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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for sex trafficking three women, two of whom were minors when he recruited them. The district court sentenced defendant to more than five terms of life imprisonment and ordered that he pay restitution to his victims, returning the years of their prostitution earnings that he pocketed. The court concluded that defendant's convictions for his horrific crimes were supported by the evidence, the restitution was both correctly calculated and lawfully imposed, and the sentence was reasonable. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254 brought by petitioner, alleging that the district court erred when it held that he was not prejudiced by his attorney's failure to object to the introduction of hearsay evidence and it erred when it denied his Confrontation Clause claim.The court agreed with the district court that the conclusion of the Rule 3.850 state court that petitioner could not show prejudice under the Strickland standard was neither an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent nor an unreasonable determination of the facts. Undertaking the section 2254(d)(2) inquiry first, and applying that deferential standard of review, the court cannot conclude that the Rule 3.850 court's statement that the witness identified petitioner as the perpetrator was an unreasonable determination of fact in light of the evidence presented in state court. In regard to the Confrontation Clause claim, the court could not conclude that petitioner has met his burden under Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103, 135 S. Ct. 770, 786-87 (2011), to show that there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief. Finally, the court rejected claims of cumulative error, because the court could not conclude that petitioner can satisfy his burden of avoiding the preemptive effect of the state court decisions and of establishing prejudice. View "Tarleton v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's imposition of an Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) sentencing enhancement to defendant's sentence after he pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The court concluded that the district court did not err in considering the prosecutor's factual proffer from defendant's state plea colloquy concerning the dates of his prior offenses when conducting the ACCA's different-occasions inquiry because defendant implicitly confirmed the factual basis for his plea. In this case, the district court did not err in relying on the prosecutor's factual proffer in defendant's plea colloquy to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the three qualifying prior convictions for Alabama assault occurred on three separate, distinct occasions. The court also concluded that defendant is not entitled to relief on his Rehaif-based challenge where he cannot establish that the error affected his substantial rights for purposes of plain error review. View "United States v. Dudley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's 60-month sentence for conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Although the court agreed with defendant that the district court committed a Jones error, the court concluded that the record is sufficient to permit appellate review of the sentencing issue he raises.On the merits, the court acknowledged that there is daylight between the standards under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) and USSG 5C1.2(a)(2), and that application of a firearm enhancement does not necessarily preclude safety-valve relief. However, the court affirmed the sentence because, on this record, the district court's factual findings under section 2D1.1(b)(1) foreclosed relief under section 5C1.2(a)(2). The court remanded for the sole purpose of correcting a clerical error. View "United States v. Sanchez Carrasquillo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and 15 year sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm based on the district court's finding that he was a career criminal. The court concluded that defendant's prior drug convictions under Virginia Code 18.2-248 qualified as serious drug offenses under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The court also concluded that there was no clear error in crediting the testimonies of law enforcement officers and thus in denying defendant's motion to suppress. Finally, the court concluded that defendant's remaining claims of error are foreclosed by Supreme Court and Circuit precedent. View "United States v. Stancil" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for knowingly possessing with intent to distribute a Schedule II controlled substance (approximately 2 kilograms of cocaine) in violation of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and conspiring to distribute a Schedule II controlled substance (cocaine) in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846.The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to allow a rational jury to infer that she knew the package contained a controlled substance. The court also concluded that the district court acted within its discretion by admitting text messages showing that defendant illegally sold prescription pills and by instructing the jury on a deliberate ignorance theory. The court explained that the district court admitted evidence of defendant's prior drug deals to show that her involvement in a different drug-related crime was not a mistake, and any error in instructing the jury on a deliberate ignorance theory was harmless because the jury heard sufficient evidence of actual knowledge. View "United States v. Colston" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for crimes related to sexual misconduct with a minor. For two months, defendant, who was 33 years old, pretended to be a 17 or 18 year old girl as he communicated online with a 14 year old boy. Defendant sent sexually explicit videos of women to the boy and requested sexually explicit videos of him in return. Defendant was convicted for charges that he: (1) did knowingly and intentionally use, persuade, induce, and entice a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2251(a) and (e); (2) did knowingly receive, and attempt to receive, material containing child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(2) and (b)(1); and (3) did knowingly possess, and attempt to possess, material containing child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(5)(B) and (b)(2).The court concluded that neither section 2251(a) nor the indictment required the government to prove that defendant knew the victim's age in order to convict on Count I. Because the jury instruction was both a correct statement of the law and a correct statement of the charge, the district court did not constructively amend his indictment. However, the district court erred in convicting defendant of both possession and receipt of child pornography because a defendant cannot be punished twice for the same crime. Accordingly, the court affirmed defendant's conviction for Count I and II, vacated his conviction on Count III, and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Phillips" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm. On appeal, defendant contends that his indictment was defective for two reasons: it failed to charge a complete criminal offense and it did not inform him that he needed to know his status as a convicted felon.The court rejected defendant's Rehaif-based contentions and held that the indictment did enough to charge an offense against the United States where 18 U.S.C. 922(g) is by itself a criminal offense. The court also held that an indictment that does not clearly set out the knowledge element does not warrant an automatic presumption of prejudice to the defendant. The court explained that this kind of error is not the sort of structural infirmity that infects the entire trial, and thus the court reviewed it using the same harmless-error inquiry that applies to most other types of errors, including constitutional ones. In this case, any potential error in the indictment was harmless to defendant. Furthermore, the court found no other errors in the conviction or sentence regarding the district court's denial of defendant's motion to reopen, the veracity of the search warrant affidavit, any alleged cumulative error, and defendant's sentence as an armed career criminal. View "United States v. Leonard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's 57-month sentence for making false statements to a firearms dealer. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by applying a sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(a)(3), for an offense involving a semiautomatic firearm that is capable of accepting a large capacity magazine. In this case, the court found no basis in the record on which to overturn the district court's factual findings regarding the close proximity of a large capacity magazine to the rifle defendant attempted to purchase, nor in its legal conclusion that the offense conduct met the standard for the Guidelines enhancement. Furthermore, the application of the large-capacity magazine enhancement in this context—the attempted purchase of a semiautomatic rifle by an individual subject to a restraining order—furthers the policy rationale behind section 2K2.1 of punishing firearm crimes involving "dangerous types of weapons." Finally, the court upheld the district court's determination that defendant's prior conviction for Florida felony battery constitutes a crime of violence. View "United States v. Matthews" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's second or successive 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, challenging his sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Petitioner contends that two of the four convictions underlying the ACCA enhancement can no longer support it after the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015).The court concluded that, at best for petitioner, it is unclear from the record whether the sentencing court relied on the residual clause or the elements clause or the enumerated offenses clause, or all three of them, when it found that his 1978 California conviction for robbery with a firearm was a violent felony under the ACCA. The court explained that, when it is unclear what role, if any, the residual clause played, the movant loses because if the evidence is silent or in equipoise, then the party with the burden fails. The court need not determine whether the 1982 California robbery conviction also qualifies as a violent felony for purposes of the ACCA because petitioner has three underlying convictions supporting the ACCA enhancement. View "Pitts v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law