Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, October 26, 2018

Hernandez: Rules of Evidence Inapplicable in 851 Proceeding

In United States v. Hernandez, No. 17-15666 (Oct. 26, 2018) (Wilson, William Pryor, Anderson), the Court affirmed the defendant's 240-month mandatory minimum drug-related sentence under 21 U.S.C. 841(b).

First, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that the Rule of Evidence applied in an 851 proceeding to determine whether the defendant has a prior conviction triggering the mandatory  minimum.  Rather, that proceeding was a miscellaneous proceeding akin to a sentencing hearing, in which the Rules did not necessarily apply.  As a result, it is up to the district court whether to apply the Rules or instead to determine whether the evidence satisfies a "sufficient indicia of reliability" standard, which the evidence in this case did.

Second, the Court concluded that the district court committed plain error by employing a preponderance standard instead of the reasonable-doubt standard in the 851 proceeding.  However, the Court found that this error did not affect the defendant's substantial rights, because the evidence satisfied the reasonable-doubt standard.