Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mathis: Search of 2011 cellphone valid even if based on 2004 calls

In U.S. v. Mathis, No. 13-13109 (Sept. 24, 2014), the Court affirmed convictions of enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity, and the 480-month sentence. The Court rejected the argument that the search of Mathis’ cellphone violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the affidavit submitted in support misleadingly claimed that one could recover information from a different cellphone in 2011 evidence of a crime committed in 2004. The affidavit noted that Mathis had maintained the same phone number since 2004, and that law enforcement reasonably believed that the cell phone would contain incriminating information. Alternatively, the Court found that the police relied in good faith on the search warrant. The Court also rejected the argument that a second search of the cellphone was invalid because it occurred eight months after the expiration of the warrant’s ten-day search period. The Court noted that a search conducted after a warrant’s expiration date does not necessarily require suppression. The Court rejected the argument that the Confrontation Clause was violated when the district court admitted in evidence a non-testifying victim’s text messages. The text messages were not statements to government officers, and were not made under circumstances that would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that they would be available for use at a later trial. Turning to sentencing, the Court rejected the argument that the U.S.S.G. § 2G2.1(b)(6) enhancement for an offense involving a computer did not apply because Mathis merely used a cellphone. Deciding an issue of first impression, the Court held that the electronic high speed data processing of a cellphone meets the definition of a computer. The Court also rejected Mathis’s argument that a prior Florida conviction for lewd or lascivious conduct with a minor did not qualify as the basis for a aggravating sentence enhancement, because the offense did not require actual touching. The court noted that 18 U.S.C. § 2251(e) merely requires a prior offense “relating to” sexual abuse of a minor.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kirk: "Remaining in" burglaries qualify as ACCA predicates

In U.S. v. Kirk, No. 13-15103 (Sept. 16, 2014), the Court held that prior burglary offenses counted as violent felonies under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The Court rejected the argument that because the Florida burglary statute criminalized merely “remaining in” a structure with the intent to burglarize, as distinct from “entering” the premises, it did not qualify as a “violent felony.” The Court cited contrary Supreme Court and Circuit precedent involving “remaining in” burglaries, involving the “same risks” of injury. The Court also rejected the argument that the prior convictions were not committed on occasions different from one another. “[T]he charging documents submitted by the government show that Kirk pled guilty to burglarizing seven different dwellings, located at seven different addresses and owned by seven different people, on or about separate dates.” Finally, the Court rejected the argument that the government failed to prove that it is unconstitutional for a federal statute to punish purely intrastate conduct like firearm and ammunition possession that “substantially affected” interstate commerce. The Court cited precedent holding that a “minimal nexus” of the firearm being manufactured outside the state satisfied the jurisdictional element of § 922(g), which in turn defeated a challenge to the statute’s constitutionality.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Samak: 2255 savings clause does not apply

In Samak v. Warden, FCC Coleman, No. 13-12161 (Sept. 10, 2014), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief, holding that the savings clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) did not authorize Samak to file a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Samak claimed that the district court did not have authority to impose a life sentence without a jury recommendation for his violation of the Organized Crime Control Act (OCCA). The Court noted one requirement for the § 2255 savings clause to apply is that an argument be foreclosed by circuit precedent. Here, to the contrary, “binding Fifth Circuit precedent at the time of sentencing actually supported his claim that he should not have been sentenced to life imprisonment.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Bates: Prayer did not prejudice trial

In Bates v. Sec., Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No. 13-11882 (Sept. 5, 2014), the Court denied habeas relief to a Florida inmate sentenced to death for a 1982 murder. The Court rejected Bates’ claim that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to an opening prayer, delivered in the presence of the jury, by a minister of the church where, trial testimony later showed, the victim’s funeral service was held. Bates claimed that this prayer urged the jury to improperly base its verdict on divine wisdom and guidance instead of the evidence adduced at trial. Rejecting this claim as speculative, the Court declined to fault trial counsel for failing to move for a mistrial. The Court also rejected the argument that the sentencing jury should have been informed of the defendant’s parole ineligibility. The Court noted that this is required only where the defendant is, as a matter of law, absolutely ineligible for parole, and the State places his future dangerousness at issue.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Green: No 3582(c)(2) sentence reduction for crack cocaine offender held accountable for 32.1 kilos

In U.S. v. Green, No. 12-12952 (Sept. 4, 2014), the Court affirmed the denial of a reduction of sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) for a defendant convicted of crack cocaine trafficking. Green claimed he was eligible for a sentence reduction based on amendments to the crack cocaine Guidelines that took effect after his original sentencing. The district court denied relief because it found that at the original sentencing it had held Green accountable for a drug quantity in excess of 10 kilograms, and as much as 32.1 kilograms – quantities for which no reduction would apply under the amended Guidelines. The Court noted that since a § 3582(c)(2) resentencing is not de novo, a district court may not make any new finding inconsistent with a finding it made in the original sentence proceeding. Thus, here the district court properly clarified that it had held Green accountable for 32.1 kilograms of cocaine base. The Court also rejected Green’s reliance on a statement it had made about the drug quantity in an earlier appeal in his case. The Court found that it had merely assumed that a Guideline amendment lowered Green’s guideline range, he was still not entitled to a sentence reduction. But this assumption by the Court did not subsequently bind the district court.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Campbell: Not Credit for Overhead in Loss Amount Calculation

In U.S. v. Campbell, No. 12-11952 (Sept. 3, 2014), the Court affirmed the conviction and sentence of a defendant convicted of defrauding the State of Alabama of several million dollars through a fraudulent institute. The Court rejected the argument that the “loss amount” that was the basis for a sentence enhancement should have been reduced, based on the legitimate services his institute rendered to the State of Alabama. The Court found ample support in the record that the institute “was a sham organization which served no legitimate purpose.” The Court rejected Campbell’s argument that the government should have sifted through years of bank records and itemized every single transaction that should be chalked up as a loss to the victim. “When, as here, a defendant’s conduct was permeated with fraud, a district court does not err by treating the amount that was transferred from the victim to the fraudulent enterprise as the starting point for calculating the victim’s pecuniary harm.” The Court noted that the district court correctly granted a partial credit for legitimate services rendered by the institute. The Court added, however, that Campbell was not entitled to a credit for the operating expenses of the institute, because many of these expenditures played some role in perpetuating the scheme.

Godwin: No error in dismissal of jurors

In U.S. v. Godwin, No. 13-10184 (Sept. 3, 2014), the Court affirmed convictions for RICO racketeering and RICO conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c) & (d). The Court rejected the argument that the district court, before the trial commenced, erroneously dismissed a juror who had been selected to serve on the jury. The Court noted that the juror was visibly distraught about having to serve on a four and half-week trial away from her 14-month old son. The Court also rejected the argument that the district court, during jury deliberations, erroneously dismissed a juror who, according to all other jurors, was refusing to follow the judge’s instructions. The Court noted that this was a proper ground for dismissal, so long as there was no substantial possibility, as here, that the juror was basing her decision on the sufficiency of the evidence. The Court also rejected one defendant’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, pointing out that his sale of a diamond stolen during a home invasion was “money laundering,” because it was designed to promote the ultimate objective of the conspiracy – to turn jewelry into cash. Although the defendant “was not a bona fide, dog-tag wearing member of the organization,” he helped the gang commit various crimes.