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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In 1998, Williams was convicted of robbing a bank while carrying a firearm. The Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA) sentencing enhancement, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1), applies to defendants who committed three previous “violent” felonies. Williams had convictions for first-degree robbery, armed robbery, and federal kidnapping, 18 U.S.C. 1201(a)(1). The federal kidnapping PSR recounted that Williams “accosted” a man in Kentucky, threatened him with a revolver, and demanded a ride to Tennessee. In Knoxville, the victim leaped from the car and signaled a police officer. The federal statute provides that a person commits a federal kidnapping when he “unlawfully seizes, confines, inveigles, decoys, kidnaps, abducts, or carries away" a victim. The court never addressed why his previous felonies counted as violent but sentenced Williams to 327 months’ imprisonment, with a consecutive 60 months for carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.Williams obtained leave to file his third 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion and disputed the classification of his kidnapping conviction as a “violent felony” under ACCA's “residual clause,” which the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in 2015. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, finding it unclear whether the sentencing judge applied ACCA’s residual clause or the elements clause. Williams did not establish that the sentencing court committed a retroactive constitutional error. It is not enough that the court might have committed a statutory error by applying the elements clause in a case that did not warrant it; that error would not be retroactive on collateral review. Requiring Williams to provide “clear precedent showing that the court could only have used one clause” is not arbitrary. View "Williams v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition for writ of habeas corpus based on a claim of actual innocence. The court held that the district court properly dismissed the section 2241 petition for lack of jurisdiction because a claim of actual innocence does not fit within the narrow confines of the saving clause where petitioner could have presented it in his first 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate, and that motion would have been an adequate and effective mechanism to test his claim. The court explained that this is so even though binding precedent prohibits granting postconviction relief in a non-capital case based on a claim of actual innocence. View "Amodeo v. FCC Coleman - Low Warden" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit vacated its prior opinion and substituted this revised opinion in its place.Petitioner appealed the denial of his second or successive 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion challenging his conviction for conspiring to use a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime or a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(o). After the district court denied a certificate of appealability (COA), the Eleventh Circuit construed petitioner's timely notice of appeal as an application for one.The court denied the COA, holding that petitioner failed to show that it was more likely than not his section 924(o) conviction was predicated only on a crime that is not a crime of violence or a drug trafficking claim. Therefore, reasonable jurists would not find that the district court's assessment of the constitutional claims was debatable or wrong. The court dismissed the appeal. View "Fernandez Garcia v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A tip came in that a Kik app user was distributing child pornography. The tip included the user's IP address and Gmail account, which was tied to Kushmaul, who had been convicted of “Promoting the Sexual Performance of a Child” in Florida in 2016. Officers went to Kushmaul’s address, which was listed in the Florida Sex Offender Registry. Kushmaul handed over his cell phone. The officers discovered a Snapchat3 account that was not listed on Kushmaul’s sex offender registry. Kushmaul went to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, where he was advised of his Miranda rights. He subsequently admitted to viewing child pornography. Kushmaul signed a “consent to search form,” and an officer downloaded Kushmaul’s cell phone, revealing 20 images of “child sexual abuse material.” He pled guilty under 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(2), (b)(1) and 2252A(a)(5)(b), (b)(2), for distribution and possession of child pornography. Although the statutory minimum sentence under section 2252A(a)(2) is only five years, that minimum increases to 15 years if the offender “has a prior conviction . . . under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward.”Kushmaul was sentenced to the 180-month mandatory minimum. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Kushmaul’s claims that his Florida offense does not qualify for sentencing enhancement because the Florida offense is broader than its federal counterpart. View "United States v. Kushmaul" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit dismissed a petition for review of the BIA's decision affirming the IJ's order of removal because petitioner had been convicted of an aggravated felony. In this case, the IJ and BIA found that petitioner's Florida convictions for money laundering and workers' compensation fraud were aggravated felonies because each conviction involved fraud or deceit in which the amount of loss to the victim exceeded $10,000 under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(M)(i). The court held that substantial evidence in the record, including petitioner's admission of guilt and a concomitant plea agreement, fully supports the agency's finding of the loss amount. View "Garcia-Simisterra v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit sua sponte vacated and withdrew its previous opinion, and issued this opinion in its place.Petitioner appealed the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Eleventh Circuit granted a certificate of appealability to determined whether the district court violated Clisby v. Jones, 960 F.2d 925 (11th Cir. 1992) (en banc), by failing to address petitioner's claim that he no longer qualified as an armed career criminal in light of Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015), because his prior 1988 Alabama conviction for attempted first-degree robbery has no state law elements.The court affirmed the district court's judgment and held that a close review of the district court's opinion reveals that it correctly identified and sufficiently addressed petitioner's claim. In this case, the district court classified petitioner's claim as a collateral attack against his state sentence and dismissed it. The court noted that it may be best practice for a district court to follow a "show your work" approach by directly restating a movant's claim and then laying out all analytical steps in addressing that claim. However, the district court's approach here correctly identified and sufficiently analyzed petitioner's claim and did not run afoul of Clisby View "Senter v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(e). The court held that defendant failed to show that his counsel's representation with respect to the state plea offer was objectively unreasonable under Strickland v. Washington, and the district court did not err in concluding that defendant failed to show prejudice. The court also held that the district court did not err in determining that defendant's three prior sale of cocaine convictions under Fla. Stat. 893.13(1)(a)(1) were serious drug offenses within the meaning of the Armed Career Criminal Act. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's determination that petitioner should be removed from the United States because he has been convicted of two or more crimes of moral turpitude under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii).The court held that petitioner's conviction for vehicular homicide in Florida contains the necessary mens rea to constitute a crime of moral turpitude. When a person deviates from the standard of care by operating a motor vehicle so recklessly that it is likely to cause death or great bodily harm, and, in fact, results in the killing of a human being, the court has little difficulty finding that he has exhibited the baseness in the duties owed to society that constitutes moral turpitude. Therefore, petitioner's conviction in Florida of vehicular homicide is categorically a crime involving moral turpitude, and he is removable under the controlling statute. View "Smith v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenges the application of an Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) enhancement to his 1994 sentence for the unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon. Petitioner claims that he was sentenced under the ACCA's residual clause, which the Supreme Court has since held to be unconstitutionally vague.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition, concluding that petitioner cannot meet his burden of proving it is more likely than not that in fashioning his sentence, the district judge relied solely on the residual clause. Furthermore, petitioner could not meet this burden on any remand. In this case, the district court already examined the record and correctly found that it does not reveal which clause the sentencing judge relied on. Nor would any other obvious source of information provide any helpful information. Therefore, remand would be futile. View "Santos v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Taylor pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least five kilograms of a mixture containing a detectable amount of cocaine hydrochloride (powder cocaine) and at least 50 grams of a mixture containing a detectable amount of cocaine base (crack cocaine), 21 U.S.C. 846, 841(b)(1)(A)(ii), and 841(b)(1)(A)(iii). Section 841(b) then provided that an offense involving either 50 grams or more of crack or five kilograms or more of powder cocaine carried a mandatory minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment and a maximum of life in prison. The court calculated Taylor’s Guidelines range as life in prison and “reluctantly” applied the Guidelines as mandatory.The Eleventh Circuit vacated. On remand, in 2005, the district court resentenced Taylor to 360 months’ imprisonment. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act increased the quantity of crack cocaine required to trigger a 10-year mandatory minimum from 50 grams to 280 grams. The 2018 First Step Act allows—but does not require—courts to reduce an eligible prisoner’s sentence as if the drug-quantity changes were in effect at the time the prisoner committed his offense. The district court denied Taylor’s motion for resentencing, finding that Taylor’s was not a “covered offense” because it involved five kilograms or more of powder cocaine, “a sufficient quantity to trigger the mandatory minimum sentence.” The Eleventh Circuit vacated. A federal drug crime involving both crack cocaine and another controlled substance can be a “covered offense” under the First Step Act. View "United States v. Taylor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law