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 petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition challenging his California state conviction for three counts of first degree murder. Petitioner claimed that the state's reliance on his confession prejudicially violated his constitutional rights. The panel applied the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) standard of review and held that petitioner was not entitled to relief because the state habeas court could have reasonably concluded that petitioner's confession was not obtained in violation of his constitutional rights. In this case, the California Supreme Court had a reasonable basis for finding that petitioner's waiver was knowing and intelligent, and that his confession was not coerced and involuntary. Finally, the panel held that petitioner was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the issue of the voluntariness of his confession because he failed to timely develop in state court the factual basis for his claim that he was threatened at gunpoint. View "Cook v. Kernan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for first degree murder of a Border Patrol agent, conspiracy to interfere with and attempted interference with commerce by robbery in violation of the Hobbs Act, and assault on a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. The panel held that defendants were properly extradited in accordance with the terms of the United States's treaty with Mexico; the jury instructions for the Hobbs Act offenses were not plainly erroneous; defendants' argument that the instructions constituted a constructive amendment of the indictment was without merit; and the evidence was sufficient to establish that defendants took a substantial step toward commission of the robbery offense. In a concurrently-filed memorandum opinion, the panel vacated defendants' convictions for carrying and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. View "United States v. Soto-Barraza" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff, an inmate at the Montana State Prison (MPS), filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against prison staff members, alleging that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when he was sexually assaulted during the course of a pat-down search. The district court dismissed all defendants except Sergeant Larry Pasha, the prison guard who conducted the pat down, and a jury subsequently returned a verdict in Pasha's favor. Plaintiff appealed. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to continue plaintiff's trial sua sponte. The panel recognized that there was no model jury instruction for Eighth Amendment sexual assault, and took this opportunity to address this circuit's law governing this type of claim. The panel held that a prisoner presents a viable Eighth Amendment claim where he or she proves that a prison staff member, acting under color of law and without legitimate penological justification, touched the prisoner in a sexual manner or otherwise engaged in sexual conduct for the staff member’s own sexual gratification, or for the purpose of humiliating, degrading, or demeaning the prisoner. In this case the model instructions plainly misstated the law applicable to plaintiff's cause. The panel reversed and remanded for a new trial because it was impossible to determine whether the jury would have reached the same result had it been properly instructed. View "Bearchild v. Cobban" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's determination that petitioner committed a crime involving moral turpitude. The panel held that an aggravated assault conviction under Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1203(A)(2) and 13-1204(A)(2) qualifies as a crime involving moral turpitude that made petitioner removable. In this case, the parties have treated both the basic and aggravated assault provisions as divisible, and the panel agreed that such an approach comported with circuit and state precedent. In consideration of the charging document, plea agreement, and plea colloquy together, the panel held that it was clear petitioner was convicted under sections 13-1203(A)(2) and 13-1204(A)(2). The panel was satisfied that under its cases, an aggravated assault conviction under sections 13-1203(A)(2) and 13-1204(A)(2) involving the use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument qualifies as a crime involving moral turpitude. View "Altayar v. Barr" on Justia Law

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A conviction under California Penal Code 114 is not an aggravated felony or a crime involving moral turpitude under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's decision concluding that petitioner was ineligible for cancellation of removal due to her conviction under section 114. The panel used the categorical approach to determine whether the California statute categorically quaifies as an aggravated felony. The necessary elements for conviction under section 114 are: (1) the use; (2) of a false document; (3) to conceal citizenship or alien status; (4) with specific intent. The panel compared these elements with the federal definition of an aggravated felony and held that the California statute cannot be a match to the federal offense because it includes documents, such as fake drivers' licenses, that are not enumerated in the description of the federal crime. Furthermore, the state statute was not divisible. The panel also held that section 114 did not constitute a crime involving moral turpitude because, under the categorical approach, section 114 does not require fraudulent intent. Therefore, the panel held that the BIA erred in holding that petitioner's state conviction precluded her from consideration of cancellation of removal. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Jauregui-Cardenas v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for illegal reentry by a previously deported alien in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326, and the revocation of supervised release. Defendant argued that he should have automatically become a United States citizen as a result of the naturalization of one of his parents prior to the reentry at issue. However, because his parents were married, and the derivative citizenship statute at 8 U.S.C. 1432(a) required married parents to both naturalize to confer citizenship to their child, he did not become a citizen. Defendant claimed that, by making his parents' marital status a factor in the derivative citizenship determination, section 1432(a) violates the Constitution's equal protection guarantee. The panel held that rational basis review applies to section 1432(a) for reasons separate and apart from those relied on in Barthelemy v. Ashcroft, 329 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir. 2003). Furthermore, Barthelemy's holding that section 1432(a) is rational is not irreconcilable with Sessions v. Morales-Santana, 137 S. Ct. 1678 (2017). Therefore, the panel was still bound by that portion of Barthelemy's reasoning and by its ultimate holding that section 1432(a) is constitutional. Even if the panel were not bound by the holding in Barthelemy, the panel concluded that section 1432(a) is rational because protecting the parental rights of the non-citizen parent is plainly a legitimate legislative purpose. View "United States v. Mayea-Pulido" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order allowing defendant to withdraw her guilty plea to illegal reentry under 8 U.S.C. 1326, vacated the dismissal of the information, and remanded for the district court to resolve the factual issue of whether geometric isomers of methamphetamine exist. In Lorenzo v. Sessions, 902 F.3d 930 (9th Cir. 2018)(Lorenzo I), the panel held that the definition of methamphetamine applicable to convictions under 8 U.S.C. 11378 is broader than the definition of methamphetamine under the federal Controlled Substances Act. In this case, the panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing defendant to withdraw her guilty plea after Lorenzo I, because that decision effectively invalidated defendant's underlying removal. Lorenzo I was subsequently withdrawn and replaced with a non-precedential memorandum disposition, Lorenzo v. Whitaker, 752 F. App'x 482 (9th Cir. 2019) (Lorenzo II). Lorenzo II stated that the government is not foreclosed from raising in other cases the argument that any difference between California and federal law about the definition of methamphetamine is illusory. The government contended that both California law and federal law prohibit the possession for sale of methamphetamine and its isomers, and thus they are identical. The panel declined the government's invitation to rewrite California law and noted that the government's argument required the panel to look beyond the statutory language to matters of organic chemistry. Rather, the panel reasoned that resolution of the factual issue of whether geometric isomers of methamphetamine exist has the potential to inform its disposition in this appeal and future cases. View "United States v. Rodriguez-Gamboa" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In appeal No. 13-99003, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the Central District and denied petitioner's motion to expand the certificate of appealability (COA) as to all claims except claim 6, regarding ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase. The panel held that the conclusion that an irreconcilable conflict did not exist based on the disagreement between petitioner and counsel was reasonable; even if petitioner were successfully able to demonstrate a complete breakdown in communication or prove that an irreconcilable conflict existed under the Moore factors, his irreconcilable-conflict claim would still fail, because the Supreme Court has never held that an irreconcilable conflict with one's attorney constitutes a per se denial of the right to effective counsel; and thus the state court's decision did not unreasonably apply clearly established Federal law as pronounced by the Supreme Court. The panel also held that the state court reasonably determined that counsel did not perform deficiently by refusing to let petitioner testify, and even if counsel was deficient in doing so, petitioner was not prejudiced. In appeal No. 13-99007, the panel affirmed the judgment of the Southern District and denied petitioner's motion to expand the COA. The panel held that petitioner was not deprived of constitutionally adequate representation during the penalty phase and petitioner was not deprived of his right to the competent assistance of a psychiatric expert. View "Carter v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for assault by strangling a spouse in Indian country. The panel held that the district court did not impermissibly double count when it applied a three-level sentencing enhancement for strangling a spouse under USSG 2A2.2(b)(4). The panel explained that it is possible to be sentenced under section 2A2.2(a) without having strangled one's spouse, and thus the base offense level does not necessarily "capture the full extent of the wrongfulness" of defendant's behavior. View "United States v. Harrington" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit reversed defendant's sentences imposed in two cases that the district court sentenced in the same hearing. In the first case, defendant pleaded guilty to mail fraud, visa fraud, money laundering, and willful failure to pay over tax. In the second case, defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud. The panel held that the district court erred by applying USSG 2B1.1 to calculate the offense level for defendant's mail fraud count of conviction. The panel explained that the allegations underlying this count established an immigration visa fraud offense expressly covered by USSG 2L2.1, and thus the district court should have followed the USSG 2B1.1(c)(3) cross-reference and applied section 2L2.1. The panel further held that the error was plain and substantially affected the sentencing guidelines range the district court used to sentence defendant. Therefore, the panel remanded for resentencing in accordance with USSG 5G1.2. View "United States v. Wang" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law