Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, September 30, 2022

Conage: Fla. Stat. 893.135 Trafficking Is a "Serious Drug Offense" Under the ACCA

In United States v. Conage, No. 17-13975 (Sept. 30, 2022) (per curiam), the Court affirmed the defendant’s ACCA sentence based on a prior drug trafficking conviction under Fla. Stat. 893.135.

The defendant argued that his prior conviction was not a ACCA “serious drug offense” because 893.135 can be committed by purchase, whereas the ACCA requires possession with intent to distribute.  In a prior opinion, the Eleventh Circuit certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court about whether “purchase” under 893.135 necessarily required actual or constructive possession.  The Florida Supreme Court held that it did.  In light of the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the defendant’s argument and affirmed his ACCA sentence.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Grushko: Upholding Access Device Fraud Convictions/Sentences Over Various Challenges

In United States v. Grushko, No. 20-10438 (Sept. 23, 2022) (Jordan, Jill Pryor, Marcus), the Court affirmed the defendants’ convictions and sentences for conspiracy to commit access device fraud.

First, the Court held that officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment by entering the defendants’ home after detaining them outside.  Under the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reason to believe that one of the defendants was still inside the home because they did not know the identity of the men they had detained.  Although they had previously seen a picture of the defendant, his appearance had since changed, and the officers were not permitted to look through the wallets of the men because they were not under arrest.  And the officers heard noises from inside the home, and so had reason to believe that the defendant was still inside.

Second, the district court did not abuse its discretion in making comments to the voir dire panel about types of forensic evidence that might be seen on TV.  Although the statements were unnecessary and unwise, it was not reversible error because the court did not suggest that the government did not have to prove the elements or was relieved its burden of proof.  Nor did the statements create a mandatory presumption in favor of the government or entitle the jury to discount the defendant’s arguments in closing about whether the absence of fingerprint evidence created a reasonable doubt.

Third, as for the sentences: it was not impermissible double counting to apply a two-level enhancement for possessing device-making equipment just because that conduct underlied the conviction; there was no clear error in applying an aggravating-role enhancement because the defendants were organizers and leaders of the scheme, which involved another participant, and it did not matter if the two defendants were equally culpable; the district court adequately explained the sentence, and so it was not procedurally unreasonable; and any error as to the loss calculation was harmless because the court said it would have imposed the same sentence, and that sentence was not substantively unreasonable.

Judge Jordan concurred.  He joined the opinion in full, but wrote separately to emphasize that the court’s statements during voir dire were improper.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Doak: Affirming Convictions and Sentences for Transporting and Sexually Abusing Minors

In United States v. Doak, No. 19-15106 (Sept. 7, 2022) (Grant, Luck, Hull), the Court largely affirmed the defendants’ convictions and sentences for offenses involving the transportation and sexual abuse of minors.

As to the counts under 2423(a)—charging the transportation of minors with the intent that they engage in unlawful sexual activity—the defendants argued that the indictment was insufficient because it omitted the underlying state statutes prohibiting the sexual activity.  The Court rejected that argument because the specific state-law offenses are means rather than elements of a 2423(a) offense.  Thus, the state statutes did not need to be included in the indictment; including the statutory language of 2423(a) was enough.  Nor were the defendants deprived of fair notice; although it is best practice to include the state statutes, the indictment here contained key details about the defendant’s intended sexual activity. 

The Court next rejected the defendants’ sufficiency arguments.  As for the main defendant, the evidence at trial was sufficient for a jury to find that he transported the minors with an intent to sexually abuse the minors; even if he had other innocent reasons as well, that did not allow him to elude liability.  As for the co-defendant, who was convicted of aiding and abetting, the evidence was sufficient for a jury to find that she helped the other defendant transport the minors with the knowledge that he was sexually abusing them; it did not matter whether she disapproved of his conduct.

The Court next rejected the defendants’ evidentiary arguments.  First, the Court found that any error under Rule 412 in preventing the defense to offer evidence about one of the victim’s other sexual behavior was harmless; that evidence was offered to show that someone else had abuse her, but the defense was otherwise permitted to advance that theory, and the contrary evidence was substantial.  Second, the Court rejected the defendants’ argument that an FBI forensic expert’s testimony about how children process and disclose incidents of abuse was unreliable, as the expert had participated in thousands of such interviews, and the testimony helped the jury understand why the victims responded differently to the abuse.  Third, the district court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 404(b) or 403 by admitting a video of the defendant slapping the victims’ brother, since it explained why the victims felt threatened by the defendants and why they silently endured the abuse.

 

As for sentencing, the government cross-appealed the co-defendant’s statutory minimum sentence, arguing that it was substantively unreasonable.  However, the Court found no abuse of discretion: the district court did not improperly give her a lower sentence because she merely helped the main defendant as an aider and abettor; it did not overlook her own abuse of the minors and lack of remorse; and because the district court’s weighing of the 3553(a) factors was a close call, that meant there was no abuse of discretion even though the Court might have gone the other way.  In addition, the district court did not clearly err by imposing a special assessment; the defendant was not indigent because he previously failed to disclose that he owned real estate.  Finally, as to restitution, the district court properly relied on a clinical psychologist’s testimony about estimated therapy costs, but the district court erred by ordering the defendants to pay more in living expenses than what the victim herself admitted was an overestimate.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Ifediba: Affirming Healthcare Fraud Convictions and Sentences

In United States v. Ifediba, No. 20-13218 (Aug. 25, 2022) (Jill Pryor, Branch, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed the defendants' convictions and sentences.   

Mr. Ifediba, a doctor, operated a clinic called CCMC, and employed his sister, Ms. Ozuligbo, as a nurse there.  Mr. Ifediba was alleged to have been running a "pill mill" to distribute controlled substances to patients who had no medical need for them, as well as running an allergy-fraud scheme.  Mr. Ifediba and Ms. Ozuligbo were indicted on substantive counts of health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering of the clinic's unlawful proceeds, and conspiracy to money launder.  Mr. Ifediba was also indicted for unlawfully distributing controlled substances for no legitimate medical purpose and for operating CCMC as a "pill mill."  

On appeal, Mr. Ifediba first challenged the district court's exclusion of his evidence of good care he provided his patients to prove that his medical practice was legitimate.  The Court agreed with the district court that such evidence was improper character evidence because evidence of good conduct is not admissible to negate criminal intent.  The Court also held that the exclusion of such evidence did not violate Mr. Ifediba's constitutional right to present a defense.      

Next, he challenged the district court's decision not to question all jurors individually after dismissing an alternate juror upon learning that the alternate had independently researched the case outside of court.  The Court found that the district court acted within its discretion in addressing the juror misconduct and then instructing the jury collectively.  

Third, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his substantive health care fraud convictions that were based upon evidence from medical records rather than patient testimony.  The Court held that patient records were sufficient to support Mr. Ifediba's convictions for substantive health care fraud.  Documentary evidence alone can be sufficient to establish the elements of an offense.   

Finally, he challenged his sentence by disputing the district court's drug-quantity calculation on which the sentence was based.  The PSI calculated the quantity of illegal substances attributable to Mr. Ifediba to be between 30,000 and 90,000 kilograms.  The estimate came from an analysis of Alabama's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program ("PDMP") data spanning the charged conspiracy period.  Mr. Ifediba objected, arguing that the court should derive the drug quantity using only the prescriptions admitted into evidence at trial that the jury found to be unlawful--which would have totaled between 1,000 and 3,000 kilograms.  The Court disagreed with Mr. Ifediba and found his sentence to be procedurally reasonable.       

Ms. Ozuligbo separately appealed the court's exclusion of her cultural-defense evidence proffered to demonstrate that Nigerian cultural norms required her to obey her older brother.  The Court agreed with the district court that such evidence was irrelevant.    

Monday, August 22, 2022

Utsick: Affirming Sentence and Order of Restitution

In United States v. Utsick, No. 16-16505 (Aug. 22, 2022) (Newsom, Marcus, Covington (M.D. Fla.)), the Court affirmed Mr. Utsick's sentence and order of restitution.   

Mr. Utsick was charged with nine counts of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341 based upon an earlier civil action brought by the SEC regarding securities fraud.  Before authorities could arrest him, however, he fled to Brazil.  The United States filed an extradition request, which Brazil granted.  Mr. Utsick then returned to the United States on the eve of his trial.  He entered into a plea agreement--agreeing to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud--and the court sentenced him to 220 months' imprisonment and ordered him to pay $169,177,338 in restitution.  On appeal, he challenged his sentence and order of restitution as violative of the extradition treaty between the United States and Brazil as well as the voluntariness of his guilty plea.  

First, Mr. Utsick argued that his sentence and restitution order violated the terms of his extradition order, the extradition treaty between the United States and Brazil, and the international law doctrine known as the "rule of specialty."  He claimed that all three barred the district court from relying on any conduct prior to November 30, 2005 to determine his sentence.  The Court was unpersuaded.  It noted that when sentencing after extradition, the rule of specialty does not restrict the scope of proof of other crimes that may be considered in the sentencing process and does not control the evidentiary procedural rules of American Courts.  While the rule of specialty bars proof of other crimes in order to exact punishment for those other crimes, it does not bar proof of other crimes as a matter germane to the determination of punishment for the extradited crime.  The Court also found no plain error in the restitution order.  

Second, the Court was also unpersuaded by Mr. Utsick's argument that he entered his guilty plea without a clear understanding of the parameters of his conviction and without the requisite mental competence to knowingly enter into the plea.   

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Alvarado-Linares: VICAR Murder and Attempted Murder Crimes of Violence Under § 924(c) Elements Clause

In Alvarado-Linares v. United States, No. 19-14994 (Aug. 16, 2022) (Newsom, Branch, Brasher), the Court affirmed the district court's denial of Mr. Alvarado-Linares's Davis-based § 2255 motion.    

Mr. Alvarado-Linares was convicted of one count of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); four counts under the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Act ("VICAR"), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)--two for murder and two for attempted murder, in violation of Official Code of Georgia §§ 16-5-1(a) and 16-4-1; and four counts of using a firearm in committing those offenses, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).  He was sentenced to three concurrent life sentences plus eighty-five years.  Mr. Alvarado-Linares filed a motion to vacate his four firearms convictions--which resulted in 85-years of consecutive imprisonment--as unconstitutional in light of Davis

The Court granted a certificate of appealability on one issue: whether Mr. Alvarado-Linares's four firearms convictions are unconstitutional in light of Davis.  To resolve the issue, the Court noted that Mr. Alvarado-Linares must "bear the burden of showing that he is actually entitled to relief on his Davis claim, meaning he will have to show that his § 924(c) convictions[s] resulted from application of solely the [now-unconstitutional] residual clause," citing to In re Hammoud and Beeman.      

The Court, applying the modified categorical approach, and looking through the VICAR statute to the elements of the underlying state predicate--Georgia malice murder--held that Georgia malice murder is a crime of violence under § 924(c)(3)'s elements clause.  The Court also noted that a VICAR murder conviction predicated on federal murder would also meet the definition of crime of violence.  The Court then held that VICAR attempted murder--both under Georgia and federal law--is also a crime of violence under the elements clause because a conviction for attempted murder requires the government to prove--as an element of the offense--the use or attempted use of physical force.  Finally, the Court reasserted that aiding and abetting offenses can qualify as crimes of violence under § 924(c).  So, even though Mr. Alvarado-Linares's VICAR murder and attempted murder convictions were premised on an aiding and abetting theory, they nevertheless count as crimes of violence under § 924(c).      

Therefore, because Mr. Alvarado-Linares's VICAR convictions predicated on murder and attempted murder qualify as crimes of violence under § 924(c)'s elements clause, his four § 924(c) convictions remain valid after Davis.  

Judge Newsom filed a concurring opinion, writing separately "to ask whether the 'categorical approach' to identifying 'crime[s] of violence' has, to use a technical term of art, jumped the shark."  In Judge Newsom's view, the VICAR statute itself--where VICAR stands for Violent Crime in Aid of Racketeering--indicates that VICAR offenses are crimes of violence.         

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Pate: § 1521 Applies to Both Current and Former Federal Officers and Employees

In United States v. Pate, No. 20-10545 (Aug. 10, 2022) (Newsom, Branch, Lagoa), the Court affirmed Mr. Pate's convictions predicated on violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1521, which prohibits the filing of a false lien or encumbrance against the property of any officer or employee of the United States on account of the performance of official duties.  

Mr. Pate was accused of filing various false liens against the former Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and the former Secretary of the Treasury for acts they performed as part of their official duties.  He filed these false liens after they had left their positions with the federal government.  On appeal, the Court considered whether § 1521 applies to false liens filed against former federal officers and employees for official actions they performed while in service with the federal government. 

The Court held that the plain language of § 1521 covers both current and former federal officers and employees.  For purposes of § 1521, Congress premised liability on action taken against "an individual described in section 1114," which itself addresses "any officer or employee of the United States or of any agency in any branch of the United States Government." As such, and giving effect to all of § 1521's provisions, the Court reasoned that reading § 1521 to limit its scope only to current officers and employees would fail to give effect to the phrase, "on account of the performance of official duties."  Section 1521 makes it illegal to file a false lien against the property of a federal officer or employee because of something he did as part of his official duties.  Thus, because § 1521’s prohibition depends upon what an individual did while acting as a federal officer or employee, and not simply his employment status at the time of the action at issue, the natural reading of the statute’s language leads to the conclusion that the terms “officer” and “employee” encompass both current and former officers and employees. 

Judge Newsom dissented.  He noted that this case raised a straightforward question of statutory interpretation: Is a former government official an "officer or employee of the United States" within the meaning of § 1114 and, thereby, of § 1521? Affording the quoted language its ordinary meaning, he would answer the question in the negative.  Therefore, because Mr. Pate's filed the liens against individuals when they were no longer officers or employees of the United States, Judge Newsom would have held that Mr. Pate's conduct fell outside the scope of § 1521's prohibition.           

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Witt: Affirming Convictions and Sentence for Livestock Forage Disaster Program Fraud

In United States v. Witt, No. 21-10557 (Aug. 9, 2022) (Newsom, Marcus, Middlebrooks (S.D. Fla.)), the Court affirmed Ms. Witt's convictions and sentence. 

Ms. Witt was convicted for her part in a scheme to defraud the federal government out of relief funds intended for farmers affected by drought and fire (the Livestock Forage Disaster Program).  She was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; two counts of theft of government funds; and one count of aggravated identity theft. 

On appeal, Ms. Witt first challenged the district court's denial of her motion for a new trial, arguing that the weight of the evidence preponderated in favor of a not guilty verdict.  The Court first noted that the government misunderstood Ms. Witt's argument on appeal, and clarified that a challenge to the denial of a motion for a new trial involves a different inquiry from that of a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence.  The Court then rejected Ms. Witt's challenge.     

Next, Ms. Witt challenged the substantive reasonableness of her sentence, arguing that the district court should have sentenced her to house arrest rather than a traditional prison sentence.  The Court disagreed, finding her sentence of 28 months' imprisonment reasonable.  The Court noted that under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(a), district courts only "impose a term of imprisonment," but that the implementation of that sentence is left to the discretion of the BOP--that is, district courts do not have the authority to dictate whether a sentence is to be served in prison or in home confinement.  Additionally, though U.S.S.G. § 5C1.1(d)(2) provides that if the applicable guideline range is in Zone C of the Sentencing Table, the minimum term may be satisfied by a sentence of imprisonment that includes a term of supervised release with a condition that substitutes home detention, provided that at least one-half of the minimum term is satisfied by imprisonment, Ms. Witt's guideline range of 28 to 32 months placed her in Zone D, not Zone C.        

Thursday, July 28, 2022

King: Collateral-Attack Waiver Precludes 2255 Motion Based on Davis

In King v. United States, No. 20-14100 (July 28, 2022) (Grant, Luck, Anderson), the Court affirmed the denial of a 2255 motion based on Davis.

In his plea agreement, the defendant agreed not to collaterally attack his conviction or sentence in a 2255 motion.  After Davis, the defendant brought a 2255 motion, arguing that his 924(c) conviction, which was predicated on conspiracy, was no longer a valid crime.  The Eleventh Circuit held that, even though Davis subsequently announced a new retroactive rule of constitutional law, the defendant’s waiver remained valid under contract principles.  And while the Court had previously recognized limited exceptions to such waivers, including in the case of a jurisdictional defect, the defendant’s Davis claim did not fit any of those exceptions.  Specifically, the Court held that the claim did not involve a sentence exceeding the statutory maximum, because the maximum must be understood based on the law in effect at the time the waiver was signed by the parties.  The defendant bore the risk that there would be a favorable change in the law, and “the government’s wager has paid off” in that regard.

Judge Anderson concurred.  He agreed that the Davis claim did not satisfy the exception for sentences exceeding the statutory maximum.  However, he wrote separately to address the movant’s reliance on an exception for a miscarriage-of-justice/actual innocence.  A footnote in the majority noted that the Court had never adopted such an exception.  And Judge Anderson opined that this case would not satisfy any such exception because the defendant admitted to his involvement in an armed bank robbery at the plea, and that dismissed count could have formed the basis of the 924(c) offense.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Watkins: Sufficient Evidence Supported Convictions for Defrauding Investors

In United States v. Watkins, No. 19-12951 (July 15, 202) (Newsom, Tjoflat, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed the defendants’ fraud convictions.

The defendants solicited millions of dollars in investments from wealthy and famous people, including Sir Charles Barkley, by misleading them about their ownership interest in the investment company, that the funds would be used for business (rather than personal) purposes, and that other high-profile people were involved in the company.  The defendants also directed a friend to request a loan from a bank where the defendants were already maxed out, and to conceal that the loan was for the defendants.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient to support the defendants’ convictions.  As for wire fraud, the evidence was sufficient to show an intent to defraud because the misrepresentations affected the nature of the bargain and sought to obtain money to which the defendants were not entitled.  As for bank fraud, the evidence was sufficient because concealing the true recipient of the loan affected the nature of the bargain with the bank.

The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendants’ proposed jury instruction on the “intent to harm” element of wire/bank fraud.  Using the pattern instruction, the court properly instructed the jury that it could not have convicted without finding that the misrepresentations were made with an intent to cause loss or injury to the people from whom he solicited money, and thus to obtain money to which he was not entitled.  The court also properly instructed the jury on the theory of defense.

Finally, the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding defense evidence about the value of the investment companies.  That evidence would not have affected the government’s theory of the case.  For example, showing that the companies were successful would have done nothing to relieve the defendant from liability for deceiving investors about how their money would be used.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Lewis: No Privity Between State/Federal Prosecutors for Collateral Estoppel, and Upholding Exclusion of Moral Juror for Cause

In United States v. Lewis, No. 20-12997 (July 14, 2022) (Grant, Luck, Hull), the Court affirmed the defendant’s drug convictions.

First, the Court upheld the denial of a motion to suppress.  The argued that collateral estoppel prevented the federal government from re-litigating the legality of the traffic stop, which was already decided in state court.  The Court assumed, without deciding, that collateral estoppel applied to successive criminal prosecutions by different sovereigns, but held that it would not apply here because the defendant failed to establish privity between the state and federal authorities.  There was no evidence that the state was acting as a tool of, or were controlled by, federal prosecutors.

Second, the Court rejected the defendant’s arguments pertaining to jury selection.  It found no abuse of discretion in dismissing a juror for cause where the juror could not sit in judgment due to moral beliefs.  Unlike the religious juror in the en banc decision in Brown, the juror here never confirmed the ability to follow the law and the court’s instructions, and, unlike in Brown, the juror here was not already seated.  In addition, the Court found no clear error in the district court’s finding of discriminatory intent under Batson as to one of the defendant’s peremptory strikes, and that decision was harmless in any event because the defendant did not claim that the juror was unqualified to sit and he did not renew his challenge when given the chance.

Third, the Court upheld the district court’s exclusion of evidence about why the state court proceeding against the defendant was terminated, including the state court’s order finding the federal government’s main witness to be not credible.  Although the district court excluded the evidence as irrelevant, the Eleventh Circuit did not decide whether it was because it was harmless, as there was other overwhelming evidence of guilt.  For the same reason, the Court found no plain error with respect to the defendant’s argument that the exclusion deprived him of his right to present a complete defense.

Butler: Affirming Upward Variance Life Sentence in Enticement/Production Case

In United States v. Butler, No. 21-10659 (Wilson, Branch, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the defendant’s life sentence for enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity and for production of child pornography.

Although it was an upward variance from the guideline range of 292-365 months, the Court held that the life sentence was substantively reasonable.  The district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to consider his age, amenability to treatment, acceptance of responsibility, or the circumstances of his prior offenses.  The district court did not abuse its discretion by giving significant weight to any irrelevant sentencing factors.  And the district court did not unreasonably weigh the sentencing factors.  Instead, the court reasonably concluded that the guideline range did not adequately reflect his criminal history or the need to protect the public, and that finding was within the court’s discretion.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Hesser: Reversing Denial of 2255 Motion Based on Counsel's Failure to Seek Rule 29 Judgment of Acquittal

In Hesser v. United States, No. 19-13297 (July 13, 2022) (Lagoa, Brasher, Tjoflat), the Court reversed the partial denial of a federal prisoner’s 2255 motion.

The movant alleged that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to move for a Rule 29 judgment of acquittal after the government’s case in chief.  The district court granted the 2255 motion for three counts of tax fraud—the Eleventh Circuit on direct appeal had already held that the evidence was insufficient and affirmed based on the deferential standard of review.  But the district court denied the 2255 motion with respect to a conviction for attempted tax evasion.  On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit held that this was error because, had counsel filed a Rule 29 motion after the government’s case, the district court would have been required to grant it.

The Court explained that the government’s evidence was insufficient because it did not establish an affirmative act constituting attempted tax evasion.  Although the defendant hid gold in his house with the purpose of hiding it from the IRS, the government failed to prove that he actually owned the gold and that it was therefore subject to a tax levied on him.  If the gold was not subject to a tax, then attempting to conceal it from the IRS was not a crime, even if the defendant made a mistake of law (not fact) by believing that it was.  In addition, while the defendant suspiciously quitclaimed his house to a newly created trust the government never proved how doing that would have affected his tax liability; there was no tax lien on his house at the time he transferred the house to a trust.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Stapleton: Affirming Alien-Smuggling Convictions Over Various Challenges

In United States v. Stapleton, No. 19-12708 (Newsom, Marcus, Covington) (July 12, 2022), the Court affirmed the defendant’s alien smuggling convictions.

First, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the government’s four-year delay in extraditing him violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.  The district court did not clearly err in finding that the government acted reasonably and diligently (rather than negligently or in bad faith) given the onerous requirements for extradition from the Bahamas and Jamaica, and that the 33 aliens involved in the case had scattered.  And the government acted once it learned that the defendant planned to travel to Germany, a country with less demanding extradition requirements.  Because the reason for delay did not weigh heavily against the defendant, and he did not argue actual prejudice, his claim failed.

Second, the Court held that the indictment was neither multiplicitous nor insufficiently specific.  While two counts charged a violation of the same statute, they charged two separate alien-smuggling conspiracies rather than one.  And while it charged three immigration-related offenses for the same conduct, they each required proof of different elements, thus satisfying the Blockburger test.  Finally, the indictment was not required to specifically identify the alleged co-conspirators.  And it did not need to specify a principal whom he aided and abetted because he was charged with committing the substantive offenses himself.

Third, the district court did not plainly erred by admitting evidence of the defendant’s abuse of migrant women and of an uncharged alien-smuggling conspiracy.  The former was probative of his intent to smuggle migrants into the United States, which he placed at issue.  And the latter was probative of his modus operandi, and also to refute his trial defense that he did not intend to commit any crimes.

Fourth, the evidence was sufficient to convict him of knowingly aiding the entry of an inadmissible alien who had been convicted of an aggravated felony.  The evidence was sufficient for a jury to conclude that the alien was in fact the same person who had been convicted of an aggravated felony.

Fifth, the district court did not clearly err in imposing two sentencing enhancements.  As to an enhancement for inflicting serious bodily injury, the court was entitled to credit the testimony of the victim, even though she had illegally entered the country and had a pending petition to remain.  As to an enhancement for possession of a firearm in relation to his offenses, that conduct was part of the “relevant conduct,” even though it occurred during an uncharged operation, because it was part of the same common scheme or plan sharing a similar modus operandi.

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Cohen: Unauthorized, Unlicensed Driver Had Fourth Amendment Standing, But Inventory Search Complied with Impound Procedures

In United States v. Cohen, No. 21-10741 (Wilson, Branch, Tjoflat) (July 6, 2022), the Court affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress.

The Court held that Cohen had Fourth Amendment to standing to challenge the search of the rental car he was driving, even though he was not an authorized driver of the rental car and had a suspended license.  In Byrd, the Supreme Court held that standing is not defeated merely because the driver was not listed on the rental agreement.  The Eleventh Circuit rejected the reasoning of the Second Circuit, and agreed with the Eighth Circuit, that being an unlicensed driver does not defeat a reasonable expectation of privacy because it is not comparable to wrongful presence in the car.  And the Court emphasized that the Cohen did not interfere with the authorized renter’s valid possessory interest in the car because had the renter’s permission to use the car.  However, the Court ultimately held that the inventory search of the car complied with the city’s impoundment procedures, and the Court therefore upheld the denial of the motion to suppress.

Friday, July 01, 2022

Riolo: Affirming Denial of § 2255 Motion Raising IAC

In Riolo v. United States, No. 20-12206 (June 29, 2022) (Jordan, Jill Pryor, Marcus), the Court affirmed the denial of Mr. Riolo's 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate his 293-month prison sentence and convictions.    

Mr. Riolo argued that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel because she told him that if he pleaded guilty to five counts of mail fraud, he would serve no more than 10 years in prison because of a deal she had worked out with the government.  His trial counsel also advised him that his sentencing range under the Guidelines was 97-121 months' imprisonment because he had an offense level of 30 and a criminal history category of I.  He argued that he pleaded guilty based upon those representations when he otherwise would have proceeded to trial.  

After an evidentiary hearing, the district court found that the trial counsel never represented to Mr. Riolo that she had a deal with the government about his guideline range and that she had properly advised him that the district court would ultimately determine his guideline range for itself.  On appeal, Mr. Riolo argued that the district court's factual findings were clearly erroneous, and that, even putting aside the disputed facts, the fact that his trial counsel underestimated his guideline range by more than 100 months alone constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.  

The Court found no clear error in the district court's findings, and under those facts, no ineffective assistance of counsel.  The Court also reasoned that though trial counsel's estimated guideline range was "far off the mark--by more than 100 months," "experienced attorneys make mistakes."  That is, ineffective assistance of counsel claims are fact-bound, and here, the factual record demonstrated that trial counsel's miscalculation was not the product of deficient performance.  The Court chose not to address the Fifth Circuit's opinion in United States v. Herrera, wherein the Fifth Circuit remanded for an evidentiary hearing, noting that a movant may have a potential ineffective assistance of counsel claim where an attorney gives incorrect advice regarding exposure under the Guidelines.   

Judge Jordan concurred in the Court's opinion, but wrote separately to point out that a majority of the Court's sister circuits had held that significant errors in advice about sentencing exposure can constitute deficient performance.  He noted that while the Court had avoided the issue here, it would have to confront the issue at some point.  

Friday, June 10, 2022

Jackson: Court Must Apply Version of CSA Schedules in Place When Defendant Committed Instant Federal Offense; and Fla. Stat. 893.13 Cocaine Conviction Overbroad Because of Inclusion of Ioflupane

In United States v. Jackson, No. 21-13963 (June 10, 2022) (Rosenbaum, Jill Pryor, Ed Carnes), the Court vacated Mr. Jackson's ACCA-enhanced sentence and remanded for resentencing without the ACCA sentence enhancement.  

In this appeal, the Court considered which version of the Controlled Substance Act Schedules incorporated into ACCA’s definition of “serious drug offense” applies when a defendant is convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm: the version in effect at the time of the defendant’s federal firearm-possession violation (for which he is being sentenced), or the ones in effect when he was convicted of his predicate state crimes that we are evaluating to see whether they satisfy ACCA’s definition of “serious drug offense.”

The Court held that due-process fair-notice considerations require the application of the version of the Controlled Substance Act Schedules in place when the defendant committed the federal firearm-possession offense for which he is being sentenced.  

With that in mind, the Court found that Mr. Jackson's 1998 and 2004 cocaine-related convictions under Fla. Stat. § 893.13 did not qualify as "serious drug offense[s]" because they encompassed the sale of, or possession with intent to distribute, ioflupane, which was not a "controlled substance" for purposes of the "serious drug offense" definition in the ACCA at the time of Mr. Jackson's federal firearms offense.  Ioflupane was removed from the federal drug Schedules in September 2015 because of its value in potentially diagnosing Parkinson's Disease.  Florida, however, did not remove ioflupane from its drug schedules until July 2017.  

The Court further noted that prior precedents in Smith (2014), Smith (2020), Shular, and McNeill did not preclude relief here.  It noted that the question of which version of the Controlled Substance Act's drug Schedules governed under the ACCA's definition of "serious drug offense" was "not even a twinkle in [the Court's] eyes or in those of the Supreme Court in the Smith cases and in Shular."  That is, where a court has never addressed an issue, and had at most assumed the issue, the court is free to address the issue on the merits in a later case presenting it.  As for McNeill, it only answers the backward-looking question of what the defendant's previous state conviction was.  It does not the question presented here.  

  

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Stines: Lower Base Offense Level for Exporting Weapons Does Not Apply Where There Are More Than Two Weapons Parts or Components

In United States v. Stines, No. 20-11035 (May 31, 2022) (Wilson, Luck, Lagoa), the Court affirmed the defendant’s sentence for unlawfully exporting weapons.

Ordinarily, under U.S.S.G. 2M5.2(a), the unlawful exportation of weapons carries a base offense level of 26, but there is an exception carrying a base offense level of 14 where the offense involved only non-fully automatic small arms, and the number of weapons did not exceed two.  In this case, the defendant exported 23 weapons parts that could be converted into only two fully assembled weapons.  The Court agreed that the exception could apply to weapons parts, not just fully assembled weapons.  However, the Court held that the exception did not apply in this case because the number of parts could service more than two weapons.  Although this reading would mean that exporting three triggers alone would produce a higher base offense level than exporting two fully assembled firearms, that did not create an absurd result.  The Court also held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the district court’s refusal to grant a downward departure under the Guidelines.

Judge Luck concurred, opining that the exception did not apply to gun parts because those were not “small arms.”  Judge Lagoa authored a concurrence disagreeing on that point.


Friday, May 27, 2022

Gardner: "Maximum Term of Imprisonment" for ACCA "Serious Drug Offense" is Defined by Statutory Maximum, not High end of Presumptive Guideline Range

In United States v. Gardner, No. 20-13645 (May 27, 2022) (Newsom, Tjoflat, Hull), the Court affirmed the defendant’s ACCA sentence.

The district court applied the ACCA based prior Alabama drug convictions.  The defendant argued that his convictions did not qualify as “serious drug offenses” because they did not have a “maximum term of imprisonment” of ten years or more.  The Court held that the “maximum term of imprisonment” was determined by the statutory maximum under state law.  The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that it was instead determined by the high-end of the state’s presumptive guideline range.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Jimenez-Shilon: 9225(g)(5)(A), prohibiting illegal aliens from possessing guns, does not violate Second Amendment

In United States v. Jimenez-Shilon, No. 20-13139 (May 23, 2022) (Newsom, Branch, Brasher), the Court held that 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(A)—which prohibits illegal aliens from possessing firearms—does not violate the Second Amendment.

The Court held that illegal aliens do not have Second Amendment rights.  The Court assumed, for the sake of argument, that the defendant here was among the “people” referenced in the Constitution.  Nonetheless, after conducting an extensive historical analysis, the Court concluded that illegal aliens were not afforded the right to bear arms in England or colonial America.  In so concluding, the Court joined seven circuits to address the issue, which all reached the same conclusion.  Accordingly, the Court held that 922(g)(5)(A) does not violate the Second Amendment.

Judge Newsom authored a separate 10-page concurrence about his views more generally on how to conduct a Second Amendment analysis in future cases.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Coglianese: Upholding Supervised Release Restriction on Computers and Electronic Data Storage Medium in Child Sex Case

In United States v. Coglianese, No. 20-12074 (May 17, 2022) (William Pryor, Jordan, Brown (N.D. Ga.)), the Court affirmed the defendant’s low-end 168-month for child sex crimes.

After upholding the procedural and substantive reasonableness of the sentence, the court upheld a special condition of supervision restricting the defendant from accessing computers and the internet, and from possessing any electronic data storage medium, without prior approval by probation.  The Court had uniformly upheld computer restrictions in sex offender cases where, as here, the defendant could seek permission from probation, including in decisions issued after the advent of smartphones.  The defendant argued that the restriction on an “electronic data storage medium” was overbroad and included everyday items like a modern television and alarm system, but the Court concluded that the ordinary meaning of the phrase referred to a flash drive and other devices that can store and transmit information for processing by a computer.  It was therefore tailored to the defendant’s offense and neither overbroad nor an abuse of discretion.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Rodriguez: Affirming Sentence for Trafficking 200kg of Meth

In United States v. Rodriguez, No. 20-14681 (May 12, 2022) (Jill Pryor, Grant, Marcus), the Court affirmed the defendant’s 135-month sentence for his role in a conspiracy trafficking methamphetamine.

First, the Court upheld the district court’s decision to attribute 200 kilograms of meth to Rodriguez after considering the scope of the enterprise, his particular role, and the quantity of drugs that would be reasonably foreseeable in light of his role.  This case involved a large importation/distribution enterprise driving drugs across the Mexico border for distribution, and then wiring money back to the cartels in Mexico.  Rodriguez acted jointly with his co-conspirators and participated in the conspiracy in six different ways, five of which included directly transporting drugs.  And, even though he played a “minor role” in the conspiracy, that did not preclude attributing the full quantity of drugs to him where that quantity was reasonably foreseeable.

Second, the Court upheld an enhancement for possession of a firearm because his co-conspirator had stored a firearm at the stash house, and that was reasonably foreseeable, as Rodriguez effectively admitted at sentencing.

Third, the Court lacked jurisdiction to consider the argument that the district court erroneously failed to grant a downward departure under the Guidelines.  Appellate review is available only where the district court incorrectly believed that it lacked authority to grant the departure, and nothing in the record suggested that the district court harbored such a misunderstanding.

Finally, the Court concluded that the low-end sentence was not substantively unreasonable.  Nor did the district court abuse its discretion in declining to impose a downward variance.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Moon: Sixth Amendment Structural Right to a Public Trial is Waivable

In United States v. Moon, No. 20-13822 (May 10, 2022) (Jill Pryor, Branch, Hull), the Court affirmed the defendant’s child pornography convictions.

First, the Court upheld the denial of a motion to suppress videotapes found during the execution of an unrelated search warrant on the defendant’s medical office.  The Court concluded that the search was within the scope of the warrant because it referred to “videotapes” and “tapes.”  Thus, the officer was entitled to briefly examine the tapes, as that was the only way to determine their relevance to the crime.  The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the videotapes were too obsolete to contain criminal evidence, as the office contained a VCR as well as a hidden surveillance camera.

Second, the Court upheld the district court’s closures of the courtroom to display sensitive evidence.  The Court found that the parties entered into a pre-trial agreement to do so.  The Court joined other circuits in holding that the structural right to a public trial is waivable.  And the Court concluded that the defendant waived that right by entering the pre-trial agreement, affirmatively consenting to the closure at various points early in the trial, and subsequently failing to object to any later closures that purportedly exceeded the scope of the agreement.

Finally, the Court briefly found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s: denial of a motion for a Franks hearing; denial of a motion for recusal; and failure to give several requested instruction on the definition of “lascivious exhibition.”

Friday, May 06, 2022

Seabrooks: Reversing Denial of 2255 Motion Based on Rehaif

In Seabrooks v. United States, No. 20-13459 (May 6, 2022) (Wilson, Rosenbaum, Conway (MD Fla.)) (per curiam), the Court reversed the denial of a 2255 motion based on Rehaif, vacated the felon-in-possession conviction, and remanded for further proceedings.

The Court issued three holdings.  First, it agreed with the parties that Rehaif announced a  new “substantive” rule, and so it applied retroactively in initial 2255 motions.  Second, it held that Seabrooks’ Rehaif claim was not “procedurally barred” by his failure to raise that claim on direct appeal, since Rehaif was an intervening change in law.  And the government waived any argument about “procedural default” by failing to raise that defense in the district court.  Third, the Court held that the district court’s aiding and abetting instruction, which was erroneous in light of Rosemond and Rehaif, was not harmless because there was more than a reasonable probability that the jury relied on that theory to convict.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Clark: Affirming Drug and Firearm Convictions

In United States v. Clark, No. 20-10672 (Apr. 28, 2022) (Jordan, Jill Pryor, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed Mr. Clark's convictions and sentence.  

Mr. Clark was convicted of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.  After a jury trial, he was sentenced to 360 months' imprisonment.  

Mr. Clark raised five issues on appeal.  First, he argued that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a new trial based on the government's post-trial disclosure of Brady material about a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent who had been internally disciplined for destroying evidence in a previous case involving an individual charged with distributing narcotics and being a felon in possession of a firearm (as a result of this agent's misconduct, one of the United States Attorney's Offices refused to accept future cases from him).  At Mr. Clark's trial, this special agent testified as an expert witness about the interstate nexus and gun identification.  The Court found no abuse of discretion because Mr. Clark received a fair trial with a "verdict worthy of confidence," even without the disclosure of Brady material.     

Second, Mr. Clark argued that the district court erred in denying his motion  to suppress the evidence seized as a result of a traffic stop and subsequent arrest.  Mr. Clark maintained that officers did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause for a traffic stop in the first place, and no probable cause to search his car.  The officer who pulled over Mr. Clark consistently testified that he did so because Mr. Clark's car was weaving in and out of lanes, but he could not remember the details.  The Court noted that officers need not have perfect memory as to why they stopped an individual in order for probable cause to be found.  Additionally, the Court also found that officers had probable cause to arrest Mr. Clark, and, therefore, search him and his car incident to arrest.  

Third, Mr. Clark argued that the district court failed to specifically instruct the jury to apply the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard to the special verdict question of weight of methamphetamines discovered.  If the jury found that the weight was above 5 grams, that finding would raise the mandatory minimum to 5 years and the statutory maximum to 40 years.  Reviewing for plain error, the Court found that the district court erred, but found itself "powerless" to correct the error because Mr. Clark invited the error by affirmatively accepting the special verdict question.  The Court also noted that such an error--an Alleyne error--is not structural error, and noted that even if it were structural, the law is mixed on how a structural error interacts with the invited-error doctrine.  

Fourth, Mr. Clark argued that the district court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence of all eight of Mr. Clark's prior felony convictions, including a probation order that surveyed his lengthy arrest record, with regard to the felon-in-possession count.  He also argued that the records should have been redacted and that a limiting instruction should have been given.  The Court noted that since, post-Rehaif, the government must now prove that an individual knew he was a felon when he possessed the firearm, and Mr. Clark did not stipulate to his status as a convicted felon, the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the government to admit all eight convictions as to that element.  The Court refused to establish a brightline rule that would limit the number of convictions the government could introduce, noting that the number likely depended on the circumstances of each case.  The Court reviewed Mr. Clark's other contention--that the records should have been redacted and a limiting instruction given--for plain error, and found none.  The Court noted that though the arrest records had zero bearing on the knowledge element, the district court was under no affirmative obligation to sua sponte exclude them. 

Finally, Mr. Clark argued that the cumulative effect of the errors in his trial warranted reversal.  The Court disagreed.      
 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Thomas: Affirming Sentence

In United States v. Thomas, No. 19-11670 (Apr. 25, 2022) (Branch, Grant, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed Mr. Thomas's sentence.  

Mr. Thomas appealed his 120-month sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine and 1 kilogram or more of heroin.  He argued that the district court erred in (1) applying a two-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(12), and (2) failing to apply the safety valve of U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2.   

With regard to § 2D1.1(b)(12), the PSI asserted that Mr. Thomas had maintained a stash house for the purpose of manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance.  In support, the PSI noted that Mr. Thomas had possessed a key to the drug trailer located in the backyard of the stash house.  Mr. Thomas argued that he did not own the stash house, did not reside there (though he did concede that he did live there for a small part of the conspiracy), and possessed a key only to the trailer, not the house.

The Court found application of a two-level enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(12) appropriate because of Mr. Thomas's concession that he lived at the stash house for a good portion of the conspiracy.  As a result, the district court was entitled to assume he had unfettered access to and control over the premises.  That he moved out of the stash house at some point prior to police’s seizure of the drugs and firearms does not affect the analysis. The Court reasoned that Mr. Thomas did not need to maintain the premises for the purposes of distributing drugs for the entire conspiracy to be eligible for a sentencing enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(12); he merely needed to do so for a portion of the conspiracy.       

As for safety valve, the Court first found that the district court erred when it concluded that the two-level firearm enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(1) necessarily barred Mr. Thomas from safety valve relief.  The Court reaffirmed that a defendant who receives a firearm enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(1) can still secure safety valve relief if he shows that it is more likely than not that the possession of the firearm was not in connection with the offense.  Nevertheless, Mr. Thomas was ineligible for safety valve relief because he failed to meet his burden of showing that he met each of the five safety-valve criteria.  More specifically, he could not satisfy § 5C1.2(a)(5) because he refused to provide the government with any of the information he had concerning the drug operation.     

Mosley: Vacating Sentence for Failing to Provide an Opportunity to Object

In United States v. Mosley, No. 20-11146 (Apr. 21, 2022) (William Pryor, Jordan, Brown (N.D. Ga.)) (per curiam), the Court vacated Mr. Mosley's sentence and remanded for further proceedings.  

Mr. Mosley pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(a)(2).  At sentencing, his advisory Guidelines' range was calculated to be 37 to 46 months' imprisonment.  Both his attorney and the government requested a sentence within the guideline range.  The district court, however, varied upwards to 87 months' imprisonment on account of Mr. Mosley's criminal activity and background.  Subsequently, in its Statement of Reasons, the district court stated it imposed the sentence, in part, because the weapon involved was stolen from the police department.  Mr. Mosley appealed, arguing that the district court erred in sentencing him based on that conclusion without first allowing him an opportunity to object.  

The Court agreed with Mr. Mosley.  It reaffirmed that under Jones, a district court must elicit fully articulated objections, following imposition of sentence, to the court's ultimate findings of fact and conclusions of law.  The district court here did not follow the Jones procedure.  No one mentioned that the firearm had been stolen from a police department at the sentencing hearing.  That fact was not set out in the PSI.  As such, because the district court first announced this conclusion after the sentencing hearing when it issued the written document, the district court did not provide Mosley an opportunity to object to its finding as to the victim of the theft.   

The Court noted, however, that its holding was narrow, and not an invitation for new Jones claims based on the Statement of Reasons.  It reaffirmed that a district court’s post-sentencing Statement of Reasons form is not typically a document a defendant may use to pursue a Jones violation.      

Stowers: Affirming Denial of Motion to Suppress Wiretap Evidence

In United States v. Stowers, No. 18-12569 (Apr. 20, 2022) (Jordan, Brasher, Anderson), the Court affirmed the district court's denial of the defendants' motions to suppress.

In this consolidated appeal, the Court answered several questions of first impression regarding Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, which regulates the interception of wire, oral, and electronic communications.  While investigating a suspected drug trafficking conspiracy, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent secured a wiretap authorization order from a state judge. The wiretap ultimately implicated the nine named defendants in the conspiracy.  When federal authorities prosecuted them based on this state-gathered evidence, the defendants asked the district court to suppress the evidence on three grounds: (1) the state judge did not correctly seal the wiretap recordings as required under Title III; (2) the government impermissibly delayed sealing the wiretap recordings without providing a satisfactory explanation for the delay; and (3) the state court's wiretap authorization order exceeded its jurisdiction.  

The order authorizing the wiretap contained the following language: “Let return hereof and report as required by law be made before me within forty (40) days of date hereof or ten (10) days from the date of the last interception, whichever is earlier.” The authorization also stated that all applications, affidavits, orders, reports, court reporter’s notes, tapes, and disks, “and all other matters filed or received herein shall remain sealed until further Order of this Court … [and] remain in the custody of the Clerk.”  Finally, each wiretap authorized the State to continue to monitor and electronically intercept transmissions to and from the target telephone during any out of state travels.  

As to the first ground, the Court held that nothing in the text of Title III requires that the judge issue a separate, written sealing order after receiving the recordings.  What occurred in this case--taking the original recordings to the judge, placing a seal on a tamper-proof evidence bag in front of the judge, initialing the bag along with the judge, and leaving the evidence bag in the possession of the court clerk--satisfies the statute's requirements for sealing.    

As to the second ground, the Court held that the government provided a "satisfactory explanation" for any delay in sealing.  As an initial matter, the Court noted, in line with its sister circuits, that the recordings were sealed immediately--in line with the statute's express language--because the statute puts judicial officers--not law enforcement--in charge of sealing wiretap recordings, and here, the agents met the authorizing judge's ten-day deadline.  But, even assuming the recordings were returned late, as both parties argued, the government provided a "satisfactory explanation" to excuse the delay.  In so holding, the Court found that the government had met two threshold requirements: that the recordings had not been tampered with, and that the government had acted in good faith.  The Court then found that the other factors also weighed in favor of finding the government's explanation "satisfactory."  More specifically, with regard to the third factor--whether the government's reasons for delaying were objectively reasonable--the Court held, in line with its sister circuits, that it was objectively reasonable for the officers to rely on the ten-day period in the authorizing court's order.  Law enforcement agents do not act unreasonably when they decline to doublecheck a judge’s wiretap order with their own independent legal research. Title III puts the court in charge of the process, not law enforcement. 

As to the third ground, the Court held that the state court did not exceed its jurisdiction in authorizing the interception of calls made outside of the state because under Georgia law, Georgia courts have the authority to issue wiretap warrants for the interception of calls if either the tapped phones or the listening post are located within Georgia.  Here, the listening post was in Georgia.  The Court noted that the safeguard on the scope of state court’s wiretap authority is the requirement that law enforcement establish probable cause for the intrusion, not a geographical limit on the phone calls that can be monitored.   

Judge Jordan wrote separately, concurring in part, and concurring in the judgment.  He agreed that the government explanation for the delay in sealing was "satisfactory," but for different reasons.  Because the interception orders at issue here were sought by a state law enforcement officer and issued by a state judge pursuant to Georgia law, Judge Jordan would have determined whether the government's explanation for the delay in sealing was satisfactory by reference to Georgia law as well as federal law.    

      

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Smith: Reversing Denial of First Step Act Motion and Remanding

In United States v. Smith, No. 19-13056 (Apr. 19, 2022) (William Pryor, Jordan, Brown (N.D. Ga.)), the Court reversed the district court's denial of Mr. Smith's First Step Act motion and remanded for further proceedings.  

Mr. Smith was convicted of possession of 5 grams or more of crack cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B), and the brandishing of a firearm in the commission of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii).  He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 210 months on the crack cocaine conviction, and a consecutive term of imprisonment of 84 months on the firearm conviction.  Based on Amendments 706 and 782 to the Sentencing Guidelines, his sentence on the crack cocaine conviction was reduced to 168 months' imprisonment, and then to 135 months' imprisonment.  

After passage of the First Step Act, Mr. Smith wrote a letter to the district court asking whether he was eligible for a sentence reduction, and requesting the appointment of counsel to file a motion.  The district court appointed the Federal Public Defender's Office to represent Mr. Smith.  The probation office then prepared a memorandum advising the court that Mr. Smith was ineligible for a sentence reduction.  The district court then, without the benefit of briefing, construed Mr. Smith's pro se letter as a motion for relief under the First Step Act and denied it, concluding that Mr. Smith was not eligible for a reduction.  Mr. Smith moved for reconsideration, to which the government was ordered to respond and "includ[e] all substantive arguments."  The parties then filed a joint motion for reconsideration requesting a briefing schedule to allow litigation of all arguments for relief, which the court denied.  The court also denied Mr. Smith's request for leave to file a reply to the government's response to address the government's substantive arguments.  The court then denied Mr. Smith's motion for reconsideration, finding Mr. Smith ineligible for relief under the First Step Act, and alternatively, even if he were eligible, that any further reduction was unwarranted.

This Court reversed and remanded to afford Mr. Smith an opportunity to be heard as to why he merited a sentence reduction.  The Court first determined that, under Jones, Mr. Smith is eligible for relief.  The Court then addressed the district court's alternative ruling, and found that it could not stand because Mr. Smith was not given an opportunity to be heard on the issue.  The Court reasoned that although the district court provided reasons as to why Mr. Smith did not merit a sentence reduction, it rendered its alternative ruling without hearing from him and without considering the factual and legal bases that might support a favorable exercise of discretion. The wide berth given to district courts by the First Step Act requires deferential review with respect to the ultimate exercise of discretion, but it does not speak to the process which must be provided to the parties.        

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Hakim: Waiver of Right to Counsel was Not Knowing

In United States v. Hakim, No. 19-11970 (Apr. 14, 2022) (William Pryor, Grant, Anderson), the Court vacated Mr. Hakim's conviction and remanded for further proceedings.  

The Court addressed whether a defendant's waiver of his right to counsel is knowing when a court gives materially incorrect or misleading information to the defendant about his potential maximum sentence.  Here, Mr. Hakim was found guilty after a jury trial on three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file a federal income tax return.  Although he was represented by counsel at trial, he was without counsel during the pretrial process.  At his arraignment, Mr. Hakim expressed his desire to waive his right to counsel and to represent himself.  The magistrate judge found that Mr. Hakim's waiver was knowing after misinforming him that the maximum sentence he could receive if convicted was 12 months imprisonment.  After trial, Mr. Hakim was sentenced to 21 months of imprisonment.  On appeal, Mr. Hakim argued that his waiver of counsel was not knowing. 

As an initial matter, the Court first clarified that the applicable standard of review on appeal was de novo--and not plain error--where a pro se defendant failed to contemporaneously object to the validity of his own waiver.  It then agreed with Mr. Hakim, holding that because Mr. Hakim had received incorrect information about the possible punishment he faced, there was no knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to counsel.  Here, the magistrate judge not only failed to inform Mr. Hakim of the maximum sentence, but he misled Mr. Hakim by incorrectly representing that the maximum term of imprisonment would be one year, when it was instead three year.  The government bore the burden of showing that there was other evidence in the record to support that Mr. Hakim knew the correct range from another source in order to establish that the waiver was knowing, but it could not meet its burden.  

Additionally, Mr. Hakim did not need to show prejudice to obtain a reversal because the constitutional error was structural.  That is, he was deprived of his constitutional right to counsel at a critical stage.

Judge Grant dissented.  She would have reviewed for plain error and upheld Mr. Hakim's conviction.  She distinguished Mr. Hakim's case from those in other circuits that have applied de novo review, because he proceeded to trial and sentencing with counsel.    


  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Woodson: Interview Not Custodial, No Miranda Warning Required

In United States v. Woodson, No. 20-10443 (Apr. 13, 2022) (Branch, Grant, Brasher), the Court affirmed Mr. Woodson's convictions and sentence.  

Mr. Woodson was charged with offenses relating to child pornography and extortionate interstate communications.  A jury found him guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment followed by a life term of supervised release.  

On appeal, he first challenged the district court's denial of his motion to suppress statements he made to police without the benefit of Miranda warnings.  Approximately 15 officers arrived at the home Mr. Woodson shared with his family, including his brother Brandon, to execute a search warrant.  Mr. Woodson was asleep when the officers entered his bedroom, handcuffed him, and escorted him to the living room, where he joined his family.  Officers then interviewed Brandon outside of the home, inside a parked police van.  They determined that he was unlikely to be the culprit.  Mr. Woodson agreed to talk with officers next.  He was uncuffed and followed officers to the same parked police van.  He sat in the front passenger seat, with one detective in the driver's seat and another detective in the back seat.  Mr. Woodson was advised that he was not under arrest, that he was not charged with a crime, and that they were talking voluntarily.  He was not, however, read the Miranda warnings.  Mr. Woodson eventually confessed to the crimes alleged, and after less than an hour, the discussion concluded, and he was escorted back inside the home.  He was not arrested until nearly eight months later.  

Mr. Woodson argued that his statements should have been suppressed because his discussion with law enforcement had been a custodial interrogation that required Miranda warnings.  The Court disagreed.  The Court first clarified that the determination of custody under Miranda depends entirely on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, which are assessed from the perspective of the reasonable innocent person.  As such, the Court found the lower court's reliance on the subjective beliefs of Brandon regarding his interactions with law enforcement to be erroneous.  Because the custody test is objective, courts do not consider subjective beliefs, even those of others who are interrogated.  The Court then concluded that a reasonable person in Mr. Woodson's position would have felt free to terminate the interview and leave, though it recognized that "the question may be close here."  In support, the Court noted that Mr. Woodson was advised he was not under arrest, not charged with a crime, and that his conversation was voluntary; he was not handcuffed and sat in the front passenger seat of the police van.    

Additionally, even if a reasonable person in Mr. Woodson's position would not have felt free to terminate the interview and leave, the interview environment did not present the serious danger of coercion that a custodial interview entails.  First, any display of police control and authority that occurred earlier when officers executed the search warrant was irrelevant to the determination of whether the subsequent interview was custodial.  Additionally, Mr. Woodson was not whisked away to the police station, but instead remained outside his home, in clear view of his neighbors.  Finally, he was not entirely cut off from his normal life--he quickly returned to it.  That officers threatened to expose Mr. Woodson to his boss if he lied to them and the hour-long duration of the interview did not tip the scale in Mr. Woodson's favor.    

Mr. Woodson also challenged his sentence on procedural and substantive grounds, which the Court rejected.    

Judge Brasher filed a concurrence, noting that, in his view, the lower court did not err in considering the testimony of Brandon as part of the totality of circumstances of the Miranda custody determination.  This is so because he was neither the suspect nor the police; rather he was an innocent third-party who testified about his impression of the scene.             

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Moss: Affirming Health Care Fraud Convictions, Sentence, and Restitution Amount

In United States v. Moss, No. 19-14548 (Apr. 12, 2022) (William Pryor, Luck, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed Mr. Moss's convictions, sentence, and restitution amount.  

Mr. Moss was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §  1349, and six counts of health care fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §  1347.  After a jury trial, he was convicted of all counts.  He was sentenced to 97 months imprisonment, ordered to forfeit $2,507,623, and to pay $2,256,861 in restitution.  He appealed his convictions and sentence, as well as the restitution and forfeiture amounts.  

Mr. Moss raised three challenges to his convictions, which the Court found to be without any merit.  

As for his sentence, Mr. Moss challenged the loss amount used to determine his sentence, the dollar amount he had to pay in restitution, and the forfeiture amount.  The Court found no clear error in the district court's determinations.  With regard to the forfeiture determination, the Court found that forfeiture ordered under 18 U.S.C. §  982(a)(7)--"forfeit property, real or personal, that constitutes or is derived, directly or indirectly, from gross proceeds traceable to the commission of the offense"--encompasses the proceeds Mr. Moss received for providing legitimate services.  In so holding, the Court applied a "but for" test, asking, but for his Medicare fraud, would Mr. Moss have been entitled to collect proceeds for his legitimate services? The Court held no.        

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Sanchez: Upholding Convictions and Sentence of Life Plus Ten

In United States v. Sanchez, No. 19-14002 (Apr. 5, 2022) (Branch, Grant, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed Mr. Sanchez's convictions and sentence. 

Mr. Sanchez was charged with two counts of enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b); two counts of enticing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct in order to produce child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a); two counts of possessing child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B); and one count of having committed a felony offense involving a minor while already a registered sex offender, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2260A.  He was found guilty after trial of all counts and sentenced to life imprisonment plus a consecutive ten-year mandatory minimum.  

Mr. Sanchez appealed the district court's denial of his motion to suppress.  More specifically, whether the district court erred by not excluding evidence derived from the officer's brief, warrantless entry into Mr. Sanchez's home for the sole purpose of seizing a phone for which the officers had obtained a search warrant.  Officers arrived at Mr. Sanchez's home, which he shared with his parents, with a warrant to seize his phone.  They encountered Mr. Sanchez out on his driveway.  He did not have his cellphone on his body; it was inside the home, in his bedroom.  Officers testified that they obtained consent from Mr. Sanchez's mother to enter the home with her to retrieve the cellphone.  Mr. Sanchez challenged the officers' contention that they obtained his mother's consent to enter the home because the officers could not remember exactly how the mother consented--verbally, nonverbally, etc.  

The Court found that Mr. Sanchez consented to the seizure of his phone, that his mother gave officers at least nonverbal consent to follow her into the home to retrieve the phone, and that their consent was voluntarily given--there was no show of force causing either of them to acquiesce to a show of authority, nor was the search conducted in the middle of the night.  Additionally, consent can be nonverbal.  Likewise, silently accepting an officer's expressed intent to enter the house solely for the purpose of retrieving the phone is also valid consent.     

Mr. Sanchez also challenged his sentence.  First, he argued that his previous conviction under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for indecent conduct should not be a qualifying offense under 18 U.S.C. § 2251(e), which triggered a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment.  The Court rejected this argument because the plain language of § 2251(e) requires the application of a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence if a defendant has a prior conviction under Article 120.    

Mr. Sanchez next challenged four guidelines sentencing enhancements--a 4-level increase under U.S.S.G.  § 2G2.1(b)(4); a 2-level increase under  § 2G2.1(b)(2)(A); a 5-level increase under § 4B1.5(b)(1); and a 2-level increase under § 2G2.1(b)(3).  As to the first three, the Court found no error in their application.  As to the fourth--a 2-level increase under § 2G2.1(b)(3) for knowingly engaging in the distribution of child pornography--the Court reasoned that even if Mr. Sanchez was correct that his solicitation of child pornography is not distribution, any error was harmless because his total offense level would have remained the same.   

The Court also rejected Mr. Sanchez's contention that his rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause were violated because he was sentenced for violating both 18 U.S.C. § 2251 and § 2422 based on his criminal conduct of enticing two minors to produce child pornography.  The Court held that because the two statutes do not have the same elements, there is no double jeopardy issue.  

Finally, the Court rejected Mr. Sanchez's challenge to the substantive reasonableness of his sentence.    

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Williams: Defendant Forfeited Issue on Appeal re: Whether the Denial of Right to Self-Representation Automatically Renders Guilty Plea Involuntary

In United States v. Williams, Case No. 18-13890 (Mar. 30, 2022) (Jordan, Jill Pryor, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the district court because it found that Mr. Williams had forfeited any arguments under which the Court could grant relief on appeal.  

Mr. Williams, a sovereign citizen, wanted to represent himself before the district court.  The district court held a Faretta hearing and denied Mr. Williams's request.  Mr. Williams subsequently pleaded guilty, with the assistance of counsel, and was sentenced to 151 months imprisonment.  

Mr. Williams was then assigned a new attorney on appeal.  This attorney moved to withdraw as counsel pursuant to Anders v. California, which the Court denied two times, finding at least two issues of arguable merit: (1) whether, despite later pleading guilty, the Court has discretion to review the denial of a defendant's request to proceed pro se, which is a potential structural error and, if so, (2) whether the district court erred in denying Williams's request to proceed pro se because it believed that he did not understand the risks of proceeding pro se due to his illogical legal theories.  The appellate brief failed to meaningfully address whether the guilty plea precluded the Court from addressing the Faretta issue.  As to that issue, the government noted a circuit split, with the 9th Circuit holding that an improper denial of a defendant's request for self-representation renders any subsequent guilty plea per se involuntary, thereby voiding it; and the 4th, 7th, 8th, and 10th Circuits holding that an improper denial of the right to self-representation does not render a subsequent guilty plea involuntary, so the subsequent guilty plea waives the right to appeal the improper denial.      

The Court noted that though the improper denial of the right to self-representation is structural error--which would have required reversal--it could not reach that issue because Mr. Williams's appellate counsel had failed to address the preliminary issue of what effect Mr. Williams's guilty plea had on his ability to raise that challenge.  That is, appellate counsel's failure to raise a challenge to the voluntariness of Mr. Williams's guilty plea in his initial brief forfeited the issue on appeal.  And, as a result, the Court found that it could not address the circuit split, nor the merits of the Faretta claim.  

The Court noted that, while under Campbell, it had the discretion to revive a forfeited issue, it was choosing not to here: "Even assuming that we have the discretion to revive the forfeited issue here, we cannot say that it would be appropriate to exercise our discretion and so decline to raise the voluntariness issue sua sponte."  

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Said: Violation of Fla. Stat. 893.13(6)(a) Overbroad With Regard to Controlled Substance Definition

In Said v. U.S. Att'y Gen., 21-12917 (Mar. 24, 2022) (Jordan, Newsom, Tjoflat), the Court held that a violation of Fla. Stat. § 893.13(6)(a)--the Florida marijuana possession statute--did not relate to a controlled substance, as defined in 21 U.S.C. § 802, and thus did not prevent Mr. Said from accruing the necessary seven-year period of continuous residence for his application for cancellation of removal.  As such, the Court found that the BIA and IJ erred in finding that Said was ineligible for cancellation of removal.    

The Court reasoned that by the plain language of Fla. Stat. § 893.02(3), not all substances that it proscribes are federally controlled.  Section 893.02(3) includes “all parts” of the marijuana plant, while federal law does not.  For instance, federal law does not include the mature stalks of the marijuana plant or fiber produced from such stalks.  21 U.S.C. § 802(16).  This is a significant divergence, and on its own, is sufficient to establish a realistic probability of broader prosecution under Florida law.  The Court distinguished its opinion from Chamu, where petitioner presented a hypothetical form of cocaine covered by state, but not federal law, to attempt to establish overbreadth.  Here, because the stalks of the marijuana plant do exist, it cannot be argued that Florida law just uses different terminology to describe the same substance proscribed by federal law.  The Court declined to ignore the statutory text and construct a narrower statute than the plain language supports.  

Monday, March 21, 2022

Lee: 18 U.S.C. 2251(a) and 2251(d) are Separate Offenses for Double Jeopardy

In United States v. Lee, 20-13505 (Mar. 21, 2022) (Lagoa, Brasher, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction under 18 U.S.C. 2251(a) over a double jeopardy challenge.

The defendant sent text messages to a minor requesting sexually explicit images.  The defendant was originally charged with violating 2251(d), and a jury convicted him.  Shortly thereafter, however, the Eleventh Circuit in Caniff clarified that such conduct does not violate 2251(d), and the district court granted a judgment of acquittal.  Based on the same conduct, the government brought a new indictment, charging the defendant with violating 2251(a), and the defendant moved to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds.  The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court correctly denied the motion because 2251(a) and 2251(d) are distinct offenses with different elements.  2251(d) requires proof that the defendant made a notice or advertisement involving a sexually explicit depiction of a minor, whereas 2251(a) requires proof that the defendant arranged for a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of creating a depiction of that conduct.  Because there were scenarios where a defendant could violate 2251(d) but not 2251(a), and vice versa, they were not the same offense for double jeopardy purposes.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Howard: Affirming Convictions in Tricare Kickback Case, But Reversing Sentence as Too Lenient

In United States v. Howard, Case No. 18-11602 (Mar. 7, 2022) (Branch, Luck, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed in part, and vacated and remanded in part, a case involving Tricare, a government program that provides health care insurance benefits for active and retired members of the military and their families.  

This case involved the actions of Nicole Bramwell, a physician, Larry Howard, a pharmacist, and Raymond Stone, a retired Navy veteran.  They were convicted of crimes involving the millions of dollars Tricare paid Howard for filling compounded cream prescriptions for patients.  Bramwell wrote the prescriptions and Stone helped to recruit patients.  All three were convicted for paying or receiving kickbacks and conspiring to do so, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b)(1)(A), and 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b)(2)(A).  Howard was also convicted of laundering some of the proceeds, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957.  Howard was sentenced to 160 months in prison; Stone to 24 months in prison; and Bramwell to 36 months of probation, with one year to be served in home detention.  

All three challenge their convictions based on the sufficiency of the evidence.  Howard also contends that the government constructively amended his indictment.  The government cross-appealed, contending that Bramwell's sentence was unreasonably lenient.  

As to the sufficiency of the evidence challenges, the Court first noted that it did not matter whether the prescriptions involved were legitimate or medically necessary or good or bad for the patients, because the substantive kickback convictions were based entirely on whether there were kickbacks paid.  Additionally, the conspiracy convictions could be sustained based solely upon evidence sufficient to support the kickback conspiracy without regard to any evidence of fraud.  The Court also reaffirmed that in a case alleging multiple objects of the conspiracy, only one of those objects needs to be proven to support the conspiracy conviction.  With that in mind, the Court found the evidence sufficient to support all convictions.   

As to the constructive amendment argument, Count 4 charged Howard with paying one $5000 kickback to Bramwell on a specific date, but the government presented evidence that he wrote two different $5000 checks to her on that date.  Howard argued that the evidence presented at trial constructively amended the indictment.  The Court disagreed.  Evidence that there were two $5000 checks did not alter the essential elements of the offense charged because the amount of the kickback paid was not an element of the offense.  

As to the government's cross-appeal of Bramwell's sentence of probation, the Court agreed with the government that the sentence was substantively unreasonable.  The PSI calculated an advisory Guidelines' range of 78 to 97 months imprisonment for Bramwell.  But at sentencing, the district court characterized Bramwell as something of a victim of Howard, and after extensively considering the § 3553 factors, varied downwards to zero months imprisonment.  In reversing the district court, the Court found that the district court had abused its discretion in three ways--failing to afford consideration to relevant factors (seriousness of the offense, the need to promote respect for the law, the need to provide just punishment for the offense, and general deterrence); giving significant weight to an improper factor (loss of professional license, convicted felon status, and the temptation and opportunity to commit the crime); and committing a clear error of judgment in considering proper factors and the weight they were due.  The Court did not find the district court's explanation for its variance sufficiently compelling to support the degree of variance.  As such, the Court vacated and remanded the part of the judgment involving Bramwell's sentence to the district court for further proceedings, with instructions that a sentence of probation is unreasonable.       

Friday, February 18, 2022

Dupree: Granting Rehearing En Banc

In United States v. Dupree, Case No. 19-13776 (Feb. 18, 2022), the Court agreed to rehear Mr. Dupree's appeal en banc, vacating the panel's prior unpublished opinion.  The panel, in affirming Mr. Dupree's sentence, found itself bound by the Court's opinion in United States v. Weir, 51 F.3d 1031 (11th Cir. 1995).    

The issue raised concerns whether a conviction under 21 U.S.C. § 846 (conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance) qualifies as a "controlled substance offense" for purposes of the career offender enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1.  Mr. Dupree, in his petition for rehearing en banc, argued both that a § 846 conspiracy is not a "controlled substance offense" because Application Note 1 adds to, rather than interprets, § 4B1.2's text, and that a § 846 conspiracy is not a "controlled substance offense" because a § 846 conspiracy covers more conduct than a generic conspiracy.    

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Campbell: En Banc Court Holds Court May Consider Forfeited Issues Sua Sponte in Extraordinary Circumstances

In United States v. Campbell, Case No. 16-10128 (Feb. 16, 2022), the en banc Court--in an opinion authored by Judge Tjoflat--considered whether the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule is a proper ground for affirming Mr. Campbell's conviction despite the government's failure to raise that alternative ground before the panel, and answered in the affirmative.  The en banc Court also concluded that the good-faith exception applied, and accordingly, affirmed the denial of Mr. Campbell's motion to suppress.  

The district court determined that officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Mr. Campbell's car on account of his rapidly-blinking turn signal, and that officers did not unreasonably prolong the stop by asking Mr. Campbell twenty-five seconds worth of questions unrelated to the purpose of the stop.  Because the district court found the seizure reasonable, it did not address whether Mr. Campbell's consent to search his car was tainted or whether--as the government argued in supplemental briefing before the district court--the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied.  On appeal, Mr. Campbell once again challenged his seizure, and a panel of the Court affirmed.  In affirming, however, the panel considered the good-faith exception, which, though fully briefed in the district court below, was not addressed by the government on appeal.  The Court then granted Mr. Campbell's petition for rehearing en banc and asked the parties to focus on whether the Court may affirm based on the good-faith exception despite the government's failure to brief the issue.  

The en banc majority held that the Court may exercise its discretion to consider the good-faith exception despite the government's failure to brief the exception to the panel.  That is, the mere failure to raise an issue in an initial brief on direct appeal should be treated as a forfeiture of the issue, and therefore the issue may be raised by the court sua sponte in extraordinary circumstances after finding that one of the Access Now forfeiture exceptions applies.  The en banc majority treated the government's failure to raise good faith on appeal as a forfeiture, and not a waiver.  The en banc majority did so in light of the government's acknowledgement at oral argument that it was "conscious" of the good-faith exception when briefing to the panel.  In so holding, the en banc majority noted that classifying a failure to brief an issue as a waiver would unduly punish lawyers attempting to follow the Supreme Court’s advice on appellate briefing by removing even the possibility of addressing an important issue not briefed in an extraordinary case.  The en banc majority also noted that it was more appropriate to treat the failure to raise an issue in a brief as forfeiture, not waiver, and not to automatically assume waiver just because a party may have been aware of an issue but did not brief it. 

In this case, the en banc majority found that the fourth exception to forfeiture--where the proper resolution of the issue is beyond any doubt--applied.  The en banc majority also found that the case presented an extraordinary circumstance to justify the Court's exercise of its discretion to excuse the government's forfeiture for a number of reasons, including because of the strong policy considerations underlying the exclusionary rule.  The en banc majority noted that "[s]uppression of evidence . . . is our last resort, not our first impulse," and refused to exclude evidence based on government counsel's mistake (which would do nothing to deter police misconduct).    

Turning to the merits, the en banc majority held that Mr. Campbell's rapidly-blinking turn signal created reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation had occurred; the Court's holding in Griffin had been abrogated by the Supreme Court in Rodriguez, and, as such, officers' questions about the contraband in the car unlawfully prolonged the stop; and officers relied in good faith on Griffin, which, at the time of Mr. Campbell's arrest, was the Court's last word on the issue of prolongation.              

Judge William Pryor concurred, but wrote separately to "clarify some fundamental principles involving the en banc process, waiver, and the good-faith exception."  He noted: "This appeal concerns when the Judicial Branch should intervene on behalf of a criminal to exclude indisputably reliable evidence. And the result of this appeal is just: A criminal will receive the punishment that the district court decided he deserves without an unjustified exercise of judicial power by this Court."  He stressed that when rehearing a case en banc, the panel decision no longer exists, and the en banc court instead reviews the judgment of the district court.  As such, the majority correctly held both that the government may properly raise alternative arguments in support of the district court’s judgment before the en banc court that it failed to raise before the panel, and that the government has properly briefed the good-faith exception to the en banc court.   

Judges Newsom, Jordan, Wilson, Rosenbaum, and Jill Pryor dissented.  They viewed this case as one about judicial power and its limits.  The question presented, in their eyes, was: "Can an appellate court affirm a criminal defendant's conviction on a ground that, although argued to the district court, the government concedes it 'conscious[ly]' decided not to present on appeal?" The dissent's answer, no, relying on the principle of party presentation and the "critical" distinction between waiver and forfeiture.  "The majority opinion strongly hints at what is, in effect, a per se rule authorizing (and perhaps even requiring?) appellate panels in this circuit to ignore a failure by a governmental entity to argue the good-faith exception and to decide that issue sua sponte. It’s a bold stroke."