Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The 11th Circuit is still humming along

Appellate courts should be the least impacted through all of this mess, with judges and clerks able to work on opinions from home.  And the 11th Circuit keeps cranking them out...

Earlier this week, it agreed to hear this 4th Amendment case en banc at the urging at Judge Newsom to reconsider previous decisions on abandonment.

Yesterday, Judge Jill Pryor issued a big decision finding that a Hobbs Act robbery did not constitute a crime of violence under the Guidelines.

And today, Judge Rosenbaum issued an opinion on restitution and loss, with this fun introduction:
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s  Treasure  Island,  Jim  Hawkins memorably hunted  for  Captain Flint’s hidden treasure.  The Goonies put its own spin on treasure hunting  when  the  title  band of  friends defied One-Eyed  Willy’s  maze  of  booby  traps to find his hidden treasure  and save  their  beloved neighborhood.   But  for real-life treasure-hunting  stories,  perhaps  nothing  beats  the  quests of  the  aptly named  Mel Fisher  and his company  Treasure  Salvors,  Inc. 
Fisher  and his team  specialized  in finding and salvaging shipwrecks  of Spanish  galleons  and  other  vessels  from  the  Spanish Colonial era,  off  the  coasts  of Florida  and its Keys.   As  of  the  mid-1980s,  Fisher’s operation had  recovered  treasure worth approximately  $400 million at that time.     
Among that treasure  was Gold Bar  27,  which Fisher  donated to the  Mel Fisher Maritime  Heritage  Museum  (the  “Museum”)  in Key West,  Florida.   There,  Gold Bar 27  became  iconic,  and  three  to four  million Museum  visitors  handled it over  the years. Enter  Defendant-Appellant  Jarred  Alexander  Goldman  (sometimes truth  can be  stranger  than  fiction)  and Codefendant  Richard Steven Johnson.   In  2010, Goldman  and Johnson  stole  Gold  Bar  27  from  the  Museum.   This  appeal  requires  us to consider  the  proper  standard—we  might call it  the  gold  standard—for determining,  for  purposes of  ordering  restitution  under  the  Mandatory Victims Restitution Act,  18  U.S.C.  § 3663A (“MVRA”),  the  value  of  Gold  Bar  27.     
Today we  take  this  golden opportunity to reaffirm  that in a  case  like  this  one, where the loss  is  of  a  unique artifact  for  which  market  value  cannot  fully  compensate, courts must use  replacement  cost in  determining restitution.   While  absolute precision is not required under  the  MVRA,  the  district court must  base  its  restitution order on evidence.   And  that evidence  must show  that  the  restitution  will  make  the victim  whole—nothing  more  and nothing less.   Because  the  district court,  without the  benefit  of  our  decision  today,  did  not  ascertain  replacement value  when it determined market value  was insufficient and  then  imposed restitution,  we  vacate the  restitution  order  and  remand for  valuation  that applies  the  proper  legal  barometer to  the  gold bar  here. Goldman  also challenges  the  loss  amount used  to determine  his offense  level.   But  here,  we  part  ways with Goldman’s  analysis.   
The  district court explained that it would impose  the  same  sentence,  even if  it had the  loss figure  wrong.   For  that reason  and because  the  sentence  the  district  court imposed is  not substantively unreasonable,  we  affirm  Goldman’s sentence. 
The 11th Circuit should really re-examine this practice of affirming sentences just because the district judge says that it would enter the same sentence even if reversed.  It’s simply too easy to say that, and the truth is that judges are very unlikely to sentence above the guidelines.  If there’s a reversal on the guideline calculation, of course the defendant should get a new sentencing.

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