Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ransfer: Applying good faith reliance on precedent exception

In U.S. v. Ransfer, No. 12-12956 (Jan. 28, 2014), the Court held that the good faith reliance on precedent exception to the exclusionary rule applied to the police’s warrantless use of a GPS device to track the movement of a vehicle after a robbery. The Court noted that its precedent, at the time, allowed the installation of a tracking device (a beeper) on the outside of a vehicle without a warrant. [In December 2013, the Court reached the same result in U.S. v. Smith]. The Court found no hearsay violation in the admission of testimony by a police officer regarding information that the police had obtained about the modus operandi of a series of robberies by the defendants. The Court noted that the police officer had supervised a month-long endeavor to identify and locate multiple perpetrators who engaged in a series of robberies. The testimony explained why the police believed the same perpetrators committed the crimes. The Court noted that even if the admission of the testimony was in error, the same points covered by the testimony had been covered by other evidence in the record, such as BOLO reports, and surveillance video; consequently, any error was not reversible error. As to one co-defendant (Lowe), the Court found sufficient evidence to support his robbery convictions, based on evidence that he was present at the stores during the robberies and exchanging text messages and cell phone calls with the robbers, and made inconsistent statements to police about his presence during the robberies. As to one robbery, however, the Court found insufficient evidence, because there was no evidence that Lowe was ever inside the store during the robbery. The Court rejected the argument that a Miranda waiver and statements to police were not voluntary because the defendants were held for more than 24 hours and subject to coercion. The Court noted that the detention was not that lengthy and found no coercion. The Court also rejected Lowe’s argument that the district court unduly limited his counsel’s closing argument to 20 minutes, pointing out that Lowe did not point to any argument his attorney was unable to cover in the allotted 20 minutes.

Harris: Mandatory Life Sentence Not Invalid under Alleyne

In U.S. v. Harris, No. 12-14482 (Jan. 28, 2014), the Court affirmed the mandatory life sentence of a defendant convicted of multiple Hobbs Act robberies and violations of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), and sentenced pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c). The Court rejected the argument that the mandatory life sentence was invalid in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Alleyne. The Court pointed out that the mandatory life sentence was based on Harris’ prior convictions, and noted that Alleyne did not overrule Almendarez-Torres, which held that the Sixth Amendment did not require the fact of a prior conviction to be submitted to a jury. The Court also rejected a Separation of Powers challenge to the government’s authority to charge a defendant under § 3559(c) and 21 U.S.C. § 851 in a manner that triggers a mandatory minimum punishment of life.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Mathauda: Defendant who never heard about prior order not willfully blind to it

In U.S. v. Mathauda, No. 11-13558 (Jan. 21, 2014), the Court reversed the imposition of a two-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(9)(C) for a violation of a prior court. After being convicted of multiple counts of fraud, Mathauda’s sentence was enhanced based on his violation of a violation of a court order in a civil case brought by the FTC, in which his attorney had allowed a default judgment to be entered. The Court rejected the government’s contention that Mathauda was “willfully blind” to the prior court order. The Court pointed out that no final order was served on Mathauda, and he never heard anything about it until his sentence was enhanced in the federal fraud case.

Yeary: Consent to search in pretrial detention order is voluntary

In U.S. v. Yeary, No. 11-13427 (Jan. 22, 2014), the Court affirmed multiple drug-trafficking and gun possession convictions, a sentence of 1,092 months, and rejected the argument that a warrantless search of a home was non-consensual and therefore in violation of Fourth Amendment. After an arrest on felony charges, a Florida state judge ordered that Yeary be detained under in-house arrest. The conditions of his in-house arrest provided that Yeary agreed to warrantless searches of his house, at any time of day or night, without prior notice. Acting on an anonymous tip, police went to Yeary’s house while he was under in-house arrest, and conducted a warrantless search that yielded dugs, a firearm, and ammunition. The Court concluded that Yeary had consented to the search of his residence in his house-arrest agreement, and that this consent was voluntary. The Court noted that, in light of Yeary’s criminal history, his risk of flight, and his threat to kill his ex-girlfriend, it was “entirely reasonable” to condition Yeary’s house arrest on his consent to warrantless searches of his residence. [Martin, J., concurring, noted that the Supreme Court has not yet applied the consent doctrine to uphold the search conditioned on an agreement made by a probationer or parolee as a condition to his release from jail. Consequently, Judge Martin would have applied a “totality of the circumstances” test to decide whether the search was valid]

Aguilar-Ibarra: Untimely objection to PSR

In U.S. v. Aguilar-Ibarra, No. 13-10307 (Jan. 22, 2014), the Court affirmed a district court’s determination that a defendant’s objection to the Probation Office’s Presentence Investigation Report was untimely, because it was not filed within the 14-day deadline of Fed. R. Crim. P. 32(f)(1). The Court rejected the argument that the deadline was inapplicable because the parties had agreed to that an enhancement (for bodily injury) should not apply, pointing out that the deadline exists to ensure that the district court can meaningfully exercise its sentencing authority. Reviewing the issue for “plain error” as a result of the waiver, the Court rejected the argument that an enhancement for “bodily injury” under U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1 should not have applied, because of a lack of evidence. The Court noted that the district court was authorized to rely on unobjected-to factual statements in the PSR. Here, the PSR stated that the victim sustained injuries.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Bryant: Savings Clause allows post Begay challenge to sentence

In Bryant v. Warden, No. 12-11212 (Dec. 24, 2013) (2-1, Martin, J. partially dissenting), the Court held that a federal inmate serving a 235-month sentence for a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), and who had previously filed a § 2255 motion to vacate his sentence, was entitled to challenge his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, based on the “savings clause” of § 2255(e). The Court noted that Bryant had not defaulted his claim, even though he failed to raise it on direct appeal or in his § 2255 motion, because the government had waived the procedural default argument. In addition, the “savings clause” of § 2255(e) applies regardless of whether a federal prisoner has failed to apply for § 2255 relief. The Court cited dicta in its precedent where it recognized that a claim might qualify under the § 2255(e) “savings clause” if the error at issue resulted in a higher statutory maximum sentence. The Court emphasized that prior to Begay and its Eleventh Circuit progeny, Eleventh Circuit precedent foreclosed any potential claim that a prior concealed-firearm conviction under Fla. Stat. § 790.01 was a “violent felony” under § 924(e). Begay had a “Circuit-busting effect.” It meant that offenders in Bryant’s position could now successfully challenge reliance on prior § 790.01 convictions for sentence enhancement purposes under § 924(e). This result was unaffected by post-Begay Supreme Court caselaw (Sykes), because the concealed-firearm offense was a strict liability offense. Begay applies retroactively, because it affects the maximum punishment that the law can impose. The Court held that a claim that a sentence exceeds the statutory maximum may be brought, in these circumstances, under the “savings clause.” Savings clause claims are not limited to “actual innocence” claims. The Court rejected the government’s argument that even if Bryant’s prior concealed firearm conviction did not qualify as a prior conviction under § 924(e), the government could obtain the same sentence at resentencing by relying on a prior burglary conviction upon which it had not relied at the original sentencing. The Court therefore instructed the district court to grant Bryant a sentence reduction from 235-months to 120-months. [Partially dissenting, Judge Martin read the savings clause more broadly].

Contreras: 2nd degree sexual battery is "crime of violence"

In U.S. v. Contreras, No. 13-10928 (Jan. 2, 2014), the Court, on a government appeal, held that second-degree sexual battery in violation of Fla. Stat. § 794.011(5) is a “crime of violence” and therefore subjects a defendant convicted of illegal re-entry to a 16-level Guideline enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A). Contreras argued that because § 749.011(5) does not require any force other than that necessary to achieve “penetration” or “union,” it is not a “forcible” sex offense. The Court noted that under the Guidelines definition of “forcible sexual offenses,” the use of physical force is not an element. It includes situations where there is no legally valid consent. The Court therefore vacated Contreras’ sentence and remanded for resentencing.