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

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Ricin Possession Charges Dropped for Technicality

Sometimes, a criminal case falls through the cracks.

It shouldn't happen, and everybody knows that -- especially when it's a terrible crime. That's what a federal judge had to deal with in Georgia.

A white supremacist had been charged with possession of ricin -- a biological toxin that can kill you just by inhaling it. But the judge dismissed the case because lawmakers "inexplicably" took it off the dangerous toxin list.

No one likes or wants to be searched at any border. But in these times of hypersensitive border security, with nearly every traveler carrying minimally one or more pieces of high powered technology (seriously, even your first iPhone could do a lot), the issue of electronics border searches is a hot one.

Finding that a search of an electronic device at the border does not require probable cause, nor even reasonable suspicion, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has broken with the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. In United States v. Touset, the defendant was found to be in possession of child pornography on his laptop computer and external hard drive as he crossed the border at customs in the airport in Atlanta, GA. After accepting a plea, the defendant appealed the district court's denial of a motion to suppress the evidence gathered during the border search.

Should Executions Be Made Public?

Before 1936, the United States had a long history of public executions.

Rainey Bethea was the last person to be hanged publicly, when he was put to death that year for murdering and raping a 70-year-old woman. But that "carnival in Owensboro" led to a banning of public executions in America.

Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, changed that when he requested a public execution in 2001. Doyle Lee Hamm wanted next, and a federal judge wanted to give it to him.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Fourth Amendment rights of a man convicted of inducing and assisting immigrants to illegally enter the United States were not violated when federal authorities reviewed the GPS log found aboard his boat. Perhaps the most curious fact is that the defendant actually consented to a search of his boat both verbally and in writing.

During the search, inside one of the boat's compartments, a GPS device was found. When the data on the device was reviewed, it was revealed that the boat captain, Maikel Suarez Plasencia, had been less than forthcoming with the authorities when they found him in his broken down boat, beached along a public waterway. Federal authorities connected Suarez to a group of over 20 undocumented individuals from Cuba that had been dropped off elsewhere and claimed to have washed ashore on a raft.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the search of a smartphone at the border does not require a warrant, or even probable cause, even if we're talking about a forensic search.

The underlying criminal case involved the conviction of a man for possession of child pornography. Law enforcement discovered illegal videos and images as a result of searching his phone at the U.S. border crossing area at a port in Florida. The border agent initially saw a few videos he believed depicted minors in sex acts, and then had a DHS agent take over from there.

Medicare Fraudster's Conviction Affirmed

For the defendant in a multi-million dollar fraud case, it was not a good sign when a juror walked into deliberations wearing a T-shirt that said, "American Greed."

After the jury returned a guilty verdict, the defense attorney filed a motion to interview the juror to find out if he had pre-judged the case and influenced other jurors. The trial judge denied the motion, and an appeals court affirmed.

In United States of America v. Nerey, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the juror's T-shirt message was not enough to prove he was unfair. After all, the court noted, it's a television show.

Sweepstakes Scammers Sentenced

What was the judge thinking when he sentenced four men to prison for a $25 million sweepstakes scam?

The prosecutors asked for a 20-year sentence for Matthew Pisoni and heavy sentences for his co-conspirators as well. But U.S. Judge Darrin Gayles sent Pisoni, the ring-leader, to prison for seven years and his co-defendants for lesser times.

Was it out of sympathy for Pisoni, who lost a son to a drug overdose after the conviction? Was it the miscarriage Pisoni's wife suffered after the trial? Or was it the prosecutors, who used a co-defendant to spy on Pisoni's attorneys?

The former high school basketball coach out of Greensboro, North Carolina that led North Guilford High boys' team to win the state championship, Stan Kowalewski, has had his 24 count federal felony conviction upheld by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Thankfully, none of these counts have anything to do with abusing his team, but rather, just the financial trust of the community.

Kowalewski ran a hedge fund company, SJK Investment Management. However, it turns out that SJK's management mismanaged funds, causing losses to clients totaling $8 million. Included in those losses is the $4 million beach home Kowalewski bought in the other Carolina, on Pawley's Island.

A recent Florida Supreme Court case went a bit beyond the regular euphemisms about the birds and the bees into a straight up, in your face, hardcore examination of sexual intercourse.

The definition of sexual intercourse, that is. Examining a Florida law criminalizing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the court was forced to determine just what counted as "sexual intercourse." Was it limited to old-fashioned, Church-approved, when-a-man-loves-a-woman-very-much stuff, or could it be read to include some man-on-man action?

In Miami-Dade County, sex offenders who have been convicted of crimes involving victims under the age of 16 cannot live within 2,500 feet of any school, with few exceptions. Now, two sex offenders say that the restrictions were so harsh they were driven to homelessness. Miami-Dade's law so limited housing options that both offenders had nowhere left to live but a homeless encampment, they claim.

Those offenders sued, alleging that the law, adopted in 2005 and after their convictions, was so punitive that it violated the ex post facto clause of the federal and Florida constitutions. Though their claims were initially tossed out, the Eleventh Circuit revived their suit on Monday, finding that the offenders had sufficiently alleged that Miami-Dade County had violated their constitutional rights.