Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Slaton: Sentencing finding violated the "non-contradiction" principle

In U.S. v. Slaton, No. 14-12366 (Sept. 14, 2015), the Court affirmed convictions of a defendant who fraudulently obtained federal worker’s compensation from the Department of Labor by falsely claiming that a disability prevented him from resuming his duties for the U.S. Post Office. The Court rejected all of Slaton’s challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, noting that Slaton’s ex-girlfriend testified that he drove to and from Alabama to Arkansas without any apparent difficulty, at a time when he was claiming that his back pain prevented him from making a 30 minute drive to work. Turning to sentencing issues, the Court agreed with the parties that the district court miscalculated the special assessment, because it counted certain misdemeanors as felonies. The assessment for a felony is $100 per count of conviction; the assessment for a misdemeanor is $20 per count. The Court agreed, in part, with Slaton’s claim that under the correct “net loss” Guideline approach to loss, Slaton might have been entitled to some of the medical benefits he received for his back injury. If there was error, the Court noted, it would only affect the restitution amount, since the loss amount for Guidelines purposes would not change the offense level. On cross-appeal, the government challenged the district court’s downward variance to zero months of incarceration. The Court noted that the district court relied on its finding that Slaton lost worker’s compensation to which he might arguably have been entitled. The Court noted that this finding contradicted the jury’s verdict on one count of conviction, which “necessarily found that [Slaton] was not entitled to the worker’s compensation benefits he received.” The sentencing court’s finding therefore violated the “non-contradiction principle” which holds that a district court’s finding at sentencing cannot be “inconsistent with any of the findings that are necessarily implicit in a jury’s guilty verdict.” The district court therefore vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing, without expressing any view on whether the non-incarceration sentence might otherwise have been substantively reasonable.