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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2423(a) (Count 1) and traveling with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2423(b) (Count 2). The panel rejected defendant's evidentiary claims as meritless.The panel affirmed the sentence on Count 1, vacated the sentence on Count 2, and remanded for resentencing. The panel concluded that the district court properly applied the custodial enhancement. However, the Government concedes that the case should be remanded for resentencing on Count 2 because the sentence exceeded the statutory maximum. View "United States v. Halamek" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an action where defendant pleaded guilty to a single count contained in a superseding information charging him with conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a child "in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1594(c) and 1591(a)(1), (b)(2)."The panel concluded that the inclusion of statutory references to both the conspiracy statute and the sections describing the object of the conspiracy does not transform the judgment into one that describes a conviction of the substantive crime. The judgment, in sum, cannot properly be read to suggest that defendant was convicted of more than one crime, nor can it properly be read to suggest that defendant stands convicted of the crime that was the object of the conspiracy. View "United States v. Warren" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition in which petitioner, a federal prisoner, sought to challenge his 2014 career offender sentence. Petitioner had previously filed a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion in Ohio that was denied. Petitioner contends that, in light of intervening Supreme Court decisions, his previous convictions do not qualify him for career offender status. See Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016); Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254 (2013).Generally, a federal prisoner who seeks to challenge the legality of confinement must utilize a section 2255 motion. Under the "escape hatch" provision of section 2255(e), a federal prisoner may file a section 2241 petition only when the prisoner makes a claim of actual innocence and has not had an unobstructed procedural shot at presenting that claim. The district court held that petitioner failed to meet either of these requirements.The panel agreed with the district court that petitioner has not established a claim of actual innocence. In this case, petitioner does not dispute the validity of the conviction or that he committed the drug and firearm crimes leading to his sentence. Rather, petitioner claims actual innocence in light of Allen v. Ives, 950 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir. 2020). The panel distinguished Allen from this case and held that petitioner cannot show that he was actually innocent of the career offender enhancement utilized during sentencing. View "Shepherd v. Unknown Party" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death in California state court, was granted habeas corpus relief on numerous claims under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The State appeals and petitioner cross-appeals the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief on his constitutional challenge to California's financial-gain special circumstance.The Ninth Circuit concluded that petitioner was deprived of effective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase by counsel's unprofessional failure to investigate and present mitigating evidence pertaining to petitioner's familial history and his mental health. The panel also concluded that petitioner has shown Strickland prejudice as a result of that deficient performance. Furthermore, the California Supreme Court's denial of petitioner's claim was an unreasonable application of Strickland and, thus, petitioner is entitled to relief under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act as to the sentence of death.The panel reversed the judgment of the district court granting the habeas petition as to petitioner's conviction, affirmed the judgment of the district court granting the petition as to petitioner's death sentence, affirmed the judgment of the district court denying the petition on petitioner's claims based on a financial-gain special circumstance, and remanded to the district court to enter an appropriate order. View "Noguera v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and filed a new opinion concurrently with this order. The panel denied defendant's petition for rehearing en banc as moot.The panel reversed the district court's dismissal of an indictment charging defendant of illegal reentry after removal in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326. The panel applied the majority's holding in its recently published opinion in United States v. Bastide-Hernandez, —F.3d —, 2021 WL 345581 (9th Cir. 2021), which held that the jurisdiction of the immigration court vests upon the filing of the Notice to Appear (NTA), even one that does not at the time inform the alien of the time, date, and location of the hearing.The panel concluded that defendant's argument is foreclosed by United States v. Palomar-Santiago, 141 S. Ct. 1615, 1622 (2021). Therefore, the panel held that defendant has failed to show that he can satisfy the section 1326(d) requirements based simply on the NTA's lack of date and time information, standing alone. Therefore, he is foreclosed from making that argument on remand. The panel explained that defendant may collaterally attack the underlying order on remand on other grounds, but only if he can meet all the requirements of section 1326(d). Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Gonzalez-Valencia" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's new, longer sentence imposed after his successful 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to set aside one of several counts on which he had been convicted. Defendant was convicted for multiple counts of conspiracy, harboring illegal aliens, and hostage taking, as well as one count of possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c). The district court granted defendant's motion to vacate the section 924(c) conviction because hostage taking no longer qualified as a crime of violence in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015).The panel concluded that no presumption of vindictiveness applied because: first, the only reason a new sentencing occurred is that the district court itself granted defendant's motion under section 2255 to set aside his first sentence; and second, defendant's new sentence was imposed by a different judge than the judge who imposed his first sentence. The panel also concluded that the district court permissibly exercised its discretion and committed neither procedural nor substantive error in determining defendant's sentence. Finally, defendant did not otherwise demonstrate vindictiveness. View "United States v. Valdez-Lopez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence imposed upon revocation of supervised release after he committed another crime. Under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines, the appropriate penalty upon the revocation of supervised release is greater if the new crime is "punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year." U.S.S.G. 7B1.1(a)(2).The panel concluded that the Washington offense of theft from a vulnerable adult in the second degree is not "punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year" when the statutory maximum sentence exceeds one year but the maximum sentence allowed under the State's mandatory sentencing guidelines does not. Therefore, the district court erred in determining that defendant committed a Grade B supervised release violation. The panel also concluded that the district court plainly erred in ordering defendant's sentence to be served consecutively to any other term of imprisonment. The panel explained that a district court may order a sentence to run consecutively to an anticipated state sentence, but not consecutively to another federal sentence that has yet to be imposed. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order withdrawing its prior opinion and dissent and denying as moot a petition for rehearing en banc; and (2) a new opinion and concurrence reversing the district court's dismissal of an indictment charging illegal reentry after removal, in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326, and remanding.The panel explained that Karingithi v. Whitaker, 913 F.3d 1158 (9th Cir. 2019), and Aguilar Fermin v. Barr, 958 F.3d 887 (9th Cir. 2020), have created some confusion as to when jurisdiction actually vests, as neither squarely held that jurisdiction vests immediately upon the filing of a notice to appear (NTA), despite the language of the regulations. To clarify, the panel held that the regulation means what it says, and controls. The only logical way to interpret and apply Karingithi and Aguilar Fermin is that the jurisdiction of the immigration court vests upon the filing of an NTA, even one that does not at that time inform the alien of the time, date, and location of the hearing.The panel also concluded that, while a defective NTA does not affect jurisdiction, it can create due-process violations. In order to mount a collateral attack on the validity of an underlying removal order under 8 U.S.C. 1326(d), the defendant must demonstrate that (1) he exhausted any available administrative remedies; (2) the deportation proceedings at which the order was issued improperly deprived him of the opportunity for judicial review; and (3) the entry of the order was fundamentally unfair. Under United States v. Palomar-Santiago, 141 S. Ct. 1615 (2021), each of these three statutory requirements is mandatory, and the first two requirements are not excused for a noncitizen who was removed for an offense that did not render him removable. On remand, defendant may be able to collaterally attack the underlying removal order. View "United States v. Bastide-Hernandez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1349, and entered into a plea agreement with the United States government. Pursuant to the plea agreement, defendant waived the right to appeal his conviction except on the ground that his plea was involuntary, and waived the right to appeal most aspects of his sentence if the district court determined that the offense level was no greater than 25.The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracy to commit health care fraud, holding that defendant's appeal waiver is enforceable. In so holding, the panel rejected defendant's contentions that the waiver was not knowing and voluntary, either by reason of the district court's sentencing procedure or its misstatement of the intent element during the plea colloquy. Rather, the panel concluded that defendant had a full and fair opportunity to be heard and that the district court gave defendant a fair opportunity to contest the government's loss calculation even if it was not the full evidentiary hearing defendant wanted. Furthermore, the improperly stated elements in the plea agreement did not render defendant's plea involuntary. The panel also rejected defendant's contention that the government implicitly breached the plea agreement. In this case, defendant's appeal waiver is enforceable and the language of the waiver encompasses his right to appeal on the grounds raised. View "United States v. Minasyan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's decision concluding that petitioner's forgery conviction under California law constitutes an aggravated felony. The panel held that petitioner's forgery conviction under section 470a of the California Penal Code categorically constitutes an aggravated felony offense relating to forgery under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(R), thus rendering him ineligible for voluntary departure. In this case, the panel applied the categorical approach and compared the elements of section 470a with the generic, common law definition of forgery. The panel disagreed that photocopying a driver's license with the intent "to facilitate the commission of any forgery" falls outside the generic definition of forgery. The panel looked to Vizcarra-Ayala v. Mukasey, 514 F.3d 870 (9th Cir. 2008), as a helpful comparison. The panel explained that a person who takes the affirmative step to photocopy a genuine document with the intent to deceive has made a false instrument—an action that falls squarely within the generic definition of forgery. Therefore, section 470a is categorically an offense relating to forgery under section 101(a)(43)(R). View "Escobar Santos v. Garland" on Justia Law