Recent Circuit Cases

The Federal Docket

United States v. Leon Carter (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit vacated a defendant’s 15-year sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The Court held that the defendant’s prior conviction for aggravated assault under Georgia law was not a conviction for a “violent felony” under the ACCA’s elements clause because it only requires a mens rea of recklessness.

United States v. Samira Jabr (D.C. Cir., July 9, 2021)

The D.C. Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction for unlawfully attempting to enter the White House or its grounds, though the defendant had mistakenly tried to enter the U.S. Treasury building. Upon appeal from the defendant’s bench trial, the Court held that the district court had jurisdiction because the information charged a violation of a federal statute, even if the specific facts alleged did not constitute an actual violation. Additionally, the Court held that the district court did not err in amending the information to find the defendant guilty of attempt despite the information not listing this theory of conviction.

United States v. Jerry Sanchez Carrasquillo (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence. The Court held that the district court had failed to elicit objections before pronouncing sentence, but the record was sufficient on appeal so remand was not necessary. Regarding the merits, the Court held that the district court had properly applied the enhancement for firearm possession under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) and denied safety valve relief under 5C1.2. While a defendant can still qualify for the safety valve even though the firearm enhancement applies, the defendant here did not meet the requirement for safety valve because the district court found his firearm was “definitely connected” to his drug offense.

United States v. Katie Boll (8th Cir. July 2021)

The Eighth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence and the sentencing court’s application of the enhancement for an offense involving a “large number” of vulnerable victims. The Court held that the defendant’s actions in stealing pain medication from 14 patients warranted the application where the district court found that this was a “large number” relative to similar offenses.

United States v. Alfred Velazquez (9th Cir. July 2021)

The Ninth Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction for importing drugs based on the prosecutor’s statements in closing regarding the standard of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court held that the prosecutor’s comparison of the standard to the confidence a person might need to have in eating a meal without fear of sickness or traveling to court without worrying about a car accident mischaracterized and “trivialized” the standard and caused substantial prejudice.

United States v. Andrew Sarchett (8th Cir. July 2021)

The Eighth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence for distributing methamphetamine based on the sentencing court improperly calculating the defendant’s drug quantity. The Court held that drugs found in the defendant’s girlfriend’s car should not have been included in the defendant’s total drug quantity where the additional quantity was based solely on a stipulation in the plea agreement that the girlfriend had made certain statements about the drugs. The stipulation did not establish that her statements were true, and there was no additional evidence tying the defendant to the drugs.

United States v. Laneesha Colston (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s drug convictions after she was arrested picking up a package for someone that contained cocaine. The Court held that, notwithstanding the Government’s concession at trial to the contrary, the government only had to prove that the defendant knew the package contained some kind of controlled substance, not the specific type alleged in the indictment. Here, the Court held there was sufficient circumstantial evidence proving the defendant knew there were illegal drugs in the package. The Court also declined to review whether sufficient evidence supported the deliberate ignorance instruction and held the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of the defendant’s unrelated illegal pill sales under Rule 404(b).

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. 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.

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