Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for passing a fictitious financial instrument, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 514(a)(2), and of corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the administration of the Internal Revenue Code, in violation of 26 U.S.C. 7212(a). Defendant's conviction stemmed from his attempt to satisfy his tax obligations with a fraudulent $3.6 million check known as an international bill of exchange.The court held that the IRS' collection activity qualifies as a "particular administrative proceeding" and thus satisfied the nexus requirement in Marinello v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 1101, 1109 (2018). In this case, there was sufficient evidence of a nexus between his actions and an administrative proceeding to support defendant's conviction. The court rejected defendant's numerous objections to the district court's evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Graham" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to suppress evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds. Law enforcement agents had placed a GPS tracking device in two packages after finding cocaine hidden in them. The agents put both packages into the mail stream and attempted to track the packages.Even assuming the warrantless monitoring of the GPS tracking device signal from the package once it entered the house was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the court held that there is a reasonable probability that the evidence would have been discovered anyway. The court explained that the evidence incriminating defendant would have been discovered through ongoing investigation and the pursuit of leads that were already in the possession of the agents at the time the device started functioning and they monitored it. In this case, defendant was the lead suspect; the agents had already looked up information about her and had obtained her address; they were discussing doing a knock and talk at her house, which would not have required a search warrant; at the moment the tracking device reactivated, they were actively discussing doing it; and it is not as if the knock and talk is a novel or unfamiliar investigative technique: collectively the agents had done hundreds of them. View "United States v. Watkins" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Georgia's lethal injection protocol, as applied to his unique medical situation, violates the Eighth Amendment and that the firing squad is a readily available alternative. At issue was whether a method-of-execution claim that would have the necessary effect of preventing the prisoner's execution should be brought as a civil rights action under section 1983, or as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's order dismissing the complaint as untimely and held that a section 1983 claim for relief that would prevent a state from executing a prisoner under present law must be reconstrued as a habeas petition. Because plaintiff's requested relief would prevent the State from executing him, implying the invalidity of his death sentence, it is not cognizable under section 1983 and must be brought in a habeas petition. Furthermore, because the petition is second or successive, the court vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. In this case, plaintiff did not move this court for permission to file his petition and thus the district court lacked jurisdiction. View "Nance v. Commissioner, Georgia Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
Recently, in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191, 2194 (2019), the Supreme Court clarified that a domestic-violence misdemeanant does not violate the prohibition on firearm possession if he does not know he is a domestic violence misdemeanant at the time he possesses a gun.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that a person knows he is a domestic violence misdemeanant, for Rehaif purposes, if he knows all the following: (1) that he was convicted of a misdemeanor crime; (2) that to be convicted of that crime, he must have engaged in at least "the slightest offensive touching;" United States v. Castleman, 572 U.S. 157, 163 (2014), and (3) that the victim of his misdemeanor crime was, as relevant here, his wife. In this case, the record establishes that defendant knew all of these things at the time he was found in possession of a gun. Therefore, the court rejected defendant's challenge to his conviction for being a domestic-violence misdemeanant while possessing a firearm and affirmed the conviction. The court also found no merit in defendant's equal protection and Commerce Clause arguments. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for attempting to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity and committing a felony involving a minor while required to register as a sex offender. The court concluded that the district court correctly denied defendant's motion for a new trial where neither of the prosecutor's two statements at closing were improper. Even if the statements were improper, the district court cured the problem.The court also held that a restriction on computer usage as a special condition of a lifetime term of supervised release is not plainly unconstitutional. Furthermore, Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730 (2017), was distinguishable from this case because defendant's computer restriction does not extend beyond his term of supervised release. Rather, it is tailored to defendant's offense and he can obtain the district court's approval to use a computer for permissible reasons. View "United States v. Bobal" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit vacated its August 11, 2020 opinion and substituted the following opinion.Defendants appealed their convictions, sentences, and various decisions made by the district court throughout the pre-trial and trial process. Defendants operated a drug-trafficking organization in Bradenton, Florida. Defendants were convicted of participating in a racketeering conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and a drug trafficking conspiracy, as well as gun crimes and other crimes.The court held that RICO conspiracy does not qualify as a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) and thus vacated defendants' section 924(c) convictions and sentences, remanding for resentencing. The court also held that Defendant Corey's 120-year sentence was procedurally unreasonable because the district court failed to clarify the applicable guideline range and relied on a clearly erroneous fact. Accordingly, the court vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court affirmed as to the remaining issues. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity, enticing a minor to produce a sexually explicit video, and possessing and distributing child pornography.The court held that the government did not need a warrant to obtain a criminal suspect's email address and internet protocol addresses from a third party's business records, because Carpenter v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 2206, 2217 & n.3 (2018), did not create a reasonable expectation of privacy in e-mail addresses or internet protocol addresses. The court also held that probable cause supported a warrant to search defendant's house where the warrant contained more than enough evidence to establish a fair probability that the house contained evidence that a crime had been committed. Finally, defendant's sentence of life imprisonment was reasonable where the district court considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a)(1), (a)(2)(C) factors and did not abuse its discretion by considering the advisory guidelines in determining defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Trader" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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