Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, June 26, 2020

Singer: Upholding Illegal Export Conviction and Sentence

In United States v. Singer, No. 18-14294 (June 26, 2020) (Rosenbaum, Jill Pryor, Branch), the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence for attempting to illegally export encryption devices to Cuba.

First, the Court found sufficient evidence that the defendant intended to violate U.S. law and took a substantial step towards committing the offense.  As for his intent, and addressing an issue of first impression, the Court agreed with the defendant that the government was required to prove that he was aware of the device’s characteristic that rendered it illegal to export, but the evidence was sufficient to establish that he was so aware given government notices he received as well as his own behavior.  As for a substantial step, the Court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to show that the defendant did more than merely make preparations for the illegal export.

Second, the Court concluded that the district court did not err by refusing to give the defendant’s proposed jury instruction on ignorance of the law.  The district court’s instruction substantially covered the proposed instruction, in that it required the jury to find that the defendant knew his actions violated federal law or regulations, and the defendant’s proposed instruction risked confusing the jury by referring to the concept of “ignorance of the law.”  Nor did the court’s failure to give his proposed instruction impair his ability to present a defense.

Finally, the Court upheld a sentencing enhancement for obstruction because the district court did not clearly err in finding that the defendant committed perjury at trial.  First, the Court determined that the district court sufficiently made its own finding of perjury.  Second, the Court determined the defendant’s false testimony was material because it went to one of his defenses at trial.