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 habeas corpus petition challenging his Nevada conviction and death sentence for four counts of first degree murder. Given that petitioner's underlying ineffective assistance of counsel claims lack merit, the panel need not resolve whether the relevant Nevada law was adequate or if it is, whether petitioner can overcome his procedural default and obtain federal review of the merits of his ineffective assistance claims. Even if the panel held in petitioner's favor in either of those questions and reached the merits of the claims, the panel would affirm the district court's denial of relief. The panel also held that the Nevada Supreme Court's determination -- that petitioner's constitutional rights were not violated when the state's expert made reference during his testimony to test results that he had obtained from petitioner's expert -- was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of controlling Supreme Court case law. Furthermore, the panel rejected petitioner's claim regarding change of venue, the testimony of the mother of the victim, and improper statements by the prosecutor. Finally, the panel declined to expand the certificate of appealability. View "Floyd v. Filson" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence for illegal reentry into the United States after deportation in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326. The panel held, and the government conceded, that the district court erred in concluding that, in calculating the Sentencing Guidelines range, proof of continuous presence in the United States was not required. The panel gave some weight to the inference that a non-citizen who had previously returned after being removed and who had family in the United States would have made efforts to stay in the country, but that inference was not enough to carry the government's burden. The panel also held that the district court erred in its alternative holding that defendant was continuously present in the United States from 2004 to 2017. The panel applied the clear and convincing standard, and held that the government failed to meet its burden of proving defendant's continuous presence. Accordingly, the panel remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Valle" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit withdrew its previous opinion and filed an amended opinion vacating defendant's sentence and remanding for resentencing. In this case, defendant had pleaded guilty to a single count of possession of a firearm as a felon. The panel held that a district court does not need to decide a defendant's eligibility for an acceptance-of-responsibility reduction in his Guidelines level before listening to the defendant's allocution. The panel held that the sentencing court erred by concluding that it could not first hear from the defendant before determining whether a reduction for acceptance of responsibility was warranted under the Guidelines. The court further held that this misapprehension was plain error. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Under Guam v. Marquez, 963 F.2d 1311 (9th Cir. 1992), it is structural error not to instruct the jury orally as to the entire substantive law the jury must apply. The Ninth Circuit reversed defendant's drug-related conviction and remanded for a new trial, holding that the trial judge plainly erred by failing to deliver an oral charge to the jury in this case. The panel explained that a trial court does not satisfy its duty to instruct jurors in a criminal case just by providing those jurors with a set of written instructions to use during deliberations. Therefore, the panel remanded for a new trial. View "United States v. Becerra" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion and remanded with instructions to grant the motion. The panel held that defendant's first degree armed robbery in violation of Oregon Revised Statutes 164.415 is not a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The panel held that United States v. Strickland, 860 F.3d 1224 (9th Cir. 2017), which held that Oregon third degree robbery is not a violent felony under the force clause of the ACCA because it does not require physically violent force, is not clearly irreconcilable with Stokeling v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 544 (2019), which addressed a Florida robbery statute that requires resistance by the victim that is overcome by the physical force of the offender. Finally, even assuming that section 164.415(1) is divisible, the district court erred in finding that defendant had been convicted of armed robbery under subsection (b). View "United States v. Shelby" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, holding that the district court did not err by denying his motion to suppress evidence found as a result of the search of his cell phone, seized from his rental car after a high-speed chase. In this case, the phone contained photos tying him to the firearm that was recovered from the car. As a preliminary matter, the panel held, in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Byrd v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 1518, 1530 (2018), that it did not need to address the issue of whether defendant lacked standing to challenge the search before addressing defendant's Fourth Amendment claims, because such an inquiry was not jurisdictional. The panel held that the searches of both the car and the phone were lawful, because the phone was seized as part of a valid inventory search; probable cause supported the two warrants issued to search the phone; and there was a sufficient factual basis for the issuing magistrate judges to conclude, independently of the affiants' beliefs, that evidence might be found on defendant's cell phone. View "United States v. Garay" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiffs filed suit against officials of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), challenging aspects of the Arizona execution process. Plaintiffs contend that Arizona's practices violate their First Amendment right of access to governmental proceedings and violate inmates' rights of access to the courts. The Ninth Circuit held that the First Amendment right of access to governmental proceedings encompasses a right to hear the sounds of executions in their entirety. Furthermore, on the facts alleged, Arizona's restrictions on press and public access to the sounds of executions impermissibly burden that right. However, the panel held that neither the public nor the press has a First Amendment right of access to information regarding the manufacturers, sellers, lot numbers, National Drug Codes, and expiration dates of lethal-injection drugs, as well as documentation regarding the qualifications of certain execution team members. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs' claim that Arizona's restrictions violate the inmates' First Amendment right of access to the courts failed as a matter of law. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's second amended complaint. View "First Amendment Coalition of Arizona v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's life sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to producing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2251(a). Defendant had several prior Alaska convictions relating to the sexual assault and sexual abuse of minors, none involving the production of child pornography. After determining that the appeal waiver did not bar defendant's appeal, the panel held that his prior Alaska convictions were not offenses "relating to the sexual exploitation of children" under section 2251(e), and thus the district court improperly applied the multiple conviction enhancement contained in section 2251(e). The court explained that the term "relating to" in section 2251(e) encompasses state offenses that are a categorical match to the federal offense of production of child pornography and state offenses involving the production of such pornography. However, the term does not include offenses that entirely lack the visual depictions element that separates "sexual exploitation of children" from other forms of child abuse in the federal criminal offense panoply. The panel remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Schopp" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for health care fraud where the evidence of actual knowledge was overwhelming, and thus the court did not need to determinate whether the district court erred in giving a deliberate ignorance instruction on the knowledge element of health care fraud. Furthermore, the panel rejected defendant's arguments regarding the sufficiency of the illegal remunerations convictions. However, the panel reversed the aggravated identity theft convictions, because defendant did not "use" the patients' identities within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 1028A. The panel also held that United States v. Osuna-Alvarez, 788 F.3d 1183 (9th Cir. 2015), foreclosed defendant's claim that the "without lawful authority" element of aggravated identity theft was not satisfied because the patients voluntarily provided their information. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not err in applying sentencing enhancements for obstruction of justice and aggravating role in the offense. The panel remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Hong" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed upon revocation of multiple supervised release terms. The panel held that Chapter 7 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines does not preclude the imposition of consecutive sentences under these circumstances. The panel held that neither the negative pregnant principle nor the rule of lenity served to deprive the district court of its discretionary authority under 18 U.S.C. 3584(a) to impose consecutive terms of imprisonment following revocation of concurrent supervised release terms. In this case, the district court acted within the discretion conferred upon it by section 3584(a) when it imposed consecutive terms of imprisonment following revocation of multiple supervised release terms. Accordingly, the panel affirmed defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Campbell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law