Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Seabrooks: Florida robbery is an ACCA "crime of violence"

In U.S. v. Seabrooks, No. 15-10380 (Oct. 19, 2016), the Court rejected challenges to the “aiding and abetting” jury instruction, and, as to sentencing, held that prior Florida robbery convictions qualified as violent felonies under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”). Seabrooks was convicted of aiding and abetting in the possession of a stolen firearm, and in being a felon in possession of a firearm. On plain error review, the Court rejected Seabrooks’ argument based on Rosemond v. U.S. that to obtain an aiding and abetting instruction, the government must prove that a defendant had “advance knowledge” of his accomplice’s actions. The Court stated that an aiding and abetting conviction does not invariably require that the aider and abettor know the extent of his confederate’s criminal intentions before he initiates the offense conduct. Rather, it can apply if a defendant does not withdraw from the scene once he realizes the confederate’s criminal designs he qualifies as an aider and abettor. Here, Seabrooks received the stolen firearms from his accomplice and placed them in the console of a vehicle. Further, there was no plain error regarding whether Rosemond requires advance knowledge of a principal’s status as a convicted felon, as neither the Eleventh Circuit nor the Supreme Court have resolved this question. Turning to sentencing, the Court held that, under U.S. v. Lockley, a Florida armed robbery qualified as a “crime of violence” under ACCA. The Court rejected Seabrooks’ argument that Lockley should be limited to post-1999 Florida robberies. The Court noted that the Florida robbery statute has not changed from the 1970s to the present. The Court further noted that since 1922, the Florida Supreme Court has held that the force that is required to make the offense a robbery is force sufficient to overcome a victim’s resistance – the kind of force that qualifies an offense, under ACCA, as a crime of violence. [Martin, J., concurring, did not agree that the scope of the Florida robbery statute had not changed since the 1970s. Judge Martin noted that under McCloud, a 1976 Florida Supreme Court case, “any degree of force” sufficed to convert larceny into robbery. This rule changed in 1997, when the Florida Supreme Court decided Robinson. Seabrooks’ convictions occurred in 1997, after Robinson.]

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Plate: jail for inability to pay restitution is improper

In U.S. v. Plate, No. 15-13928 (Oct. 5, 2016), where the district court imposed a jail sentence, in lieu of probation, because the defendant was only able to pay $40,000 toward the $142,000 she owed in restitution, the Court reversed the sentence for being substantively unreasonable,. The district court abused its discretion by giving dispositive weight to Plate’s inability to pay restitution. The government recognized that the district court would have imposed a sentence of no further incarceration if Plate had been able to pay restitution. The district court based its sentence of incarceration solely on an impermissible factor. Because the district court had reiterated its earlier position when it denied Plate bond pending appeal, and characterized her arguments on appeal as “frivolous,” the Court remanded the case for resentencing before a different district court judge.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Wilchcombe: Prosecution may comment on post-arrest/pre-Miranda silence

In U.S. v. Wilchcombe, No. 14-14991 (Oct. 4, 2016), the Court affirmed convictions of defendants charged with drug trafficking while on board a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction en route from Haiti to the Bahamas. The Court rejected the defendants’ argument that it should review en banc its holding in U.S. v. Campbell that the MDLEA violates Due Process because it does not require proof of a nexus between the United States and a defendant. The Court also rejected the argument that the Bahamian government’s “statement of no objection” was not clear enough to inform the U.S. that the Bahamian government consented to its exercise of jurisdiction over the vessel, finding that it communicated the “substance” of consent. The Court rejected Wilchcombe’s argument that his “mere presence” on the boat sufficed to sustain his conspiracy conviction, pointing out that the boat contained 895 kilograms of narcotics, much of it stored on deck, and had long been acquainted with the others on the boat, including its captain. Acknowledging that the circuits are split on whether the prosecution can comment at trial on a defendant’s silence prior to being given Miranda warnings, the Court noted that in the Eleventh Circuit this is not error, and therefore not a basis for a mistrial. Even if it was error, it was harmless in light of the ample evidence of guilt, and that as to one defendant it was used for impeachment, which is permitted. The Court rejected the argument that the government destroyed the vessel in bad faith without photographing it, and in repatriating one of the occupants to Haiti. The Coast Guard allocated its resources to recovering bales thrown overboard, and it was mere “speculation” that this occupant would have provided exculpatory testimony. Finally, the Court rejected the argument that Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) precluded admission of evidence that one of the defendants was previously arrested while captaining a boat carrying drugs. This evidence tended to prove this defendant’s knowledge that drugs were present, and made his lack of knowledge defense less plausible. [Jordan and Walker, JJ. concurred, but argued that Eleventh Circuit precedent holding that the government can use post arrest/pre-Miranda silence is misguided and should be reconsidered en banc, stating that the trigger for the constitutional protection of silence should be custody, not the recitation of Miranda warnings.]

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Takhalov: On panel rehearing, insufficient evidence on count

In U.S. v. Takhalov, No. 13-12385 (Oct. 3, 2016), on panel rehearing, the Court agreed with defendant Pavlenko that insufficient evidence supported one of Pavlenko’s convictions for wire-fraud. The Court ruled that American Express could not have relied on Pavlenko’s purportedly fraudulent email since it received this email after it had already approved a charge. Accordingly, the Court reversed the conviction.