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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Facing more than 70 years in prison for his role in multiple armed robberies, Goodall pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery (18 U.S.C. 1951(a)) and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)), with a 20-year sentencing recommendation. He waived his right to appeal his conviction or sentence. The court imposed a 14-year sentence. About 18 months later, the Supreme Court (Davis, 2019), held that a conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery cannot be a crime of violence under section 924(c)(3)'s residual clause.Goodall sought to vacate his conviction and sentence, arguing that Hobbs Act conspiracy is not a “crime of violence” under 924(c)’s “elements clause.” The Ninth Circuit dismissed. Goodall’s appellate waiver foreclosed any challenge based on Davis; the waiver was knowing and voluntary. The “illegal sentence” exception to an appellate waiver does not apply; it does not include illegal convictions. The rationale for the “illegal sentence” exception rests on the inherent uncertainty in sentencing, which does not exist for convictions. Although there always remains a chance the law could change in a defendant’s favor, the defendant knowingly and voluntarily assumes that risk because he receives a presumably favorable deal under existing law. View "United States v. Goodall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Heine and Yates, bank executives, were convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud (18 U.S.C. 1349) and 12 counts of making a false bank entry (18 U.S.C. 1005). The government told the jury that the two conspired to deprive the bank of accurate financial information in its records, the defendants’ salaries, and the use of bank funds.The Ninth Circuit vacated. There is no cognizable property interest in the ethereal right to accurate information. Distinguishing between a scheme to obtain a new or higher salary and a scheme to deceive an employer while continuing to draw an existing salary, the court held that the salary-maintenance theory was also legally insufficient. Even assuming the bank-funds theory was valid, the government’s reliance on those theories was not harmless. The court instructed the jury that it could find the defendants guilty of making false entries as co-conspirators, so the court also vacated the false-entry convictions. The court noted that insufficient evidence supported certain false entry convictions. View "United States v. Yates" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for illegal re-entry under 8 U.S.C. 1326(a). The panel concluded that the district court correctly applied USSG 4A1.1(d), which assigns two criminal history points if the defendant committed the instant offense while under any criminal justice sentence, including probation, parole, supervised release, imprisonment, work release, or escape status. In this case, defendant was granted early conditional release under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 41-1604.14 (repealed Aug. 6, 2016), known as the "half-term to deport" program. Defendant argues that he did not commit his illegal re-entry offense while under any criminal justice sentence.The panel rejected defendant's contentions and held that defendant was under "any criminal justice sentence" when he illegally reentered the United States within the meaning of section 4A1.1(d); Arizona's general savings statutes require that, for aliens like defendant who were convicted when section 41-1604.14 was in force, that provision continues to govern their sentences, and ADOC maintained the authority to revoke defendant's release in 2016 and 2017 because of his illegal re-entry; even if the district court erred in assuming that defendant had received formal notice of the condition that he not return illegally from the state court during sentencing, defendant did not demonstrate that this alleged error affected his substantial rights; and the district court did not err in making its factual findings. View "Madrid-Becerra" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit withdrew a per curiam opinion filed August 4, 2021; filed an amended per curiam opinion affirming the district court's dismissal of the 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition; denied a petition for panel rehearing; and denied on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc where petitioner challenged two sentencing enhancements—under 18 U.S.C. 2251(e) and 18 U.S.C. 3559(e)(1)—applied after his conviction on multiple counts of federal sex offenses.The panel held that petitioner's claim is foreclosed because he relies on Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), and United States v. Dahl, 833 F.3d 345 (3d Cir. 2016), to challenge his sentencing enhancement under 18 U.S.C. 3559(e)(1), yet he concedes that both of those decisions came down before he had exhausted his original section 2255 motion. The panel concluded that the legal basis for petitioner's claim arose before he had exhausted his section 2255 motion, and thus he cannot show that he did not have an unobstructed procedural shot at presenting his challenge to the section 3559(e)(1) sentencing enhancement. The panel rejected petitioner's claim for an extension of Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), in the context of a section 2241 petition as foreclosed under Buenrostro v. United States, 697 F.3d 1137, 1140 (9th Cir. 2012). Finally, because petitioner cannot show he lacked an unobstructed procedural shot with respect to the section 3559(e)(1) mandatory life sentencing enhancement, the panel did not need to reach the actual innocence prong for that enhancement or either prong for the section 2251(e) enhancement. The panel granted respondent's motion for judicial notice. View "Pavulak v. von Blanckensee" on Justia Law

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Melnik, a Nevada prisoner, was charged with unauthorized or inappropriate use of the prison mail system after prison officials intercepted two envelopes addressed to him that contained methamphetamine in secret compartments in the enclosed letters. Melnik asked several times to examine the envelopes or copies of the envelopes, but those requests were denied or ignored. At the prison disciplinary hearing, images of the envelopes and information about their contents were the only evidence presented. Melnik testified that he was innocent and had been framed by other inmates but was found guilty.Melnik filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against six former or current employees of the Nevada Department of Corrections, alleging they denied him the ability to examine the evidence before the prison disciplinary proceeding. The defendants sought summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of their motion. Melnik had a constitutional right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to be permitted to examine documentary evidence for use in the prison disciplinary hearing; that right was clearly established at the time when Melnik was denied access to the material. View "Melnik v. Dzurenda" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Chacon was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 grams or more of heroin and possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin. The prosecution moved under 21 U.S.C. 851 to increase the mandatory minimum sentence based on his 2010 Oregon drug conviction for which Chacon was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Chacon entered a plea agreement. The parties jointly recommended a total sentence of 210 months of incarceration. His total Offense Level included enhancements for possession of a firearm, aggravating role as a leader, and using children in the offense. The resulting applicable guideline range was 210–262 months. The court sentenced Chacon to 210 months’ imprisonment.The district court rejected his motions for 18 U.S.C. 3582(c) sentence reduction, based on Sentencing Guidelines Amendment 782, which reduced most base offense levels in the U.S.S.G. 2D1.1 Drug Quantity Table. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The legislative and judicial developments affecting mandatory statutory minimums are relevant considerations to the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors at step two of a motion for reduction of sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). The district court apparently believed that it did not have the discretion to consider such developments. View "United States v. Lizarraras-Chacon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After being spotted in a stolen car, Sanders fled from the police. He led them on a car chase, then on a foot chase. An officer eventually caught up to Sanders, who continued to struggle. An officer then commanded a police dog to bite Sanders’s leg. Sanders was finally subdued and charged with resisting arrest. Sanders ultimately pled “no contest” and filed a civil rights action alleging the use of the police dog was excessive force.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims barred by Heck v. Humphrey, under which a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim must be dismissed if a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence unless the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. While a defendant cannot be convicted of resisting arrest if an officer used excessive force at the time of the acts resulting in the conviction, Sanders could not stipulate to the lawfulness of the dog bite as part of his plea and then use the same act to allege an excessive force claim under section 1983. View "Sanders v. City of Pittsburg" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Demetrulias was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of Miller. Demetrulias claimed that he killed Miller in a struggle initiated by Miller when Demetrulias visited his home to collect a $40 debt. The prosecution maintained that Demetrulias stabbed Miller in the commission of a robbery.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas corpus relief. Even if Demetrulias’s argument that the trial court violated his due process rights by allowing the prosecution to introduce victim character evidence in a preemptive attack on Demetrulias’s assertion of self-defense. is not barred by procedural default, the admission of the statements did not amount to constitutional error. The challenged testimony was brief and non-inflammatory and did not seek to portray Demetrius as evil but portrayed the victims as non-violent, Demetrulias also argued that if the court had given a claim-of-right instruction, the jury would have had a legal basis for finding that Demtrulias intended to collect a debt, not to rob Miller, thereby negating the specific intent to prove robbery, and would have acquitted Demetrulias of the sole special circumstance charge. Any error in failing to give the instruction was harmless as was any error in failing to give a requested instruction of voluntary manslaughter based on heat-of-passion. The California Supreme Court could reasonably have concluded that trial counsel made a reasonable strategic decision in not presenting evidence of organic brain damage and mental health diagnoses. View "Demetrulias v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Google, as required by 18 U.S.C. 2258A(f), reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that Wilson had uploaded images of apparent child pornography to his email account as attachments. No one at Google had opened or viewed Wilson’s attachments; its report was based on an automated assessment that the images Wilson uploaded were the same as images other Google employees had earlier viewed and classified as child pornography. Someone at NCMEC then, also without opening or viewing them, sent Wilson’s email attachments to the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, where an officer viewed the attachments without a warrant. The officer then applied for warrants to search Wilson’s email account and Wilson’s home, describing the attachments in detail in the application.The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of Wilson’s motion to suppress. The government’s warrantless search of Wilson’s email attachments was not justified by the private search exception to the Fourth Amendment. The government search exceeded the scope of the antecedent private search because it allowed the government to learn new, critical information that it used first to obtain a warrant and then to prosecute Wilson; the government agent viewed email attachments even though no Google employee had done so. The government has not established that what a Google employee previously viewed were exact duplicates of Wilson’s images. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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Schaefer, who had a long history of mental illness, ignited a homemade explosive device when officers attempted to arrest him. Charged with assault on a federal officer (18 U.S.C. 111(a)–(b)) and possession of a “destructive device,” (26 U.S.C. 5841, 5861(d), 5871) Schaefer spent 18 months with a rotating cast of counsel. Weeks before trial, he sought to proceed pro se. After holding a “Faretta” hearing, the court ruled that Schaefer unequivocally, knowingly, and intelligently waived his right to counsel. Schaefer changed his mind once the jury was empaneled and attempted to reinvoke his right to counsel. Finding that Schaefer was attempting to manipulate the proceedings, the court denied the request but continued the appointment of advisory counsel.The Ninth Circuit affirmed his convictions. The district court ensured that Schaefer understood the nature of the charges and the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation. Although the court inaccurately identified the minimum sentence, if a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel, he must have substantially understood the approximate range of his penal exposure. The district court was mindful of Schaefer’s conduct throughout and did not abuse its discretion in declining to reappoint counsel nor in denying Schaefer’s motion to compel the government to produce its trial materials. Schaefer sought those materials after learning, post-trial, that the government’s legal assistant previously worked for the state public defender’s office and had participated in a “substantive interview” with Schaefer for a state prosecution months before the explosion. The state prosecution was unrelated to obtaining the explosive materials involved in the federal case. The court rejected Schaefer’s arguments that the statutes were intended to cover only “military-type weapons” and an argument under the Speedy Trial Act. View "United States v. Schaefer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law