Eleventh Circuit

The Federal Docket

United States v. Jerome Stancil (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction and sentence under the ACCA. The Court held that his prior convictions under a Virginia law that criminalized the mere “sharing” or “giving away” of drugs were predicate prior convictions under the ACCA. The Court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the magistrate judge improperly credited the officers’ testimony at his suppression hearing where the alleged inconsistencies in their testimony were not material.

United States v. Brandon Royce Phillips (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction for enticing a minor to produce pornography, holding that the district court did not constructively amend the indictment when it instructed the jury that the government did not have to prove the defendant had knowledge of the victim’s age, as the language in the indictment alleging that the defendant acted “knowingly and intentionally” only applied to the “acts barred in the statute.” Moreover, the Court emphasized that a district court is free to ignore language in the indictment that alleges a “higher mens rea” than the statute requires as “mere surplusage. The Court vacated the defendant’s conviction for possessing child pornography, however, since he had also been convicted of receiving child pornography based on the same conduct, thus violating the Double Jeopardy Clause.

United States v. Pedro Nunez, et al (11th Cir. June 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendants’ drug smuggling convictions under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act. The Court held that the U.S. had jurisdiction over the defendants because they were in a “vessel without nationality.” The four defendants were found in a small motor boat, without any identifying flag, documents, registration, serial numbers, or other sign of nationality, and none of the defendants identified themselves as the vessel’s master. The Court’s ruling on this point creates a circuit split with the Second Circuit. Moreover, the Eleventh Circuit held that a district court is not required to conduct an evidentiary hearing on jurisdiction absent evidence showing a need for a hearing.

United States v. Christopher Henry (11th Cir. June 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the sentence of a defendant after the sentencing court declined to grant the defendant a downward departure under USSG 5G1.3 based on his time served on a state sentence for relevant conduct. The Court reasoned that Booker rendered all Guidelines advisory, including 5G1.3. Judge W. Pryor dissented, arguing that 5G1.3 was binding notwithstanding Booker, since the Guideline did not address the sentencing range but rather the kinds of sentences a judge can impose. The opinion was also contrary to prior panel precedent in US v. Knight.

United States v. Michael Anderson (11th Cir. June 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the conviction of a defendant who argued that the trial court violated his right to testify by asking him whether he would testify or waive his right and that the trial court violated Rule 30(b) of the federal rules of criminal procedure by sua sponte amending the jury instructions after defense counsel’s closing arguments. The Court held that district courts are not required to get a defendant’s choice to testify or waiver on the record but noted this can be beneficial to defendants as long as district court’s do not interfere with the defendant’s decision. The Court also held that the district court’s violation of Rule 30(b) did not warrant reversal where the court was amending a misstatement of law and defense counsel was not subjected to undue surprise or prejudice based on that correction.

United States v. Mario Alberto Montenegro (11th Cir. June 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s application of the 2-point enhancement for possessing a firearm or dangerous weapon during a drug offense. Although the Government conceded at sentencing that it could not meet its burden and the defendant objected to the enhancement, the Court held that the district court, not the parties, apply the guidelines, and there was sufficient evidence to apply the enhancement here where the defendant’s rifle was found in a “very small trailer,” where the defendant sold and kept drugs, and the rifle was in “very close proximity” to the drugs.

United States v. Joshua Rogers (11th Cir. March 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s 360-month sentence for producing child pornography after the defendant pleaded to engaging in a sexual relationship with a 16-year old girl and posting pictures of them having intercourse together. The Court held that 1) the enhancement for material depicting masochistic, sadistic, or violent conduct applied based on an image of the defendant choking the victim during sex, and 2) the 5-point enhancement for a “pattern of activity” involving prohibited sexual conduct is not double counting because the Sentencing Commission intended for it to be cumulative to all other enhancements.

Ninth and Eleventh Circuits Split Over Amended Safety Valve Relief

The Eleventh Circuit and Ninth Circuit created a circuit split concerning the proper interpretation of the safety valve under 18 USC 3553(f), particularly as it was amended by the First Step Act. The courts disagreed over the proper interpretation of the word “and” in the list of requirements a defendant must meet for their criminal history to allow them to qualify for the safety valve. The Ninth Circuit’s interpretation would allow far more defendants qualify.

Eleventh Circuit Creates Circuit Split on Standard for Sentence Reductions–holds district courts have limited discretion to grant.

The Eleventh Circuit became the first, and so far the only, circuit court to hold that district courts considering sentence reductions motions under 3582(c)(1)(A) are bound by the criteria under USSG 1B1.13. To date, seven other circuits have held that district courts have discretion to determine if an inmate has presented extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting a reduction. District courts in the Eleventh Circuit now have much less discretion to reduce an inmate’s sentence.

Carlos Granda v. United States (11th Cir. March 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a defendant’s motion under 2255. The trial court in the defendant’s case had erroneously instructed the jury that the defendant’s charge for Hobbs Act conspiracy could be a predicate offense for finding the defendant guilty of conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence under 924(o). However, the defendant had procedurally defaulted on this claim by not bringing it up in front of the trial court or on direct appeal, and he could not show prejudice or actual innocence because the jury found him guilty of other predicate offenses that were “inextricable intertwined” with the Hobbs Act conspiracy count.

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