Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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The case involves Nihad Al Jaberi, who was convicted and sentenced for attempted smuggling, failure to notify a common carrier, and submitting false or misleading export information. Al Jaberi appealed his convictions and sentences, arguing that there was insufficient evidence of his guilt, his convictions violated the Double Jeopardy Clause, his due process rights were violated due to the Government's failure to correct false witness testimony and prejudicial statements, and his sentences were unreasonable.In February 2021, a federal grand jury indicted Al Jaberi for smuggling firearms from the United States, delivering firearms to a common carrier without giving written notice, and submitting false and misleading export information. The Government presented evidence that Al Jaberi admitted to shipping the firearms to Iraq without informing the common carrier of the firearms. The jury found Al Jaberi guilty on all counts.Al Jaberi appealed his convictions and sentences to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him, his convictions and sentences violated the Double Jeopardy Clause, his due process rights were violated because the Government failed to correct false witness testimony and made prejudicial statements, and his sentences were unreasonable.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Al Jaberi’s convictions and sentences. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to convict Al Jaberi on all three charges. The court also found that Al Jaberi’s convictions did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, his due process rights were not violated, and his sentence was both procedurally and substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Al Jaberi" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, Victor Vargas, was convicted for conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute heroin. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the 35-month delay between his indictment and arrest violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, finding that the delay did not weigh heavily against the government.The court noted that the delay was broken down into three parts. The first ten months involved diligent efforts by the case agent to arrest Vargas. The second part was an eight-month period of inactivity due to the case agent being transferred to another position. The final period was a 16-month delay due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.The court found that none of these delays were intentional or in bad faith. It further pointed out that throughout this period, Vargas was living freely and was not restricted in any way. Given these considerations, the court concluded that the delay did not uniformly weigh heavily against the government. Consequently, the court held that Vargas must demonstrate actual prejudice from the delay, which he admitted he could not do. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's decision that Vargas's right to a speedy trial was not violated. View "USA v. Vargas" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed an appeal by Quinton Handlon, a prisoner convicted of producing, coercing, and possessing child pornography. Handlon had requested compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) because his elderly father needed a caregiver. The district court denied the request as Handlon failed to provide substantial evidence about his father's condition or proving that he was the only available caretaker. Handlon appealed this decision.The Appeals Court upheld the district court's decision, affirming that Handlon's case did not meet the extraordinary and compelling reasons necessary for compassionate release under the policy statement of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. At the time of Handlon's motion, the policy statement recognized four categories for compassionate release, none of which included the incapacitation of a parent when the defendant could serve as a caregiver.The court noted that a recent amendment to the policy statement now includes such a scenario, but clarified that it could not be applied retroactively in this appeal because it was a substantive amendment, not a clarifying one. The court affirmed the denial of Handlon's motion for compassionate release, but hinted that Handlon might be able to file a new motion for compassionate release under the updated policy. View "USA v. Handlon" on Justia Law

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The case involves Haitham Yousef Alhindi, the defendant-appellant, who was charged with five counts of cyberstalking. Alhindi's counsel requested a competency evaluation, which was conducted by the Bureau of Prisons (Bureau), albeit late. Based on limited information and caution, the Bureau's report deemed Alhindi incompetent. The court ordered Alhindi to be hospitalized for treatment under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(1). However, before Alhindi was hospitalized, the Bureau reported that he was not exhibiting any signs of mental illness and recommended a second competency evaluation, which the court ordered over Alhindi's objection. The second evaluation also concluded that Alhindi was incompetent. Alhindi appealed, arguing that the district court lacked authority to order a second competency evaluation and commitment for hospitalization.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed, holding that 18 U.S.C. § 4241 authorizes district courts to order multiple competency evaluations and commitments for hospitalization when appropriate under the statute's terms. The court also found that the four-month limit in § 4241(d)(1) applies to the period of hospitalization, not the entire commitment period. The court emphasized the importance of district courts’ continued close supervision of competency proceedings. The court affirmed the district court's entry of the commitment order. View "USA v. Haitham Alhindi" on Justia Law

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In February 2020, Thomas Daniels was convicted of carjacking resulting in serious bodily injury, brandishing and discharging a firearm during the carjacking, and being a felon in possession of ammunition. The incident occurred when Daniels entered a tow yard, threatened two individuals with a gun, shot them both, and then stole their possessions and vehicle. Daniels appealed his convictions, challenging on evidentiary and suppression grounds.Daniels argued that the district court erred in excluding a defense expert who was offered to testify on the reliability of eyewitness identification, and in admitting the victim’s out-of-court identification testimony. He also objected to a detective’s testimony identifying him in the tow yard surveillance footage, and the failure to suppress photographs taken of him after the crime. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found no error in the district court's decisions and affirmed Daniels’ convictions.The court held that given the detective's familiarity with Daniels, his identification of Daniels in the surveillance footage was indeed helpful to the jury. In addition, the court found that the photo array shown to one of the victims was not unduly suggestive, and even if it were, the victim's identification of Daniels was nonetheless reliable. Finally, the court found no constitutional violation in the encounter between the detective and Daniels as there was probable cause to arrest Daniels, and thus the photos taken during that encounter were not the "fruit" of an unlawful seizure. View "USA v. Thomas Daniels" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the convictions of sisters Tierzah, Charis, and Elisa Mapson in connection with a shooting incident. The victims were Joshua Thornton, the father of Tierzah's daughter, and his wife. The government charged the sisters with interstate domestic violence, interstate stalking, discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and conspiracy to commit these offenses. The jury found that the shooting was part of a scheme by the sisters to kill Mr. Thornton over a child custody dispute.In their appeal, the sisters argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s verdicts. Charis also challenged the admission of testimony that she once owned a firearm, claiming it was prejudicial hearsay. Elisa and Charis contested the admissibility of data obtained from automated license plate readers (ALPRs), arguing that its acquisition constituted a warrantless search in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.The court of appeals found sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdicts. The court also rejected Charis's challenge to the hearsay evidence, ruling it was admissible as an admission by a party opponent. The court further concluded that the ALPR data was admissible because the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied, and its introduction did not require expert testimony. View "United States v. Mapson" on Justia Law

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In a case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the defendant, Adam Joseph Owens, was arrested as part of a federal-state task force's investigation into a large drug ring. Owens was initially charged with multiple crimes but pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The district court imposed a 120-month prison sentence, double the 60-month recommendation by the Sentencing Guidelines. The court argued this upward variance was due to Owens planning to sell drugs while in jail awaiting sentencing and his involvement in the overdose death of one of his customers.Owens appealed against these findings. The appellate court, however, affirmed the district court's sentence, concluding that the findings were not clearly erroneous. The court relied on the testimony of the warden of the detention center where Owens was held and a police sergeant who testified about the victim's death. It was found that Owens was involved in drug dealing in jail and was responsible for selling drugs that led to the victim's death. The court noted that the district court's factual findings at sentencing were not clearly erroneous and thus upheld Owens's sentence. View "United States v. Owens" on Justia Law

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The case is about an appeal by Jayson Wright against his conviction for producing child pornography. Wright had pleaded guilty to one count of producing child pornography by a parent or legal guardian and one count of producing child pornography, both in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(b) and (e), and 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and (e) respectively, and was sentenced to a total of 720-months’ imprisonment. Wright appealed his conviction on the grounds that the district court violated Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in taking his guilty plea on the § 2251(a) charge. He argued that there was not an adequate factual basis supporting his guilty plea and that the district court did not adequately explain the nature of his charge.Wright argued that the minor needed to have volitionally participated in the sexual act to sustain his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and (e). He contended that he was prejudiced and his conviction should be reversed because the district court did not mention a volitional requirement during the plea colloquy, and he would not have pleaded guilty had he known about what he contends is the volitional requirement.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court. The appellate court held that 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) does not require the minor to volitionally participate in the sexual act. Therefore, the district court did not commit plain error in taking Wright’s guilty plea without finding that the minor volitionally participated in the sexual act. View "United States v. Wright" on Justia Law

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The case involved an appeal by two brothers, Jonathan and Daniel Markovich, who were convicted for operating fraudulent drug rehabilitation clinics in Florida. They were found guilty of various charges, including health-care fraud, wire fraud, kickbacks, money laundering, and bank fraud, resulting in fraudulent claims of over $100 million.The brothers appealed their convictions on several grounds. They argued that the district court violated their constitutional rights by denying their motion to compel the prosecution to obtain and disclose confidential medical records possessed by third parties. They also claimed that the court violated Federal Rules of Evidence by admitting unreliable and confusing expert testimony about the clinics' medical and billing practices. Additionally, they argued that the court abused its discretion by admitting lay summary testimony about medical and billing records.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the convictions. The court ruled that the prosecution had no duty to seek out potentially exculpatory evidence not in its possession. It also determined that the expert testimony was clear and reliable, and the summary testimony was proper. The court found that any challenge to bank-fraud counts was forfeited due to a lack of explanation or supporting legal authority. Finally, the court ruled that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the brothers' motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. View "United States v. Markovich" on Justia Law

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The case pertains to Thomas Ukoshovbera A. Gbenedio, a licensed pharmacist, who was charged with 72 counts of unlawful drug dispensing and one count of refusing an inspection of his pharmacy, essentially operating a "pill mill." The district court sentenced Gbenedio to 188 months of imprisonment and imposed a $200,000 fine.Gbenedio appealed, arguing that the lower court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the indictment due to insufficient notice of the charges against him, and in making certain evidentiary rulings. He also contested the fine imposed, stating he was unable to pay.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the indictment provided enough facts for Gbenedio to understand the charges against him. It also deemed the district court's evidentiary rulings as non-abusive and found that Gbenedio failed to prove his inability to pay the fine. View "USA v. Gbenedio" on Justia Law