Articles Posted in Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals

Lawyers that specialize in defending federal criminal cases may be interested to know that the federal sentencing commission recently released a document entitled: “Selected Post-Booker and Guideline Application Decisions for the Eleventh Circuit”. According to the Commission, “[t]he document is not a substitute for reading and interpreting the actual Guidelines Manual or researching specific sentencing issues.” However, those of you that practice federal criminal law in Georgia, Alabama and Florida will find the document useful, because it does contain helpful “annotations to certain Eleventh Circuit judicial opinions that involve issues related to the federal sentencing guidelines.”

I reviewed the document this morning and it is a fairly comprehensive. It not only includes case annotations dealing with many of the more common guideline provisions (including fraud, internet, and immigration offenses), but it also includes several sections that involve general principles of federal sentencing law, such as burden of proof issues, the requirements for sentencing on acquitted conduct, and departures and variances.

The document can be found here and for those of you that practice in other federal circuits, links to similar documents for those other circuits can be found here.

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions of Larry Langford, the former mayor of Birmingham, Alabama who was convicted last year on various federal white collar offenses, including mail and wire fraud, bribery, money laundering, and federal tax offenses.

To me, the most interesting aspect of the opinion is the way in which the Court of Appeals discussed the honest services portion of the federal mail and wire fraud charges. As we discussed in this previous post, last summer, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in United States v. Skilling, a case which, in essence, limited the honest services provision of the federal fraud statutes to bribery and kickback schemes.

Before Skilling was decided, many (if not all) federal circuits made a distinction between honest services prosecutions that involved public officials, as opposed to those working in the private sector. At the risk of simplifying the issue too much, it was far easier for the government to prove an honest services violation against a public official. Skilling itself, however, did not distinguish between public officials and private actors, leading some to believe that after Skilling, the prosecution of both public and private officials would be governed by the same standards.

Earlier today, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a federal conviction of a pain management doctor prosecuted in federal court. The case originated out of the Southern District of Georgia, and after a lengthy trial, the jury convicted the pain management doctor on 129 counts of unlawfully dispensing certain controlled substances by means of written prescriptions made “outside the usual course of professional practice and without legitimate medical purpose,” in violation of federal controlled substance laws.

On appeal, the doctor raised a number of issues, the most significant one being that the federal trial judge effectively denied him his right to testify by failing to notify him that he could testify in a narrative format. At trial, the doctor was not represented by a a lawyer. And when it came time to decide whether he wanted to testify on his own behalf, the trial judge failed to correct an obvious misunderstanding the doctor had concerning his right to testify.

More specifically, according to the trial transcript, the doctor incorrectly believed he could testify on direct examination only if was questioned by an attorney. Although the record established that the doctor was clearly ignorant of his ability to provide narrative testimony, the federal trial judge failed to correct this obvious misunderstanding. Rather, the trial judge merely informed the doctor that he had “an absolute right to testify.”

Michael Diaz was charged with armed robbery and gun offenses nearly seven years ago. Since the age of 13, he has “changed identities” five times and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychosis. He represented himself during a bench trial in 2006, but the Eleventh Circuit vacated his convictions, holding that he had not knowingly waived his right to a jury trial. He refused treatment for his mental illness and was found incompetent to stand re-trial.

In 2003, the Supreme Court addressed involuntarily medicating criminal defendants for the sole purpose of rendering them competent to stand trial in Sell v. U.S. Last week in Diaz, the Eleventh Circuit explained:

Sell laid out these four standards the government must satisfy for involuntary medication to render a defendant competent to stand trial: (1) important government interests must be at stake, (2) involuntary medication must significantly further the state interests in assuring a fair and timely trial, (3) involuntary medication must be necessary to further the state interests, and (4) administration of the medication must be “medically appropriate, i.e., in the patient’s best medical interest in light of his medical condition.”

Last Monday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided United States v. Gowdy, an unbelievable case in which the Eleventh Circuit joined several other circuits in holding that one need not actually be in federal custody to escape from federal custody under 18 U.S.C. § 751(a).

Gowdy was convicted in the Northern District of Alabama for federal drug crimes, and then turned over to the state of Mississippi. Mississippi lost the federal detainer against Gowdy and then turned him over to the state of Alabama to face charges pending there. Alabama, never having received the federal detainer, released Gowdy when he completed his sentence there. When federal authorities discovered the mistake, they issued a warrant for Gowdy’s arrest. He agreed to turn himself in after making arrangements for the care of his daughter, but never did so.

Gowdy was charged with escape from federal custody. He was convicted on the theory of constructive custody – that he was in custody under his federal conviction, despite his mistaken release. The Eleventh Circuit agreed, holding “that the custodial requirement of § 751(a) is satisfied where a lawful judgment of conviction has been issued by a court against the defendant… [T]here is no additional requirement that the defendant be physically confined in an institution at the time of the escape.”

In this post in August, we reported that the Eleventh Circuit had held that a trial court abused its discretion in failing to instruct the jury on good faith reliance. In that opinion, the Court vacated convictions on three counts, but affirmed a conspiracy conviction. Last week, in United States v. Kottwitz, the Court decided on rehearing that the “[d]efendants introduced enough circumstantial evidence to warrant an instruction that — at some pertinent point –[they] may have relied on the accountant’s advice” on the conspiracy count, as well.

Good faith defenses are often significant in white-collar criminal cases. As we have lamented, the government continues to prosecute people on the basis of business decisions that are not intended to break the law. It is imminently important for defense lawyers to convey to the jury that a person acting in good faith cannot be guilty.

To receive a jury instruction in the Eleventh Circuit, a defendant need only show “any foundation in the evidence.” The first Kottwitz opinion, which is still good law inasmuch as it is consistent with this most recent opinion, provides a detailed explanation of when the trial court must instruct the jury on good faith reliance.

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided United States v. Forey-Quintero. The Court held that Mr. Forey-Quintero, whose mother became a naturalized U.S. citizen while he was a minor, did not obtain derivative citizenship because he was not a lawful permanent resident before he turned 18.

Mr. Forey-Quintero came to the U.S. on a border crossing card when he was three years old. When he was 9, his mother filed a Petition for Alien Relative for him, but he was accidentally placed on the wrong list for obtaining a visa. When he was 16, his mother was naturalized and he applied for a visa. His application was approved 20 days after his 19th birthday. As such, he resided here permanently as a minor, but was not a “lawful permanent resident.”

Mr. Forey-Quintero later was kicked out of the country, and when he returned to be with his family he was charged with being found in the United States after removal. His attorney, Millie Dunn at the Federal Defenders Program for the Northern District of Georgia, argued that he was a citizen under the derivative citizenship statute. Before 2001, derivative citizenship was governed by Section 321(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which provided that a “child born outside of the United States of alien parents” automatically became a citizen upon the naturalization of the parent having legal custody if the child is or “begins to reside permanently in the United States while under the age of eighteen years.”

Last Wednesday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from Georgia, Alabama, and Florida federal cases, voted to rehear Childers v. Floyd en banc. The Court vacated a panel opinion holding that Childers’s Confrontation Clause rights had been violated when the trial court refused to allow certain credibility evidence regarding the prosecution’s star witness.

This June, an Eleventh Circuit panel majority granted Mr. Childers § 2254 habeas relief. In a previous case stemming from the same activities, in which another defendant was acquitted, the star witness gave confusing and inconsistent testimony. The trial court refused to allow the jury to hear evidence that the prosecution had unsuccessfully tried to revoke the witness’s plea deal due to those inconsistencies. The Eleventh Circuit held that this refusal was a violation of the defendant’s sixth amendment right to confront witnesses against him.

This case is an important reminder of the value of effective cross-examination and the necessity to continue litigating on behalf of clients. We will watch for the en banc decision in Childers. The vacated panel opinion is available here.

As we discussed in this post last year, federal judges have increasingly spoken out against the unreasonable sentencing guidelines regarding child pornography. In the last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in U.S. v. Grober, upholding a dramatic downward departure in a child pornography case, and a district judge in the Middle District of Florida issued an opinion in U.S. v. Irey reacting to the Eleventh Circuit’s reversal of his initial sentence in the case.

In Grober, the Court affirmed a 60-month sentence where the applicable guidelines range was 235 to 293 months. District Judge Katharine Hayden held hearings over 12 days to explore how the sentencing guidelines for child pornography offenses had gotten so harsh, eventually concluding that they are unworkable and unfair. This Tuesday, the Third Circuit held, 2-1, that the imposed sentence was not an abuse of discretion. That opinion is discussed extensively in this Legal Intelligencer article.

In recent years, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed below-guidelines sentences in child porn cases in both U.S. v. McBride and U.S. v. Gray. However, this July the Court decided Irey, an unfortunate case with incredibly disturbing underlying facts. We discussed Irey in this post, lamenting that hard facts often lead to bad law. In that case, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a 17 ½ year sentence, ordering that the defendant be sentenced to the guidelines range on remand, which was 30 years. This week, District Judge Gregory Presnell issued a lengthy opinion with his postponement of resentencing pending Supreme Court review, questioning the circuit court’s usurpation of his discretion. As Professor Berman of the Sentencing Law & Policy Blog notes here, this opinion seems to serve as a de facto amicus brief in support of an as-yet-unfiled petition for certiorari.

Last week the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in United States v. Mateos, a Medicare fraud case in which the Court held that exclusion of an exculpatory videotape was harmless error. This case is an important reminder to all trial lawyers to remain as well-versed as possible in the law of evidence to best represent our clients.

The defendants were employees of a clinic that purported to treat HIV patients. The clinic’s two doctors saw 70 patients per week, each of which was paid to complain about bleeding disorders. Every patient received either saline or a diluted dose of an expensive and medically unnecessary drug, and then the clinic billed Medicare for full treatments. The clinic received more than $8 million from Medicare during the five months that it was open.

Doctor Alvarez’s defense at trial was that she had not known about the fraud. She tried to introduce a video in which a member of the conspiracy assured her that the clinic was not involved in fraud to show that she had not been aware, but the video was excluded as inadmissible hearsay. The Eleventh Circuit held that the video was not hearsay because it was offered for a purpose other than the truth of the matter asserted. However, the Court held that the error was harmless because the defense had elicited the exculpatory content of the video through testimony.