Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, August 24, 2018

Dixon: Affirming Drug Trafficking Convictions and Sentences Over Numerous Challenges

In United States v. Dixon, et al., No. 15-14354 (Aug. 24, 2018) (William Pryor, Jill Pryor, Restani), the Court affirmed the defendants drug and firearm convictions and sentences over numerous challenges.

First, the Court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the defendants' convictions for conspiracy to distribute 280 grams of cocaine base.  In so concluding, the Court rejected the argument that there were several different conspiracies that only involved some of the defendants, and that a conspiracy requires a command and control structure with one or more "bosses" coordinating the actions of each player.

Second, the Court concluded that the district court did not err by denying a defendant's suppression motion.  It concluded that he lacked standing to challenge the search of his girlfriend's car in which he lacked a possessory interest, and the officers were entitled to search it in any event under the automobile exception due to the odor of marijuana.  The Court also concluded that the defendant's interview at the jail while under arrest for state charges did not violate his right to counsel, because the defendant initiated the conversation.

Third, the Court concluded that sufficient evidence supported a defendant's 924(c) conviction because, despite the small amount of marijuana, there was evidence that he was on his way to sell drugs and he had a firearm in his possession.

Fourth, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that the district court violated his procedural due process rights by not sua sponte conducting a competency hearing due to traumatic brain injury and mental defects, and that such defects rendered invalid his sentence appeal waiver.

Fifth, the Court found sufficient evidence supported a defendant's conviction for a violent crime in aid of racketeering, finding that he possessed the requisite motive of maintaining or increasing his position in the enterprise.

Sixth, the Court found sufficient evidence supported the defendant's convictions for possession with intent to distribute and 924(c).  The Court found no error by giving a Pinkerton instruction based on his role in the conspiracy.

Seventh, the Court found no error by admitting evidence of uncharged conduct.  The Court found no need to address the Rule 404(b) issue because the conduct was intrinsic to the charged offenses, since they were linked in time and circumstance with the conspiracy, and its admission did not violate Rule 403.

Eighth, the Court found that the district court correctly denied a motion for a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct at closing because, although the prosecutor misspoke by referencing dismissed charges, it did not prejudicially affect the defendant's substantial rights.  The reference was not extensive, there was no indication that the prosecutor did so deliberately, the evidence was extensive, the prosecutor quickly admitted his error, and the court gave a curative instruction.

Ninth, the Court found that the district court did not err by refusing to instruct the jury on entrapment.  Clarifying that the proper standard of review is de novo, not abuse of discretion, the Court found that, while the undercover officer attempted to persuade the defendant to sell a firearm, he was prosecuted only for possessing a firearm.  Thus, not entrapment instruction was warranted.

Tenth, the Court found that a defendant's sentence was reasonable.  First, the Court found no clear error by applying a four-level role enhancement.  Second, there was no error by finding him responsible for the sale of at least 2.8 kg of cocaine base under the relevant conduct guideline.  Third, the Court found no reversible error in counting a juvenile offense as criminal history because it was within five years of the commence of the offense, and there was no plain error by counting convictions for which adjudication was withheld and it did not affect the guideline range.  Lastly, the Court found the 420-month sentence substantively reasonable because it was in the guideline range and he was not similarly situated to other conspirators who cooperated with the government and received lower sentences.

Monday, August 20, 2018

McIntosh: Particularly Severe Personality Disorder was "Mental Defect" for Civil Commitment Statute

In United States v. McIntosh, No. 16-16442 (Aug. 20, 2018) (William Pryor, Jill Pryor, Anderson) (per curiam), the Court upheld the district court's decision to deny the defendant unconditional release from civil confinement.

The defendant was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and the district court ordered him civilly committed under 18 USC 4243(f).  On appeal, the defendant argued that the district court erred by finding that his risk of danger to others was due to a "mental disease of defect." The Court concluded that there was no clear error given evidence that he suffered from a particularly severe personality disorder.  The Court rejected the argument that, under the statute, mental diseases were limited to those diagnoses that clinicians would classify as such.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Colon: Indiana Causation-of-Injury Battery Statute Satisfied ACCA's Elements Clause

In Colon v. United States, No. 17-15357 (Aug. 16. 2018) (Ed Carnes, William Pryor, Anderson) (per curiam), the Court held, without oral argument, that Indiana battery statutes satisfied the elements clause of the ACCA.

The Indiana battery statute required the causation of bodily injury, which was defined to include any physical impairment, including pain.  The defendant argued that the causation of physical pain did not satisfy the elements clause.  Relying on its en banc decision in Vail-Bailon, the Court disagreed, reasoning that because the statute required the causation of pain, it was necessary "capable" of causing such pain.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Castillo: Guilty Plea Waived Ability to Challenge Pre-Arraignment Delay on Appeal

In United States v. Castillo, No. 17-10830 (Aug. 14, 2018) (William Pryor, Martin, Wood), the Court affirmed the defendant's title 46 conviction and sentence.

First, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that the MDLEA's failure to permit safety-valve relief violated equal protection and due process.  Applying a rational basis test, the Court concluded that there were legitimate reasons for Congress to craft stricter sentences for MDLEA offenses than domestic drug offenses given pressing concerns about foreign relations, global treaty obligations, and deterrence.

Second, the Court rejected as foreclosed by precedent the argument that the MDELA violates due process by subjecting foreign nationals to U.S. prosecution absent a nexus to the U.S.

Third, the Court concluded that the defendant could not challenge the constitutionality of his detention on appeal.  Although he argued that a 19-delay before presentment to a magistrate judge was unreasonable and violated due process, the Court found that his guilty plea precluded him from raising that argument on appeal, citing the Supreme Court's recent decision in Class.  The defendant could not circumvent that bar by characterizing his complaint as a constitutional challenge to the MDLEA.  Thus, the Court could not reach the merits of his detention.

Judge Martin concurred in the judgment.  She agreed with the first two holdings, but disagreed with the holding that, by pleading guilty, the defendant waived his argument that a 19-day detention between arrest and first appearance violated due process.  She did not read Class or circuit precedent as supporting that result.  Nonetheless, she concluded that the delay in this case was reasonable.

Joyner: Applying Good-Faith Exception to Carpenter Error

In United States v. Joyner, et al., No. 17-10289, 17-10826 (Aug. 14, 2018) (William Pryor, Julie Carnes, Antoon) (per curiam), the Court affirmed the defendants' convictions for Hobbs Act robbery and 924(c), but vacated one defendant's sentence due to a plain guideline miscalculation.

First, the Court concluded that the district court did not err by providing the jury with a copy of the indictment listing the dates of the charged robberies in response to a jury question about the dates and times of the offenses.  The defendants argued that supplying the jury with the indictment improperly suggested that it was evidence of guilt without re-instructing the jury that it was not.  The Court concluded that, while it would have been prudent for the court to remind the jury of that, it concluded that the court did not abuse its discretion in failing to do so under the circumstances of this case. 

Second, the Court concluded that the district court's denial of a motion to suppress cell site data did not warrant reversal.  Although the Supreme Court's decision in Carpenter rendered their admission erroneous, abrogating in part prior circuit precedent in Davis, it did not abrogate the alternative good-faith holding in Davis.  The defendants made no argument for why the good-faith exception did not apply where the government complied with circuit precedent then in existence.

Third, the Court found no abuse of discretion in denying a defendant's motions for new counsel due to a breakdown in communication.  After several hearings, the court found that there was no such breakdown, and a defendant's general loss of confidence or trust in counsel, alone, is not sufficient to establish good cause.

Fourth, the Court concluded that the district court did not err by rejecting the defendant's Bruton argument.  The admission of a co-defendant's statement was not erroneous because it was not directly incriminating on its face, but rather became so only after linked with other evidence later introduced at trial.

Lastly, the Court accepted the government's concession the district court erroneously applied a 5-level enhancement rather than a 4-level enhancement under the unit-based grouping guideline in USSG 3D1.4.  Although nobody objected to that error, the Court found that it satisfied the requirements for plain error and therefore vacated the sentence.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Elbeblaway: Upholding Health Care Fraud Convictions but Vacated Forfeiture Order Under Honeycutt

In United States v. Elbeblawy, No. 16-16048 (Aug. 7, 2018) (William Pryor, Martin, Wood), the Court affirmed the defendant's health care fraud convictions but vacated the forfeiture order.

First, the Court concluded that the court did not err by admitting at trial a signed factual basis for a plea agreement that the defendant entered before changing his mind and proceeding to trial.  Although rules of evidence and procedure normally bar that admission, the defendant agreed to waive those rules in the plea agreement, and that waiver is enforceable if voluntary.  The Court rejected the defendant's argument that the waiver was unenforceable, finding that the waiver was unambiguous, and the court did not clearly err by finding a voluntary waiver due to his attorney's failure to explain it.

Second, the Court concluded that the government did not violate Brady by failing to disclose an allegedly exculpatory report about a police interview.  The Court found no reasonable probability of a different outcome from that report, but rather found that it would have had only some minimal impeachment value of a witness, and the evidence was overwhelming even without that witness' testimony.

Third, the Court concluded that the court did not constructively amend the indictment by instructing the jury on the conspiracy count.  Despite the court's slightly different wording from the pattern instruction, the court correctly stated the law and its instruction tracked the pattern almost verbatim.  It observed that cheating the government out of money or property, as charged, was indeed a kind of deceptive interference with the lawful functions of the government. 

Fourth, the Court concluded that the court did not clearly err when calculating the guideline range.  There was no ex post facto violation by sentencing him under the more recent version of the Guidelines because his offense continued after the amendment.  There was no clear error by applying the sophisticated means enhancement.  And there was no clear error in calculating the loss because it was supported by the evidence, including the signed factual basis of his plea agreement.

Lastly, as to the forfeiture  order, binding precedent foreclosed the arguments that forfeiture statutes did not authorize personal money judgments, and that the Sixth Amendment required proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, the Court found that the court erred under Honeycutt by imposing a forfeiture order that held the defendant jointly and severally liable for the proceeds of the conspiracy.  Although Honeycutt involved a different statute, the same reasoning applied to the statute for health care fraud.

Maitre: Upholding Agg ID Convictions and Loss Calculation

In United States v. Maitre, No. 17-12166 (Aug. 7, 2018) (Martin, William Pryor, Hall), the Court affirmed the defendant's convictions and sentence for access device fraud and identity theft.

First, the Court upheld the district court's deliberate ignorance instruction.  It concluded that there were facts supporting an inference that the defendant purposefully contrived to avoid learning all of the facts beyond her own denial of knowledge.

Second, the Court found that the evidence was sufficient to uphold her convictions.  As to the conspiracy count, the Court found that she had the requisite knowledge because the home she shared had stolen goods in plain view around the house, she engaged in "heat runs" to avoid being followed by the police, she accompanied the other defendants to throw away evidence.  As for the aggravated identity theft counts, the Court concluded that the defendant constructively possessed the means of identification and that she knew they belonged to real people who had been victimized.

As for the sentence, the Court found no clear error with regard to the loss calculation because credit cards, debit cards, social security numbers, and driver's licenses all qualified as "access devices."  The Court also found no clear error in refusing to deny her a minor-role reduction.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

In re Williams: Judges Wilson and Martin Criticize the Rule that Published SOS Holdings are Binding Precedent

In In re Williams, No. 18-12538 (Aug. 1, 2018) (Wilson, Martin, Jill Pryor) (per curiam), the Court denied an application by a state prisoner for leave to file a successive 2254 petition.

Judge Wilson, joined by Judges Martin and Jill Pryor, specially concurred in order to criticize the Court's recent holding in St. Hubert that all published SOS orders are binding precedent.  In a thorough opinion, he explained why that holding was problematic: SOS applications are prepared on a standardized form and often decided without counsel, oral argument, adversarial testing, or the full record; the 11th circuit publishes more SOS orders than other circuits, no other circuits considers itself bound by the 30-day deadline to decide an SOS application, and several other circuits receive briefing and oral argument in SOS application; SOS orders are unreviewable by statute, and so any mistake can be corrected only if a judge sua sponte requests rehearing en banc; and there are no formal rules on when orders can be published or reheard en banc.

Judge Martin, joined by Judges Wilson and Jill Pryor, also specially concurred in order to explain how creating binding precedent through SOS orders "goes far beyond the prima facie examination called for by the statute."  She emphasized that no other circuit examines the underlying merits at the SOS stage.  But the Eleventh Circuit, by contrast, has "entered hundreds of orders denying motions based on this merits inquiry, thus touching many lives."  And, in doing so, it has published at least eight opinions holding, for the first time, that a particular offense was a violent felony or crime of violence.