Peter Hesser v. USA, No. 19-13297 (11th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Petitioner went to trial for three counts of tax fraud under 18 U.S.C. Sections 2 and 287 and one count of attempted tax evasion under 26 U.S.C. Section 7201. A jury convicted on all four counts, and he was sentenced to a period of incarceration, supervised release, and restitution. The district court vacated the convictions for the first three counts of tax fraud but left in place the fourth for tax evasion. Petitioner timely appealed, renewing his arguments that his counsel was ineffective 1) in failing to properly move for judgment of acquittal as to Count Four, 2) in calling him to the witness stand, and 3) in failing to advise him of the dangers of testifying in his own defense.
The Eleventh Circuit granted Petitioner’s habeas petition and vacated his conviction under Count Four for tax evasion. The court explained that as to Count Four for attempted tax evasion, the basic inquiry on the ineffective assistance of counsel claim is, whether Petitioner’s trial counsel was deficient in failing to move for judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29 after the Government’s presentation of its case-in-chief, and, if so, whether that deficiency prejudiced the outcome of the trial.
The court wrote that here Petitioner’s counsel’s performance was deficient because he failed to properly move for judgment of acquittal when the Government had not carried its evidentiary burden in its case-in-chief. Further, had Petitioner’s counsel properly moved for judgment of acquittal, the district court would have been legally required to grant it for the same reasons the Eleventh Circuit did under a de novo standard.