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 convictions for receiving healthcare kickback payments. At the request of the government, the district court instructed the jury that defendant violated the statute prohibiting kickbacks if one reason he accepted the payment was because it was in return for writing prescriptions. Both parties subsequently agreed at oral argument that the jury instruction was erroneous and that the statute requires no proof of the defendant's motivation for accepting the illegal payment, so long as he accepts the kickback knowingly and willfully. However, the parties disagreed about whether the error was harmful.The court concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the error caused defendant no harm because it required the government to prove even more than the statute required. Furthermore, the district court correctly instructed the jury about the burden the government bore in proving willfulness, and correctly instructed the jury that defendant committed no crime if he accepted the payments in good faith. The court saw no reason why adding an unnecessary "one purpose" instruction could have prejudiced defendant by detracting from the otherwise correct willfulness and good-faith instructions. View "United States v. Shah" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for knowingly importing approximately 2.62 grams of U47700, a Schedule I controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 952, and possessing five firearm silencers, which had not been registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, in violation of 26 U.S.C. 5861(d).The court held that the warrant for the search of defendant's home was supported by probable cause; the good faith exception provides an additional and alternative basis for the court to affirm the district court's ruling on the motion to suppress; the Government presented sufficient evidence to permit the district court, in sentencing defendant, to consider as relevant conduct his importation of the first intercepted package where the Government demonstrated, by a preponderance of evidence, that defendant knew that the substance being shipped in the first package was not a legal substance; and the district court properly applied a sentencing enhancement for possession of a dangerous weapon under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1). View "United States v. Delgado" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, seeking to vacate his alien-smuggling conviction on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when deciding to plead guilty.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the petition, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the petition as untimely. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by rejecting the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. The court also held that the district court did not err in ruling that petitioner failed to provide sound reasons for his delay from the time he learned of possible deportation consequences to file his petition—for a total of 20 months—because his petition was not ripe until October 2016 when removal proceedings officially commenced against him. View "Gonzalez v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's 151-month sentence for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in finding defendant responsible for more than 400 kilograms of marijuana; the district court did not clearly err in applying a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice under USSG 3C1.1; the district court did not clearly err in applying a two-level enhancement for criminal conduct engaged in as a livelihood under USSG 2D1.1(b)(15)(E); the district court did not plainly err in denying defendant an additional one-level reduction for timely acceptance of responsibility under USSG 3E1.1(b); and the district court did not impose a substantively unreasonable sentence. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition. The court held that the district court did not err in concluding that petitioner was not denied his right to counsel when the state court accepted his motion to withdraw his guilty plea without first appointing him new counsel or providing him an opportunity to confer with counsel; the district court did not err in concluding that petitioner's appellate counsel was not ineffective for failing to argue he had been denied his right to counsel before withdrawing his guilty plea; and the district court did not err in concluding that petitioner's appellate counsel was not ineffective for failing to raise a claim that petitioner did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to counsel, in violation of Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). View "Tuomi v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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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 and held that 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 explained that Clisby requires a federal district court to resolve all claims for relief raised in a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to section 2254, regardless of whether habeas relief is granted or denied. In this case, the district court never in the first instance resolved petitioner's claim that his attempted robbery conviction could not be a violent felony because, as an offense unrecognized by Alabama law, it has no elements at all. Accordingly, the court vacated the denial of the section 2255 petition without prejudice and remanded. View "Senter v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of habeas relief to petitioner. Petitioner argues that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise a certain juror's presence on the trial jury. Because the Warden concedes that counsel performed deficiently, the only issue is prejudice.The court held that the state habeas court's ruling that petitioner did not prove that the juror was actually biased against him was not based on an unreasonable determination of fact under 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(2). In this case, the court cannot say for certain what the juror meant when he raised his hand in response to a question during voir dire regarding a murder prosecution involving a shooting, and, for that reason, the court cannot say the state court's finding was unreasonable. The court also held that the state court did not unreasonably apply Strickland v. Washington when it held that petitioner failed to establish a reasonable probability that his appeal would have been decided differently had appellate counsel raised the presence of the juror. Finally, the court held that Georgia's juror non-impeachment statute is not an alternative basis for relief. View "Teasley v. Warden, Macon State Prison" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's four drug convictions and sentences for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute heroin and possessing with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl. The court held that the district court properly denied defendant's motion to suppress where defendant has shown no clear error in the district court's finding that the detective did not make any false statements and was able to see what he reasonably believed was contraband or evidence of a crime.The court also held that the district court did not err by denying defendant's motions for a mistrial where there was no error in the prosecutor's opening remarks and the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the fentanyl evidence. Furthermore, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for mistrial based on defendant's brother's outburst. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting DNA testimony, as well as defendant's rental application and lease. The court denied defendant's claims of cumulative error. Finally, the court held that defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Joseph" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and 63 month sentence for possession of an unregistered, sawed-off shotgun. The court rejected defendant's contention that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction; there was more than sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably infer that defendant knew his shotgun was a weapon, not a collector's item, and that he further knew the shotgun, as modified, was less than 26 inches in overall length, or at least that its barrel was less than 18 inches in length; the district court's instruction to the jury regarding the knowledge element was consistent with court precedent; the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion to suppress where defendant's traffic stop and arrest were both lawful, and the vehicle was properly searched under the inventory search exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement; the court rejected defendant's assertions that the district court reversibly erred in failing either to appoint him competent substitute counsel or to sua sponte continue his trial until standby counsel could be present; and, even assuming arguendo that the district court erred in proceeding with the trial without standby counsel present, any error was harmless. Finally, the court held that the district court did not clearly err by calculating defendant's base offense level under USSG 2K2.1(a)(4)(B). View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for conspiring to violate, and of knowingly and willfully violating, the False Statements Act. Defendants' convictions stemmed from their ownership and operation of a second-tier subcontractor on a project to construct a building for a federal agency where they submitted to the agency certified payroll forms containing false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and entries within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(3).The court held that the payroll forms containing the false statements were made or used in a matter within the jurisdiction of the federal agency. The court also held that the false statements were material. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying the renewed motion for a judgment of acquittal on materiality grounds. However, the court held that the district court, in determining defendants' guidelines ranges, failed to properly calculate the loss caused by their crimes. In this case, the district court erroneously applied the USSG 2B1.1(b)(1)(J) enhancement based on gain even though there was no loss. Accordingly, the court vacated defendants' sentences and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Bazantes" on Justia Law