Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bauder: Ineffective Misadvice on civil commitment consequences

In U.S v. Bauder, No. 10-10657 (Sept. 13, 2010), the district court affirmed the grant of habeas relief to a Florida inmate convicted of aggravated stalking. Prior to his plea, Bauder's state lawyer told him that he could not face involuntary civil commitment under Florida law. This was misadvice: after Bauder finished his sentence on the plea, the State moved to have him committed and he was then committed. The Court found that counsel's advice was ineffective assistance, and that it was prejudical.

Williams: gunshot in public housing project is basis to pull over quickly exiting vehicle

In U.S. v. Williams, No. 10-10612 (Sept. 13, 2010), the Court held that a police officer did not violate the Fourth Amendment when he pulled over the defendant’s vehicle after it quickly pulled out of a public housing project, known to be a high crime area, from which the officer had just heard a gunshot. The district court therefore did not err in declining to suppress the firearm found in Williams’ vehicle.

The Court relied on cases in the Fifth and Tenth Circuits which held that a police officer was acting on more than a “hunch” in like circumstances. In such circumstances, an officer has a reasonable suspicion to pull over the vehicle – sufficient reason under Terry v. Ohio to withstand a Fourth Amendment challenge.

Darling: Denial of Certificate of Appelability

In Darling v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 10-13408 (Sept. 14, 2010), the Court denied a certificate of appealability to a Florida death-row inmate. The Court noted that a certificate of appealability is not available to appeal a district court’s denial of habeas corpus relief unless the petitioner shows that reasonable jurists could debate the decision.

Here, the prosecutor’s potentially erroneous closing argument suggestion that certain mitigating factors could require imposition of the death penalty was cured by the trial court’s instructions on this point.

In addition, though Darling claimed counsel was ineffective for failing to put on mitigating evidence about his background, evidence on this point was “inconclusive.”

Finally, although Darling argued that the Vienna Convention was violated when Florida failed to contact the Bahamian Embassy upon his arrest, the Court found no authority indicating that such a violation could invalidate an otherwise valid conviction and sentence.

Because reasonable jurists could not debate these points, Darling did not qualify for a certificate of appealability.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

McGill: Possession of Shotgun not "Violent Felony"

In U.S. v. McGill, No. 09-14167 (Sept. 8, 2010), on a government appeal, the Court held that a defendant’s prior Florida State conviction for unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun did not qualify as a prior “violent felony” for purposes of the 15-year mandatory minimum 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1), the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).

The Court noted that Begay governed whether the prior conviction qualified as a “violent felony.” The question therefore was whether possessing an outlawed short-barreled shotgun is “roughly similar, in kind as well as degree of risk posed, to burglary, arson, extortion and the unlawful use of explosives.” The Court noted that, like explosives, short-barreled shotguns are regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA). The Court pointed out that ACCA referred to the “use” of explosives, not mere possession, as a qualifying offense. The Court reasoned that if Congress required the “use” of explosives, not mere possession, as a qualifying ACCA offense, it would also intend to require the “use” and not the mere possession of a short-barreled shotgun, another NFA-regulated weapon. The Court concluded that McGill’s possession of a short-barreled shotgun did not qualify as a “violent felony.”

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Rainier: Service Station Burglary Counts as Violent Felony

In U.S. v. Rainier, No. 09-14014 (Aug. 31, 2010), the Court held that a defendant’s two prior Alabama burglaries each qualified as a “violent felony” for purposes of his sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).

The Court agreed with Rainier that his prior Alabama third-degree burglary was not a “generic burglary” because Alabama defined this offense to include burglary of a vehicle, aircraft or watercraft – whereas a generic burglary involves the burglary of a building. However, under the “modified categorical approach,” a prior non-generic burglary can still qualify as a violent felony if certain record documents established that the crime involved the burglary of a building. Here, the charging documents showed that Rainier burglarized a service station and a shoe store. Thus, the offenses involved a building, and therefore qualified as violent felonies.