Following a jury trial, Peter Hesser was convicted on three counts of tax fraud and one count of tax evasion in violation of 26 U.S.C. §7201. Hesser appealed on sufficiency grounds, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Hesser then filed a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. §2255, claiming, among other things, that his trial counsel was ineffective. The district court granted the motion as to his tax fraud convictions but denied as to the tax evasion count.
Reviewing the case de novo, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of the motion as to the tax evasion conviction and granted Hesser’s petition on all counts. The Government failed to present evidence sufficient to allow a rational trier of fact to find him guilty of tax evasion, as there was evidence that he hid gold bullion but no evidence that the gold he hid actually belonged to him. Since Hesser’s trial counsel failed to make what would have been a successful motion for a judgment of acquittal on sufficiency grounds, he was ineffective.
Appeal from the Middle District of Florida
Opinion by Tjoflat, joined by Lagoa and Brasher
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