Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's 46 month sentence for illegally reentering the United States and 21 month sentence for violating the terms of his supervised release. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by determining that defendant's 67 month sentence, ordered to run consecutively to his undischarged state sentence, represented a significant period of time for defendant to spend in prison but that his actions warrant it in this instance. In this case, the district court considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors, including defendant's history of violence, including his sexual battery conviction, as well as his arrest for violating a domestic violence protective injunction. Furthermore, defendant's sentences were within their respective Guidelines ranges, and his sentence for illegally reentering the United States was at the low end of that range. View "United States v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, one of more than 30 woman who were victimized by notorious sex trafficker and child abuser Jeffrey Epstein, sought mandamus relief, alleging that when federal prosecutors secretly negotiated and entered into a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein in 2007, they violated her rights under the Crime Victims' Rights Act of 2004. Specifically, petitioner alleged that federal prosecutors violated her rights to confer with the government's lawyers and to be treated fairly by them. In this case, Epstein entered into a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, and the prosecutors never conferred with the victims about the agreement or told them that such agreement was under consideration. The Eleventh Circuit denied mandamus relief and held that rights under the CVRA do not attach until criminal proceedings have been initiated against a defendant, either by complaint, information, or indictment. Because the government never filed charges or otherwise commenced criminal proceedings against Epstein, the court held that the CVRA was never triggered. View "In re: Courtney Wild" on Justia Law

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Upon reconsideration, the Eleventh Circuit sua sponte vacated its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion. The court held that defendant's private, person-to-person text messages asking an individual he thought was a minor to send him sexually explicit pictures of herself cannot support a conviction for making a "notice" to receive child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2251(d)(1). The court also held that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that defendant believed the victim was thirteen years old, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the detective's challenged testimony. Therefore, the court reversed defendant's conviction under section 2251(d)(1) and affirmed his convictions under sections 2422(b) and 2251(a). View "United States v. Caniff" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion. The court held that a conviction for making terroristic threats under O.C.G.A. 16-11-37(a) is indivisible and overbroad under Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243, 2249 (2016), and therefore a violation of that statute categorically does not constitute a predicate offense under the elements clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Therefore, the court held that defendant did not have three qualifying predicate offenses, as required to support the application of an enhancement under the ACCA. The court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his convictions for conspiring to defraud the United States by committing mail fraud; wire fraud; and receiving, concealing, and retaining money of the United States, as well as receiving, concealing, and retaining money of the United States. Defendant's charges stemmed from his involvement in a fraudulent scheme to obtain federal grant money. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for conspiracy because he does not dispute that he committed two of the three alternative objectives of the conspiracy within the limitation period. The court also affirmed defendant's conviction for receiving, concealing, and retaining government money on the ground it is a continuing offense for which he was timely indicted. View "United States v. Maher" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed appellants' convictions and sentences for narcotics trafficking and firearms possession. The court held that the district court did not plainly err in allowing appellants to be shackled during trial; the district court did not abuse its discretion in addressing the jury note and declining to conduct a Remmer hearing; although the indictment omitted the mens rea element for appellants' 18 U.S.C. 922(g) charges, this error did not deprive the district court of jurisdiction, requiring vacatur under Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019); and the government's failure to prove the now-requisite mens element did not constitute a plain error. Finally, the court held that appellants' remaining claims were without merit and did not warrant discussion. View "United States v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court held that the state habeas court's decision as to petitioner's ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of federal law nor based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. The court rejected petitioner's claim that trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective under Strickland v. Washington when counsel failed to investigate mitigating evidence at sentencing. Petitioner also alleged that he was denied due process and a fair trial when his request for a one day continuance was denied, that the jury's verdict was unconstitutional, and that he was denied a right to self-representation under Faretta v. California. The court concluded that it was barred from considering petitioner's claims because he failed to raise them on direct appeal, and cannot show cause and prejudice to overcome the default. View "Sealey v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison" on Justia Law

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Petitioner petitioned the Eleventh Circuit a second time to review the BIA's final order of removal. The court had granted in part petitioner's first petition challenging the classification of his prior conviction for aggravated battery with a firearm as an aggravated felony under the residual clause definition of a crime of violence. The court held that the residual clause was void for vagueness under Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1210 (2018), and granted the petition. On remand, the BIA classified petitioner's prior conviction as an aggravated felony under the elements clause of the definition of a crime of violence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 16(a). The court denied in part and dismissed in part the second petition, holding that petitioner's arguments -- that the Florida statute defining aggravated battery is indivisible and that the offense does not constitute a crime of violence -- are foreclosed by precedent. The court also held that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioner's argument that the BIA should review his application for deferral of removal, because petitioner failed to challenge the denial of his application in his appeal to the BIA. View "Lukaj v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff petitioned the district court for the grand jury transcripts related to the Ford Lynching—a horrific event involving the murders of two African American couples for which no one has ever been charged—to be used in his book about the lynching. The district court granted the petition, finding that the historical significance of the grand jury's investigation, and the critical role the records of that investigation would play in enhancing the historical record on this tragic event, amounted to "exceptional circumstances" that justified the use of the court's inherent power to order disclosure. A panel of the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. After rehearing en banc, the en banc court held that Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure is exhaustive, and that district courts do not possess inherent, supervisory power to authorize the disclosure of grand jury records outside of Rule 6(e)(3)'s enumerated exceptions. Therefore, the en banc court overruled In re Petition to Inspect & Copy Grand Jury Materials (Hastings), 735 F.2d 1261 (11th Cir. 1984), which held to the contrary. The en banc court reversed the district court's judgment. View "Pitch v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's ruling that petitioner's conviction for sexual misconduct, N.Y. Penal Law 130.20, qualifies, under the modified categorical approach, as the aggravated felony of rape, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(A), and a crime involving moral turpitude. Because the record of conviction does not make clear whether petitioner pleaded guilty to forcible or statutory rape, the court need not decide whether the New York statute is divisible as between those two different kinds of rape or whether the criminal complaint is a valid Shepard document. The court explained that, even if it were to resolve both issues in the department's favor, the criminal complaint would still fail to establish that petitioner pleaded guilty to forcible rape. Furthermore, the board failed to address whether statutory rape is a crime involving moral turpitude, so the court does not address that issue. Nor does the court need to address petitioner's alternative argument that he is eligible for a discretionary waiver of deportation even if he is removable. The court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "George v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law