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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Plaintiff alleged that Defendants Kinetic Concepts, Inc., and its indirect subsidiary KCI USA, Inc. (collectively, “KCI”) submitted claims to Medicare in which KCI falsely certified compliance with certain criteria governing Medicare payment for the use of KCI’s medical device for treating wounds. The district court granted summary judgment to KCI, concluding that Plaintiff failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to the False Claims Act elements of materiality and scienter.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment. The court agreed that compliance with the specific criterion that there be no stalled cycle would not be material if, upon case-specific review, the Government routinely paid stalled-cycle claims. In other words, if stalled-cycle claims were consistently paid when subject to case-specific scrutiny, then a false statement that avoided that scrutiny and instead resulted in automatic payment would not be material to the payment decision. The court concluded, however, that the record did not show this to be the case. The court considered administrative rulings concerning claims that were initially denied, post-payment and pre-payment audits of particular claims, and a 2007 report by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The court concluded that none of these forms of evidence supported the district court’s summary judgment ruling.   The court held that the district court further erred in ruling that there was insufficient evidence that KCI acted with the requisite scienter and that the remainder of the district court’s reasoning concerning scienter rested on a clear failure to view the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. View "STEVEN HARTPENCE V. KINETIC CONCEPTS, INC." on Justia Law

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The California Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal and later summarily rejected “on the merits” Petitioner’s state habeas petition. Petitioner argued primarily that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).Petitioner argued that the Ninth Circuit should review his Strickland claims de novo, because the California Supreme Court’s four-sentence denial of his claims “on the merits,” without issuing an order to show cause, signifies that the court concluded only that his petition did not state a prima facie case for relief such that there is no “adjudication on the merits” to which this court owes deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).The Ninth Circuit disagreed, citing Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170 (2011), in which the Supreme Court afforded AEDPA deference to the California Supreme Court’s summary denial of a habeas petition raising a Strickland claim. The court, therefore, applied the deferential AEDPA standard, asking whether the denial of Petitioner’s claims “involved an unreasonable application of” Strickland.The court held, however, under AEDPA's highly deferential standard of review, that the California Supreme Court could reasonably have concluded that Petitioner’s claim fails under the second prong of Strickland. The court wrote that comparing the mitigation evidence that was offered with what would have been offered but for Petitioner’s trial attorney’s alleged errors, the state court could reasonably have decided that there was not a substantial likelihood that the jury would have returned a different sentence if the attorney had not performed deficiently. View "RICHARD MONTIEL V. KEVIN CHAPPELL" on Justia Law

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In 1988, a California jury sentenced Petitioner to death for murdering another person with an ax. The California Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal and later denied his state habeas petition. Petitioner now seeks federal habeas relief. He argues that the state prosecutor improperly vouched for a witness’s credibility, that his attorney was ineffective in not objecting to the vouching, and that the state trial court, in the penalty phase, improperly excluded the prosecution’s earlier plea offer to Petitioner as claimed mitigating evidence.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment denying Petitioner’s habeas corpus petition. The court that no clearly established federal constitutional law holds that an unaccepted plea offer qualifies as evidence in mitigation that must be admitted in a capital penalty proceeding. The court held that regardless, Petitioner cannot show prejudice. The court wrote that given the extreme aggravating factors that the State put forward coupled with Petitioner’s already extensive but unsuccessful presentation of mitigating evidence, there is no basis to conclude that the jury would have reached a different result if it had considered Petitioner’s unaccepted plea. View "CURTIS FAUBER V. RONALD DAVIS" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant contended that the district court committed a procedural error because it improperly enhanced his sentence in violation of the First Step Act of 2018. Despite the district court imposing a sentence that is below his guidelines range, Defendant argued that the court ran afoul of this proscription when it relied on information from his safety valve proffer to deny him a further sentence reduction.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed a sentence imposed following Defendant’s guilty plea to importing methamphetamine under 21 U.S.C. Sections 952 & 960. The court held that the district court did not impose an improper sentence “enhancement” of a sentence under 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(f)(5). The court wrote that the district court’s imposition of a sentence not just below the mandatory minimum, but also below the low end of Defendant’s guidelines range, after considering a host of aggravating mitigating factors, does not constitute an enhancement; and that the failure to reduce a sentence is not an enhancement. The court also held that the sentence is substantively reasonable, rejecting Defendant’s arguments concerning a disparity with similarly situated offenders and the district court’s application and weighing of the 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a) factors. View "USA V. MARQUIS BROWN" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner challenged his conviction and sentence through the PCR proceeding because pleading defendants in noncapital cases in Arizona are prohibited from taking a direct appeal. The district court found that the Arizona Court of Appeals had incorrectly determined that Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), did not apply to Arizona’s of-right PCR proceedings. The district court also determined, on de novo review, that Arizona’s PCR procedure was deficient under Anders.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of conditional habeas relief to Petitioner. The panel first explained that it was clearly established that Anders and its progeny apply to Arizona’s of-right PCR proceedings. Because the Arizona Court of Appeals’ decision can be construed as finding Anders applicable and nothing clearly suggests otherwise, and a federal habeas court must give the state court of appeals the benefit of the doubt and presume that it followed the law, the panel found that the Arizona Court of Appeals correctly found Anders applies to of-right PCR proceedings. The court, therefore, reversed the district court’s contrary determination. The court held that the district court also erred in reviewing de novo whether Arizona’s of-right PCR procedure is constitutionally adequate under Anders, and should have applied the required deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). View "LINO CHAVEZ V. MARK BRNOVICH" on Justia Law

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Defendant contended that the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion based on the dangerousness finding imposed by U.S.S.G. Section 1B1.13. In United States v. Aruda, the Ninth Circuit held that the current version of Section 1B1.13 is not an applicable policy statement for Section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) motions filed by a defendant. Following Aruda, while the Sentencing Commission’s statements in Section 1B1.13 may inform a district court’s discretion for Section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) motions filed by a defendant, they cannot be treated as binding constraints on the court’s analysis. Here the Ninth Circuit wrote that the district court did precisely what Aruda proscribes: it denied Defendant’s motion by holding that he failed to demonstrate that he is “not a danger to others or [to] the community” pursuant to Section 1B1.13. The court wrote that this holding is an abuse of discretion. View "USA V. JOEL WRIGHT" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and, in 1999, was sentenced to death by the State of Arizona. The district court granted a certificate of appealability as to five claims, and the Ninth Circuit later issued a certificate of appealability as to a sixth. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that Petitioner has not shown an entitlement to relief on any of his claims.   The Ninth Circuit filed an order (1) stating that the opinion filed May 17, 2021, is amended by a concurrently filed opinion, and that Judge Berzon’s dissent is amended by a concurrently filed dissent; (2) denying a petition for panel rehearing; and (3) denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc, in a case in which the district court denied Petitioner’s federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). View "JOHN SANSING V. CHARLES RYAN" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was arrested after two people separately reported that a man in a truck had displayed a firearm while asking them questions about an alleged kidnapping in the area. After his arrest, a search of Defendant’s vehicle and person recovered illegal firearms and a modified CO2 cartridge. He was charged with making and possessing a destructive device in violation of the National Firearms Act.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence and statements obtained after his arrest, in a case that required the panel to determine whether there was probable cause to arrest Defendant for displaying a weapon in a manner that “warrant[ed] alarm for the safety of other persons.” Wash. Rev. Code Section 9.41.270(1).   The court noted that Washington is an open carry state (i.e., it is presumptively legal to carry a firearm openly) in which it is a misdemeanor to carry a concealed pistol without a license, but also a “shall issue state” meaning that local law enforcement must issue a concealed weapons license if the applicant meets certain qualifications. The court wrote that the bare fact that Defendant displayed a weapon would not be sufficient to stop Defendant, because there is no evidence that Defendant was carrying a concealed weapon.   Noting that Washington courts have narrowed terms in Section 9.41.270(1) to preserve the constitutionality of the statute, the court observed that what emerges is a workable standard: The act must warrant alarm in a reasonable person for the safety of others. View "USA V. MARC WILLY" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit denied on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc in a case in which the court’s opinion, which vacated convictions on two counts of encouraging or inducing an alien to reside in the United States for private financial gain in violation of 8 U.S.C. Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv), held that subsection (iv) is overbroad and unconstitutional because its narrow legitimate sweep pales in comparison to the amount of First Amendment protected expression it encompasses.   Judge Gould concurred in the order denying rehearing en banc. He wrote that Judge Bumatay’s dissent seeks to rewrite subsection (iv) by conducting a so-called textual analysis that fails to analyze the text of subsection (iv) itself; analyzes additional words not in that section, such as “aiding,” “abetting,” and “solicitation,” to support the conclusion it advocates; misreads the opinion, the record, Section 1324 itself, and precedent; conjures up parades of horribles belied by its own citations; introduces arguments the Government’s Petition for Rehearing did not make; and asks this court improperly to disregard Supreme Court precedent regarding the applicability of the facial overbreadth doctrine.   Dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc, Judge Collins concluded that (1) under the canon of constitutional avoidance, the court can and should interpret the statute as being limited to soliciting and facilitating the unlawful entry of, or the unlawful taking up of residence by, specific aliens; and (2) so construed, the statute is not facially unconstitutional. View "USA V. HELAMAN HANSEN" on Justia Law

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The district court revoked Defendant’s supervised release for violating 18 U.S.C. Section 1001(a) by submitting a monthly supervision report with false statements to his probation officer. Section 1001(a) bars lying “in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States.” Defendant argued that because the report was eventually forwarded to a judge, he’s entitled to the exemption in 18 U.S.C. Section 1001(b) for statements “submitted to a judge or magistrate” in a judicial proceeding.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment revoking supervised release based on the Defendant committing a new crime, and the sentence imposed upon revocation. The court wrote that the judicial proceeding exception only protects statements made “by [the] party . . . to the judge or magistrate”—not statements made to others in the judicial branch. The court emphasized that taking an expansive view of “submission” would threaten to swallow the rule, and would undermine the will of Congress, which broadly proscribed false statements made in “any matter” of the “judicial branch.”   Relying on United States v. Haymond, 139 S. Ct. 2369 (2019), Defendant argued that the district court violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights when it decided by the preponderance of the evidence that he violated Section 1001. The court wrote that because a sentence for a supervised release violation is generally part of the penalty for the original offense, it is not a new and additional punishment requiring jury findings beyond a reasonable doubt. View "USA V. JONATHAN OLIVER" on Justia Law