Legal News & Updates

United States v. Watkins, No. 18-14336 (Aug. 20, 2021)

In United States v. Watkins, No. 18-14336 (Aug. 20, 2021), the en banc Court—in a joint opinion by Judges Martin and Ed Carnes—granted the defendant’s rehearing petition and vacated the panel opinion without oral argument. The en banc Court held that the standard of proof that the government must meet in order to establish that evidence would have been inevitably discovered is the preponderance of evidence, not a “reasonable probability.”  All prior Eleventh Circuit precedents to the contrary are overruled.  The Eleventh Circuit remanded the case back to the panel for further proceedings consistent with this new holding. Major congrats to Caroline for making good law for the Circuit!  

August 24th, 2021|

United States v. Gonzalez, No. 19-14381 (Aug. 19, 2021)

In United States v. Gonzalez, No. 19-14381 (Aug. 19, 2021) (Jordan, Newsom, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the denial of a motion for a reduced sentence under Section 404 of the First Step Act. Joining two other circuits, and accepting the government’s concession, the Court held that a sentence imposed upon revocation of supervised release can be reduced where the underlying offense is a “covered offense.”  However, the Court affirmed the denial of the motion because the district court’s alternative discretionary denial was supported by the record and 3553(a) factors.  The Court declined to follow a Seventh Circuit decision (and arguably Fourth and Sixth Circuit decisions) categorically requiring the district court to calculate and consider the defendant’s new guideline range before exercising discretion under Section 404(b). Judge Tjoflat concurred because he was bound by precedent, but he believed that, because the text of Section 404 includes no standard guiding the district court’s discretion, the court of appeals cannot review discretionary denials at all.

August 19th, 2021|

United States v. Coats, No. 18-13113 (Aug. 12, 2021)

In United States v. Coats, No. 18-13113 (Aug. 12, 2021) (Martin, Newsom, Julie Carnes), the Court, in a 75-page opinion, affirmed the defendant’s felon in possession conviction and affirmed his ACCA sentence. As to the conviction, the Court found no plain error under Rehaif.  Although the district court committed error that was plain by accepting his guilty plea without advising him of the mens rea element, he could not establish prejudice, as required by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gary, because he made no attempt to show that he would have proceeded to trial but for the Rehaif error, and he had numerous prior felony convictions. As to the sentence, the Court held that the defendant’s 2003 Georgia burglary conviction qualified under the ACCA’s enumerated clause.  In an extensive discussion, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that Georgia’s “party to a crime” statute, which included aiding and abetting liability, rendered his offender non-generic.  Georgia law required an accomplice to burglary to take affirmative action and to intend to facilitate the crime, as required by the generic standard for aiding and abetting articulated by the Supreme Court in Rosemond. Finally, the district court did not err by declining to grant [...]

August 16th, 2021|

United States v. Harris, No. 19-13692 (Aug. 9, 2021)

In United States v. Harris, No. 19-13692 (Aug. 9, 2021) (Jill Pryor, Newsom, Marcus), the Court affirmed the defendants’ drug and firearm convictions stemming from a reverse sting police corruption investigation. First, there was sufficient evidence to support the defendants’ convictions based on the evidence at trial. Second, while there was sufficient defense evidence of inducement to permit an entrapment defense to go to the jury, there was nonetheless sufficient evidence that the defendant was predisposed to take part in the conspiracy.  In addition, the defendant challenge the court’s response to the jury’s question about whether the definition of entrapment applied to each count or if it was a single determination.  The court responded that the jury should consider each crime and the evidence relating to each separately.  That was not an abuse of discretion because the evidence of predisposition was not the same for each count. Third, the defendant was not entitled to a duress instruction because he did not show that he had no reasonable opportunity to escape or inform the police. Fourth, the district court did not abuse by dismissing the indictment sua sponte based on prosecutorial misconduct because the prosecutor did not knowingly used perjured testimony [...]

August 16th, 2021|

United States v. Akwuba, No. 19-12230 (Aug. 11, 2021)

In United States v. Akwuba, No. 19-12230 (Aug. 11, 2021) (Wilson, Rosenbaum, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed, with one exception, the defendant’s convictions for distributing controlled substances and health care fraud as part of a pill mill operation.   First, with one exception, the evidence was sufficient to support her convictions for distribution of controlled substances, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and to commit health care fraud, and substantive health care fraud.  With regard to one count of substantive health care fraud, the government conceded, and the Court agreed, that the evidence was insufficient because an insurance company not named in the indictment was billed for the prescriptions for that count.   Second, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that a jury instruction on a disputed factual question effectively directed a partial verdict of guilty.  The instruction did not relate to an element of the offense or any factual question that the jury was required to decide.  And although a closer question, the instruction also did not violate the right to present a defense because, while the judge erroneously told the jury that the parties had stipulated to something they did not, it did not prevent the defendant from presenting [...]

August 16th, 2021|

United States v. Williams, No. 19-11972 (July 23, 2021)

In United States v. Williams, No. 19-11972 (July 23, 2021) (Martin, Grant, Brasher), the Court affirmed the defendant's convictions for sex trafficking and sentence of life imprisonment. Defendant raised three challenges to his convictions: (1) the district court improperly admitted nude images and videos of the victims; (2) there was not enough evidence to show that he had the required mens rea for his crimes against one of the victims; and (3) the district court should have instructed the jury that a victim's consent to perform a sex act is a defense to sex trafficking. As to the first argument, the Court only considered whether the images' probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice because the defendant conceded that the images were relevant.  The Court found the images and videos were probative and not unduly prejudicial.  Though they were graphic in nature, that was unsurprising given the nature of the alleged crimes.  Additionally, the district court properly cautioned potential jurors during voir dire that they would view evidence of a sexually explicit nature, and seated those jurors who confirmed that this would not impact their ability to be fair and impartial. Next, the Court found that the government [...]

July 26th, 2021|
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