Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Proch: Escape from Jail Qualifies under ACCA

In U.S. v. Proch, No. 09-15181 (April 26, 2011), the Court held that Proch’s prior two burglaries and escape convictions were separate crimes for purposes of qualifying as “violent felonies” for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA’). The Court found that the two burglaries were of two businesses located on the same commercial boulevard but separated by a side street and parking lots. The separate locations suggested two separate criminal episodes. The escape was also a separate crime, as it occurred either at the jail or while Proch was being transported to the jail – at a time when the burglaries were complete.

The Court held that the escape was a “violent felony.” Distinguishing the failure to report offense at issue in the Supreme Court’s Chambers decision as involving “inaction,” the Court noted that the subsections of the Florida escape statute at issue were escape from jail, or escape from custody while being transported to or from jail. The Court found that such escapes “pose the same degree of risk” and are “similar in kind” to the enumerated felonies listed in ACCA’s residual clause. The Court noted that one who escapes from prison “is no doubt aware that armed law enforcement will seek him out, potentially ending in a violent confrontation.” Escapes will “almost always involve the police attempting to apprehend the escapee” and are likely to cause “an eruption of violence” upon discovery. An escape involves “a choice that will almost certainly be responded to with force, and potentially violent force, by the police.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cave: Different Defense would not have changed the outcome

In Cave v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 09-15602 (April 12, 2010), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1982 murder.

Declining to decide whether the deference owed to the Florida state courts was governed by an “unreasonableness” standard or a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, the Court found no merit in Cave’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

The Court rejected the argument that counsel was ineffective because he labored under the mistaken impression that a death sentence could not be imposed if the State relied only on circumstantial evidence. The Court noted that Cave failed to show that he would have put on a different defense that would have changed the outcome. Moreover, defense counsel decided not to put on a mental health mitigation defense because the risks outweighed the benefits.

The Court also rejected the argument that defense counsel was ineffective for pursuing a defense based on Cave’s lack of criminal history, because it opened the door for the State to ask about Cave’s arrest for rape. The Court found the defense not unreasonable, because it was consistent with an overall theory that Cave had “nothing to hide.”

Recognizing that it presented a closer question, the Court found that defense counsel was not ineffective for failing to object when the prosecution elicited, on cross-examination, Cave’s testimony that his prior arrest was for rape. The Court deferred to the finding that even if deficient, the failure to object did not sufficiently prejudice Cave’s defense to warrant habeas relief.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pruitt: Viewing Child Porn Images Suffices for Knowing Receipt

In U.S. v. Pruitt, No 10-10829 (April 13, 2011), the Court held that, to violate the prohibition against knowing receipt on computers of child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2), it suffices for a defendant to knowingly seek out and view child pornography images on a computer. The Court also held that knowing receipt can be inferred from the existence of 70 such images in the defendant’s computer’s “cache” and of 200 such images in the computer’s “unallocated space,” as well as evidence of internet searches with search terms such as “nude little boy.”

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Turner: Death Row Inmate Not Mentally Retarded

In In re Turner, No. 11-11037 (April 5, 2011), the Court held that a Florida inmate, on death row for a 1985 murder conviction, failed to establish that he was eligible for a second or successive habeas petition, because he failed to establish that he was ineligible for the death penalty on account of his mental retardation. The Court agreed that based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins, Turner would be eligible for a second or successive petition if he could demonstrate that he was ineligible for the death penalty on account of Atkins’ holding that mentally retarded offenders should not be executed. However, there was no reasonable likelihood that Turner was mentally retarded. The Court cited tests showing “average intelligence,” his attendance at junior college, and his stable job history.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Pantle: No Plain Error in Counting Prior Convictions

In U.S. v. Pantle, No. 09-13728 (April 4, 2011), the Court (Carnes, Pryor, Seitz) held that it was not plain error to erroneously count two prior convictions as “violent felonies” for purposes of a Guidelines sentence enhancement, because the district court indicated at sentencing that even though it was imposing the statutory maximum sentence, the sentence was not reasonable, i.e., not severe enough. At sentencing the district court counted Pantle’s prior Florida battery conviction, and his prior Alabama conviction for first degree assault, as violent felonies. Pantle did not object to these determinations. On appeal, he argued that these prior convictions should not have counted for Guideline enhancement purposes. Without reaching the merits of Pantle’s arguments, the Court held that no substantive rights were violated. The district court imposed the statutory maximum sentence, well below the Guideline range. The district court indicated at sentencing that it did not believe this sentence was severe enough. Therefore, even if Pantle prevailed on his challenge to the two prior convictions, he could not carry his burden of showing that his substantial rights were affected, because he could not show a reasonable probability that the district court would have imposed a lower sentence.