Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, August 22, 2013

In U.S. v. McQueen, No. 12-10840 (Aug. 22, 2013), the Court affirmed convictions, under 18 U.S.C. § 241, of Florida corrections officers for depriving several inmates of their right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, and obstruction of a government investigation, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519. On a government cross-appeal, the Court vacated the sentences as substantively unreasonable. Using a broomstick, the defendants struck inmates, inflicting serious, lasting injuries. The Court rejected the argument that there was insufficient evidence that the defendants, State employees, intended to impede a federal investigation when they falsified a document regarding the cause of inmate injuries that caused them to be taken to the medical station. The Court noted that the federal nature of the investigation, under the statute, is merely a jurisdictional matter, as to which the defendant need have no mens rea. The Court also rejected the argument that there was no evidence of “conspiracy.” The Court found that the defendants “joined together to use force and violence against the inmate, not in order to maintain discipline, but as way of punishing them.” The defendants “pummeled various prisoners in tandem.” Turning to the government’s cross-appeal, the Court found the sentences unreasonable. The Guideline ranges were 151 months for one defendant, and 15 months for the other. The district court imposed sentences of 12 months, and one-month, respectively. Noting that the district court “offered no reasoned justification other than [an accomplice who pled guilty] was getting a lower sentence,” the Court found that this “alone cannot account for dramatic variances.” The Court pointed to other cases in which similarly-situated corrections officers received higher sentences, and concluded that the district court “helped created the very unwarranted disparities it sought to avoid.” The Court noted that it did not intimate that no variance was justified on remand. It vacated the sentences for being unreasonable.