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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant contended that the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion based on the dangerousness finding imposed by U.S.S.G. Section 1B1.13.   The Ninth Circuit amended an opinion filed July 29, 2022, affirming the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. Section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) in which Defendant requested a reduction to time served and immediate release, or, in the alternative, home detention for the balance of his sentence.  Following Aruda, while the Sentencing Commission’s statements in Section 1B1.13 may inform a district court’s discretion for Section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) motions filed by a defendant, they cannot be treated as binding constraints on the court’s analysis. Here, the district court did precisely what Aruda proscribes: it denied Defendant’s motion by holding that he failed to demonstrate that he is “not a danger to others or [to] the community” pursuant to Section 1B1.13. The panel wrote that this holding is an abuse of discretion.   The panel held that Aruda error is harmless if the court properly relied on 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a) sentencing factors as an alternative basis for its denial of a compassionate release motion, as the district court did here when it held in the alternative that the 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a) sentencing factors weighed “squarely against” granting Defendant’s compassionate release motion. Defendant also contended that the district court abused its discretion by failing to respond to his alternative request to serve the rest of his sentence under home confinement. View "USA V. JOEL WRIGHT" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. Sec. 115(a)(1)(B) after threatening to kill an on-duty Social Security employee. On appeal, Defendant claimed that the District Court erred in denying her motion for judgment of acquittal because the threatened employee was not an "officer" under the terms of Sec. 115(a)(1)(B).The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction, agreeing with the Third and Eighth Circuits, that the plain language of Sec. 115(a)(1)(B) includes all persons described in 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1114. At the time Defendant made the threat, the employee was assisting the Federal Protective Service by providing security services at a government-owned and leased property. This brought the employee within those covered under Sec. 114. View "USA V. JACQUELINE ANDERSON" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed his convictions for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, money laundering conspiracy, and conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 (RICO).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions. The panel held that sufficient evidence supported Defendant’s conviction for money laundering conspiracy, which required the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an agreement to commit money laundering, Defendant knew the objective of the agreement, and Defendant joined the agreement with the intent to further its unlawful purpose. Defendant did not dispute that the CRO conspired to launder money by transferring extortionate “taxes” collected by foot soldiers to incarcerated gang leaders.   The panel concluded that there was sufficient evidence that Defendant himself knew of and intended to support the CRO’s money laundering, and that he was not convicted solely on the basis of his CRO membership. The panel held that, as related to the money laundering conspiracy charge, the district court did not plainly err in instructing the jury, in the course of generally defining the term “knowingly,” that the government was “not required to prove that the defendant knew that his acts or omissions were unlawful.”   The panel held that a conspiracy conviction can stand if one of the objects is only factually, but not legally, insufficient. Thus, even if there had been insufficient evidence for money laundering conspiracy, the RICO conviction would still stand because there was sufficient evidence for the other two valid predicate activities, drug distribution conspiracy and extortion. View "USA V. ALEXIS JAIMEZ" on Justia Law

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Defendant was tried for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and conspiracy to do the same during a one-day bench trial. Defendant subsequently filed a motion for findings of fact under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 23(c). Although he acknowledged that the motion might be untimely because the rule requires that such a motion be made “before the finding of guilty or not guilty,” Defendant argued that he had been unaware that the court intended to deliver its finding without a hearing. The district court denied the motion.   The Ninth Circuit vacated the judgment of conviction. The panel held that the district court plainly erred by making only a written finding of guilt after trial, in violation of Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. The panel concluded that, although the usual remedy would be a remand to announce the finding in open court, the district court had already reiterated its finding of guilt publicly during Defendant’s sentencing, rendering such a remedy superfluous.   The panel further held that, because the finding of guilt was legally insufficient, the district court erred in denying as untimely Defendant’s motion for specific findings of fact. Instead, the panel vacated the defendant’s sentence and remanded for the district court to make specific findings of fact. View "USA V. JOSE RAMIREZ-RAMIREZ" on Justia Law

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After the prosecutor used peremptory strikes against three Hispanic women during jury selection, Petitioner raised an objection pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The trial court denied the challenge, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed on direct appeal. The California Supreme Court summarily denied review.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of a California state prisoner’s habeas corpus petition raising a Batson challenge to a jury conviction. The panel held that, even if a combined race and gender class such as Hispanic women is a cognizable group for purposes of Batson, that new rule would not apply to Petitioner’s case. The panel concluded that, under circuit precedent in Cooperwood v. Cambra, 245 F.3d 1042 (9th Cir. 2001), and Turner v. Marshall, 63 F.3d 807 (9th Cir. 1995), the recognition of a mixed race and gender class would be a new rule. Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), bars the application of new constitutional rules of criminal procedure to cases that were final before the new rule was announced.   The panel further held that Petitioner did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination based on race alone because the totality of the circumstances, including a comparison between the prospective jurors the prosecutor struck and those he did not, did not raise an inference that race motivated the prosecutor to exercise a strike. Accordingly, the California Court of Appeal’s decision on Batson step one was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law or an unreasonable determination of facts. View "GIANG NGUYEN V. SCOTT FRAUENHEIM" on Justia Law

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The district court issued a certificate of appealability on two issues: Respondent’s due process claims regarding the destruction of police records (Claims 17 and 18); and the state trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on Cal. Penal Code Section 272, which Respondent asserted was a lesser included offense of one of the felony charges (Claim 48n).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Respondent’s amended 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 habeas corpus petition challenging his California conviction, on retrial, and death sentence for two first-degree murders and one second-degree murder.   The panel held that the California Supreme Court reasonably applied Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988), instead of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), because the record does not support Respondent’s assertion that the purged records contained material exculpatory evidence. The panel also held that the California Supreme Court did not act unreasonably when, applying Youngblood, it affirmed the trial court’s factual finding that there was no evidence that the police department acted in bad faith.   The panel held that the instructions in Respondent’s case—which did not give the jury “an all-or-nothing choice” between the capital first-degree murder charge and innocence, but rather gave the jury the option of finding Reno guilty of the lesser included non-capital offenses of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter—did not run afoul of Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625 (1980), and there was no constitutional error. View "RENO V. RON DAVIS" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was charged in Arizona with first-degree murder. The crime was committed when Petitioner was sixteen years old, but the Supreme Court had not yet held that the death penalty could not be imposed on defendants younger than eighteen when the crime occurred. To avoid that possibility, he entered into a plea agreement under which he agreed to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”).   After the Supreme Court decided in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), that the imposition of LWOP for those convicted of a crime committed while under the age of eighteen violated the Eighth Amendment under some circumstances, Petitioner unsuccessfully sought post-conviction relief (“PCR”) in Arizona state court. He then filed a 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 habeas corpus petition, and the district court granted a conditional writ.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of a conditional writ of habeas corpus. The panel held that the plea agreement did not waive Petitioner’s right to pursue a PCR challenge of his sentence. The panel further explained, that under Miller, a sentencer must have discretion to impose a lesser sentence than LWOP. Here, the trial judge made it clear that he did not have this discretion. Because the judge correctly recognized that his only sentencing option was LWOP, Petitioner’s sentencing violated the Eighth Amendment. The panel concluded that there was at least a reasonable possibility that a sentencing proceeding conducted in accordance with Miller’s requirements would result in a non-LWOP sentence. View "FREDDIE CRESPIN V. CHARLES RYAN" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed a district court order granting in part and denying in part his motion to be resentenced under the First Step Act of 2018. The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s order granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s motion to be resentenced under the First Step Act of 2018 and remanded.   The court wrote that Concepcion v. United States, 142 S. Ct. 2389 (2022), has three holdings relevant here: (1) that the First Step Act allows district courts to consider intervening changes of law or fact in exercising their discretion to reduce a sentence; (2) that because district courts must consider nonfrivolous arguments presented by the parties, the First Step Act requires district courts to consider intervening changes when parties raise them; and (3) that district courts ruling on First Step Act motions bear the standard obligation to explain their decisions, and accordingly must give a brief statement of reasons to demonstrate that they considered the parties’ arguments— including arguments pertaining to intervening changes in law or fact.   Applying Concepcion’s principles, the court held that the district court erred by granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s resentencing motion with no explanation whatsoever, where Defendant raised intervening legal and factual changes to support the sentence reduction that he requested. View "USA V. SHAKARA CARTER" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant argued that the Marine Corps surveillance violated the Posse Comitatus Act, which codified the longstanding prohibition against military enforcement of civilian law. Rejecting that argument, the Ninth Circuit explained that the military may still assist civilian law enforcement agencies if Congress expressly authorized it, and here, the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act directed the U.S. Secretary of Defense to offer military assistance to Border Patrol in hopes of securing the southern land border. The court concluded that the district court therefore properly denied Defendant’s suppression motion based on the alleged violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. The court also denied Defendant’s Batson challenge to the prosecution’s striking two Asian jurors from the venire, concluding that Defendant failed to rebut the prosecution’s race-neutral reasons for doing so. View "USA V. CLEMENTE HERNANDEZ-GARCIA" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of importing methamphetamine into the United States. He argued that the court should vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing because the district court erred in denying him a minor-role adjustment at sentencing and by erroneously concluding that he was not eligible for safety-valve relief. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court erred in analyzing whether to apply the minor role adjustment. Accordingly, the court vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing.   The court started by correcting two legal errors that appear to have infected all of the district court’s analysis. First, the district court incorrectly held that Defendant’s recruiter’s culpability was not relevant to the minor-role analysis. Second, the district court appeared to treat each factor in the mitigating-role analysis as presenting a binary choice, but the commentary to Section 3B1.2 instructs courts to analyze the degree to which each factor applies to the defendant. Because the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing, the court did not need to reach Defendant’s argument that the district court erred in concluding that he was not eligible for safety-valve relief. View "USA V. JESUS RODRIGUEZ" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law