Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Owens: Burden shifting instruction harmless

In Owens v. McLauglin, No. 12-12590 (Oct. 24, 2013), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia inmate convicted of a 1981 murder. The Court agreed with the petitioner that the Georgia trial court impermissibly shifted the burden of proof on the issue venue – under Georgia law, an essential element of the offense – when the jury was instructed that it “shall” consider the murder to have occurred in the place where the body was found. But the Court found the burden-shifting error harmless, in light of the overwhelming evidence regarding the place where the murder actually occurred. The Court also rejected the argument that Owens’ due process rights were violated because the state waited 25 years before ruling on his motion for a new trial. “The Supreme Court has never held that there is a constitutional right to a speedy direct appeal in a state criminal case.”