Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bergman: No withdrawal from conspiracy

In U.S. v. Bergman, No. 14-14990 (March 24, 2017), the Court rejected the argument that the defendant withdrew from the health care fraud more than five years before the indictment, and that the prosecution was therefore barred by the five-year statute of limitations. The Court concluded that the jury could reasonably have found that Bergman resigned his position at the firm that was committing fraud only under threat of being fired, and that this resignation therefore did not constitute the kind of affirmative step to disavow or defeat the conspiracy required for withdrawal. The Court rejected Bergman’s substantive unreasonableness challenge to his 180-month sentence. The Court pointed out that Bergman “played a key role” in perpetuating a scheme that fraudulently billed Medicare of nearly $200 million. The Court rejected a co-defendant’s claim that a “vulnerable victim” enhancement should not have been imposed based on patients who were also co-conspirators. The Court explained that some of the patients, including some who suffered from dementia, were not co-conspirators. [Martin, J., dissented from the statute of limitations holding, concluding that Bergman’s resignation qualified as a withdrawal from the conspiracy].

Thursday, March 16, 2017

McCullough: reassignment of judge permissible after guilty plea

In U.S. v. McCullough, No. 15-15430 (March 15, 2017), the Court held that Fed. R. Crim. P. 25(b)(1), which bar reassigning a case to a new judge after a guilty verdict unless the judge who presided “at trial” is absent or disabled does not bar reassignment after a guilty plea. The Court noted that guilty pleas are governed not by Rule 25, but by Rule 11. The decision to separate Rules 25 and 11 suggests that Rule 25 does not apply to defendants who plead guilty. The Court also rejected the argument that the sentencing judge was too unfamiliar with the record. Turning to the Fourth Amendment suppression issue, the Court held that a traffic stop based on the police’s determination that certain portions of a vehicle’s Alabama licence plate were not clearly visible, in violation of a provision of the Alabama Code. This provided an objectively reasonable basis for the traffic stop. The Court also rejected the argument that the officer’s interpretation of the traffic code was inconsistent with the decision of an Alabama appellate court. Finally, the Court found that McCullough waived his argument in a supplemental authority letter that he was not a career offender, by failing to make this argument in his opening brief.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Butts: rejecting ineffective assistance of counsel claim

In Butts v. GDCP Warden, No. 15-15691 (March 9, 2017), the Court affirmed the denial of habeas relief to a Georgia death row inmate, rejecting his claim that counsel was ineffective for failing to develop mitigating evidence during the sentencing phase of his trial. The Court found that the defense team “thoroughly” investigated mitigating evidence. The Court declined to second guess trial counsel’s strategic decision to focus on residual doubt instead of mitigation evidence.