In United States v. Sotis, No. 22-10256 (Dec. 20, 2023) (William Pryor, Marcus, Mizelle (M.D. Fla.)), the Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions for illegally exporting scuba diving equipment to Libya.

First, the Court held that the evidence was sufficient that he acted willfully and that he acted in conspiracy with another person. The Court also held that, even if the evidence at trial varied from the facts alleged in the indictment about the type of equipment exported, there was no prejudice because he conceded at trial that the equipment required a license to export and no license was obtained.

Second, the Court rejected the argument that an expert witness and a lay witness invaded the province of the jury by opining on the ultimate issue. The expert’s testimony that the equipment required a license did not violate Rule 704(b) because it did not opine on the defendant’s mental statute, and the defendant conceded that point. The lay witness’s testimony that he had never seen a case with this level of willfulness was improper because it went to the defendant’s state of mind, but it did not affect the defendant’s substantial rights given the overwhelming evidence of willfulness.

Finally, the Court affirmed the 57-month sentence. The Court agreed with the defendant that the district incorrectly used U.S.S.G. 2M5.2(a)(1) rather than 2M5.1(a)(1) to calculate the offense level. However, that error was harmless because it resulted in an identical guideline range. And the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that his sentence was substantively unreasonable on the ground that it was disparate from other cases, as the defendants in those cases were not similarly situated (e.g., some pled guilty, received a longer sentence, or were sentenced under an older version of the Guidelines).