Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Smith: Consent to search were police were not acting "flagrantly"

In U.S. v. Smith, No. 10-15929 (July 23, 2012), the Court rejected the challenge by a defendant convicted of distributing child pornography that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they entered and searched his house without a warrant.
The police, suspecting that Smith had child pornography on his laptop consumer, went (without a warrant) to his house in Sebastian, Florida. They knocked loudly on the door. No one answered. A neighbor told them that "Smith was feeling some sort of depression." To ensure Smith’s well-being, the police entered his house through an unlocked sliding glass back door, with guns drawn, pointing down. Smith was laying naked on an inflatable mattress. The police holstered their weapons. Smith asked them to step outside while he got dressed. The police stepped outside, where Smith joined them. The police then discussed whether Smith had child pornography in his residence. Smith offered to show police his laptop. The police followed Smith inside the house, where they saw a computer with an active peer-to-peer program, downloading and uploading child pornography. Smith later that day confessed to possessing child pornography.
Prior to trial, Smith moved to suppress his confession and all evidence seized from his computers as "fruits of the poisonous tree" – the illegal search of his house. The district court denied the motion to suppress.
Affirming, the Court assumed arguendo that the officers’ "welfare check" entry into Smith’s home violated the Fourth Amendment. However, the Court found that the subsequent consent to search was voluntary. The Court recognized that the record did not show how much time elapsed between the entry and the consent. But the intervening circumstances – the fact that the police left the house when Smith asked to get dressed, and that there was no evidence of coercion (although police did not inform Smith that he could refuse consent to a search), indicated that there was no "flagrancy" in the police’s conduct. The Court noted that Smith had presented no evidence to rebut the officers’ claims that they went into the house to check on his welfare. Therefore, the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Glover: Defendant not eligible for crack Amendment reduction

In U.S. v. Glover, No. 12-10580 (July 11, 2012), the Court held that a defendant was ineligible for a sentence reduction pursuant to Amendment 750 of the Sentencing Guidelines which, effective, November 1, 2011, reduced offense levels for crack cocaine offenses.
The Court rejected the government’s argument that the appeal was untimely, pointing out that Glover’s pro se motion for reconsideration of the district court’s denial of his motion for sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) tolled the deadline for filing a notice of appeal.
Turning to the merits, the Court noted that under the Guideline commentary to U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10, a defendant can only receive a sentence reduction based on a Guideline amendment if the amendment "actually lowers the Guideline range." Glover’s original sentence was based on a mandatory minimum that "trumped" the Guidelines range. Therefore he was not eligible for a reduction.
The Court also rejected Glover’s argument that he was eligible for a sentence reduction because his sentence was based on a sentence reduction for "substantial assistance." The Court determined that Glover’s original Guidelines range was the statutory maximum, not the sentence after reduction for substantial assistance. Therefore, the crack cocaine Amendment did not actually lower his Guideline range and make him eligible for a sentence reduction.

Early: Affirming upward sentence variance

In U.S. v. Early, No. 10-15537 (July 11, 2012), the Court affirmed a 210-month sentence on a defendant convicted of robbery of two banks using fake bombs.
The Court noted that the Guidelines range was 79-97 months. The Court nonetheless rejected a substantive reasonableness challenge to the 210-month sentence, pointing out that Early had spent much of his adult life in prison, for "multiple" offenses. The Court also noted that Early’s use of fake bombs created "terror" for tellers and customers. In addition, the sentence was below the 900-month statutory maximum for the offenses.
[Concurring, Martin, J., noted the Eleventh Circuit’s failure to exercise "similar deference" when reviewing sentences in which the district court granted a downward variance.]

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Sochor: Not Prejudiced by Counsel's Ineffectiveness

In Sochor v. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 10-14944 (June 27, 2012), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1981 murder.
The Court found that even if Sochor’s counsel was ineffective at the penalty phase, Sochor was not prejudiced by this ineffectiveness. The Court noted that the aggravating circumstances were that Sochor chocked his victim to death with his bare hands, causing a slow and painful death. In addition, the murder was in the course of kidnaping. The aggravating circumstances so outweighed the mitigating circumstances not presented regarding Sochor’s impairment at the time of the murder, and his manic depressive personality. Moreover, the jury heard evidence at the penalty phase of Sochor’s severe beatings as a child. Consequently, there was no reasonable probability of a different outcome.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Rojas: Confirming Dorsey on FSA

In U.S. v. Rojas, No 10-14428 (July 2, 2012), the Court, having held the issue in abeyance en banc, held that in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dorsey v. U.S., the more lenient mandatory minimums of the Fair Sentencing Act apply to all defendants sentenced after August 3, 2010, when the Act took effect. The Court therefore remanded the cases for re-sentencing consistent with Dorsey.

Daniels: Government need not show defendant knew age of minor prostitute

In U.S. v. Daniels, No. 10-14974 (July 2, 2012),
the Court affirmed the convictions and sentence of a defendant convicted of inducing a minor to engage in prostitution in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b) and transporting an individual in interstate commerce with the intent that she engage in prostitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2421-22.
The Court rejected the argument that the mere fact that a person came to work for the defendant as a prostitute did not suffice to show that he “induced” prostitution for purposes of § 2422(b). The Court noted that induce merely means to cause.
On an issue of first impression, the Court held that the jury need not be instructed that, in order to establish a § 2422(b) violation, the government must prove that a defendant knew that a victim had not attained the age of 18 . The Court adopted Justice Alito’s view in his concurring opinion in Flores-Figueroa v. U.S., that context determines whether a mens rea applies to an element of the offense, and the view of six circuits that had addressed the issue. The context here was Congress's protection of minors. “A defendant such as Daniels who lures and encourages children into these activities does so at this own peril, regardless of what the victim says [about her age] or how she appears.”
Turning to sentencing, the Court rejected the argument that it was unreasonable to run Daniels’ sentences consecutive to an undischarged term of 420 months imprisonment for another sentence in Michigan. The Court noted that the conduct in Michigan was not part of the relevant conduct for the latest offense, and the district court therefore acted within its discretion in imposing a consecutive 78-month sentence. The Court also affirmed the imposition of a 25-year term of supervised release.