Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nix: Resisting Arrest with Violence is "Violent Felony"

In U.S. v. Nix, No. 09-15335 (Dec. 30, 2010), the Court adopted its unpublished opinion in U.S. v. Hayes, and held that a prior Florida conviction for resisting an arresting officer with violence, in violation of Fla. Stat. § 843.01, qualifies as a “violent felony” of purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). The Court therefore found that Nix had the requisite three prior felony convictions and affirmed the 15-year sentence.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gowdy: Violation of federal detainer is "escape"

In U.S. v. Gowdy, No. 09-15999 (Dec. 27, 2010), the Court held that, even though the defendant was never in federal prison, but only subject to a federal detainer after his federal conviction and sentencing, he could still be guilty of “escape from custody” under 18 U.S.C. § 751(a).

Gowdy was mistakenly released from State custody, at a time he was subject to a federal detainer to serve a federal sentence. Gowdy contended that his failure to turn himself in did not constitute “escape.”

The Court noted the “broad scope” of § 751(a), which reaches non-violent walkaways and failure to report for incarceration, or to return to custody. Here, Gowdy was in “constructive” federal custody by virture of a process issued under the laws of the United States by a federal district court. It did not matter that he was not “physically confined in an institution at the time of escape.”

Rodriguez: Unauthorized Access of Computer

In U.S. v. Rodriguez, No. 09-15265 (Dec. 27, 2010), the Court affirmed a conviction for unauthorized accessing of a computer database, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(B).

Rodriguez was an employee of the Social Security Administration who made unauthorized use of Social Security computer databases to obtain personal information about persons he knew. The defendant claimed that his conduct did not violate the statute because he did not use the data for financial gain, or to commit a crime. The Court rejected the argument, pointing out that the (misdemeanor) statute criminalizes the unauthorized accessing of databases, and does not require financial gain, or commission of a crime.

Rodriguez also challenged the upward variance he received as unreasonable. The Court found that a variance was warranted by the number of victims and the extensive nature of Rodriguez’ unauthorized access.

Powell: District Court Must Hold Live Hearing to Reverse Magistrate Judge Credibility Determinations

In U.S. v. Powell, No. 09-11612 (Dec. 27, 2010), the Court vacated a conviction because the district judge declined to adopt a Magistrate Judge’s report and recommendation without holding a hearing.

Powell moved to suppress statements he made following his arrest, claiming that he was not read his Miranda rights after he requested counsel. A Magistrate Judge held an evidentiary hearing. After hearing the conflicting testimony of government and defense witnesses, the Magistrate Judge credited the defense accounts, and found the government’s witnesses “unconvincing.” The Magistrate Judge recommended a ruling in favor of Powell’s motion to suppress. The government filed objections with the district court. The district court, without holding a hearing, but after listening to a recording of the hearing before the Magistrate Judge, overruled the Magistrate Judge, and denied the motion to suppress.

The Court held that when a district court squarely rejects the credibility findings of a Magistrate Judge, it must hear the disputed testimony live. The Court therefore vacated Powell’s conviction, and remanded the case. The Court noted that the district court remained free to reject the Magistrate Judge’s determinations in whole or in part after holding a new hearing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pilati: SORNA Registration is based on conduct

In U.S. v. Pilati, No. 09-11978 (Dec. 17, 2010), the Court held that an Alabama District Attorney defendant convicted of depriving persons of their civil rights, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242, by fondling genetalia during searches, including a search of a minor, could be required to register as a sex offender under SORNA.

The Court first noted that because Pilati had consented to trial by jury presided over by a Magistrate Judge, after the jury convicted he waived all issues that he did not appeal to the district court pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3402.

With regard to the SORNA registration issue, the Court noted that the SORNA registration requirement applied based on the nature of the conduct underlying an offense, not based on whether the statute of conviction was a civil rights violation or a sex offense. Here, the unobjected-to facts were that Pilati’s conduct involved a sex offense against a minor. SORNA registration could therefore be required.

Cone: Non-parties lack standing in criminal case

In U.S. v. Cone, No. 09-13824 (Dec. 17, 2010), the Court held that once the district court vacated its preliminary order of forfeiture, non-parties to the criminal proceeding lacked standing to challenge the district court’s vacatur of the order of forfeiture. The Court noted that once the district court vacated the forfeiture order, nothing remained at stake in the criminal case for the non-parties, and they therefore lacked standing. The Court therefore dismissed the appeal, for lack of jurisdiction.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Digsby: Appellate Counsel Not Ineffective

In Digsby v. McNeil, No. 09-10978 (Dec. 7, 2010), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate who claimed that his appellate lawyer was ineffective for failing to raise a collateral estoppel claim in his state direct appeal.

At a first trial, Digsby was acquitted of aggravated battery. At a second trial involving the same incident, Digsby was convicted of unlawful firearm possession. Digsby claimed that his appellate lawyer was ineffective in failing to argue on appeal that because the jury that acquitted determined that Digsby never possessed a firearm, collateral estoppel barred his conviction for firearm possession arising out of the same incident.

The Court found, however, that while the jury that acquitted might have found that Digsby did not possess a firearm, it did not “necessarily” so find. The jury might have concluded that the firearm accidentally went off, while in Digsby’s possession, and therefore acquitted him of aggravated battery. If so, Digsby would have nonetheless possessed the firearm – and been liable for unlawful firearm possession. His appellate counsel was therefore not ineffective in failing to raise this claim on direct appeal.

Williams: "Incredible" story warrant obstruction of justice enhancement

In U.S. v. Williams, No. 09-10091 (Dec. 8, 2010), the Court agreed with the government that the district court erroneously declined to impose a sentence enhancement for obstruction of justice, and erroneously granted an acceptance of responsibility sentence reduction.

The Court Williams testified at trial that he did not know that he had rammed the vehicle of U.S. Marshals who had come to arrest him on pending charge, and believed that the Marshalls were carjackers. The Court noted that the jury “for good reason” had rejected Williams’ “incredible” testimony. An obstruction of justice enhancement was therefore warranted.

The Court also ruled that Williams was not entitled to an acceptance of responsibility reduction, because he had gone to trial, put the government to its proof, and insisted he was innocent in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Gooden: District Court Failed to give recharacterization notice

In Gooden v. U.S., No. 09-10499 (Dec. 8, 2009), the Court held that the district court improperly dismissed Gooden’s motion to compel a reduction of sentence for substantial assistance. The district court had dismissed the motion on the ground that it was an untimely 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion, and was an unauthorized “second and successive” motion. Prior to this motion, the inmate had filed a “motion to modify” his sentence, which the district court had recharacterized as a § 2255 motion. However, in so recharacterizing the inmate’s motion, the district court failed to give the inmate notice of the recharacterization and its adverse consequences on future § 2255 motions, as required by Castro v. U.S., 540 U.S. 375 (2003). Because of the district court’s initial failure to give notice of recharacterization, it could not now dismiss Gooden’s latest motion for being second or successive. The Court rejected the government’s argument that notice of recharacterization need not be given when a motion is untimely. The Court explained that future events can render a § 2255 motion timely, and that the notice is therefore necessary to alert a defendant to his options.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Puatti: Joint Penalty Phase Was Appropriate

In Puiatti v. McNeil, No. 09-15514 (Nov. 29, 2010), the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida death row inmate convicted of a 1983 murder.

The Court rejected the argument that Puiatti was denied an individualized sentencing determination because the jury considered whether to impose a death sentence on him along with his co-defendant. The Court noted that Puiatti and his co-defendant presented “similar” mitigation theories. The Court added that in this case a joint penalty phase was “particularly appropriate” because the defendants committed the murder together.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Forey-Quintero: Defendant is Alien, Not a Citizen

In U.S. v. Forey-Quintero, No. 09-15330 (Nov. 30, 2010), the Court affirmed a conviction for unlawful re-entry into the United States, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a). The sole issue in the case was whether Forey-Quintero could not guilty of this offense because he previously had acquired derivative citizenship by virtue of his mother’s naturalization when he was under the age of 18. The Court found that because Forey-Quintero did not have lawful permanent resident status at the relevant time under the applicable immigration statute, he did not acquire derivative citizenship, but was an alien, and therefore was guilty of unlawful re-entry.