual functioning,” and additional evidence of mental history would have opened the door for the State to present evidence of Suggs’ drug and alcohol use. Further, the State would have been able to paint Suggs as a violent, manipulative person.

Huff: Double-Recovery Victim Windfall Not Proper in Restitution

In U.S. v. Huff, No. 08-16272 (June 25, 2010), the Court rejected the argument that the government proved multiple hub-and-spoke conspiracies, not a single conspiracy, but vacated a restitution order.

Rejecting Huff’s conspiracy argument, the Court noted that the evidence showed that the defendants interacted with one another and with their co-conspirators. This was not a case where the conspirators were unaware of others’ activity. Thus, the evidence established a single conspiracy.

The court affirmed the calculation of an $86,938.03 loss amount for sentence enhancement purposes. The Court rejected the argument that the loss amount should be limited by the amount of the kickback the defendant received. The Court noted that the amount of the bribe a defendant receives can be the loss amount, but only if it is not possible to calculate the net benefit of the improper benefit garnered by the defendant. Here, the benefit resulting from the illegal scheme exceeded the amount of Huff’s kickbacks.

Turning to restitution, the Court noted that the district court imposed $86,938.03 in restitution – the same as the loss amount. However, a defendant’s culpability does not always equal the victim’s injury. Further, the district court did not adequately explain how it reached its restitution figure. The Court noted two major ambiguities in the record. First, while some orders placed by the victim were the subject of the fraud, other orders were actually filled – and these orders must be offset against the restitution amount. Second, the restitution amount might have intended to include the kickbacks received by another co-defendant. But restitution is limited to the amount wrongfully taken by the defendant. If restitution was ordered in the co-defendant’s case, this would result in a windfall double-recovery for the victim. The Court therefore remanded for a limited resentencing on the issue of restitution.

Alexander: Firing Firearm from Vehicle is "Crime of Violence"

In U.S. v. Alexander, No. 08-17062 (June 25, 2010), the Court held that a prior conviction under Fla. Stat. § 790.15(2) fo discharging a firearm from a vehicle within 1,000 feet of another person qualified as a crime of violence under the career offender provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines. The Court also rejected Alexander’s challenge to the district court’s refusal to award credit for time served in state custody, noting that this issue must first be raised by administrative challenge to the Bureau of Prisons’ computation of his sentence.

After reviewing Begay and Chambers, the Court noted that courts must use a “categorical” approach to the “crime of violence” issue, looking to the elements of the offense. Here, the offense was more serious than the Florida misdemeanor of merely discharging a firearm in a public place, a distinction that “suggests that this provision targets violent and aggressive conduct, not the mere careless use of a firearm.” Further, the offense posed a serious potential risk of physical injury, because the firing of a weapon poses a risk that a bystander will be injured by a stray bullet. Further, like the enumerated offenses of burglary and arson, the conduct is “purposeful,” even if it does not involve “a specific intent to harm.” Firing a firearm “[m]ore often than not . . . is a violent and aggressive act.” “[A] person who discharges a firearm from a vehicle performs a deliberate act that poses an obvious risk of injury or death to innocent third parties.” The Court analogized the offense to fleeing at high speed or with wanton disregard for safety, conduct which it had held to qualify as a crime of violence in U.S. v. Harris, 586 F.3d 1283 (11th Cir. 2009).

DeYoung: No Habeas relief for 1993 murders

In DeYoung v. Schofield, (09-10964), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia death-row inmate for the 1993 murder of his parents and sister.

The Court rejected the argument that DeYoung’s counsel was deficient in failing to investigate his personal history, noting counsel’s investigation of potential witnesses. The Court also rejected the argument that counsel failed to adequately investigate Spencer’s mental health history, noting that Spencer himself had not disclosed to counsel any mental health information.

Finally, the Court noted that DeYoung would have been unable to show prejudice, because of the “carefully planned and premeditated” nature of his murders, and the “study in brutality” in his method of killing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Williams: Florida Battery does not Qualify for Career Offender

In U.S. v. Williams, No. 08-10184 (June 22, 2010), on remand from the United States Supreme Court in light of Johnson v. U.S., 130 S.Ct. 1265 (2010), the Court held that a prior Florida State conviction for battery on a law enforcement officer did not qualify as a crime of violence for career offender sentencing purposes. The Court noted that battery did not necessarily involve the requisite "physical force." Nor did the factual record so indicate. The Court therefore vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.

Gilbert: Career Offender Status Can be a Non-existent offense

In Gilbert v. U.S., No. 09-12513 (June 21, 2010), the Court held that even though a defendant had filed a prior § 2255 challenge to career offender sentencing status, he was entitled to habeas relief based on his claim that his prior conviction for carrying a concealed weapon was no longer an offense that would qualify as a crime of violence, and that he therefore was wrongfully sentenced as a career offender.

At his original sentencing, Gilbert was categorized as a career offender, based in part on a prior conviction for carrying a concealed weapon. At the time, carrying a concealed weapon was a qualifying offense for career offender status. Years later, Begay was decided, and this offense no longer so qualified. However, in the interim, Gilbert had brought an (unsuccessful) § 2255 challenge to his sentence. Consequently, his second habeas challenge could succeed only if (1) his claim was based on a retroactively applicable Supreme Court decision, (2) circuit law squarely foreclosed Gilbert’s claim at the time he first brought it, and (3) Gilbert was convicted for a nonexistent offense. The government conceded the first two points.

The Court concluded that Gilbert was was in effect convicted for a nonexistent offense when he was sentenced as a career offender. The Court stated that Gilbert was in jail today because he was found guilty of the “‘offense’ of being a career offender.” Drawing a parallel to death sentencing cases, the Court found that Gilbert was “actually innocent” of the aggravating factor – violent prior felonies – that were the basis for his career offender sentence. The Court noted: “The animating principle underlying the writ of habeas corpus is fundamental fairness.”

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Lall: Defendant's Statements Involuntary: Suppressed

In U.S. v. Lall, No. 09-10794 (May 28, 2010), the Court held that a defendant did not make a voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights, and that his statements were involuntary. Because the government’s uses at trial of the statements and of the evidence derived from the statements were not harmless, the Court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

After giving Lall his Miranda warnings, a police detective told him that any information he shared with police would not be used to prosecute him. Lall then showed the detective the equipment he used to commit identity theft and explained how each device worked. Later, Lall was asked to come to the police station, and told again that he was not going to be charged “with any of this.” Lall gave another incriminating statement.

The Court held that, even if Lall was not in “custody” for Miranda purposes, the statements he gave were involuntary because the police “explicitly assured Lall that anything he said would not be used to prosecute him.”

Turning to the second confession at the police station, the Court rejected the government’s claim that Lall had waived his objection to its admission, noting that the district court’s ruling to exclude it was “enough to preserve the issue.” The Court held that the second confession was also the product of “improper promises of non-prosecution.”

The Court ruled that the identity theft equipment should have been suppressed, because the police “did not have the slightest clue” that this equipment was incriminating until Lall said so.

The Court found that the error in admitting the evidence at trial was not harmless, citing the prosecution’s own concession during closing argument to the jury: “Folks, if none this [physical evidence] were here, none of this, and if Lall’s statements were not before you, I would tend to agree with defense counsel [that it’s] not a real strong case for the government.”