Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Petitioner was sentenced to death by a Florida court for the murder of a five-month-old baby. After an unsuccessful direct appeal and two rounds of state collateral proceedings, he sought habeas corpus relief in federal court. In this appeal from the denial of his federal petition, the Eleventh Circuit considered Petitioner’s claims that the state trial court violated his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment when it admitted his confessions and other statements he made to the police into evidence at his trial, and that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance at the penalty phase in violation of the Sixth Amendment.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial. The court explained that the state court’s admission of his statements at trial did not violate Petitioner’s constitutional rights because he made those statements either spontaneously or after reinitiating discussions with police and knowingly and voluntarily waiving his Miranda rights. Further, a strategic decision not to call a witness whose testimony is not entirely problem-free and to focus instead on other available mitigating evidence does not amount to a deprivation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and the state court’s decision to that effect was not objectively unreasonable. View "Andrew Richard Lukehart v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, et al" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed their convictions and the ensuing sentences on multiple counts arising out of their conspiracy to commit access device fraud. On appeal they argued that: (1) law enforcement agents violated their Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering their house after arresting them; (2) the district court impermissibly lowered the government’s burden of proof during voir dire; (3) the district court erred in applying two-level enhancements to their base offense levels for possessing device-making equipment; (4) the district court erred in applying two-level aggravating-role enhancements; (5) their total sentences were procedurally unreasonable; and, finally, (6) their sentences, overall, were substantively unreasonable.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court the record demonstrates Defendants’ deep involvement in the planning and organization of the fraudulent scheme and their vital role in the commission of the offenses, as well as their involvement in decision-making and recruitment, all of which was far more extensive than the role played by the co-conspirator. To the extent Defendants argue that they could not both receive aggravating-role enhancements since they were equally involved, a defendant eligible for an aggravating-role enhancement “does not have to be the sole leader of the conspiracy for the enhancement to apply.” The district court did not clearly err in applying the aggravating-role enhancements to the brothers’ offense levels. Further, the court wrote that the district court imposed an otherwise substantively reasonable total sentence for each defendant. View "USA v. Igor Grushko, et al." on Justia Law

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For almost a decade, Chiquita Brands International, Inc. (“Chiquita”) funded a violent, paramilitary terrorist group operating in Colombia. After class certification in Cardona was denied in 2019, the Plaintiffs here filed this Complaint in federal district court in New Jersey, raising state and Colombian law claims. The case was eventually transferred by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) to the Southern District of Florida. That court dismissed the Colombian law claims as time-barred, despite the Plaintiffs’ contention that they should have a right to equitable tolling under the rule announced by the Supreme Court in American Pipe.   The Plaintiffs challenge that determination, and they also say that the district court abused its discretion in denying their request to amend the Complaint to (1) support their claim for minority tolling, and (2) add claims under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that although there is a square conflict between Colombian law and federal law in this diversity action, under Erie, Colombia’s law prevails over the rule announced in American Pipe. However, the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the Plaintiffs’ Complaint with prejudice without having allowed the Plaintiffs the opportunity to amend to support their minority tolling argument, although the district court correctly denied the Plaintiffs’ application to amend their Complaint to include Alien Tort Statute claims. View "Jane Doe 8 v. Chiquita Brands International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted by a jury of transporting his three adopted daughters across state lines so that he could sexually abuse them. Defendant’s wife knew what he was doing and was convicted of aiding and abetting. Defendants made an across-the-board effort to challenge their convictions, claiming that their indictment was flawed and that several evidentiary errors infected the trial.   Other than the restitution order, which the Eleventh Circuit partially vacated, the court affirmed Defendants’ convictions and sentences. The court explained that it is best practice to include the statutes criminalizing the sexual activity that Defendants planned to inflict on the transported child. That best practice was not followed here. Even so, the indictment was detailed enough to notify Defendants of the charges against them.   Further, the court explained that a reasonable jury could easily conclude that Defendant kept the girls close by so that he could abuse them on demand. And it follows that Defendant brought the girls with him on the various trips to have them accessible when he wanted to grope or rape them. The jury had sufficient evidence to convict Defendant of traveling and bringing the girls with him to sexually abuse them.  Further, a reasonable jury could easily conclude that Defendant’s wife helped him keep his abuse a secret. She began abusing the girls herself—not sexually, it’s true, but physically and verbally. In regards to Defendant's argument that the district court mishandled several evidentiary issues, the court held that none of those evidentiary decisions, in isolation or together, amount to reversible error. View "USA v. Mack Doak, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants 1 and 2 are siblings and were indicted on substantive counts of health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering related to their activities running a "pill mill." The District Court precluded evidence that Defendant 1 provided good care to his patients. The court also precluded evidence proffered by Defendant 2 (the younger sibling) that it is part of the Nigerian culture to defer to older siblings' decisions. Following their convictions, Defendant's challenged the court's evidentiary rulings as well as the sufficiency of the evidence.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions, rejecting all claims of error. The court also determined that the evidence was sufficient to support their convictions. View "USA v. Patrick Emeka Ifediba, et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the district court’s order denying his petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Eleventh Circuit issued a certificate of appealability (“COA”) with respect to: “Whether trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution when at the penalty phase of trial, it failed to conduct a reasonable mitigation investigation and failed to uncover and present mitigation evidence.”   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s order. The court concluded that Petitioner’s claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel was exhausted in state court. The court explained that Petitioner’s claim in state court did not contain any factual allegations in support of his claim that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and present “substantial evidence” of mitigation. His allegations remained largely unchanged in his briefing to the Alabama Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Alabama.   Further, the court held that Petitioner failed to make any argument that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals’ denial of Petitioner’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of Strickland, or that it was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in state court.   Moreover, the court agreed with the district court’s determination under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) that Petitioner has not demonstrated the Alabama courts’ denial of his Strickland claims were “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court.” View "David Freeman v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections." on Justia Law

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Following proceedings in district court, the trial court t entered a final judgment, finding Defendant liable, ordering him to disgorge over $4,000,000 in funds, and placing two of his entities under receivership in order to sell and reorganize assets to repay investors. Later, a federal grand jury sitting in Miami returned a superseding indictment that described consistent with the district court’s findings of fact.   After an extradition request was filed by the United States, the Supreme Court of Brazil allowed him to be extradited. He returned to the United States, and on the eve of trial, following over a year of pretrial proceedings, Defendant entered into a plea agreement, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud. The district court later sentenced Defendant to 220 months’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay $169,177,338 in restitution.   On appeal, Defendant broadly argues: (1) that the custodial sentence imposed and the order of restitution violate the extradition treaty; and (2) that his guilty plea was not made freely and voluntarily. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court fully satisfied the core concerns of Rule 11, and the court could discern no reason to conclude that the district court plainly erred in finding that Defendant’s guilty plea was entered knowingly and voluntarily. The court explained that in this case, the record fully reflects that Defendant agreed to be sentenced subject to a 20-year maximum term, and his 220-month sentence is near the low end of his agreed-upon 210-to-240-month range. View "USA v. John J. Utsick" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a Colombian native, was arrested in Colombia on drug trafficking charges and ultimately convicted in federal court. Petitioner now appeals the denial of both his amended 28 U.S.C. Section 2255 motion to vacate his convictions and sentence and his subsequent motion to alter or amend the judgment. He claims that one of his pre-extradition attorneys was ineffective due to a conflict of interest. According to Petitioner, his attorney tried to convince him to pay a thirty-million-dollar bribe or kickback as part of a plea agreement, which would redound to the benefit of one of Petitioner’s other clients. But Petitioner was represented by other attorneys, and he does not allege that they were conflicted or otherwise deficient in pursuing legitimate plea agreements on Petitioner’s behalf. The district court held that the allegations in Petitioner’s motion would not establish a Sixth Amendment violation even if true.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that even assuming a conflict of interest existed, Petitioner’s claim ultimately fails because he does not sufficiently allege that the “conflict adversely affected his representation.” Although Petitioner criticizes his attorney, he does not allege that his other attorneys suffered under a conflict of interest. The Sixth Amendment ensures the right to effective assistance of “an attorney.” The Sixth Amendment does not include the right to receive good advice from every lawyer a criminal defendant consults about his case. Further, the court wrote, that because it concluded that Petitioner’s claim fails on the merits, it cannot say the district court abused its discretion in denying his request for an evidentiary hearing. View "Fabio Ochoa v. USA" on Justia Law

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Petitioner participated in several shootings as a member of MS-13, a violent gang. He was convicted of one count of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). He was also convicted of four counts under the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Act (VICAR), 18 U.S.C. Section 1959(a). Because he used a gun in committing those offenses, he was also convicted of four corresponding counts of using a firearm in relation to each “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c). For these nine convictions, he is serving three concurrent life sentences plus eighty-five years. His eighty-five-year sentence is based exclusively on the four firearms convictions.   Petitioner filed a 28 U.S.C. Section 2255 motion to vacate his firearms convictions and his eighty-five-year sentence. The district court denied the motion. At issue on appeal is whether his four firearms convictions are unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Davis, 588 U.S.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court. The court held that Petitioner’s VICAR convictions (Counts Two, Four, Eight, and Ten), predicated on his commission of murder and attempted murder, qualify as crimes of violence under Section 924(c)’s elements clause. That means that his corresponding firearms convictions (Counts Three, Five, Nine, and Eleven) are still valid after Davis’s holding that the residual clause is unconstitutional. And that means that, after Petitioner completes his three concurrent life sentences, he will still have a consecutive eighty-five-year sentence left to serve. View "Miguel Alvarado-Linares v. USA" on Justia Law

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Defendant filed various false liens against John Koskinen, the former Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, and Jacob Lew, the former Secretary of the Treasury. There is no dispute that Pate filed the false liens to retaliate against Lew and Koskinen for acts they performed as part of their official duties. Defendant filed the false liens after Lew and Koskinen had left their positions with the federal government.The Eleventh Circuit was therefore presented d with the following question: Does Section 1521 apply to false liens filed against former federal officers and employees for official actions they performed while in service with the federal government? The court concluded that the answer to this question is yes—the plain language of Section 1521 covers both current and former federal officers and employees. The court explained that a reading of the statute’s plain language—“any person assisting such an officer or employee in the performance of such duties or on account of that assistance”—does not suggest that its protection ends at some ascertainable point in time. Like the language regarding a federal officer or employee, the language regarding a person who lends assistance to a federal officer or employee has both a temporal qualification on liability. Thus, the court affirmed Defendant’s convictions predicated on violations of Section 1521. View "USA v. Timothy Jermaine Pate" on Justia Law