Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Watkins: Husband's limited Consent does not vitiate wife's full consent

In U.S. v. Watkins, No. 12-12549 (July 28, 2014), the Court held that Georgia v. Randolph, which held that, under the Fourth Amendment, the contemporaneous objection of a person who shared common authority over a home prevented a search when one person with authority had consented, the fact that defendant had given only a limited consent to a search of his computers did not vitiate the valid, full consent that his wife gave to search these computers – a search that uncovered child pornography images. The Court noted that the defendant did not voice any objection when his wife consented to the search. His actions fell “well outside Randolph’s conception of an objection.” The Court pointed out that Randolph created only a “narrow exception” to the doctrine that a person with common authority over premises has authority to consent to a search.

Monday, July 21, 2014

DeBruce: Complete omission of mitigating evidence was prejudicial to Alabama death row inmate

In DeBruce v. Comm., Ala. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 11-11535 (July 15, 2014), the Court (2-1) (Tjoflat, J., dissenting) granted habeas relief to an Alabama inmate sentenced to death for a 1991 murder. The Court found that DeBruce’s trial counsel at the penalty phase of his case was constitutionally ineffective in limiting his mitigation investigation to speaking with DeBruce and his mother and not to further investigate DeBruce’s mental health and background. The Court noted that counsel did not have a strategic reason for not doing the mitigation work, and explained that he got into the case “too late” to do so. The Court noted that DeBruce’s competence to stand trial was not a basis for a strategic decision to forego pursuit of mitigation evidence at the penalty phase. Trial counsel also failed to pursue the inconsistencies between DeBruce’s mother’s account of his being a successful student and information that he had in fact dropped out of school in the seventh grade. The Court found that the failure to investigate prejudiced DeBruce, because the sentencing jury heard nothing of the daily beatings DeBruce suffered at the hands of his older sister, his resistance to joining gangs despite their assaults and intimidation, the pervasive violence in his neighborhood, or his struggles in school and his low-average intelligence. The “complete omission” of this type of evidence was prejudicial.

Jeanty: Alleyne not basis for 2241 habeas relief

In Jeanty v. Warden, FCI-Miami, No. 13-14931 (July 15, 2014), the Court held that a federal habeas petitioner under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 could not rely on Alleyne v. U.S. to attack the district court’s failure to submit to a jury the question of whether he had a prior conviction that qualified him for a mandatory minimum sentence. The Court explained that the Supreme Court had not made Alleyne apply retroactively on collateral review. Further, the ten-year sentence fell below the statutory 40-year maximum for Jeanty’s drug trafficking crime. Finally, the Alleyne Court took pains to point out that its holding did not upset its previous ruling in Almendarez-Torres that the fact of a prior conviction is not an element that must be found by a jury.