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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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A border patrol agent found and stopped Rizo-Rizo near the U.S./Mexico border. Rizo-Rizo admitted that he was a citizen of Mexico without appropriate immigration documents. The agent arrested him. Rizo-Rizo was then questioned again, waived his Miranda rights, and confirmed that he was a citizen of Mexico who had just “illegally entered.” Rizo-Rizo was charged with the misdemeanor of attempted illegal entry, 8 U.S.C. 1325(a)(1), and chose to plead guilty without a plea agreement. The magistrate listed these elements of attempted illegal entry. Defense counsel objected, claiming that “the Defendant ha[d] to know he was an alien” and that the magistrate had improperly omitted an element of the offense. The magistrate overruled the objection. Rizo-Rizo pled guilty and was sentenced to time served.The district court and Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that knowledge of alienage was not an element of 8 U.S.C. 1325(a)(1). The statute describes a regulatory offense and no presumption in favor of scienter applies. View "United States v. Rizo-Rizo" on Justia Law

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Tat aided a money-laundering scheme involving cashier’s checks while she managed a bank in San Gabriel, California. She was convicted of conspiring to launder money, 18 U.S.C. 1956(h), and two counts of making false entries in the bank’s records, 18 U.S.C. 1005.The Ninth Circuit reversed her conviction on one count of making a false entry, affirmed her conviction on a second count of the same offense, and remanded for resentencing. The reversed conviction was premised on a bank log record stating that Tat’s customer purchased and then returned three cashier’s checks for a sum of $25,000. The record did not contain a literal falsehood and did not contain an omission such that the bank’s records would not indicate the true nature of the transaction; it could not be said that the bank would not have a picture of the bank’s true condition. Accurate records reflecting a customer’s purchase of a cashier’s check from her bank account are not false entries under section 1005 solely because that check has a nexus to money laundering. As to the second count, a reasonable juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Tat knew the log record on which it was based contained a false entry because it listed a fictitious payee. The panel affirmed Tat’s convictions for conspiring to launder money. View "United States v. Tat" on Justia Law

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McGill was sentenced to death in 2004 for the murder of his former housemate, Perez. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed McGill’s conviction and sentence and the state trial court denied post-conviction relief.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief, rejecting McGill’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase. The post-conviction review court correctly identified and reasonably applied clearly established law in assessing professional norms and evaluating new mitigation evidence, did not apply an unconstitutional causal-nexus test, and did not need to consider the cumulative effect of nonexistent errors. Counsel’s preparation, investigation, and presentation of mitigation evidence was thorough and reasoned. The defense team uncovered a “not insignificant” amount of mitigation evidence that spanned decades of McGill’s life and presented a comprehensive picture to the jury. There is no evidence that counsel failed to uncover any reasonably available mitigation records. The court also rejected McGill’s uncertified claims that counsel was ineffective at the guilt phase by failing to retain an expert arson investigator and that his death sentence violated the Ex Post Facto Clause in light of Ring v. Arizona, in which the Supreme Court invalidated an Arizona statute that required the sentencing judge—not the jury—“to find an aggravating circumstance necessary for imposition of the death penalty.” View "McGill v. Shinn" on Justia Law

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Facing more than 70 years in prison for his role in multiple armed robberies, Goodall pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery (18 U.S.C. 1951(a)) and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)), with a 20-year sentencing recommendation. He waived his right to appeal his conviction or sentence. The court imposed a 14-year sentence. About 18 months later, the Supreme Court (Davis, 2019), held that a conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery cannot be a crime of violence under section 924(c)(3)'s residual clause.Goodall sought to vacate his conviction and sentence, arguing that Hobbs Act conspiracy is not a “crime of violence” under 924(c)’s “elements clause.” The Ninth Circuit dismissed. Goodall’s appellate waiver foreclosed any challenge based on Davis; the waiver was knowing and voluntary. The “illegal sentence” exception to an appellate waiver does not apply; it does not include illegal convictions. The rationale for the “illegal sentence” exception rests on the inherent uncertainty in sentencing, which does not exist for convictions. Although there always remains a chance the law could change in a defendant’s favor, the defendant knowingly and voluntarily assumes that risk because he receives a presumably favorable deal under existing law. View "United States v. Goodall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Heine and Yates, bank executives, were convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud (18 U.S.C. 1349) and 12 counts of making a false bank entry (18 U.S.C. 1005). The government told the jury that the two conspired to deprive the bank of accurate financial information in its records, the defendants’ salaries, and the use of bank funds.The Ninth Circuit vacated. There is no cognizable property interest in the ethereal right to accurate information. Distinguishing between a scheme to obtain a new or higher salary and a scheme to deceive an employer while continuing to draw an existing salary, the court held that the salary-maintenance theory was also legally insufficient. Even assuming the bank-funds theory was valid, the government’s reliance on those theories was not harmless. The court instructed the jury that it could find the defendants guilty of making false entries as co-conspirators, so the court also vacated the false-entry convictions. The court noted that insufficient evidence supported certain false entry convictions. View "United States v. Yates" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for illegal re-entry under 8 U.S.C. 1326(a). The panel concluded that the district court correctly applied USSG 4A1.1(d), which assigns two criminal history points if the defendant committed the instant offense while under any criminal justice sentence, including probation, parole, supervised release, imprisonment, work release, or escape status. In this case, defendant was granted early conditional release under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 41-1604.14 (repealed Aug. 6, 2016), known as the "half-term to deport" program. Defendant argues that he did not commit his illegal re-entry offense while under any criminal justice sentence.The panel rejected defendant's contentions and held that defendant was under "any criminal justice sentence" when he illegally reentered the United States within the meaning of section 4A1.1(d); Arizona's general savings statutes require that, for aliens like defendant who were convicted when section 41-1604.14 was in force, that provision continues to govern their sentences, and ADOC maintained the authority to revoke defendant's release in 2016 and 2017 because of his illegal re-entry; even if the district court erred in assuming that defendant had received formal notice of the condition that he not return illegally from the state court during sentencing, defendant did not demonstrate that this alleged error affected his substantial rights; and the district court did not err in making its factual findings. View "Madrid-Becerra" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit withdrew a per curiam opinion filed August 4, 2021; filed an amended per curiam opinion affirming the district court's dismissal of the 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition; denied a petition for panel rehearing; and denied on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc where petitioner challenged two sentencing enhancements—under 18 U.S.C. 2251(e) and 18 U.S.C. 3559(e)(1)—applied after his conviction on multiple counts of federal sex offenses.The panel held that petitioner's claim is foreclosed because he relies on Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), and United States v. Dahl, 833 F.3d 345 (3d Cir. 2016), to challenge his sentencing enhancement under 18 U.S.C. 3559(e)(1), yet he concedes that both of those decisions came down before he had exhausted his original section 2255 motion. The panel concluded that the legal basis for petitioner's claim arose before he had exhausted his section 2255 motion, and thus he cannot show that he did not have an unobstructed procedural shot at presenting his challenge to the section 3559(e)(1) sentencing enhancement. The panel rejected petitioner's claim for an extension of Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), in the context of a section 2241 petition as foreclosed under Buenrostro v. United States, 697 F.3d 1137, 1140 (9th Cir. 2012). Finally, because petitioner cannot show he lacked an unobstructed procedural shot with respect to the section 3559(e)(1) mandatory life sentencing enhancement, the panel did not need to reach the actual innocence prong for that enhancement or either prong for the section 2251(e) enhancement. The panel granted respondent's motion for judicial notice. View "Pavulak v. von Blanckensee" on Justia Law

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Melnik, a Nevada prisoner, was charged with unauthorized or inappropriate use of the prison mail system after prison officials intercepted two envelopes addressed to him that contained methamphetamine in secret compartments in the enclosed letters. Melnik asked several times to examine the envelopes or copies of the envelopes, but those requests were denied or ignored. At the prison disciplinary hearing, images of the envelopes and information about their contents were the only evidence presented. Melnik testified that he was innocent and had been framed by other inmates but was found guilty.Melnik filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against six former or current employees of the Nevada Department of Corrections, alleging they denied him the ability to examine the evidence before the prison disciplinary proceeding. The defendants sought summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of their motion. Melnik had a constitutional right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to be permitted to examine documentary evidence for use in the prison disciplinary hearing; that right was clearly established at the time when Melnik was denied access to the material. View "Melnik v. Dzurenda" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Chacon was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 grams or more of heroin and possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin. The prosecution moved under 21 U.S.C. 851 to increase the mandatory minimum sentence based on his 2010 Oregon drug conviction for which Chacon was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Chacon entered a plea agreement. The parties jointly recommended a total sentence of 210 months of incarceration. His total Offense Level included enhancements for possession of a firearm, aggravating role as a leader, and using children in the offense. The resulting applicable guideline range was 210–262 months. The court sentenced Chacon to 210 months’ imprisonment.The district court rejected his motions for 18 U.S.C. 3582(c) sentence reduction, based on Sentencing Guidelines Amendment 782, which reduced most base offense levels in the U.S.S.G. 2D1.1 Drug Quantity Table. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The legislative and judicial developments affecting mandatory statutory minimums are relevant considerations to the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors at step two of a motion for reduction of sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). The district court apparently believed that it did not have the discretion to consider such developments. View "United States v. Lizarraras-Chacon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After being spotted in a stolen car, Sanders fled from the police. He led them on a car chase, then on a foot chase. An officer eventually caught up to Sanders, who continued to struggle. An officer then commanded a police dog to bite Sanders’s leg. Sanders was finally subdued and charged with resisting arrest. Sanders ultimately pled “no contest” and filed a civil rights action alleging the use of the police dog was excessive force.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims barred by Heck v. Humphrey, under which a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim must be dismissed if a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence unless the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. While a defendant cannot be convicted of resisting arrest if an officer used excessive force at the time of the acts resulting in the conviction, Sanders could not stipulate to the lawfulness of the dog bite as part of his plea and then use the same act to allege an excessive force claim under section 1983. View "Sanders v. City of Pittsburg" on Justia Law