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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his criminal sentence, which had been enhanced pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Defendant was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The panel held that defendant's prior conviction of second degree burglary of a dwelling under Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-4-203(2)(a) was a violent felony, because it covered only conduct within the generic offense of burglary as defined by the Supreme Court in United States v. Stitt, 139 S. Ct. 399 (2018). Therefore, defendant was properly sentenced under 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1). View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After defendant was found guilty of criminal contempt in a bench trial for willfully violating a preliminary injunction prohibiting him from enforcing federal civil immigration law, he was granted a pardon by the President. The district court granted defendant's motion to dismiss the case with prejudice, but refused to vacate the guilty verdict. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36 (1950), which provides for vacatur in cases mooted while on appeal, did not apply in this case. Because the mootness issue here arises from the fact that the district court's findings of guilt can be given no future preclusive effect, the panel held that the Munsingwear rule did not apply to defendant and he was not entitled to vacatur. In this case, defendant was never sentenced and thus there was no final judgment of conviction. Furthermore, the verdict was not essential to the judgment, but was inconsistent with, the final judgment, which dismissed the criminal contempt charge. Finally, defendant's challenges to the district court's finding of guilt were moot and thus the panel did not address them. View "United States v. Arpaio" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition for habeas relief based on lack of jurisdiction. Petitioner claimed actual innocence of his sentence as a career offender. The panel held that petitioner's appeal was not moot, because petitioner had a nontrivial argument for reducing his supervised release period under 18 U.S.C. 3583(e). The panel also held that petitioner has made a cognizable claim that he is actually innocent of a noncapital sentence for purposes of qualifying for the escape hatch, and that he has not had an unobstructed procedural shot at presenting the claim. The panel clarified that Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), and Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254 (2013), apply retroactively when a court reviews a criminal judgment in the course of addressing a section 2241 petition or a first section 2255 motion. The panel concluded that petitioner may file a petition for habeas corpus under section 2241 and the panel remanded for reconsideration of petitioner's claim on the merits. View "Allen v. Ives" on Justia Law

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Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1)(B) and 10(c) apply in habeas proceedings. The en banc court reversed the district court's dismissal of petitioner's amended habeas corpus petition as time-barred. Petitioner challenged his Nevada state conviction for theft-related offenses, asserting multiple claims, including the ineffective assistance of counsel. The en banc court held that claims in petitioner's amended petition that share core operative facts in common with those in his original petition relate back to the original petition and should not have been dismissed. However, the en banc court did not typically consider in the first instance issues not discussed by the district court, and thus the en banc court remanded for the district court to consider which of the claims in the amended petition are supported by facts incorporated into the original petition. View "Ross v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for aggravated identity theft, a three-level sentence enhancement, and the restitution order in this case, holding that sufficient evidence supported each element of the offense and that the district court did not otherwise abuse its discretion in the proceedings below. Defendant's convictions arose from her participation in a scheme to defraud a life insurance company by submitting fraudulent insurance applications. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentence, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions; (2) the district court did not commit significant procedural error by imposing a three-level "manager or supervisor" enhancement under U.S.S.G. 3B1.1(b); and (3) there was no error in the district court's restitution order. View "United States v. Gagarin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit panel filed an order amending its June 13, 2019 opinion affirming the district court's denial of William Kirkpatrick's habeas corpus petition challenging his death sentence for two counts of first-degree murder and denying Kirkpatrick's petition for rehearing, writing that, in light of the aggravating evidence, the jury still would have found that the death sentence was warranted. Specifically, the panel amended the petition to write that, in light of the substantial aggravating evidence presented in comparison to the minimal mitigation evidence, "absent improperly-considered facts," the jury still would have found that the "bad evidence" was so substantial in comparison with the "good" evidence that a sentence of death was warranted instead of life without parole. With these amendments, the Fourth Circuit denied Appellant's petition for panel rehearing. View "Kirkpatrick v. Chappell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit held that defendant waived his right to appeal his equal protection and due process claims by entering an unconditional guilty plea. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's holding to the contrary and remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal. In this case, defendant pleaded guilty before a magistrate judge to one count of illegal entry into the United States, but then attempted to raise on appeal to the district judge certain due process and equal protection challenges to the handling of his prosecution in the Southern District of California. The panel held that the district court misinterpreted Class v. United States , 138 S. Ct. 798 (2018), and that the Menna-Blackledge exception -- which allows for constitutionally-based appeals, despite an unconditional guilty plea, where the appeal, if successful, would mean that the government cannot prosecute the defendant at all -- did not apply here. Finally, the panel rejected defendant's argument that if his appeal is held to be waived, his guilty plea was not knowing or voluntary. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal. View "United States v. Chavez-Diaz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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USSG 2B1.1(b)(2) requires the sentencing court to determine whether the victims suffered a loss that was significant in light of their individual financial circumstances. The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy. Defendant co-owned and operated companies that defrauded nearly 5,000 homeowners out of millions of dollars. The panel affirmed the district court's imposition of a six-level sentence enhancement for an offense that resulted in substantial financial hardship to 25 or more victims under USSG 2B1.1(b)(2)(C). In this case, some of the victims lost their homes, some filed for bankruptcy, and many others borrowed money to avoid foreclosure, fell further behind on mortgage payments, renegotiated their loans on worse terms, or paid additional penalties and fines. The panel also held that the district court did not have to identify specific victims by name even if it had been asked to do so. Furthermore, it was sufficient for the government to produce evidence for enough of the victims to allow the sentencing court reasonably to infer a pattern. Finally, the panel held that the sentence was not substantively unreasonable and the restitution order did not violate Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). View "United States v. George" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action brought by plaintiff, alleging that a Juvenile Corrections Officer violated her constitutional rights. Plaintiff alleged that the officer made sexual comments to her, groomed her for sexual abuse, and looked at her inappropriately while she was showering. The panel held that, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, plaintiff has presented sufficient facts to establish a violation of her right to bodily privacy, right to bodily integrity, and right to be free from punishment as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The panel also held that the district court erred when it concluded that there was no evidence supporting a causal link between the supervisor's conduct and the officer's alleged violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights. Therefore, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Vazquez v. County of Kern" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's summary judgment dismissal of a habeas corpus petition as an unauthorized "second or successive" petition under 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(3)(A). The panel held that petitioner's successful effort to obtain relief under Proposition 47 resulted in the issuance of the amended abstract of judgment and thus represented the issuance of a new, intervening judgment for purposes of section 2244(b). Because petitioner's 2017 federal habeas petition was the first petition challenging that new judgment, the district court erred by holding that it was an unauthorized second or successive petition. View "Morales v. Sherman" on Justia Law