United States v. Bell

Defendant was convicted of making false, fictitious, and fraudulent claims to the United States Treasury, assisting in the filing of false tax returns, criminal contempt, and mail fraud. On appeal, defendant challenged his convictions and the district court's supervised release conditions. The court concluded that the district court did not commit reversible error under the Sixth Amendment when it did not prompt defendant to present a closing argument to the jury and where defendant simply chose to remain silent; nothing in Herring v. New York or the court's precedents gives a self-represented defendant a right to be affirmatively and individually advised that he or she has a right to present a closing argument; Herring and the court's precedent held that a court may not prevent a litigant from making a closing argument; the government provided sufficient evidence to prove that defendant assisted another in the filing of fraudulent tax returns; but the district court did abuse its discretion by requiring defendant to abstain from alcohol and drug consumption and participate in treatment as conditions of his supervised release where the record contains no evidence showing that defendant abused alcohol or other substances and the district court made no relevant findings during the sentencing hearing. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.View "United States v. Bell" on Justia Law

United States v. Vera

Defendants appealed their convictions and sentences for drug conspiracy and use of a minor to commit a drug trafficking offense. At issue was the testimony of two case agents at defendants' joint trial where one agent testified as a gang expert and the other testified as an expert in drug jargon who translated wiretapped phone calls into drug quantities and amounts. The court affirmed the admission of the gang testimony. In regards to the testimony interpreting the recorded calls, the court concluded that the testimony intermingled lay and expert opinion and the district court plainly erred when it failed to explain the distinction to the jury; the district court also plainly erred where the intermingling resulted in the admission of improper expert and lay opinions; and because such errors affected defendants' substantial rights and seriously affected the fairness of the judicial proceedings, the court vacated the drug quantity findings and defendants' sentences. The court also addressed the appropriate remedy when trial errors affect the jury's drug quantity findings but not the underlying conspiracy convictions. The court need not vacate defendants' conspiracy convictions because drug quantity is not an element of the conspiracy offense. The court also held that, in this case, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not preclude retrial of the drug quantity issue. The court vacated the special verdict only and remanded for further proceedings.View "United States v. Vera" on Justia Law

United States v. Hernandez

Defendant plead guilty for illegal reentry under 8 U.S.C. 1326(a) and his sentence was enhanced under section 1326(b)(2) after the sentencing judge found defendant's prior California conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm qualified as an aggravated felony. In the court's recent decision in United States v. Aguilera-Rios, the court held that, in the immigration context, California's felon in possession firearm statute is not a categorical match for the federal firearms offense. In this case, the court held that the same analysis in Aguilera-Rios applies in the sentencing context. Because the state felony in possession of a firearm statute under which defendant was convicted criminalizes more conduct than the federal felon in possession of a firearm statute, there is no categorical match. California does not prosecute cases involving antique firearms under California Penal Code 12021(a)(1). Consequently, the court concluded that the district court erred in applying an eight-level sentencing enhancement. The court reversed and remanded for resentencing.View "United States v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

Young v. United States

Donna and Gerald Young and their minor daughter filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2680(a), against the United States for negligently failing to warn visitors at Mount Rainier National Park of a hazard that the National Park Service both knew of and created. Donna had fallen into a twelve-foot-deep hole that formed underneath the snow, which was created by the heat of a transformer, near the Park's main visitor center and sustained several injuries. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court concluded that the Service's decision not to warn of the latent dangers associated with the transformer was a decision "totally divorced" from the policies that the government has identified as the basis for its decision. Where, as here, warning against a hazard known to and created by the Service would not implicate concerns for access, visitor enjoyment, or environmental preservation, the only policy the Service must consider is one it appears to have ignored: visitor safety. The court concluded that the Service's decision not to warn of a hazard that it knew of and created - that it placed near a visitor center serving 1 million visitors annually - cannot be shielded by the FTCA's discretionary function exception. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.View "Young v. United States" on Justia Law

Litmon v. Harris

Plaintiff was adjudicated a sexually violent predator under California Welfare and Institutions Code 6600(a)(1) and has been reporting to his local police station every 90 days to fill out a registration form pursuant to the requirements of California Penal Code 290.012(b). At issue on appeal is the constitutionality of section 290.012(b). The court concluded that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's claim that the registration requirement violates the fundamental right to be free from physical restraint by requiring sexually violent predators to appear in person every 90 days to register. Applying rational basis review, the court concluded that the registration requirement is rationally related to California's interest in deterring recidivism and promoting public safety. The district court properly dismissed plaintiff's claim that the registration requirement violates the Ex Post Facto Clause; plaintiff's equal protection challenge failed because neither mentally disordered offenders nor mentally disordered sex offenders are similarly situated to sexually violent predators; plaintiff waived his claim that section 290.012(b) is unconstitutionally vague; and plaintiff failed to state a claim under California's Administrative Procedure Act, Cal. Gov't Code 11340 et seq. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983.View "Litmon v. Harris" on Justia Law

United States v. Renzi

Defendant, Former Arizona Congressman Richard Renzi, appealed his conviction and sentence for conspiracy, honest-services fraud, extortion, money laundering, making false statements to insurance regulators, and racketeering. Co-defendant, James Sandlin, also appealed his conviction and sentence. The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to convict Renzi of extortion and honest-services fraud and rejected Renzi's claim that the parties engaged in an equal value exchange; neither the pattern jury instruction nor any controlling precedent requires the district court to identify the thing of value, especially where variance from the indictment is not at issue; and, in this case, there was no error in the uncontested jury instructions. The court held that, if a member of Congress offers evidence of his own legislative acts at trial, the government is entitled to introduce rebuttal evidence narrowly confined to the same legislative acts, and such rebuttal evidence does not constitute questioning the member of Congress in violation of the Speech and Debate Clause; because Renzi was not impermissibly questioned in violation of the Clause, there was no Clause violation; Renzi's right to present a defense cannot override the Speech and Debate privilege of another Congressman; and the court carefully reviewed the classified materials filed with this case and concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding them, pursuant to the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), 18 U.S.C. App.3, section 6(a). The court rejected Renzi's claim under Napue v. Illinois where there is no "reasonable likelihood" that the statements at issue affected the jury's judgment; the court rejected Renzi's contentions regarding his insurance-fraud conviction and his Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961, conviction; the court upheld the district court's calculation under U.S.S.G. 2C1.1(b)(2) of the value of a payment Renzi received in exchange for influence exerted to the sale of property; and the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support Sandlin's convictions for conspiracy to engage in wire fraud, Hobbs Act extortion, and engaging in monetary transactions with criminally derived funds. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.View "United States v. Renzi" on Justia Law

United States v. Morales Heredia

Defendant pleaded guilty to the sole count of illegal reentry under a written fast-track plea agreement pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). On appeal, defendant challenged his twenty-one month prison term. The court concluded that the government breached the plea agreement by implicitly advocating for a sentence other than the stipulated one. The government also breached the express terms of the plea agreement not to seek, argue, or suggest in any way that the district court impose a sentence other than what had been stipulated by the parties. Even if the court concluded that the government's offending language had no practical purpose but to argue implicitly for a harsher than stipulated punishment, the court held that the government breached the express terms of the plea agreement. Further, the government's breach of the plea agreement was neither cured nor curable before the district court. When a defendant timely objects, moves for specific performance, and successfully appeals the district court's post-breach order rejecting a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, the appropriate remedy is to vacate the conviction and sentence and remand for further proceedings before a different judge. In this case, defendant appealed only his sentence and did not seek vacatur of his conviction. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.View "United States v. Morales Heredia" on Justia Law


Petitioner, convicted of murdering a law enforcement officer in the line of duty, appealed the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition. The court concluded, in light of the "doubly deferential" standard, that it was not contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of Strickland v. Washington for the state court to determine that petitioner's trial counsel did not provide ineffective assistance by failing to preserve explicitly the issue of observation evidence. Likewise, counsel was not ineffective for failing to request a reevaluation of petitioner's competency. Finally, the court held that petitioner's claim of ineffective appellate counsel is procedurally defaulted. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.View "CLARK V. ARNOLD" on Justia Law

Latta v. Otter

Plaintiffs filed suit for declaratory and injunctive relief, challenging Idaho and Nevada statutes and enacted amendments preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed elsewhere. As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that, in Sevcik v. Sandoval, a live case and controversy still exists even though Nevada's officials have ceased to defend their laws constitutionality where the Governor and Clerk-Recorder remain parties and continue to enforce the laws at issue. Further, the Supreme Court's summary dismissal in Baker v. Nelson is not controlling precedent that precludes the court from considering plaintiffs' claims. On the merits, the court held that the Idaho and Nevada laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they deny lesbian and gays who wish to marry persons of the same sex a right they afford to individuals who wish to marry persons of the opposite sex. The laws do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny standard the court adopted in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs. The court rejected defendants' essential contention that bans on same-sex marriage promote the welfare of children by encouraging good parenting in stable opposite-sex families. Defendants' other contentions are without merit. Because defendants failed to demonstrate that these laws further any legitimate purpose, they unjustifiably discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in Latta v. Otter. The court reversed and remanded the judgment in Sevcik.View "Latta v. Otter" on Justia Law

Sturgeon v. Masica

Plaintiff filed suit challenging the NPS's enforcement of a regulation banning the operation of hovercrafts on the Nation River. Alaska intervened, challenging the NPS's authority to require its researchers to obtain a permit before engaging in studies on the Alagnak River. Plaintiff and Alaska argued that section 103(c) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act precludes NPS from regulating activities on state-owned lands and navigable waters that fall within the boundaries of National Park System units in Alaska. The district court granted summary judgment to appellees. The court concluded that plaintiff had Article III standing, but that his interpretation of section 103(c) is foreclosed by the plain text of the statute. NPS's hovercraft ban applies to federally owned lands and waters administered by NPS nationwide, as well as navigable waters within national parks. The court rejected plaintiff's two additional arguments, that the Secretary exceeded her statutory authority in promulgating the regulation at issue and that her action raises serious constitutional concerns. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to plaintiff. The court held that Alaska lacked standing to bring its challenge and vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss.View "Sturgeon v. Masica" on Justia Law