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Legal News & Updates

United States v. Witt, No. 21-10557 (Aug. 9, 2022)

In United States v. Witt, No. 21-10557 (Aug. 9, 2022) (Newsom, Marcus, Middlebrooks (S.D. Fla.)), the Court affirmed Ms. Witt's convictions and sentence.  Ms. Witt was convicted for her part in a scheme to defraud the federal government out of relief funds intended for farmers affected by drought and fire (the Livestock Forage Disaster Program).  She was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; two counts of theft of government funds; and one count of aggravated identity theft.  On appeal, Ms. Witt first challenged the district court's denial of her motion for a new trial, arguing that the weight of the evidence preponderated in favor of a not guilty verdict.  The Court first noted that the government misunderstood Ms. Witt's argument on appeal, and clarified that a challenge to the denial of a motion for a new trial involves a different inquiry from that of a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence.  The Court then rejected Ms. Witt's challenge.      Next, Ms. Witt challenged the substantive reasonableness of her sentence, arguing that the district court should have sentenced her to house arrest rather than a traditional prison sentence.  The Court disagreed, finding her sentence of 28 [...]

August 10th, 2022|

King v. United States, No. 20-14100 (July 28, 2022)

In King v. United States, No. 20-14100 (July 28, 2022) (Grant, Luck, Anderson), the Court affirmed the denial of a 2255 motion based on Davis. In his plea agreement, the defendant agreed not to collaterally attack his conviction or sentence in a 2255 motion.  After Davis, the defendant brought a 2255 motion, arguing that his 924(c) conviction, which was predicated on conspiracy, was no longer a valid crime.  The Eleventh Circuit held that, even though Davis subsequently announced a new retroactive rule of constitutional law, the defendant’s waiver remained valid under contract principles.  And while the Court had previously recognized limited exceptions to such waivers, including in the case of a jurisdictional defect, the defendant’s Davis claim did not fit any of those exceptions.  Specifically, the Court held that the claim did not involve a sentence exceeding the statutory maximum, because the maximum must be understood based on the law in effect at the time the waiver was signed by the parties.  The defendant bore the risk that there would be a favorable change in the law, and “the government’s wager has paid off” in that regard. Judge Anderson concurred.  He agreed that the Davis claim did not satisfy the [...]

July 28th, 2022|

United States v. Watkins, No. 19-12951 (July 15, 2022)

In United States v. Watkins, No. 19-12951 (July 15, 2022) (Newsom, Tjoflat, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed the defendants’ fraud convictions. The defendants solicited millions of dollars in investments from wealthy and famous people, including Sir Charles Barkley, by misleading them about their ownership interest in the investment company, that the funds would be used for business (rather than personal) purposes, and that other high-profile people were involved in the company.  The defendants also directed a friend to request a loan from a bank where the defendants were already maxed out, and to conceal that the loan was for the defendants. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient to support the defendants’ convictions.  As for wire fraud, the evidence was sufficient to show an intent to defraud because the misrepresentations affected the nature of the bargain and sought to obtain money to which the defendants were not entitled.  As for bank fraud, the evidence was sufficient because concealing the true recipient of the loan affected the nature of the bargain with the bank. The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendants’ proposed jury instruction on the “intent [...]

July 20th, 2022|

United States v. Lewis, No. 20-12997 (July 14, 2022)

In United States v. Lewis, No. 20-12997 (July 14, 2022) (Grant, Luck, Hull), the Court affirmed the defendant’s drug convictions. First, the Court upheld the denial of a motion to suppress.  The argued that collateral estoppel prevented the federal government from re-litigating the legality of the traffic stop, which was already decided in state court.  The Court assumed, without deciding, that collateral estoppel applied to successive criminal prosecutions by different sovereigns, but held that it would not apply here because the defendant failed to establish privity between the state and federal authorities.  There was no evidence that the state was acting as a tool of, or were controlled by, federal prosecutors. Second, the Court rejected the defendant’s arguments pertaining to jury selection.  It found no abuse of discretion in dismissing a juror for cause where the juror could not sit in judgment due to moral beliefs.  Unlike the religious juror in the en banc decision in Brown, the juror here never confirmed the ability to follow the law and the court’s instructions, and, unlike in Brown, the juror here was not already seated.  In addition, the Court found no clear error in the district court’s finding of discriminatory intent under [...]

July 20th, 2022|

United States v. Butler, No. 21-10659

In United States v. Butler, No. 21-10659 (Wilson, Branch, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the defendant’s life sentence for enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity and for production of child pornography. Although it was an upward variance from the guideline range of 292-365 months, the Court held that the life sentence was substantively reasonable.  The district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to consider his age, amenability to treatment, acceptance of responsibility, or the circumstances of his prior offenses.  The district court did not abuse its discretion by giving significant weight to any irrelevant sentencing factors.  And the district court did not unreasonably weigh the sentencing factors.  Instead, the court reasonably concluded that the guideline range did not adequately reflect his criminal history or the need to protect the public, and that finding was within the court’s discretion. https://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/202110659.pdf http://defensenewsletter.blogspot.com/

July 14th, 2022|

Hesser v. United States, No. 19-13297 (July 13, 2022)

In Hesser v. United States, No. 19-13297 (July 13, 2022) (Lagoa, Brasher, Tjoflat), the Court reversed the partial denial of a federal prisoner’s 2255 motion. The movant alleged that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to move for a Rule 29 judgment of acquittal after the government’s case in chief.  The district court granted the 2255 motion for three counts of tax fraud—the Eleventh Circuit on direct appeal had already held that the evidence was insufficient and affirmed based on the deferential standard of review.  But the district court denied the 2255 motion with respect to a conviction for attempted tax evasion.  On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit held that this was error because, had counsel filed a Rule 29 motion after the government’s case, the district court would have been required to grant it. The Court explained that the government’s evidence was insufficient because it did not establish an affirmative act constituting attempted tax evasion.  Although the defendant hid gold in his house with the purpose of hiding it from the IRS, the government failed to prove that he actually owned the gold and that it was therefore subject to a tax levied on him.  If the gold was not [...]

July 13th, 2022|
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