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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Petitioner, a Georgia prisoner sentenced to death, appealed the denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner contends that the Georgia courts unreasonably adjudicated his objection that the prosecutor exercised discriminatory strikes during jury selection, unreasonably concluded that Petitioner received effective assistance of counsel in the investigation and presentation of his mental health and mitigation evidence, and unreasonably rejected his challenge to the procedure for establishing intellectual disability in capital cases. Petitioner also argued that the district court erred when it ruled that he forfeited any further claim based on his alleged intellectual disability.   The Eleventh Circuit denied his petition. The court held that the state court did not apply the wrong standard. Counsel’s investigation before trial “need not be exhaustive” but only “adequate.” Raulerson, 928 F.3d at 997. So “to determine whether trial counsel should have done something more in their investigation, we first look at what the lawyers did in fact.” The superior court correctly considered Petitioner’s criticisms of his counsel’s performance in the light of counsel’s actions and not based on Petitioner’s suggestions of an ideal trial strategy. Further, the court held that contrary to Petitioner’s argument, the superior court did not reach its conclusion based on an unreasonable categorical rule against affidavit evidence. The court weighed those affidavits against the live testimony of Petitioner’s counsel that they could not have secured further mitigation or mental-illness witnesses and chose to give trial counsel’s testimony greater weight. View "Warren King v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant of thirteen counts of Hobbs Act robbery and associated firearm offenses for his involvement in robbing nine establishments in the greater Atlanta area: three spas, four massage parlors, a nail salon, and a restaurant. He was sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, Defendant presented three challenges to his conviction and one to his sentence: that the district court erred (1) by not holding a formal Daubert hearing; (2) by admitting lay identification testimony by two FBI case agents; (3) by instructing the jury on flight and concealment; and (4) by applying the bodily restraint sentencing enhancement.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed both his convictions and sentence. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in not holding a formal Daubert hearing before allowing the Government’s fingerprint expert to testify, in admitting the agents lay identification testimony, or in instructing the jury on flight or concealment. The court also held that the district court did not err in applying the physical restraint sentencing enhancement to the Lush Nails & Spa, Royal Massage, and BD Spa robberies. The court wrote that it has found the physical restraint enhancement to apply where a defendant “creates circumstances allowing [his victims] no alternative but compliance.” The court noted that at the BD Spa and Wellness Massage robbery, Defendant forced an employee down the hall of the establishment at gunpoint. Just as Defendant tying the victim up and carrying her down the hallway would have constituted restraint, so does his forcing her down the hallway with the point of his gun. View "USA v. Dravion Sanchez Ware" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a physician assistant, evaluated patients and prescribed their physical therapy. The clinics where Defendant worked then billed the patients' health insurance both for the evaluations and for the subsequent physical therapy. The problem—for Defendant and for the health-insurance company—was that the “patients” didn’t really need the physical therapy and didn’t actually receive any treatment. When the health insurance company grew suspicious of the abnormally high rate of physical-therapy prescriptions from the clinics, it cooperated with an FBI investigation into the clinics. That investigation led a grand jury to indict Defendant on eight healthcare fraud-related charges. After a trial, a jury convicted Defendant on three counts. On appeal, Defendant raised several challenges to his conviction—sufficiency, evidentiary, and instructional—and to his sentence.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that sufficient evidence allowed the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant knew the bills were fraudulent. Moreover, the court wrote that the minimal leading questions Defendant points to here do not allow Defendant to overcome the overwhelming evidence of his guilt at trial. Moreover, the court reasoned that here, the district court sentenced Defendant to 48 months— below his Guidelines range of 51–63 months. Given that Defendant had previously participated in very similar schemes, been investigated by the Florida regulatory board for similar conduct, and had attempted to defraud the victim of millions of dollars, the court could not say that the 48-month sentence the district court imposed—slightly below the Guidelines range—was an abuse of discretion. View "USA v. Carlos Alfredo Verdeza" on Justia Law

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Defendant confessed to a murder, but he offered two conflicting versions of the crime. At first, he said that he watched the victim’s murder. Then, he said that he participated but that he didn’t intend to kill the victim. A grand jury in Mobile County eventually indicted Defendant for capital murder. The case went to trial, and the jury found Defendant guilty. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court found that Defendant is intellectually disabled and therefore granted his habeas petition. At issue on appeal is whether the district court clearly erred by finding that Defendant is intellectually disabled and, as a result, that his sentence violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.     The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment and held that the district court did not clearly err. The court explained that the district court did not err by turning to evidence of Defendant’s adaptive functioning after finding that his IQ score could be as low as 69. Further, the court reasoned that it cannot say that the district court clearly erred by finding that Defendan satisfied the adaptive-functioning prong. The record contains evidence “that would support a finding of fact that Defendant had significant limitations in at least two” domains. Further, the court wrote that the record supports the district court’s conclusion that Defendant’s deficits in intellectual and adaptive functioning “were present at an early age.” As a result, the court wrote that it cannot say that the district court clearly erred by finding that Defendant satisfied the final prong of his Atkins claim. View "Joseph Clifton Smith v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a pardoned felon, appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to expunge the records of his criminal conviction. Defendant argued that the district court erred in concluding that (1) it lacked jurisdiction over his claim; and (2) even if it had jurisdiction, the merits of his motion did not warrant expungement. Defendant’s sole contention on appeal is that his request is for a constitutional expungement.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction over Defendant’s motion. However, because the district court assumed that it had jurisdiction and evaluated and denied Defendant’s motion on the merits, the court vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The court applied Kokkonen to Defendant’s request for a constitutional expungement. Since the proceedings from Defendant’s underlying tax offense—the offense for which Defendant brings his expungement claim—concluded more than a decade ago, the invocation of ancillary jurisdiction for an expungement of his record so that he can more easily donate to charity is not necessary “to permit disposition by a single court of claims that are, in varying respects and degrees, factually interdependent,” nor is it necessary for the court to “manage its proceedings, vindicate its authority, and effectuate its decrees.” Accordingly, the court held that although the district court correctly noted that it lacked the requisite ancillary jurisdiction to hear Defendant’s expungement motion, it ultimately impermissibly evaluated and denied the motion on the merits. View "USA v. James Batmasian" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his total 40-year sentence and lifetime term of supervised release, imposed after he pleaded guilty to various counts of enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity, sending extortionate interstate communications, and possessing and producing child pornography. On appeal, he argued that the district court erred in applying an enhancement. The government responds that even if the district court erred, the alleged error in calculating Defendant’s guideline range was harmless because his total offense level would have remained the same without the enhancement. Defendant also contends that the district court erred by failing to separately state its reasons for imposing a lifetime term of supervised release.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court’s statement of reasons complied with Section 3553(c)(1). It explained which of the Section 3553(a) factors it found most persuasive and stated that it had considered the parties’ arguments and the PSR in sentencing Defendant. The district court also indicated that, in determining its sentence, it considered Defendant’s age, as well as Defendant’s claim that he had been a victim of sexual assault himself. This explanation was sufficient as to Defendant’s overall sentence, which was comprised of a term of imprisonment of 40 years and a lifetime term of supervised release. View "USA v. Breshawn Hamilton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff is a Florida death-row prisoner who is scheduled to be executed on May 3, 2023, at 6:00 p.m. Barwick brought an action under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, arguing that the Governor of Florida and several other state officials violated his constitutional right to due process because they did not adequately consider his candidacy for executive clemency. He also moved for an emergency stay of execution. The district court denied Plaintiff’s motion for a stay. Plaintiff then moved in this Court for a stay of execution pending appeal.   The Eleventh Circuit denied Plaintiff’s motion for a stay. The court explained that here Plaintiff argued that the State violated his due-process rights because it did not provide any standards that would govern the clemency decision. But under the Eleventh Circuit’s binding precedent, the court wrote it cannot agree that the Due Process Clause requires the State to provide any such standards. An initial problem with Plaintiff’s argument about the State’s lack of standards is that it runs counter to Supreme Court authority. Further, the court held that it cannot agree with Plaintiff’s argument that his clemency proceeding was arbitrary because the Commission allegedly “provided false guidance” when it said it was not concerned with his guilt but then “myopically focused on [his] crime.” Accordingly, the court held that Plaintiff’s due-process claim does not have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. View "Darryl Barwick v. Governor of Florida, et al" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of his Section 2255 habeas petition to vacate his sentence of 211 months imprisonment on the ground that he was sentenced as an armed career criminal but does not qualify as one. He argued that his prior conviction in Florida for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon cannot serve as a predicate offense under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) because it can be committed with a mens rea of recklessness and that, without this predicate offense, he does not have three qualifying convictions, and he must be resentenced.   The Eleventh Circuit, after receiving Florida Supreme Court’s answer to the court’s certified questions, affirmed. The court wrote that it is persuaded that aggravated assault under Florida law requires a mens rea of at least knowing conduct and, accordingly, that it qualifies as an ACCA predicate offense under Borden v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 1817 (2021). Defendant, therefore, has the requisite three predicate offenses under the ACCA, and he was properly sentenced by the district court as an armed career criminal. View "Fred Somers v. USA" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment for failure to state a crime. In his motion, Defendant argued that 8 U.S.C. Section 1324(a) does not apply extraterritorially.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss and held that Sections 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv), (a)(1)(A)(v)(I), and (a)(2)(B)(ii) apply to his extraterritorial conduct. The court concluded that it may infer the extraterritorial application of the Section 1324(a)subsections under which Defendant was charged. First, the subsections—which prohibit encouraging, inducing, or bringing aliens into the United States—target conduct that can take place outside the United States. Second, the nature of the offenses is such that limiting them to the United States would greatly “curtail the scope and usefulness of the statute.” The court explained that Bowman’s principles and the weight of authority from other sister circuits overwhelmingly support the court’s conclusion that extraterritoriality may be inferred from Congress’ intent to prevent illegal immigration and from the nature of the offenses—each of which contemplates conduct at, near, and beyond our borders. View "USA v. Stanley Wintfield Rolle" on Justia Law

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A Florida jury convicted Defendant of first-degree murder, burglary of a dwelling, and sexual battery. He was sentenced to death for the murder, 15 years imprisonment for the burglary, and 27 years for the sexual battery. After exhausting state remedies, Defendant sought habeas corpus relief in federal court, alleging (as relevant here) various evidentiary errors at his trial. The district court denied Defendant’s habeas petition, and he appealed.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court correctly held that the state didn’t violate Brady, that Defendant’s trial counsel didn’t provide ineffective assistance at trial—for failing to move for hearings under either Frye or Richardson—and that Miranda doesn’t require suppressing Defendant’s statement to the officer. The court explained that it rejected Defendant’s ineffective assistance claim predicated on his trial counsel’s failure to move for a Frye hearing on the ground that any deficiency wasn’t prejudicial.   Further, the court reasoned that Defendant likely wouldn’t have won a Richardson motion because, as a matter of state law, the state’s discovery violation—if there was one—didn’t harm or prejudice him. As an initial matter, the alleged violation likely wasn’t willful. Moreover, the alleged violation wasn’t “substantial,” nor did it affect Defendant’s ability to prepare for trial. View "Steven Richard Taylor v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, et al" on Justia Law