Florida Criminal Appeals Attorney Law

Appellate Law, Criminal Defense and Appeals and Post Conviction Relief in Florida Courts, Federal District Courts and the 11th Circuit

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United States v. Davila: No. 12-167: Although Judge’s Statements Made During In Camera Plea Conference Violated Rule 11, Error Does Note Require Plea to Be Vacated

Things have been busy in these last couple of weeks leading up to the Fourth of July holiday, so I’ll keep this short.  Federal criminal defense and federal criminal appeals lawyers, especially those practicing in the Southern District of Florida or the Eleventh Circuit, will be interested to know that the US Supreme Court has reversed the Eleventh Circuit on an important issue: the consequences of a judge’s violation of Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 regarding guilty pleas.  In United States v. Davila, No. 12-167, the Court held that even though the Magistrate Judge who presided over an in camera plea conference made statements which violated Rule 11’s ban on judicial participation in plea discussions, Davila was not entitled to have his guilty plea vacated because he failed to show that he was prejudiced by the judge’s statements.

Is it just me, or does anyone else notice the irony of this decision?  This is a rare case where the Eleventh Circuit actually sided with the criminal  defendant, and afforded him relief.  Yet, on certiorari review, the US Supreme Court took the position most often taken by the Eleventh Circuit–and denied the criminal defendant relief.

Moncrieffe v. Holder, No.11-702: United States Supreme Court Holds That State Criminal Statute Penalizing The Sharing Of Small Amount Of Marijuana Does Not Constitute Aggravated Felony For Purposes Of Immigration Statute

It’s been a really busy week, but I found a recent opinion that I wanted to pass along to all of Florida’s criminal defense and criminal appeals lawyers out there.  If you handle drug cases with potential immigration/deportation consequences (i.e, ANY drug cases where your client’s status is either unclear, or your client is clearly a noncitizen), then you should take a few minutes to read the United States Supreme Court opinion of Moncrieffe  v. Holder, No. 11-702.

The facts in the Moncrieffe opinion are pretty typical: Moncrieffe, a Jamaican citizen, came to the U.S. legally at the age of 3.  See Moncrieffe, slip op., pg. 3.  During a 2007 traffic stop, cops found 1.3 grams (yes, grams) of marijuana in his car.  Moncrieffe pled guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute under Georgia law (obviously, Georgia law is a lot more harsh than Florida law).  Under a Georgia statute which allows for more lenient treatment to first time offenders, the trial court sentenced Moncrieffe to 5 years of probation, after which his record would be expunged.  See id.

Alleging that the conviction constituted an “aggravated felony” for purposes of 21 U. S. C. §841(a), punishable by up to 5 years’ imprisonment under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(D), the Government deported Moncrieffe, and the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed.  See id at pg. 3.  After the 5th Circuit denied Moncrieffe’s petition for review, the United States Supreme Court granted cert, and reversed.

In holding that Moncrieffe’s conviction under the Georgia statute did not qualify as an “aggravated felony” under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Court rejected the Government’s application of the “categorial inquiry” or “categorial approach,” which is employed  to determine if an offense constitutes an aggravated felony.  See id , slip op., pgs. 4-19.  Although Justice Sotomayor’s majority opinion is rather technical in nature, this line pretty much sums up what the Court thinks of the Government’s argument:

“In short, to avoid the absurd consequences that would flow from the Government’s narrow understanding of the categorical approach, the Government proposes a solution that largely undermines the categorical approach.  That the only cure is worse than the disease suggests the Government is simply wrong.”

Id., slip op., pg. 19.  Ouch.

Unfortunately for Moncrieffe and others in his situation, escaping aggravated felony treatment does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that deportation has been avoided.  Rather, the Court cautioned that it only means that mandatory removal has been avoided.  Rather, under 8 U.S.C. §1227(a)(2)(B)(i), a marijuana distribution offense still renders a non-citizen deportable as a “controlled substances offender.”  See id., slip op., pg. 19.  At that stage, the non-citizen will have to seek asylum, or cancellation of the removal proceedings, assuming the non-citizen meets the other criteria under 8 U.S.C. §§1158(b), 1229b(a)(1)–(2).  As acknowledged by the Court, determinations of asylum or cancellation of removal proceedings are purely discretionary with the Attorney General.

What’s the take away from this case, you ask?  Well, although the Court rejected the Government’s attempt to define possession of a small amount of marijuana as an aggravated felony, the fact remains that non-citizens convicted of even the most low level misdemeanor drug offenses, including first-time offenders who have successfully completed required probationary periods as a prerequisite to expunction, remain subject to possible deportation proceedings.

Wins For the Little Guys in United States Supreme Court, Eleventh Circuit, and Florida Supreme Court

The stars must be aligned just right, because for the first time in a long time, the US Supreme Court, Eleventh Circuit, and Florida Supreme Court all recently issued opinions favorable to criminal defendants.  It’s like a hat trick for criminal defense and criminal appeals lawyers!

In Millbroook v. United States, 11-10362, Millbrook, a federal prisoner in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, filed an action against the United States after he was sexually assaulted and verbally threatened while in custody.  Although the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the United States, and the Third Circuit affirmed, the United States Supreme Court reversed, and held that Millbrook’s lawsuit was not barred by the “law enforcement proviso” of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).  In so holding, the Court relied on the plain text of the section and determined that Congress intended immunity determinations to be based on a federal officer’s legal authority, not on a particular exercise of that authority.  See Millbrook, 11-20362, slip op., pg. 6.  Based on the plain text of the statute, the Court rejected the Government’s argument that an officer’s intentional tort must occur in the course of executing a search seizing evidence, or making an arrest in order to expose the Government to liability.  See id.

In United States v. Hinds, No. 11-16048, Hinds was convicted of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base (crack cocaine).  On direct appeal, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with Hinds that his sentence should be vacated because the amount attributed to him was too speculative.  On remand, the District Court failed to give Hinds the benefit of the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), so Hinds appealed, and won again.  In holding that Hinds should have been given the benefit of the FSA, the Court noted, in footnote 2, that the Government conceded that Hinds should have been given the benefit of the FSA when he appeared on remand.  Too bad Hinds had to appeal twice to get the benefit of the FSA.

Finally, in State v. Larry Phillips, No SC11-411, the Florida Supreme Court found that Phillips, who had been committed under the Jimmy Ryce Act, was eligible for immediate release because the State waited to file its commitment petition after Phillips’ criminal sentence had expired.

Two Palm Beach County Cases Touch on Issues of Juror Misconduct

As I was scrolling through the news this morning, I came across two articles in the Palm Beach Post that I wanted to pass along to the local criminal defense and criminal appeals attorneys out there.

The first article reports that Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Karen Miller has stated that she will call back jurors to inquire into allegations that the jurors discussed a criminal case before the evidence was closed, in violation of the court’s instructions.  Although the Court has not set a date for the hearing, according to the article, the Judge decided to call the jurors back after a local criminal defense attorney filed an affidavit executed by one of the jurors, wherein the juror indicated that she had a “terrible concern that the verdict that the jury reached was not fair.”  The individuals were both found guilty of the 2011 shooting death of a 15-year-old South Bay youth.  They have not yet been sentenced.

In the next article (an op-ed piece), the Palm Beach Post notes that one of the jurors from the John Goodman trial recently admitted in a self-published book that his wife had once been arrested on a charge of DUI.  Obviously, Goodman’s defense team says it asked all potential jurors if any family members had ever been charged with DUI, and that if they had known of his ex-wife’s arrest they would not have selected him.  Armed with that information, John Goodman’s criminal appeals lawyers filed a motion in the Fourth District Court of Appeal case, seeking to have the Court relinquish jurisdiction so as to allow the trial court to consider the issue.  The Fourth DCA initially denied Goodman’s motion on March 22, 2013.  However, after Goodman filed a Motion for Reconsideration, the Fourth DCA granted the motion, and on April 1, 2013, the Court granted the Motion to Relinquish based on the newly discovered evidence of juror misconduct.  The Court’s April 1, 2013, order which can be found on the Fourth DCA docket for case number 4D12-1930, reads as follows:

The motion to reconsider the order denying stay dated March 22, 2013, is denied.  The motion for relinquishment based on newly discovered juror misconduct is granted for the defendant to file and present to the trial court a motion based upon the alleged juror misconduct and for the court to allow a juror interview and then to rule on the issue.  Such relief is not procedurally barred. See e.g. Marshall v. State, 854 So. 2d 1235, 1242 (Fla. 2003); Davis v. State, 778 So. 2d 1096 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001).  Relinquishment is for a period of forty-five days.  ORDERED that appellant’s motion filed March 28, 2013, for permission to file a reply to State’s response is hereby granted.

I don’t know about you, but I am glad to see that both Courts have taken the courageous step of inquiring into the serious issue of juror misconduct.  Job well done.

United States v. Hall, No. 11-14698: Eleventh Circuit Reverses 4-Level Enhancment For Fraudulent Use of Identifying Information to Obtain Credit Cards

I had to do a double-take when I read the opening paragraph of United States v. Erica Hall, No. 11-14698:

Hall pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (Count 1); conspiracy to commit identity theft and access device fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count 2); wrongfully obtaining and transferring individually identifiable health information for personal gain, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1320d-6(a)(2) (Count 3).  When imposing Hall’s sentence, the district court applied a four-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(2)(B) because it found that the offense involved more than 50 but less than 250 victims.  In objecting to the enhancement, Hall argued that the mere transfer or sale of identifying information unlawfully or without authority does not equate to the actual use of identifying information for a fraudulent purpose.  Therefore, because the conspirators actually used only identifying information for 12 out of 141 individuals to obtain fraudulent credit cards, Hall argued that the two-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(2)(A) was more appropriate because it applies to more than 10, but less than 50, victims.  The district court rejected Hall’s argument, but we do not.  Accordingly, we vacate Hall’s sentence and remand for resentencing.

Wow.  Those are words not often found in an Eleventh Circuit opinion.  No doubt that Hall’s appellate counsel and other criminal defense lawyers practicing in the Southern District of Florida will be pleased.

In another case, Norman Mearle Grim, Jr.  v. Fla. Sec’y, Dept. of Corrs., No. 11-11890, the Eleventh Circuit reverted to its usual self and denied a death-row inmate’s habeas petition.  In the opinion, the Court again rejected a constitutional claim based on Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).  In support, the Court pointed to a recently issued decision, Evans v. Sec’y, Fla. Dep’t of Corrs., 699 F.3d 1249, 1264 (11th Cir. 2012), where the Court held that Florida’s death penalty statute is constitutional.  For my previous post on the Evans case, click here.

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