A few days ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit finally issued its opinion in the matter of Shelton v. Sec’y, Dept. of Corrections, No. 11-13515. Not surprisingly, the Court reversed the District Court’s grant of habeas relief. Also not surprisingly, the Court avoided the largest issue in the case: the constitutionality of Florida statute section 893.101.
If you read the opinion, you’ll see that the Court avoided having to decide the merits of the constitutionality issue because it resolved the appeal on procedural grounds. By determining that the District Court failed to apply the proper deferential standard of review to the Florida appellate court’s decision under the AEDPA, the Court did not even have to reach the issue that everyone wanted decided. This should come as no surprise to criminal defense and criminal appellate lawyers who are familiar with Federal habeas petitions.
Although the Court declined to completely address the merits of the constitutionality issue, the Court nevertheless threw out a few observations. First, rather than finding that section 893.101 completely eliminated the mens rea element, the Court instead found that the statute only partially eliminated it by converting one aspect of mens rea to an affirmative defense. Second, the Court noted that the United States Supreme Court has never held that the Due Process Clause forbids a partial elimination of mens rea as an element of crimes similar to Florida’s section 893.101.
Since the appeal was decided on such narrow procedural grounds, it may be difficult to appeal this to the United States Supreme Court. We’ll have to wait and see what, if anything, Shelton’s team decides to do next.
Enjoy the Labor Day weekend!