Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, April 29, 2016

Norris: Movant entitled to evidentiary hearing on whether judge was actually biased against him

In Norris v. U.S., No. 15-1390 (April 25, 2016), the Court held that a § 2255 movant was entitled to an evidentiary hearing regarding whether the district judge who presided over his criminal trial, in which he was convicted of forcing women into prostitution, was actually biased against him. The Court noted that the judge (Judge Camp) was subsequently convicted of federal charges, and admitted to bipolar disorder. Further, there was evidence that he harbored racial bias against African-American men.” “Norris alleges something more than the personal biases or prejudices that are governed by the recusal statute; he identifies specific statements that Camp could not set aside his prejudice against him.”

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Jimenez-Antunez: Defendant can fire retained counsel without showing "good cause"

In U.S. v. Jimenez-Antunez, No. 15-10224 (April 25, 2016), the Court held that a defendant need not show “good cause” to dismiss his retained counsel and replace him with appointed counsel. The Court found that the district court erroneously denied defense counsel’s motion to withdraw as counsel based on its finding that the defendant had been “afforded effective counsel.” This was the wrong inquiry. The Court explained that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to “counsel of choice,” and this includes the right to hire “and fire” retained counsel. A motion to discharge retained counsel should be granted unless denial is compelled by purposes inherent in the fair, efficient, and orderly administration of justice. The Court vacated the judgment, and remanded the case because it could not determine whether the district court would have granted the motion to withdraw had it applied the correct standard.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Warren: Guideline enhancement requires only one obliterated serial number

In U.S. v. Warren, No. 15-12519 (April 21, 2016), the Court affirmed the imposition of a four-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(4)(B), for possession of a firearm that had an altered or obliterated number. When Warren was arrested the serial number on the gun’s frame was intact, while the serial number on its slide had been altered or obliterated. The Court held that the enhancement applied even when only one of two serial numbers had been altered or obliterated. The Court relied on the plain language of the Guideline, which only required that the firearm had “an” altered or obliterated serial number.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

In Re Robinson: Johnson applies retroactively in the Eleventh Circuit

In In Re: Troy Robinson, No. 16-11304-D (April 21, 2016), the Court acknowledged that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Welch v. U.S. held that Johnson v. U.S., which held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) is unconstitutionally vague, applies retroactively. This overruled Eleventh Circuit precedent on this point. However, because Robinson’s prior convictions for armed robbery, and aggravated battery with a firearm, still qualified as “violent felony” predicates under the ACCA “elements” clause, Robinson’s sentence remained valid even without ACCA’s residual clause. Consequently, the Court denied Robinson’s application for leave to file a second or successive § 2255 motion. [Martin, J., concurring, listed all cases in which the Eleventh Circuit had recently denied an application for leave to file a second or successive § 2255 motion based on Johnson, in part for the sake of Federal Public Defender offices monitoring these cases.]

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Croteau: 56-month sentence for filing fraudulent tax returns

In U.S. v. Croteau, No. 15-11720 (April 11, 2016), the Court affirmed convictions for making fraudulent claims on tax returns, and corruptly interfering with the administration of internal revenue laws. Rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence, the Court noted that Croteau began filing his tax returns on his own based on theories espouses by the tax-protesting group he had joined, in a method inconsistent with how he had always filed his taxes before. In addition, the IRS warned several times that there was no basis in law for his filings. Further, the jury, once Croteau testified, was entitled to disbelieve his testimony and conclude that the opposite “is true.” Finally, Croteau got the benefit of a “good faith defense” jury instruction. Turning to sentencing, the Court rejected Croteau’s challenge to the reasonableness of his 56-month sentence.

Green: Conclusory assertions about exculpatory testimony insufficient for severance

In U.S. v. Green, No. 15-10270 (April 7, 2016), the Court affirmed the convictions of two-codefendants for operating a business that unlawfully sold oxycodone to fake patients. The Court rejected a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Reviewing the arguments in part for “plain error” because the specific challenge was not raised in the district court, the Court noted the fact that the customers paid in cash, that the defendants had signing authority over the bank accounts, that 90% of the prescriptions were for oxycodone. From such facts, the jury could reasonably find that the defendants laundered the proceeds of illegal drug distribution. The Court also found no error in the district court’s refusal to sever one defendant from the other. Defendant Hebble claimed that co-defendant Green would have exonerated her, had they been tried separately. But Hebble failed to proffer sufficiently specific exculpatory testimony to warrant severance. “Conclusory assertions” that Green would impeach government witnesses did not suffice.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Marroquin-Medina: Percentage-based approach is not mandated for 3582 reductions

In U.S. v. Marroquin-Medina, No. 15-12322 (April 1, 2016), the Court held that for offenders who received a reduced sentence at their original sentencing based on their substantial assistance to the government, and now seek a sentence reduction pursuant to a Guideline amendment, the Guidelines’ “percentage-based approach” to sentence reductions is not the only permissible way a district court may amend the sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(b). The defendant received a sentence reduction for substantial assistance at his original sentence, for substantial assistance. Thereafter, Amendment 782 lowered his Guideline range. In response to his § 3582(b) sentence-reduction motion, the government claimed that the district court could impose a new sentence no lower than the same percentage reduction off the original guideline range. The defendant claimed that the district court should reduce the Guideline offense level by the same number of levels it reduced it at the original sentencing. The district court opted for the government’s view. Reversing, the Court noted that the Guidelines do not mandate a particular approach. A Guideline commentary uses the percentage-based approach as an example, but this not the only permissible method. The Court therefore reversed the district court, though without expressing any opinion as to the appropriate final amended sentence.

Griffin: No savings clause for defendant whose total length of detention was valid

In Griffin v. Warden, FCC Coleman-Low, No. 15-11335 (April 1, 2016), the Court held that despite a Begay error in counting his previous conviction for the Florida crime of carrying a concealed firearm as a qualifying offense for purposes of the armed career criminal act (ACCA), the defendant was not entitled to habeas relief under the “savings clause” of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e), that applied to inmates who, having already challenged their judgment under § 2255, now sought relief under § 2241. The Court noted that Bryant v. Warden, FCC Coleman-Medium requires a petitioner to establish that his current detention exceeds the statutory maximum authorized by Congress. The Court interpreted Bryant to require that a petitioner show not just that one of his concurrent sentences was illegal, but that his overall detention is illegal – which Brown failed to do. “Put simply, there is no fundamental defect when a prisoner is not serving more time, in total, than authorized by law.” Here, while Brown’s 188-month ACCA sentence was illegal, his 188-month detention was authorized by the statutory maxima for his drug crimes – life. Further, a Guidelines error does not trigger the savings clause.

Thomas: Wife's consent to search of a shared computer validates search

In U.S. v. Thomas, No. 14-14680 (April 1, 2016), the Court held that a wife’s consent to the police’s warrantless search or a computer she shared with her husband made the search reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The Court noted that the computer was easily accessible in an unlocked room in the shared residence, the wife had access to the computer and used it on the morning of the search (and discovered images of child pornography, and called the police), and shared the password to access the computer. The Court found it “particularly significant” that the defendant did not protect his Internet history by maintaining a separate login name and password or by encrypting his files. The Court declined to reach whether the defendant’s objection to the search might have mattered, under Georgia v. Randolph, finding that the search here occurred after the wife’s consent and before the husband awoke and objected to the search. The Court held that even if Georgia v. Randolph were extended to require police to awake the sleeping defendant before searching, the search would still have been reasonable under the “independent source doctrine.” Based only on the wife’s telling police about her discovery of child pornography, and the websites visible on the computer, there was a fair probability that child pornography would be found on the computer. The police therefore would have sought a search warrant of the computer regardless of the results of their initial warrantless search of the computer.
In Westmoreland v. Warden, No. 14-15738 (March 30, 2016), the Court held that the filing of a Georgia “extraordinary motion” for a new trial is the type of State post-conviction application that tolls the one-year statute of limitation for the filing of a habeas petition. In the trial court, the State of Georgia refused to disclose that Westmoreland had filed an “extraordinary motion,” but did so on appeal. With the tolling resulting from the filing his extraordinary motion, Westmoreland’s habeas petition was timely. The Court remanded for the district court to consider whether Westmoreland might have failed to exhaust state remedies.