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 for attempting to export 303 Ubiquiti NanoStation M2 Network Modems to Cuba without a license. Although the court agreed with defendant that the government was required to prove he knew of the facts that made the NanoStations subject to prohibitions on export to Cuba without a license, the court held that the jury instructions the district court gave correctly explained the level of knowledge required to convict, and the evidence admitted at trial established defendant's knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to establish that defendant took a substantial step towards exporting the NanoStations in violation of the law. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in applying the two-level sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice. View "United States v. Singer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In these separate appeals, the Eleventh Circuit held that defendants adjudicated guilty before but sentenced after the effective date of the First Step Act of 2018 may not qualify for relief under the amended statutory safety-valve provision. The court explained that the First Step Act states that its amendment of the statutory safety-valve provision "shall apply only to a conviction entered on or after the date of [its] enactment" on December 21, 2018. In this case, defendants had their convictions entered when the district court accepted their pleas of guilty before December 21, 2018, and thus they are ineligible for relief from the statutory mandatory-minimum sentence under the amended statutory safety-valve provision. The court also held that any error in the district court's denial of Defendant Castro's sentence for his minor role was harmless. View "United States v. Eulogio Ramiro Yoza Tigua" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The en banc court overruled United States v. Sparks, 806 F.3d 1323, 1341 n.15 (11th Cir. 2015), to the extent that it holds that abandonment implicates Article III standing and is therefore a jurisdictional issue that the government cannot waive and that courts should raise sua sponte. To the contrary, the court held that a party's abandonment of a place or thing runs to the merits of his Fourth Amendment challenge and thus if the government fails to argue abandonment it waives the issue. In this case, the district court denied defendant's motion to suppress evidence found in two separate, warrantless searches of his motel room. A gun was found in the first search and drugs and associated paraphernalia was found in the second search. The government asserted for the first time on appeal that defendant had abandoned his room and any privacy interest therein and thus he lacked standing to assert his Fourth Amendment rights. The court held that the government waived its abandonment argument by failing to raise it in the district court. View "United States v. Ross" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for five armed bank robbery and firearm offenses. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in finding that a bank teller's identification was sufficiently reliable and in allowing the government to introduce her out-of-court show-up identification; the district court did not err in denying defendant's Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 motion for judgment of acquittal on one count where a reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the BOA branch was FDIC-insured at the time of the 2016 robbery; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant's Rule 33 motion for a new trial where, even without the DNA evidence, the jury had more than sufficient evidence that defendant robbed both the BOA and Noa branches. View "United States v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit joined the Fifth and Eighth Circuits in concluding that the First Step Act does not require district courts to hold a hearing with the defendant present before ruling on a defendant's motion for a reduced sentence under the Act. The court affirmed defendant's sentence for distributing more than 5 grams f crack cocaine and held that the district court did not err in reducing defendant's prison sentence on his drug conviction to 188 months, followed by 6 years of supervised release, without first holding a hearing in his presence. To the extent defendant contends that the First Step Act itself gives him a statutory right to attend a hearing, the court agreed with the Fifth and Eighth Circuits, which have concluded that the plain text of the First Step Act does not give a defendant seeking a sentence reduction such a right. Furthermore, defendant's motion is governed by Rule 43 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which expressly provides that defendant's presence is not required in a 18 U.S.C. 3582(c) proceeding. The court also held that defendant's due process claim failed because Rule 43 did not require defendant's presence at a section 3582(c)(1)(B) sentence reduction hearing, and he had no corresponding due process right to be present at such a hearing. Finally, the court held that United States v. Brown, 879 F.3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2018), actually shows that a section 3582(c)(1)(B) proceeding is not a "critical stage" that requires the defendant's presence at a hearing and why Brown undermines defendant's due process claim here. View "United States v. Denson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant's prior conviction for possession with intent to distribute ecstasy under O.C.G.A. 16-13-30 qualifies as a felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act. The Eleventh Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's order affirming an IJ's determination that petitioner's prior state conviction qualified as an aggravated felony under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), rendering him removable and ineligible for cancellation of removal. The court held that O.C.G.A. 16-16-30 is divisible, and that the modified categorical approach applies. The court also held that the BIA did not err in determining that ecstasy is a federally controlled substance under Georgia law. View "Gordon v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After defendant, representing himself, pleaded guilty to one charge of bank fraud and one charge of money laundering, he appealed his convictions and the district court's orders directing him to reimburse the United States Treasury. The Eleventh Circuit held that defendant waived his right to counsel knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The court rejected defendant's argument that 18 U.S.C. 3006A(f) did not authorize the district court to seize money from his jail account, holding that the district court followed the proper procedures under section 3006A before directing that defendant's money be paid from the court registry to the Treasury. The court also held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider defendant's argument that the district court could not use this money to reimburse the Treasury for his counsel's fees and expenses. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and dismissed in part. View "United States v. Owen" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit granted a petition for panel rehearing of this court's opinion reversing defendant's sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The court vacated its previous opinion and substituted the following opinion. Defendant pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon under 18 U.S.C. 922(g) and 924(a)(2). Based, in part, on his prior Georgia conviction for making terroristic threats under O.C.G.A. 16-11-37(a) (2010), defendant was sentenced under the ACCA to 180 months in prison. The court held that O.C.G.A. 16-11-37(a) is divisible under Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243, 2249 (2016), and that a threat to commit "any crime of violence" under Georgia law always includes an element requiring threatened violent force against another. Therefore, the court held that defendant's terroristic-threats conviction qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA's elements clause. The court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Oliver" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of relief under the First Step Act of 2018 to Defendants Jones and Jackson, holding that the district court did not err in refusing to allow Jones to relitigate his drug-quantity finding and that the district court correctly concluded that it could not reduce Jackson's sentence because his drug-quantity finding meant that he would face the same statutory penalty of life imprisonment under the Fair Sentencing Act. The court vacated the denials of relief to Defendants Allen and Johnson, holding that their orders do not make clear that the district court understood that it could reduce the sentences. Therefore, the court vacated the orders denying Allen and Johnson's motions and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Steven Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in issuing an injunction against the County and the Director of the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitations Department (MDCR), requiring defendants to employ numerous safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and imposing extensive reporting requirements. Metro West inmates had filed a class action challenging the conditions of their confinement under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and seeking habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241 for the named plaintiffs with a "medically vulnerable" subclass of inmates. The court held that plaintiffs failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claim for deliberate indifference. The court explained that the district court erred in relying on the increased rate of infection, and in concluding that defendants' inability to ensure adequate social distancing constituted deliberate indifference. In this case, the court simply could not conclude that, when faced with a perfect storm of a contagious virus and the space constraints inherent in a correctional facility, defendants acted unreasonably by "doing their best." The court also agreed with defendants that the district court erred in its likelihood-of-success-on-the-merits analysis because it failed to consider "two threshold issues": (1) the heightened standard for municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and (2) exhaustion under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Finally, the court held that the district court erred in holding, without any meaningful analysis, that plaintiffs would suffer irreparable injury absent an injunction. Furthermore, the district court erred in its determination of the balance-of-the-harms and public-interest factors. View "Swain v. Junior" on Justia Law