Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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An obstruction of justice enhancement under USSG 3C1.1 may be founded upon a finding of malingering. The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for receipt and distribution of child pornography. In this case, defendant had no legal or factual basis to challenge either the obstruction of justice or pornography distribution enhancements because defendant made no factual objections and thus there was no violation of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32. View "United States v. Bonnett" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the petition for habeas relief based on lack of exhaustion claims. In this case, the district court dismissed claims challenging petitioner's murder conviction and death sentence, finding that, although he presented them to the California Supreme Court, he subsequently waived them by means of a handwritten, pro se filing. The panel held that there was insufficient evidence in the record to support a finding that petitioner's handwritten form constituted a valid waiver of his right to proceed and that the State failed to carry its burden to the contrary. Therefore, the district court erred by dismissing the claims as unexhausted and the court remanded so that the district court could adjudicate the claims on the merits. View "Kirkpatrick v. Chappell" on Justia Law

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Threats to sue fall within the purview of the constitutionally protected right to file grievances. Both the filing of a criminal complaint by a prisoner, as well as the threat to do so, are protected by the First Amendment, provided they are not baseless. Plaintiff, a prisoner at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was disciplined for threatening to initiate civil litigation and file a criminal complaint against prison officials. The Ninth Circuit held that because plaintiff had alleged cognizable First Amendment retaliation claims regarding his threats to sue, and qualified immunity did not attach, it was improper to dismiss the complaint in its entirety under Rule 12(c). However, in regard to plaintiff's threat to file a criminal complaint, even though it was a constitutionally protected right, qualified immunity attached. Therefore, dismissal of that aspect of the complaint was proper. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. View "Entler v. Gregoire" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition where petitioner challenged his conviction for second degree murder and attempted murder. Petitioner was fourteen years old at the time he was found guilty of the crimes. The panel held that the government relied on a coerced waiver of the right to counsel to secure the conviction because petitioner did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive such right. Because admission of petitioner's confession was not harmless, the panel granted relief under 42 U.S.C. 2254. View "Rodriguez v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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A defendant attempts to produce and transport a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct when he believes that the victim is a minor, regardless of the victim's actual age. In this case, the Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for attempt to produce and transport into the United States a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct (Count 1B); vacated defendant's conviction for attempt to aid and abet travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct (Count 2B) because the statute does not proscribe an attempt to aid and abet such travel; and vacated defendant's sentence as to Count 1B and 2B. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Jayavarman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Petitioner was found guilty of four crimes involving the robbery and murder of the victim in a Las Vegas jewelry store and was sentenced to death. The panel held that the Supreme Court of Nevada's denial of petitioner's claims under Brady v. Maryland and Strickland v. Washington constituted an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent; petitioner was entitled to a writ of habeas corpus with respect to his convictions of burglary, robbery with the use of a deadly weapon, and murder with the use of a deadly weapon; and petitioner was not entitled to habeas relief as to the escape conviction because he has offered no reason to call the validity of that conviction into question. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Browning v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence for illegal reentry. At sentencing, the district court applied an eight-level enhancement under USSG 2L1.2(b)(2)(B) of the 2016 United States Sentencing Guidelines, which was applicable if, before the defendant was ordered deported or ordered removed from the United States for the first time, the defendant sustained a conviction for a felony offense (other than an illegal reentry offense) for which the sentence imposed was two years or more. In this case, although defendant sustained a felony conviction for lewd conduct with a child before he was first ordered deported, he was sentenced to only one year of incarceration before his first deportation order; the sentence was increased to three years of incarceration after he returned to the United States. Therefore, the panel held that defendant's conviction did not qualify for the enhancement under 2L1.2(b)(2)(B). View "United States v. Hernandez Martinez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for storage of hazardous waste in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. 6928(d)(2)(A), holding that the district court properly refused to allow evidence of defendant's diminished capacity because the crime was one of general intent. The panel also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by applying a four-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2Q1.2(b)(3) because the cleanup of the property "required a substantial expenditure" given the magnitude of the hazardous materials in defendant's yard and the cost of $498,562 to clean them up. View "United States v. Spatig" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief in petitioner's death penalty case where he was convicted of kidnapping and first degree murder. The panel rejected petitioner's argument that the Arizona Supreme Court's adjudication of his Eighth Amendment claim was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court; law enforcement misconduct claim; and two ineffective assistance of counsel claims regarding the failure to develop information regarding the victim's bones and the failure to present evidence from mental health experts. View "Atwood v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief for petitioner in this death penalty case. The panel held that the California Supreme Court reasonably concluded that petitioner received adequate notice of the attempted rape special circumstance and petitioner's constitutional rights were not violated when the prosecutor presented the special circumstance to the jury. In this case, the amended information specifically alleged a special circumstance premised on Cal. Penal Code 190.2(a)(17), which encompassed attempted rape. Furthermore, defense counsel also acknowledged that petitioner received adequate notice of the special circumstance and that petitioner was not prejudiced by the prosecution's arguments premised on attempted rape. After expanding the certificate of appealability to include previously uncertified claims, the panel concluded that, upon further consideration, these claims lacked merit. View "Cain v. Chappell" on Justia Law