Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Perry: Affirming Drug Distribution Convictions and Sentences Based in Large Part Upon DEA Task Officer Expert Testimony
Tuesday, September 28, 2021
In Somers v. United States, No. 19-11484 (Sept. 28, 2021) (Jill Pryor, Anderson, and Marcus), the Court granted the petition for rehearing, vacated its previous opinion and judgment, substituted this opinion in its place, and certified to the Florida Supreme Court the following two questions about the nature of Florida's assault statutes:
1. Does the first element of assault as defined in Fla. Stat. § 784.011(1) -- "an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another" -- require specific intent?
2. If not, what is the mens rea required to prove that element of the statute?
The Court reconsidered its opinion after the Supreme Court's decision in Borden v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 1817 (2021). In supplemental briefing, movant argued that Borden abrogated Turner v. Warden Coleman FCI, 709 F.3d 1328 (11th Cir. 2021)--wherein the Court held that a Florida conviction for aggravated assault categorically qualified as a violent felony under the ACCA's elements clause--because Florida aggravated assault is not a specific-intent crime. In response, the government argued that the specific intent to threaten another is an element of Florida aggravated assault. Because the Florida Supreme Court has not answered the question of whether Florida aggravated assault requires specific intent, or something just like it, and Florida's lower courts are split on the mens rea required by the Florida assault statutes, the Court certified the above questions to Florida's Supreme Court for its consideration.
In United States v. Tinker, No. 20-14474 (Sept. 28, 2021) (Wilson, Newsom, Branch) (per curiam), the Court held that a district court does not procedurally err when it denies a request for compassionate release based on the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors (or U.S.S.G. 1B1.13's policy statement) without first explicitly determining whether the defendant could present "extraordinary and compelling reasons."
The Court noted that nothing on the face of 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A) requires a court to conduct the compassionate-release analysis in any particular order. Therefore, nothing requires a court to first find "extraordinary and compelling reasons" for release before considering the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors or U.S.S.G. 1B1.13's policy statement. Under 3582(c)(1)(A), the court must find that all necessary conditions are satisfied before it grants a reduction--i.e., support in the 3553(a) factors, extraordinary and compelling reasons, and adherence to 1B1.13's policy statement. The absence of even one would foreclose a sentence reduction. Therefore, a district court does not err where, as occurred in this case, it assumes that "extraordinary and compelling reasons" exist in the 3582(c)(1)(A) context.
The Court further found no error in the district court's analysis of the 3553(a) factors.
Thursday, September 16, 2021
In United States v. Watkins, No. 18-14336 (Sept. 16, 2021) (Luck, Ed Carnes, Marcus), on remand from the en banc Court, the Court reversed and remanded to the district court for further proceedings.
The Court originally reversed the district court's order granting the defendant's motion to suppress on the government's interlocutory appeal. Though the government conceded that it violated the Fourth Amendment when GPS tracking devices placed inside an intercepted package re-activated inside the defendant's home, the Court held that there was a "reasonable probability" that the evidence would have inevitably been discovered because the agents would have conducted the same knock and talk with the same result.
The case was then reconsidered en banc. The en banc Court held that the standard of proof that the government must meet in order to establish that evidence would have been inevitably discovered is the preponderance of the evidence, not a "reasonable probability." The en banc Court remanded the case back to the original panel for further proceedings consistent with its holding.
On remand, the Court, applying the preponderance of the evidence standard--whether the evidence more likely than not would have been discovered--concluded that it would have been. In so holding, the Court found that the district court clearly erred when it disregarded the magistrate judge's credibility findings without holding a new hearing.
The Court reversed the district court's order granting suppression and remanded the case to give the district court an opportunity to decide whether to conduct a de novo evidentiary hearing or to accept the fact findings of the magistrate judge. The Court noted that, if accepted, those finding compel the end finding that it is more likely than not that the challenged evidence ultimately would have been discovered, without the constitutional violation, through lawful means.