Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging First and Sixth Amendment claims arising from jail employees opening legal mail outside plaintiff's presence. The district court dismissed the claims. The court clarified that, under Nordstrom v. Ryan, prisoners have a Sixth Amendment right to be present when legal mail related to a criminal matter is inspected; plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to state a claim for improper opening of his incoming legal mail on November 9, 2012 and March 12, 2013; the remaining counts were properly dismissed because plaintiff failed to allege that the mail was properly marked as legal mail; and the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's First Amendment claim in a concurrently filed opinion, Hayes v. Idaho Correctional Center. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Mangiaracina v. Penzone" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging four instances of prison employees delivering legal mail addressed to him that had been opened before delivery, and that prison and prison officials maintained a policy or custom of ignoring the improper handling of legal mail. The district court dismissed the complaint at the pre-screening stage pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915A. The court recognized that prisoners have a protected First Amendment interest in having properly marked legal mail opened only in their presence; a plaintiff need not allege a longstanding practice of violating his First Amendment rights in order to state a claim for relief on a direct liability theory; a plaintiff need not show any actual injury beyond the free speech violation itself to state a constitutional claim; the district court properly dismissed two counts of alleged improper mail opening; the other two instances, however, do state a First Amendment claim; the district court erred in dismissing these two claims at the pre-screening stage; on remand, Defendant Burke may offer a legitimate penological reason for opening plaintiff's legal mail at either summary judgment or trial; and plaintiff waived any challenge to the dismissal of his policy-based claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Hayes v. Idaho Correctional Center" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction for attempted illegal reentry and noted that the district court's instruction at trial failed to properly inform the jury of the essential elements of the offense. Petitioner frequently earned money washing car windows at the Mariposa port of entry into the United States. Petitioner was arrested by border patrol agents one day when he was washing windows. The court concluded that the lack of instruction to the jury that petitioner had to have a conscious desire to reenter the United States free from official restraint to be found guilty of the crime of attempted illegal reentry was plain error. In this case, if properly instructed on the official restraint doctrine, no rational jury could have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that petitioner was free from official restraint in the pre-inspection area, or that he intended to be simply by entering that area. Likewise, there was insufficient evidence in the record to support petitioner's guilt on the theory that he intended to go beyond the pre-inspection area so as to be free to go at large and at will within the United States. Accordingly, the court vacated the conviction and remanded for a judgment of acquittal View "United States v. Vazquez-Hernandez" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of a billy club, appealed the district court's denial of his petition for habeas corpus. Petitioner claimed that the state trial court's failure to suppress his statements regarding the billy club after petitioner stated "I want my attorney" violated his Fifth Amendment rights under the principles set forth in Edwards v. Arizona. Petitioner contended that he was under arrest at the time the agent asked him to take a chemical test and was thus in custody at the time he unambiguously invoked his right to counsel. The court concluded that the Supreme Court has not addressed the question whether a defendant's request for counsel in response to a request to submit to a chemical test constitutes an invocation of his Miranda rights for purposes of any future custodial interrogations. Therefore, the court could not say that the state court's ruling was objectively unreasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Robertson v. Pichon" on Justia Law

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The State challenged the district court's grant of habeas relief to petitioner, finding that his state-court guilty plea was based on a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. The court held that Tollett v. Henderson does not bar petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Tollett, properly understood, provided that although freestanding constitutional claims are unavailable to habeas petitioners who plead guilty, claims of pre-plea ineffective assistance of counsel are cognizable on federal habeas review when the action, or inaction, of counsel prevents petitioner from making an informed choice whether to plead. The court explained that if the deputies unconstitutionally searched petitioner's home, counsel's failure to move to suppress the fruits of that search prevented petitioner from making the informed choice to which he was entitled. The court further held that the state court could reasonably conclude that counsel did not provide ineffective assistance in failing to move to suppress the firearms and ammunition. The court nonetheless concluded that the state habeas courts were not unreasonable in denying the writ where it would have been reasonable for the state courts to conclude that a motion to suppress, if brought, would likely have been denied. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of habeas corpus. View "Mahrt v. Beard" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a former mortgage loan officer and real estate broker, appealed his convictions and sentence for nine counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated theft. Defendant's convictions stemmed from his involvement in a complex mortgage fraud scheme. The court held that negligence is not a defense to wire fraud, and evidence of lender negligence is not admissible as a defense to mortgage fraud; intentional disregard of relevant information is not a defense to wire fraud, and evidence of intentional disregard by lenders is not admissible as a defense to mortgage fraud; evidence of individual lender behavior is not admissible to disprove materiality, but evidence of general lending standards in the mortgage industry is admissible to disprove materiality; and the district court did not deny defendant the opportunity to present a complete defense. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. The court concurrently filed a separate memorandum disposition rejecting other challenges to the convictions and sentences. View "United States v. Lindsey" on Justia Law

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The government challenged the district court's grant of defendant's motion to suppress statements he made during a custodial interrogation. Defendant claimed that the Miranda warnings he received were deficient because they did not tell him of his right to consult with an attorney before questioning. The court concluded that Miranda warnings need not follow a precise formulation. In this case, the Miranda warnings given to defendant adequately conveyed that he had the right to consult with an attorney before questioning even though they did not explicitly inform him of that right. The court explained that the right was reasonably inferred. Accordingly, the court reversed the suppression of defendant's statements. View "United States v. Loucious" on Justia Law
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Defendant was convicted of illegal entry in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1325 and illegal reentry in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326, predicated on his expedited removal in 2012. The court concluded that defendant had no Fifth Amendment due process right to hire counsel in the expedited removal proceeding and that he was not prejudiced by the government’s failure to inform him of the possibility of withdrawal relief. Because defendant's 2012 removal was not fundamentally unfair, the court affirmed the section 1326 conviction and sentence for illegal reentry. Because the revocation of defendant's revocation of his supervised release was premised on the section 1326 conviction, the court also affirmed the district court's revocation. View "United States v. Peralta-Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, convicted of attempted murders while he was under the influence of drug and alcohol, appealed the dismissal of his habeas petition. The court concluded that petitioner's petition was only partially exhausted and he should have been allowed to delete the unexhausted claims and proceed on the exhausted claims if his motion to stay and abey the case were denied. The court did not remand the case to allow petitioner the option of deleting his unexhausted claims because the district court should have granted his request to stay his case. Here, petitioner has established good cause because he was not represented by counsel in his state postconviction proceeding; at least one of petitioner's claims is not "plainly meritless;" and the state concedes that he has not engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with instructions. View "Dixon v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a 45-year-old man, was convicted of production and possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2251(a) after he took sexually explicit photos of a 16-year-old girl (J.B.). The court adopted the plain meaning of the term "use," and agreed with the district court that the evidence presented by the government sufficiently established that defendant used or employed J.B. to produce sexually explicit images. The court found defendant's theory that he was not the man depicted in the photographs unconvincing where, among other things, J.B. identified defendant as the man in the photographs and testified that no one else took the photos. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence to support the guilty verdict. The court concluded that, although defendant's sexual relationship with J.B. was legal in Washington, the production of pornography stemming from that relationship was not. The court rejected defendant's constitutional challenges of overbreadth, vagueness, violation of the Tenth Amendment, and violation of the Commerce Clause. Finally, the court rejected defendant's evidentiary challenges. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Laursen" on Justia Law
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