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

Articles Posted in Criminal 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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Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. On appeal, defendant argues that the government failed to meet its burden under the Lopez-Alvarez test to evaluate whether the government has met its burden under the corpus delicti doctrine. The court concluded that the government satisfied the first prong by introducing sufficient corroborating evidence that the core conduct of defendant's crime actually occurred. The court also concluded that the government introduced sufficient corroborating evidence to satisfy the second prong. Therefore, defendant's confession was adequately corroborated under the corpus delicti doctrine. The court explained that, because the confession is sufficiently corroborated, viewing all the evidence (including the confession) in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant knowingly entered into an unlawful agreement to serve as a scout for marijuana traffickers. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Niebla-Torres" on Justia Law
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Petitioner seeks review of the IJ and BIA's conclusion that he was ineligible for cancellation of removal, and order of removal. Petitioner's removal was based on his 1998 conviction for delivery of a controlled substance (heroin) under Oregon Revised Statutes 475.992(1)(a). The court concluded that section 475.992(1)(a) is overbroad in its definition of “delivery,” and the modified categorical approach may not be applied because section 475.992(1)(a) is indivisible with respect to whether an “attempt” is accomplished by solicitation. Therefore, the court held that a conviction for delivering heroin under section 475.992(1)(a) is not an aggravated felony. The court granted the petition for review and remanded. View "Sandoval v. Yates" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his sentence after being convicted of two counts of abusive sexual contact in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2244(a)(5), and two counts of committing a felony offense involving a minor in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2260A. The court concluded that the Guidelines do not contain any instruction that precludes a district court from applying USSG 4B1.5 in calculating the Guidelines sentencing range for a section 2244(a)(5) conviction where a defendant has also been convicted under section 2260A, but rather instructs district courts to determine the Guidelines sentencing range for the section 2244(a)(5) count independently of section 2260A. Therefore, the district court did not procedurally err in calculating the applicable Guidelines range and the court affirmed the judgment. The court disposed of defendant's remaining challenges in an unpublished disposition filed concurrently with this opinion. View "United States v. Joey" on Justia Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of illegal reentry following deportation. The district court applied a sixteen-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii), concluding that defendant's prior conviction under section 273.6(d) of the California Penal Code for a violation of a protective order involving an act of violence or a credible threat of violence was a categorical crime of violence. The court affirmed defendant's 46 month sentence, holding that a violation of California Penal Code 273.6(d) is a categorical crime of violence for purposes of USSG 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii). View "United States v. Acevedo-De La Cruz" on Justia Law
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Defendants Shields and Sims appeal their convictions for multiple counts stemming from the capitalization and operation of their real estate development business, which lost millions of investors’ dollars from 2007 to 2009. Defendants challenge their convictions based on several claimed trial errors, including admission of prejudicial evidence, failure to sever the joint trial, ineffective assistance of counsel, inadequate jury instructions, and denial of the right to be present at a critical stage. The court held that the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury that it must find a duty to disclose in order to convict defendants of wire fraud based on a material omission. However, there was no plain reversible error because the error was not clear and obvious, and is unlikely to affect the outcome of the proceedings. The court rejected defendants' remaining challenges in an unpublished memorandum disposition. View "United States v. Shields" on Justia Law
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Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for multiple counts of conspiracy and armed bank robbery. He received a total sentence of 49.5 years. Defendant was a bank teller who robbed the banks where he worked and had inside information. The court affirmed the conviction and rejected defendant's claim that there was insufficient evidence to establish that each of the banks was FDIC insured and that the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of defendant's gun ownership. The court concluded that there was no Fourth Amendment violation where defendant voluntarily handed over the cell phone at issue, and the district court utilized Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(b) according to its terms by delaying a ruling on his motion for acquittal until after the close of his case. While the district court had the discretion to impose a lower sentence on the robbery and conspiracy counts, the court concluded that it was not required as a matter of law to reduce defendant's sentence to counter the effects of the mandatory minimums. Therefore, the court concluded that the sentence imposed was not substantively unreasonable. The court affirmed the judgment and conviction. View "United States v. Thomas, Jr." on Justia Law
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Defendants are alleged members or associates of a gang in Southern California called the Vineland Boys (VBS). Defendants were charged with crimes related to their membership or association with VBS. Manuel Yepiz, Jose Luis Mejia, Francisco Zambrano, Jesus Contreras, Mariano Meza, Sergio Mejia, Gilberto Carrasco, Rafael Yepiz, and Ernesto Mendez timely appealed their convictions and sentences. Defendants argue that the government violated Brady v. Maryland by failing to disclose the full extent of the benefits a cooperating witness received at trial. In light of the disputed facts surrounding defendants’ Brady claim, the court remanded to the district court so that it may engage in the necessary fact-finding to ascertain whether the witness received benefits that were undisclosed to defendants at the time of trial, and if so, whether Brady was violated as to each convicted count. The court also found that the district court abused its discretion when it arbitrarily and without explanation rejected Yepiz’s April 2006 letter seeking to replace his retained counsel with court-appointed counsel. Given the defects in the district court’s handling of Yepiz’s requests, the court vacated Yepiz's conviction and remanded for a new trial. The court addressed the remaining issues in a concurrently filed memorandum disposition. View "United States v. Yepiz" on Justia Law
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A panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit amended an opinion filed November 9, 2015 and denied a petition for panel rehearing or rehearing en banc in a case in which the panel affirmed the district court’s denial of a habeas corpus petition filed by Defendant, a California state prisoner who challenged his conviction for first degree murder and sentence of death. In the amended opinion, the panel (1) rejected Defendant’s argument that the California Supreme Court unreasonably rejected his claim that he was denied due process when a prosecution investigator destroyed an audio tape found in a sealed envelope that explained defense strategy; (2) held that the California Supreme Court did not unreasonably reject Defendant’s arguments that his rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated by the trial court’s evidentiary rulings; (3) held that the California Supreme Court did not unreasonably reject Defendant’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel at the guilt phase or sentencing phase of trial; and (4) held that the California Supreme Court did not unreasonably reject Defendant’s claim that his right to an impartial jury was violated when the trial court failed to dismiss a certain juror. View "Zapien v. Martel" on Justia Law
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Defendant pled guilty to illegal reentry after deportation in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326. The district court applied a sixteen-level sentencing enhancement, concluding that Defendant’s prior conviction for attempted sexual abuse in the first degree in violation of Or. Rev. Stat. 163.427 constituted a “crime of violence” under the Sentencing Guidelines. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment of conviction and sentencing, holding that a conviction under any one of section 163.427(1)(a)’s three subdivisions necessarily entails a conviction of the elements of the generic federal definition of a “crime of violence.” View "United States v. Rocha-Alvarado" on Justia Law
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