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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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James Harding was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and possession with intent to distribute heroin. The charges stemmed from a conspiracy that allegedly took place in the Southern District of Alabama between early 2018 and April 2019. During the trial, the United States introduced evidence from a separate investigation that took place over two years after the alleged end of the charged conspiracy. This evidence, which was found at Harding's home in the Northern District of Alabama, included multiple firearms and almost two kilograms of heroin. The district court admitted this evidence as intrinsic to the charged conspiracy and, alternatively, as admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Harding was found guilty of both charges.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion by admitting the evidence from the separate investigation as intrinsic to the charged conspiracy. The court reasoned that the evidence did not arise from the same transactions, was not necessary to complete the story of the charged crime, and was not inextricably intertwined with the charged crime. The court also found that the district court abused its discretion by failing to provide a limiting instruction regarding the evidence from the separate investigation. The court concluded that the errors were not harmless and could have influenced the jury's verdict. As a result, the court vacated Harding's convictions and sentence and remanded the case for a new trial. View "United States v. Harding" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case revolves around a warrantless search of a probationer's home, which was also occupied by a non-probationer. The probationer, Tremayne Linder, was on probation for burglary and attempted armed robbery. His probation conditions included a clause that allowed for warrantless searches of his residence. The non-probationer, Lakesia Harden, was Linder's girlfriend and was aware of his probation status. The police, suspecting marijuana use, conducted a warrantless search of Linder's home and found drugs in a shared closet. Harden was subsequently arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and methamphetamine with intent to distribute.The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. Harden moved to suppress the drugs and her post-arrest statements as fruits of the allegedly unlawful search. However, the district court denied the suppression motions. At trial, the government admitted the drugs and Harden's statements into evidence, and the jury found her guilty as charged in the indictment. Harden appealed the denial of her suppression motions.The case was then reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The court held that a warrantless search of a probationer's home, based on reasonable suspicion and a probation condition allowing warrantless searches, is not rendered unreasonable because the home was occupied by another person who knew about the probation. The court affirmed the district court's decision, ruling that the search was reasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. View "USA v. Harden" on Justia Law

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The United States Coast Guard seized a vessel in the Dominican Republic's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that bore no nationality indicators. The crew claimed Colombian nationality for the vessel, but Colombia could not confirm or deny the vessel's registry, rendering it stateless under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA). The vessel was found to contain drugs, leading to the arrest and prosecution of the crew members, Jhonathan Alfonso, Jose Jorge Kohen, and Jose Miguel Rosario-Rojas, under the MDLEA.The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the MDLEA was unconstitutional as applied to them because they were arrested in the EEZ, which they asserted is not part of the "high seas" as defined by customary international law. The district court denied the motion, concluding that it had subject matter jurisdiction under the MDLEA. The defendants subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the EEZ is part of the "high seas" and thus within Congress’s authority under the Felonies Clause. The court also concluded that the defendants could not show any plain error with regard to the MDLEA’s definition of a vessel without nationality as including vessels where registry is asserted but cannot be confirmed or denied by the foreign country. View "United States v. Alfonso" on Justia Law

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The case involves Jay Diamond, who was convicted of impersonating a federal officer in an attempt to avoid a speeding ticket and to avoid being arrested for falsely impersonating a federal officer. The incidents occurred when Diamond was pulled over for speeding and he told the officer that he was an air marshal. He presented a badge that read "United States Federal Air Marshal." However, upon investigation, it was found that Diamond was never employed as a federal air marshal or through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).In the lower courts, Diamond argued that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that he acted as a federal officer and that the district court erred in admitting evidence of his alleged prior bad acts and in instructing the jury. The district court denied Diamond's motion to exclude his ex-wife's testimony about his prior instances of impersonating a federal officer or military member. The court also denied Diamond's request for a jury instruction on the misdemeanor offense in 18 U.S.C. § 701, which Diamond argued was a lesser included offense of his alleged § 912 crime.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Diamond's convictions were affirmed. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to support Diamond’s § 912 convictions. The court also ruled that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Diamond's ex-wife's testimony. Furthermore, the court found that 18 U.S.C. § 701 is not a lesser included offense of § 912, and therefore the district court did not err in refusing to give Diamond's requested § 701 instruction. View "United States v. Diamond" on Justia Law

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An Alabama inmate, Jamie Mills, who was scheduled for execution on May 30, 2024, for committing two murders in 2004, appealed the denial of his motion for a preliminary injunction. Mills claimed that the State's practice of restraining its condemned prisoners on a gurney before execution would violate his constitutional rights to access the courts, to counsel, to due process, and against cruel and unusual punishment.Mills's case had been reviewed by multiple courts. His death sentence was affirmed by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court of Alabama. The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari. Mills also sought postconviction relief under Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 32, which was denied by the trial court and affirmed by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court of Alabama. His federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by the district court in 2020. This Court denied a certificate of appealability in 2021, and the Supreme Court denied certiorari in 2022.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied Mills's motion for a stay of execution. The court found that Mills had not established that he was substantially likely to succeed on the merits of his appeal or that the equities favor a stay of execution at this late stage. The court rejected Mills's arguments that he was likely to succeed on the merits of his claims under the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The court also found that Mills's delay in seeking a preliminary injunction and a stay was "unnecessary and inexcusable," and that other equities weighed against a stay. View "Mills v. Hamm" on Justia Law

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Jamie Mills, an Alabama inmate, was convicted of the capital murders of Floyd and Vera Hill in 2007 and sentenced to death. Mills and his common-law wife, JoAnn, had plotted to rob the Hills, and Mills was found to have executed the Hills with a machete, tire tool, and ball-peen hammer. JoAnn testified against Mills at his trial and later pleaded guilty to murder, receiving a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. Mills moved for a new trial, arguing that JoAnn had perjured herself by denying that she testified against him to procure leniency for herself. The trial court denied the motion, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the decision. Mills also unsuccessfully sought post-conviction relief under Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.Mills petitioned the district court for a writ of habeas corpus in 2017, which was denied in 2020. His motion for a certificate of appealability was denied, and the Supreme Court denied his petition for a writ of certiorari in 2022. In 2024, Mills filed a successive motion under Rule 32 in state court, offering an affidavit by JoAnn Mills’s attorney, Tony Glenn, alleging that JoAnn had been offered a plea deal in exchange for her testimony at Mills's trial. Mills also moved for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60, arguing that newly discovered evidence established that the district attorney had engaged in misconduct by falsely stating to the trial court that there was no deal with JoAnn. The district court denied relief on each ground.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied Mills's application for a certificate of appealability and his motion to stay his execution. The court found that no reasonable jurist could conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying Mills's motion for relief under Rule 60(b)(2), Rule 60(b)(3) and (d)(3), and Rule 60(b)(6). The court also found that Mills's motion for Rule 60(b)(6) relief was not timely and that no reasonable jurist would question the denial on the merits as supported by the record. View "Mills v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Jonathan Guerra Blanco was charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS, a designated foreign terrorist organization. He pled guilty and agreed to the government’s factual proffer. Guerra ran two unofficial ISIS media networks primarily directed at Spanish speakers, producing and disseminating ISIS propaganda, recruiting materials, and instructional guides for committing acts of terror. He was arrested in Miami in September 2020.Guerra appealed his 192-month sentence, contending that the government improperly used evidence obtained from testimony he had provided pursuant to a proffer agreement and that the district court erred in not holding an evidentiary hearing on the matter. He also challenged the application of a 12-point sentencing enhancement for promoting a federal crime of terrorism and asserted that the district court erred by not applying a 3-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility from his maximum statutory sentence of 240 months.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the government's use of the video threatening the assassination of a Spanish judge, with English subtitles inserted by Guerra, did not constitute a breach of the proffer agreement. The court also upheld the application of the terrorism enhancement, finding that Guerra's conduct was "calculated to influence the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion." Lastly, the court found no abuse of discretion with respect to the district court's application of the 3-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. View "USA v. Blanco" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2021, Carmelo Etienne threatened violence against a federal magistrate judge, a courtroom deputy, and other courthouse employees via a phone call to a federal courthouse. He later pleaded nolo contendere to threatening to assault and murder a federal magistrate judge and a courtroom deputy. The district court imposed a time-served sentence and three years of supervised release. As special conditions of that release, the district court ordered Etienne to make financial disclosures to the probation office and prohibited him from visiting certain federal courthouses and from calling the judges’ chambers or court facilities. Etienne challenged both conditions on appeal.Previously, the district court had overruled Etienne's objection to the stay-away order, which he argued unduly burdened his right to access the federal courts. He did not object to the financial disclosure condition.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that it was not plain error to impose the financial disclosure condition. The court also found that the stay-away order was not vague or overbroad and did not unduly burden Etienne’s right to access the federal courts. The court noted that the stay-away order was narrowly tailored to address Etienne’s serious criminal conduct and did not create an absolute bar on Etienne’s rights. View "USA v. Etienne" on Justia Law

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The case involves Marken Leger, a Haitian citizen who has lived in the United States as an asylee since 2000. In 2009, Leger pleaded no contest to a charge of lewd and lascivious battery, in violation of Florida Statute § 800.04(4). In 2013 and 2018, Leger pleaded no contest to two other offenses, both for the possession of marijuana, in violation of Florida Statute § 893.13(6)(b). The government initiated removal proceedings against him in 2019, alleging that his convictions made him removable under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).The immigration judge concluded that Leger was removable, finding that his marijuana possession convictions constituted controlled substance offenses under the INA and that his conviction under Florida Statute § 800.04(4) was an aggravated felony. Leger appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which affirmed the immigration judge’s decision.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the court held that Leger's marijuana possession convictions did not constitute controlled substance offenses as defined under federal law, and thus, the BIA erred in determining that Leger was subject to removal on these grounds. The court also held that Leger's conviction under Florida Statute § 800.04(4) did not constitute the sexual abuse of a minor and was not an aggravated felony under the INA. The court vacated the BIA's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Marken Leger v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Derrick Morley was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five hundred grams or more of cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute five hundred grams or more of cocaine. Morley was sentenced to 60 months’ imprisonment for each count, to be served concurrently. He appealed his convictions and sentence, arguing that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence, the trial evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, the district court erred in providing a deliberate ignorance jury instruction, and the district court erred in denying him a safety valve sentence reduction.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied Morley's motion to suppress the cocaine that was taken from his vehicle without a warrant. The court found that there was probable cause to believe Morley’s car contained contraband or evidence of a crime and that apparent authority existed under the circumstances. Morley proceeded to a four-day jury trial and was found guilty as charged in the indictment. The district court denied Morley's motion for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Morley’s convictions and sentence. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the automobile exception applied, allowing for a warrantless search of Morley's car. The court also found that the trial evidence was sufficient to support Morley's convictions and that the district court did not err in providing a deliberate ignorance jury instruction. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Morley's request for a reduced sentence, finding that Morley was ineligible for the safety valve reduction in light of a recent Supreme Court decision. View "USA v. Morley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law