Eleventh Circuit

The Federal Docket

United States v. Stines (11th Cir. May 2022)

In a matter of first impression, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence for illegally exporting firearms. The Court concluded that the lower offense level under USSG 2M5.2(a)(2) did not apply since the defendant’s offense involved more than 2 firearms, where the defendant had exported enough firearm parts to assemble two guns and enough spare parts to service additional firearms.

United States v. Jimenez-Shilon (11th Cir. May 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit rejected a defendant’s constitutional challenge to his conviction for possession of a firearm by an unlawful alien. The Court held that the Second Amendment did not provide a right for illegal aliens to possess firearms since that right did not exist at the time of the amendment’s ratification.

United States v. Gardner (11th Cir. May 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s ACCA-enhanced sentence. While the defendant’s three prior convictions under Alabama law were punishable by less than ten years under Alabama’s sentencing guidelines, the Court relied on the statutory maximum of over 10 years for those convictions in holding that they were “serious drug offenses” under the ACCA.

Fuad Said v. Attorney General (11th Cir. March 2022)

In an immigration appeal that likely affects federal criminal cases, the Eleventh Circuit held that a petitioner’s prior state law conviction for possession of marijuana did not constitute an offense involving a “controlled substance” as defined under federal law. The Court noted that the definition of marijuana under federal law, while still classifying marijuana as a controlled substance, excludes cannabis that falls under the definition of “hemp.” The petitioner’s conviction was under a Florida law that did not make that distinction and thus would ostensibly allow for a conviction based on possession of hemp. Accordingly, the petitioner’s prior offense was not a categorical match with the federal definition of a controlled substance offense.

Seabrooks v. United States (11th Cir. May 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of a defendant’s motion to vacate their sentence under 28 USC 2255. The Court held that the district court erred in instructing the jury on aiding and abetting in an unlawful possession of a firearm case where the government did not present any evidence that the defendant knew his co-defendant was prohibited from possessing firearms. The Court also held that Rehaif is retroactive to cases on collateral review and discussed the standard for procedural default under 2255 at length.

United States v. Nicholson (11th Cir. January 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction and life sentence for federal child sex crimes and rejected his Fourth Amendment challenges. At issue was whether undisputed negligence by the FBI in its investigation, which involved the FBI waiting over six months to execute a warrant, well after the warrant’s deadline for the search, warranted suppression. The Court held that the violation of that deadline was akin to a violation of Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, so the defendant would have to show prejudice and a deliberate disregard of the rule by law enforcement, which the Court held the defendant did not do here. The Court emphasized that the good faith exception also applied to another search because the exclusionary rule was intended to apply only to “deliberate, reckless, or gross negligent disregard for Fourth Amendment rights,” and the FBI’s negligence in this case did not rise to that level.

United States v. Campbell (11th Cir. February 2022), EN BANC

In an en banc opinion, the Eleventh Circuit held that the Government’s failure to raise the good faith exception did not foreclose the appellate panel from affirming the district court’s denial of a motion to suppress on those grounds. The Court concluded that the government’s silence on the good faith exception in a direct appeal is a forfeiture, not a waiver, and thus an appellate panel can consider the issue sua sponte in extraordinary circumstances. The opinion includes a notable concurrence by Judge W. Pryor suggesting a willingness to overrule the exclusionary rule as an act of judicial intervention.

United States v. Brandon Fleury (11th Cir. December 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the defendant’s convictions for transmitting interstate threats under 18 USC 875(c) and cyberstalking under 18 USC 2261A(2)(B) after the defendant had created various social media accounts with aliases such as Ted Bundy and Nikolas Cruz (the school shooter from Parkland, Florida) and sent harassing and threatening messages to members of the victims’ families. The Court rejected the defendant’s First Amendment challenges, holding the cyberstalking statute was not overbroad since the elements were generally aimed at unprotected conduct with criminal intent and the statute was not unconstitutional as applied since the defendant’s speech included “true threats.”

SCOTUS Denies Certiorari, Leaves Circuit Split Intact Regarding Standard for Compassionate Release

Earlier this week, SCOTUS denied certiorari in Bryant v. U.S. In Bryant, the Eleventh Circuit created a circuit split by holding district courts considering motions for compassionate release or sentence reductions are bound by the narrow criteria under USSG 1B1.13. As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, inmates will continue facing dramatically different, and more difficult, standards based on where they were convicted.

United States v. Tinker (11th Cir. September 2021); United States v. Giron (11th Cir. October 2021);

The Eleventh Circuit issued a pair of important opinions regarding compassionate release. The Court held that district courts considering motions under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A) may assume that a defendant meets some of the statutory requirements while denying their motion based on their failure to meet others, they may analyze the three statutory requirements in any order, and they may deny a compassionate release motion after considering only one of the statutory factors.

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