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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In July 2020, during the heart of the COVID pandemic, Defendant was arrested and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Defendant's case went to trial no long after his arrest, when the district court's COVID procedures were still in effect. More specifically, the Northern District of California imposed a restriction stating only "persons who have been authorized by a judge or the Clerk of Court may enter courthouse property." However, the district court judge overseeing Defendant's motion to suppress and trial imposed additional restrictions, disallowing any member of the public from entering the courtroom and instead streamed live audio over the internet. Defendant objected, citing a violation of his right to a public trial. The district court rejected Defendant's challenge, and a jury convicted him.On appeal, the Ninth Circuit vacated Defendant's conviction and reversed the district court's denial of his motion to suppress, holding that the district court’s COVID protocols violated Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. The court found that the government presented an overriding interest in limiting the transmission of COVID while holding a criminal trial; however, the court's restriction on video access was not narrowly tailored. The Ninth Circuit noted that other courts around the county were able to allow for video access during the pandemic. View "USA V. JAMES ALLEN, II" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder of an Arizona police officer after a jury trial in 1997 and was sentenced to death by the state court. Petitioner moved in the district court under Rule 60(b)(6) for additional discovery to develop (1) a potential claim under Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959), that the prosecution knowingly elicited false testimony; and (2) a potential claim of actual innocence after a witness’s apparent recantation of key guilt-phase testimony. Petitioner relied on Mitchell v. United States, 958 F.3d 775 (9th Cir. 2020), for two propositions.   The Ninth Circuit denied Petitioner’s request for a certificate of appealability (COA) that would allow Petitioner to challenge the district court’s denial of his Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6) motion for relief from final judgment. The court agreed with Petitioner that, under Mitchell, the district court had jurisdiction to consider his Rule 60(b)(6) motion for discovery to develop potential claims, and correctly declined to dismiss the motion as a disguised second or successive petition.   Applying the factors set forth in Phelps v. Alameida, 569 F.3d 1120 (9th Cir. 2009), the court found that the holding in Mitchell, which did not disturb the underlying rules governing the discovery that Petitioner sought, did not constitute an extraordinary circumstance justifying relief from final judgment under Rule 60(b)(6). Because no reasonable jurist would disagree with the district court’s decision to deny the Rule 60(b)(6) motion, the court declined to grant Petitioner’s requested COA. View "ERNESTO MARTINEZ V. DAVID SHINN" on Justia Law

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Following entry of Defendant’s guilty plea and his two sentencing proceedings, the Supreme Court clarified in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), that to be a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of Section 922(g)(1), a defendant must know that they belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.Defendant argued that the government’s failure to list the knowledge of status element in his indictment should invalidate his conviction. The Ninth Circuit held that Defendant, who had been incarcerated for more than three years for his prior felony convictions and pointed to nothing in the record suggesting that he would have entered a different plea but for the indictment’s deficiency, failed to satisfy the third and fourth prongs of plain error review.Defendant further argued that the district court’s failure to advise him of the knowledge of status element during the plea colloquy rendered his guilty plea unconstitutionally involuntary and unknowing. The court concluded that there was no plain error requiring reversal, where none of Defendant’s confusion was related to the elements of the Section 922(g)(1) charge, the court already determined in a prior memorandum disposition that his plea was constitutionally valid despite any confusion, and the record contains indisputable evidence of prior felony convictions.Finally, the court held that Defendant’s predicate conviction is not sufficient to trigger the enhancement. The court deferred to the government’s concession, declining to decide whether Bautista controls. View "USA V. TYRONE DAVIS" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner pled guilty one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury and one count of use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. He moved for postconviction relief under Section 2255, arguing that his Section 924(c)(1)(A) conviction and sentence were invalid in light of United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019). The district court denied the petition and Petitioner sought leave to file a second or successive motion for postconviction relief under Section 2255. He, again, claimed that his Section 924(c)(1)(A) conviction and sentence are unlawful under Davis, and he added a claim that under Borden v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 1817 (2021), his Section 113(a)(6) conviction cannot serve as a predicate crime of violence for his Section 924(c)(1)(A) conviction.   The Ninth Circuit denied Petitioner’s application for leave to file a second or successive Section 2255 motion. The court held Petitioner did not make the necessary prima facie showing under Section 2255(h)(2) with respect to his Davis claim because that claim is not “previously unavailable,” where Petitioner presented that claim to the district court in his first Section 2255 motion, and the district court erroneously held on the merits that Petitioner was not entitled to relief, and he did not appeal that decision. Additionally, Borden does not provide a basis under Section 2255(h)(2) for granting Petitioner’s application for leave to file a second or successive Section 2255 motion because Borden did not announce a new rule of constitutional law. View "WILLIE JONES, SR. V. USA" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Defendant was convicted of murder in Arizona and sentenced to death. He is scheduled to be executed on May 11, 2022. On May 9, 2022, Petitioner filed a Sec. 2254 petition challenging the Arizona state court's determination that he was competent to be executed. He also sought a stay of execution. The district court denied relief on May 10, 2022, and Petitioner now appeals.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Petitioner's habeas corpus petition and denying his request for a stay of execution. Petitioner failed to establish that the Arizona state court's determination of his competency was unreasonable under the applicable case law, as required under AEDPA. The Ninth Circuit also determined that the state court's decision was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. View "CLARENCE DIXON V. DAVID SHINN" on Justia Law

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Challenging his second-degree murder conviction, Defendant argued on appeal that the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury that the government bore the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant did not act upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion. The en banc court could not conclude on the record that the district court plainly erred. Challenging his Section 924(c) conviction for discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, Defendant argued that second-degree murder can be committed recklessly under Section 1111(a) and that, under the categorical approach, “crime of violence” does not encompass offenses that can be committed with a reckless mens rea.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions for second-degree murder and for discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, vacated the district court’s order of mandatory restitution, and remanded the district court’s restitution order. The court held that second-degree murder can be committed recklessly and therefore does not qualify as a crime of violence. The en banc court explained that such a conviction qualifies because a defendant who acts with the requisite mens rea to commit second-degree murder necessarily employs force “against the person or property of another,” and rather than acting with ordinary recklessness, the defendant acts with recklessness that rises to a level of extreme disregard for human life. View "USA V. RANDLY BEGAY" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was convicted for illegal reentry after removal in a case in which a Marine Corps surveillance unit spotted him immediately after he unlawfully entered the United States, and notified Customs and Border Patrol agents who soon detained him. Defendant argued that the Marine Corps surveillance violated the Posse Comitatus Act, which codified the longstanding prohibition against military enforcement of civilian law.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction for illegal reentry after removal. The court reasoned that the military may still assist civilian law enforcement agencies if Congress expressly authorized it, and here, the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act directed the U.S. Secretary of Defense to offer military assistance to Border Patrol in hopes of securing the southern land border. The court concluded that the district court therefore properly denied Defendant's suppression motion based on the alleged violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. Further, the court also denied Defendant’s Batson challenge to the prosecution’s striking two Asian jurors from the venire, concluding that Defendant failed to rebut the prosecution’s race-neutral reasons for doing so. View "USA V. CLEMENTE HERNANDEZ-GARCIA" on Justia Law

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Defendant’s ex-fiance discovered child pornography on his computer, which she then brought to the Sheriff’s Office. While the ex-fiance was there, the Detective asked her to show him only images that she had already viewed when she had accessed the laptop by herself. The ex-fiance complied with that request. Defendant moved to suppress on the ground that, because the Detective directed Defendant’s ex-fiance to access the computer without Defendant’s permission to show the Detective what she had already seen, the search of the computer at the sheriff’s office was an unlawful law-enforcement search.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction. The court held Defendant’s objections to the use of evidence obtained from his computer all failed. The court reasoned that because U.S. Attorney does not dispute Defendant’s assertion that his ex-fiance acted as a state agent when she accessed the computer at the sheriff’s office, the court assumed that this was a government search. However, the court applied United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109 (1984), and United States v. Bowman, 215 F.3d 951 (9th Cir. 2000), and held that the search was permissible because, when the ex-fiance accessed the child pornography on Defendant's computer at the sheriff’s office, she merely mimicked her earlier private search. View "USA V. DAREN PHILLIPS" on Justia Law

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Defendant was arrested returning from the Philippines, where he engaged in sex tourism involving minors. He was convicted and sentenced on one count of attempted sexual of a child and one count of possession of sexually explicit images of children. Defendant arranged these activities through online messaging services provided by electronic service providers ("ESPs") Yahoo and Facebook. On appeal, Defendant argued that the evidence seized from his electronic devices should have been suppressed because, among other reasons, Yahoo and Facebook were government actors and violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they investigated his accounts without a warrant and reported the evidence. He further argued that the district court improperly instructed the jury on the required mental state for his sexual exploitation charge and miscalculated the sentence on his possession charge.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction and sentence. The court rejected Defendant’s arguments and held that the government’s requests that Yahoo preserve records related to Defendant’s private communications did not amount to an unreasonable seizure. Further, Defendant did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the limited digital data sought in the government’s subpoenas. The court also held that the affidavit established a fair probability that child pornography would be found on the defendant’s electronic devices. Finally, the court held that there was no impermissible double counting in this case, as the enhancements were premised on separate exploitative acts. View "USA V. CARSTEN ROSENOW" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged the life sentence that an Arizona court imposed on Petitioner for a crime he committed when he was 17-years-old. The state post-conviction court rejected Petitioner’s Miller claim, finding that unlike the individuals sentenced in Miller, Petitioner received an individualized sentencing hearing. The district judge held that the state court’s denial of post-conviction relief was an unreasonable application of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012).The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment granting habeas corpus relief to Petitioner. The court held that the state court’s application of Miller was reasonable. Here, the sentencing judge considered Petitioner’s youth and characteristics and concluded that Petitioner warranted a life sentence without the possibility of release. Petitioner argued that there was no practical difference between a sentence of life with the possibility of release and a sentence of natural life. Nonetheless, the court reasoned that despite the practical result, Miller does not mandate resentencing. View "MICHAEL JESSUP V. DAVID SHINN" on Justia Law