Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, September 27, 2013

Castro: Equally Plausible that district court comment did not affect plea

In U.S. v. Castro, No. 12-12927 (Sept. 26, 2013), the Court affirmed Castro’s convictions, in light of the recent holding in U.S. v. Davila, 133 S.Ct. 2139 (2013) that judicial participation in plea discussions does not result in automatic vacatur of the plea, but instead requires consideration of whether, but for the district court’s comment, the defendant would have gone to trial. During the plea colloquy, in response to the defendant’s statement that no longer wanted to plead guilty, the district court advised the defendant of adverse consequences of renouncing his plea agreement. The Court held that Castro failed to explain how the comment affected his decision. The Court noted when Castro decided to change his plea to guilty, he signed another copy of his plea agreement and stated that he had not been pressured to plead guilty. Although it was plausible that Castro decided to plea guilty because of the comment of the district court, it was “equally plausible” that he pled guilty to shorten the duration of his inevitable sentence.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Muhammad: Confrontation Clause does not apply at capital sentencings

In Muhammad v. Fla. Sec. Dep’t of Corrections, No 12-16243 (Sept. 23, 2013) (2-1) (Wilson, J., dissenting), the Court reversed the grant of habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1974 murder. The Court held that Muhammad’s Confrontation Clause rights were not violated during the penalty phase of his case, a resentencing hearing at which a witness testified about the testimony presented at the earlier guilt phase of the trial. After canvassing Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit caselaw, the Court found that the Confrontation Clause does not bar the admission of hearsay testimony at capital sentencing hearings. The Court also rejected the argument that the application of a “cold, calculated, and premeditated” statutory aggravating factor to his case violated the Ex Post Facto Clause, because that factor was not enacted until after he committed his murders. The Florida Supreme Court concluded that this aggravator added nothing new to the elements of the crimes but rather adds limitations which inure to the benefit of the defendant. The Court found that this application of the Ex Post Facto Clause was not unreasonable under clearly established law.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Howell: Change in interpretation of limitations not extraordinary

In Howell v. Sec., Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 13-10766 (Sept. 13, 2013) the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1992 murder, finding the petition to be time-barred. Howell claimed that a Supreme Court decision that altered the interpretation of the statute of limitations for a petition for a writ of habeas corpus was an “extraordinary circumstance” that warranted relief from the denial of a habeas petition under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Rejecting this argument, the Court held that under Gonzalez v. Crosby, this did not qualify as an “extraordinary circumstance.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Diveroli: District Court lacks jurisdiction over motion to dismiss indictment once notice of appeal is filed

In U.S. v. Diveroli, No. 13-10248 (Sept. 10, 2013), the Court held that, although Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3)(B) provides that a defendant may "at any time while the case is pending" file a motion claiming that the indictment fails to invoke the court's jurisdiction or to state an offense, once a notice of appeal has been filed the district court does not have jurisdiction to entertain such a motion. The Court invoked the general rule against "dual jurisdiction," and noted that allowing a district court to rule on whether an indictment stated an offense while an appeal was pending "would wreak havoc": a successful appeal would render the motion moot, and a successful motion in the district court would moot the appeal -- it might even moot the decision of the appellate court, a result the Court held it was not required to "countenance."

Monday, September 09, 2013

Edwards: Restitution affirmed in part, reversed in part

In U.S. v. Edwards, No. 11-15953 (Sept. 6, 2013), the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the restitution ordered to be paid by a defendant convicted of fraudulently soliciting funds from investors by promising astronomical returns and the using the funds for extravagant personal expenses. The Court rejected the argument that the district court erred by failing to take account of Edwards’ financial resources, pointing out that under the Mandatory Victims Recovery Act (MVRA) the district court is require to grant the full amount of restitution. The Court rejected the argument that he should not have been required to pay restitution for a separate real estate investment transaction unrelated to the scheme charged in the indictment. The Court noted that when the crime of conviction involves a “scheme, conspiracy, or pattern of criminal activity as an element of the offense, the court may order restitution for acts of related conduct for which the defendant was not convicted.” Here, the district court could conclude that the real estate transaction was a “related scheme,” because “the schemes involved the same modus operandi and participants. The Court also rejected the argument that restitution should not have been ordered restitution to victims in counts that were dismissed at trial. The Court noted, again, that the lack of a conviction does not preclude restitution. Because the record showed that victims of two dismissed counts were harmed by Edwards, the Court affirmed the restitution as to these two. Finally, the Court agreed that there was insufficient evidence to support restitution for four victims. These alleged victims were not mentioned in the Presentence Report, and the government never mentioned them to Edwards. As a result of these procedural mistakes, Edwards first learned of the victims when the district court entered a restitution order. Because the government admitted on appeal that there was no evidence to support restitution for these victims, the Court found that the district court clearly erred in awarding restitution to these victims. Using its broad discretion on appeal to fashion an appropriate remedy, and noting that if it did not remand the individuals would be denied the possibility of restitution through no fault of their own, the Court remanded the case for the district court to hold a hearing on whether these individuals are entitled to restitution.