U.S. Eleventh Circuit

U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

We've seen court after court after court, including a federal circuit court of appeal, rule in favor of gay marriage. But courts in the Eleventh Circuit have been conspicuously silent on the issue -- until now.

This afternoon, Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garica overturned Florida's 2008 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. It's a narrow victory for gay rights proponents in Florida -- it only applies to Monroe County (the Florida Keys) -- but with four cases in the state racing towards decisions, it's a good sign of things to come, and yet another entry in a long winning streak for gay marriage nationwide.

Here are a few takeaways from the decision:

One fish, two fish, red fish, short fish?

John L. Yates is a commercial fisherman. In 2007, he was hauling in some red grouper when a fisheries officer boarded his ship to inspect his haul. After measuring the fish and finding that some of them were less than the minimum size of 20 inches, he issued Yates a citation and set aside the short fish for inspection at the docks.

Yates had his crew toss the short fish overboard and replace them with other fish. He was later convicted for violating an evidence destruction provision of the the Sarbanes-Oxley Act banking reform statute, passed in the wake of the Enron scandal. He's appealing that conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the vague statute has no place in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hobby Lobby was about a lot of things: religious rights of corporations, substantial burdens, compelling interests in contraception, readily available alternative means to provide contraception, and dictionaries. The end result was this: closely held corporations with religious owners can't be forced to pay for health coverage that provides contraception, especially since there is an existing exemption program for religious nonprofits that these employers could easily be wedged into.

But what if that exemption program itself, which requires the organization to fill out a form and find a third-party administrator to provide contraceptive coverage on the government's dime, is a burden on religion? The Little Sisters of the Poor were the first to make this argument, and the Supreme Court stepped in to grant an injunction. The Eleventh Circuit did the same for EWTN, a Catholic television network, mere hours after Hobby Lobby, with a surprising special concurrence by Judge Bill Pryor.

They are a trio of siblings so famous that GQ did an entire profile on them, post-crime spree. Dylan was the leader, Ryan was his younger brother who was on probation for sending explicit text messages to a minor. And Lee-Grace? She was the stripper with a machine pistol. Together, the Dougherty Gang shot at and outran a cop in Florida, robbed a bank in Georgia, and led officers on a high speed chase in Colorado, before spike strips sent their car into a tumble.

After a few more shots fired, and three arrests, the trio each earned a sentence of 428 months here in the Eleventh Circuit, along with other sentences in other jurisdictions. Now, thanks to a misinterpreted sentencing guideline, and one sibling's botched paperwork, Dylan and Lee-Grace will get a shot a resentencing, while Ryan counts down the next thirty-five years in a cell.

On Tuesday, the first execution since the botched, torturous death of Clayton Lockett seven weeks ago went through without a hitch. After apologizing for his actions, Marcus Wellons was executed for the rape and murder of his neighbor, 15-year-old India Roberts, reports The New York Times.

However, a concurrence in the denial of a last minute stay by the Eleventh Circuit highlighted an unanswered question that remains for Georgia and other states with capital punishment and secretly sourced lethal injection drugs.

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Fun fact: if your cell phone is turned on, your phone carrier can tell where you are.

How? Your phone's radio is constantly connecting to cell phone towers, which means even without a GPS signal, the carrier can approximate your location. You may have already know this (it shows up in movies all the time), but if you didn't, well, you do now. What you probably didn't know is that it might be legal for the police to snatch this data without a warrant.

Unless you reside in the Eleventh Circuit.

If you enjoy reading stories of police misconduct being properly punished, today's Eleventh Circuit selection will warm the cockles of your heart.

A handful of police officers responded to a 911 call from a drunk, lost woman. When they arrived, she claimed that she was in danger and that someone had been beating Jerry Morris's horses. When officers woke Morris up with a knock, he tried to put on his boots to check on his animals. Instead, the officers entered his house and told him that he wasn't going anywhere.

We've been following this story for way too long, since the "West Wing-like deal" rumors started swirling back in September.

With as many as four vacancies to fill on the Eleventh Circuit bench (out of twelve seats total), and with his nominee of choice to a three-years-vacant seat, Jill Pryor, blocked by two Georgia Republican senators, President Barack Obama reached across the aisle and forged a bipartisan compromise: two Democratic choices for three Republican choices.

The rumored deal and nominations went through, but confirmation is a whole different issue, and it's not looking good for one of the district court appointees: Judge Michael Boggs of the Georgia Court of Appeals.

This is not a distinction worth bragging about.

The Center for Public Integrity recently reviewed three years' worth of judicial financial disclosures to determine how often, if ever, judges heard cases despite a conflict of interest. While some might argue that any conflicts are too many conflicts, the results weren't completely damning of our federal appeals court system: 26 missed conflicts over three years, out of how many cases? Tens of thousands?

Still, the Eleventh Circuit in particular had a rough time, with a nation-leading seven missed conflicts, four from Judge James Hill alone, plus one shining example of how a judge should deal with such a mistake.

Something about this deal stinks.

In 2006, according to the Eleventh Circuit, Jeffrey Epstein was investigated by the FBI for sexually abusing "several minor girls." He was eventually non-pros'd by the U.S. Attorney's Office as part of a plea deal in which he would plead guilty to state charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors to engage in prostitution.

Paul Cassell, the attorney for two of Epstein's victims, describes the case in more extreme terms on The Volokh Conspiracy, noting that "wealthy investor Jeffrey Epstein had sexually abused dozens and dozens of minor girls." After extensive plea negotiations, during which the victims were kept completely in the dark, he copped a plea to "minor Florida offenses."

Cassell, along with his co-counsel Brad Edwards, filed suit on behalf of two Jane Does, seeking eventually to have the non-prosecution agreement rescinded. To justify such a remedy, they sought discovery of pretrial correspondence between Epstein and the U.S. Attorney's Office. The request was granted by the district court, and last week, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.