Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
by
On March 26, 2020, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida suspended all grand jury sessions in response to the pandemic. On August 28, 2020, while the administrative order suspending grand jury sessions was still in effect, the government filed a sealed two-count information against B.G.G. The information charged B.G.G. with conspiring to accept kickbacks for prescribing opioids from August 2012 through August 31, 2015, in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 371, and with soliciting and receiving kickbacks for prescribing opioids on August 31, 20   The question in this case is whether the district court abused its limited discretion when it granted “leave” to dismiss the information against B.G.G. with prejudice. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s order. The court explained that although “a dismissal under rule 48(a) does not bar a subsequent prosecution,” it also “does not impair the protection afforded by the statute of limitations.” If the grand jury later indicts B.G.G., he can still raise a statute of limitations defense. The court explained it need not pass on the statute of limitations issue and do not determine whether the sealed information was instituted within the meaning of section 3282(a). The court only concluded that the district court erred in not applying the “leave” requirements for dismissing an information under rule 48(a). The court vacated the dismissal order and remand to the district court for further proceedings. View "USA v. B.G.G." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Defendant seeks vacatur of his 71- month sentence. He contended the government breached his plea agreement by arguing at sentencing against recommendations it allegedly promised to make to support a lower sentence than Defendant received. The Eleventh Circuit subjected Defendant’s claims to plain-error review on direct review because Defendant never objected at sentencing that the government failed to live up to its bargain.   The Eleventh Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing before a different district judge. The court explained that plain error occurred when the government breached the plea agreement and the breach prejudiced Defendant and seriously affected the integrity, fairness, and public reputation of the proceedings. The court wrote that here, the government breached its promise in the plea agreement to recommend a sentence within the guidelines range by advocating for an above-guidelines sentence. Even though the government stated at sentencing that it recommended a 66-month sentence, it then said that this was not enough and that Defendant deserved a sentence two or three times higher—an argument at war with its “recommendation.” For these reasons, the error that was plain occurred here, and the error affected Defendant’s substantial rights. View "USA v. Robert Brandon Malone" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Over the past 25 years, Florida lawmakers have amended the state's sex-offender registration law dozens of times, making them increasingly more burdensome. Following the state's 2018 amendments to the law, Plaintiffs, a group of men who were subject to the law based on convictions occurring before the amendment, challenged the constitutionality of the law. Finding that Plaintiffs' injuries all accrued in 2018, the district court dismissed all of Plaintiffs' claims as untimely under the applicable four-year statute of limitations.The Eleventh Circuit reversed in part. Reviewing each of Plaintiffs' claims individually, the court found that while Plaintiff's injuries originated in 2018; they were ongoing. Thus, applying the continuing violation doctrine, the court reversed the district court's holding on several of Plaintiffs' claims, dismissing the remaining claims as untimely. View "Jane Doe, et al. v. Richard L. Swearingen" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner was convicted by a Georgia jury of kidnapping, robbery, gang rape, and murder. The jury recommended that Petitioner be sentenced to death for his crimes. Having exhausted his state post-conviction remedies, Petitioner filed a federal habeas corpus petition, arguing, as relevant here, that his trial counsel rendered him constitutionally ineffective assistance in connection with the sentencing phase of his trial. The district court denied relief, but a panel of the Eleventh Circuit reversed and vacated Petitioner’s death sentence, holding that the state court’s rejection of his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts and involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.   The Eleventh Circuit granted rehearing en banc to decide whether the state court’s decision that Petitioner is not entitled to relief on his ineffective assistance claim warrants deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The court affirmed the district court’s denial of Petitioner’s petition and remanded it to the panel. The court held that the state court reasonably concluded that Petitioner was not prejudiced by any of his counsel’s alleged deficiencies in connection with his sentencing proceeding.   The court explained that while Petitioner argues that the background evidence that Mostiler should have presented parallels the evidence in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000), and Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374 (2005), those cases “offer no guidance with respect to whether a state court has unreasonably determined that prejudice is lacking” because the Supreme Court “did not apply AEDPA deference to the question of prejudice in those cases.” View "Willie James Pye v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison" on Justia Law

by
Defendant argued that the district court improperly considered as an Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) predicate offense his prior conviction for drug trafficking under Florida Statutes Section 893.135(1)(b)1. Defendant contended that the particular Florida statute did not constitute a serious drug offense under the ACCA because the elements of that statute did not satisfy the requirements of the ACCA.The Eleventh Circuit certified the question raised by Defendant’s challenge to the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Supreme Court answered the court’s certified question, holding that, for purposes of Florida’s drug trafficking statute, “a completed purchase requires proof that the defendant both (1) gave consideration for and (2) obtained control of a trafficking quantity of illegal drugs,” and further that “the requisite control [consists] of the same range of conduct that qualifies as constructive possession under federal law.” In light of this response, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction and sentence. View "USA v. Michael Anthony Conage" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Petitioner was sentenced to death by a Florida court for the murder of a five-month-old baby. After an unsuccessful direct appeal and two rounds of state collateral proceedings, he sought habeas corpus relief in federal court. In this appeal from the denial of his federal petition, the Eleventh Circuit considered Petitioner’s claims that the state trial court violated his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment when it admitted his confessions and other statements he made to the police into evidence at his trial, and that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance at the penalty phase in violation of the Sixth Amendment.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial. The court explained that the state court’s admission of his statements at trial did not violate Petitioner’s constitutional rights because he made those statements either spontaneously or after reinitiating discussions with police and knowingly and voluntarily waiving his Miranda rights. Further, a strategic decision not to call a witness whose testimony is not entirely problem-free and to focus instead on other available mitigating evidence does not amount to a deprivation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and the state court’s decision to that effect was not objectively unreasonable. View "Andrew Richard Lukehart v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, et al" on Justia Law

by
Defendants appealed their convictions and the ensuing sentences on multiple counts arising out of their conspiracy to commit access device fraud. On appeal they argued that: (1) law enforcement agents violated their Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering their house after arresting them; (2) the district court impermissibly lowered the government’s burden of proof during voir dire; (3) the district court erred in applying two-level enhancements to their base offense levels for possessing device-making equipment; (4) the district court erred in applying two-level aggravating-role enhancements; (5) their total sentences were procedurally unreasonable; and, finally, (6) their sentences, overall, were substantively unreasonable.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court the record demonstrates Defendants’ deep involvement in the planning and organization of the fraudulent scheme and their vital role in the commission of the offenses, as well as their involvement in decision-making and recruitment, all of which was far more extensive than the role played by the co-conspirator. To the extent Defendants argue that they could not both receive aggravating-role enhancements since they were equally involved, a defendant eligible for an aggravating-role enhancement “does not have to be the sole leader of the conspiracy for the enhancement to apply.” The district court did not clearly err in applying the aggravating-role enhancements to the brothers’ offense levels. Further, the court wrote that the district court imposed an otherwise substantively reasonable total sentence for each defendant. View "USA v. Igor Grushko, et al." on Justia Law

by
For almost a decade, Chiquita Brands International, Inc. (“Chiquita”) funded a violent, paramilitary terrorist group operating in Colombia. After class certification in Cardona was denied in 2019, the Plaintiffs here filed this Complaint in federal district court in New Jersey, raising state and Colombian law claims. The case was eventually transferred by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) to the Southern District of Florida. That court dismissed the Colombian law claims as time-barred, despite the Plaintiffs’ contention that they should have a right to equitable tolling under the rule announced by the Supreme Court in American Pipe.   The Plaintiffs challenge that determination, and they also say that the district court abused its discretion in denying their request to amend the Complaint to (1) support their claim for minority tolling, and (2) add claims under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that although there is a square conflict between Colombian law and federal law in this diversity action, under Erie, Colombia’s law prevails over the rule announced in American Pipe. However, the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the Plaintiffs’ Complaint with prejudice without having allowed the Plaintiffs the opportunity to amend to support their minority tolling argument, although the district court correctly denied the Plaintiffs’ application to amend their Complaint to include Alien Tort Statute claims. View "Jane Doe 8 v. Chiquita Brands International, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Defendant was convicted by a jury of transporting his three adopted daughters across state lines so that he could sexually abuse them. Defendant’s wife knew what he was doing and was convicted of aiding and abetting. Defendants made an across-the-board effort to challenge their convictions, claiming that their indictment was flawed and that several evidentiary errors infected the trial.   Other than the restitution order, which the Eleventh Circuit partially vacated, the court affirmed Defendants’ convictions and sentences. The court explained that it is best practice to include the statutes criminalizing the sexual activity that Defendants planned to inflict on the transported child. That best practice was not followed here. Even so, the indictment was detailed enough to notify Defendants of the charges against them.   Further, the court explained that a reasonable jury could easily conclude that Defendant kept the girls close by so that he could abuse them on demand. And it follows that Defendant brought the girls with him on the various trips to have them accessible when he wanted to grope or rape them. The jury had sufficient evidence to convict Defendant of traveling and bringing the girls with him to sexually abuse them.  Further, a reasonable jury could easily conclude that Defendant’s wife helped him keep his abuse a secret. She began abusing the girls herself—not sexually, it’s true, but physically and verbally. In regards to Defendant's argument that the district court mishandled several evidentiary issues, the court held that none of those evidentiary decisions, in isolation or together, amount to reversible error. View "USA v. Mack Doak, et al." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Defendants 1 and 2 are siblings and were indicted on substantive counts of health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering related to their activities running a "pill mill." The District Court precluded evidence that Defendant 1 provided good care to his patients. The court also precluded evidence proffered by Defendant 2 (the younger sibling) that it is part of the Nigerian culture to defer to older siblings' decisions. Following their convictions, Defendant's challenged the court's evidentiary rulings as well as the sufficiency of the evidence.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions, rejecting all claims of error. The court also determined that the evidence was sufficient to support their convictions. View "USA v. Patrick Emeka Ifediba, et al" on Justia Law