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 Nevada's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) motion for relief from the district court's judgment granting on remand petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his first degree murder conviction. At issue was whether the Nevada Supreme Court has, since the panel's prior decision in this case, changed the elements for first-degree murder in Nevada in 1991, when petitioner's murder conviction became final. The panel held that intervening Nevada Supreme Court cases did not change the law or undermine Riley I. Therefore, because there was no change in the law that affected Riley I's interpretation of the required elements for first-degree murder in Nevada, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the state's motion. View "Riley v. Filson" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of habeas relief on a certified claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase. Petitioner was convicted and sentenced to death by a California jury on two counts of first-degree murder for killings he committed during a carjacking. The panel held that the California Supreme Court unreasonably applied clearly established federal law in denying petitioner's claim for ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase. Reviewing de novo counsel's performance under Strickland v. Washington, the panel held that counsel rendered deficient performance by failing adequately to investigate petitioner's good character and social history, and he had no reasoned or tactical excuse for not doing so. The panel also held that counsel rendered deficient performance by not investigating petitioner's claim of self-defense in the jail homicide to counter the State's use of it as aggravation evidence. Furthermore, the state court's conclusion that petitioner failed to show prejudice was objectively unreasonable. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions. View "Avena v. Chappell" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment dismissing a habeas corpus petition in which petitioner, who has been detained for thirteen years awaiting trial for recommitment under the California Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), alleged that the State of California was violating his due process rights by continuing to detain him pretrial based on an outdated and scientifically invalid probable cause finding. The panel rejected petitioner's contention, that his SVPA case has been stalled for so long that it was no longer "ongoing" for purposes of Younger abstention, as foreclosed by precedent. The panel also held that the delay in bringing petitioner's case to trial was not an extraordinary circumstance under Younger. Furthermore, petitioner's claim fits squarely within the "irreparable harm" exception to Younger abstention in Arevalo v. Hennessy, 882 F.3d 763 (9th Cir. 2018). Therefore, the district court erred in abstaining under Younger from hearing petitioner's claim that the state was violating his pretrial due process rights. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Page v. King" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. Defendant alleged that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file a notice of appeal. In this case, the government never had the opportunity to challenge defendant's assertion, because both the district court's and this court's prior rulings held that the collateral attack waiver nonetheless barred the section 2255 motion. Therefore, the panel held that the district court, on remand, should determine whether defendant expressly instructed his attorney to file a notice of appeal, and if not, whether counsel failed to consult, and if so, whether that failure constituted deficient performance. View "United States v. Fabian-Baltazar" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's finding that he "frequented" a prohibited place in violation of a special condition of his supervised release. The special condition was imposed, along with other special conditions, after defendant pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography. The district court concluded that defendant violated his special condition by watching a pornographic movie at an adult store. The Ninth Circuit reversed in part, holding that the district court erred in finding that defendant frequented a prohibited place, because defendant visited an adult store only once. The panel affirmed in part, holding that the district court did not err by concluding that the special condition was not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad, because the condition was not meaningfully distinguishable from a condition the panel approved in United States v. Gnirke, 775 F.3d 1155 (9th Cir. 2015), and properly abridged defendant's right to free speech in order to effectively address his sexual deviance problem. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Ochoa" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for habeas corpus relief challenging petitioner's Arizona state murder conviction and death penalty. Applying deferential review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), the panel held that the district court properly held that petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was not violated when his trial counsel elected not to challenge petitioner's competency to waive counsel, despite counsel's knowledge that he had a history of mental health issues; the district court properly concluded that petitioner's due process rights were not violated by the state trial court's failure to hold a competency hearing sua sponte; and the district court properly held that the Arizona Supreme Court's opinion concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying petitioner's final continuance motion was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. The panel expanded the certificate of appealability (COA) to include the question of whether petitioner's constitutional rights were violated at trial through use of restraints, but affirmed the denial of the writ on that issue. The panel declined to expand the COA further. View "Dixon v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed defendant's conviction for eluding examination or inspection by immigration officers in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1325(a)(2). The panel held that an alien who crosses into the country at a non-designated time or place is not guilty under section 1325(a)(2). Instead, to convict a defendant under section 1325(a)(2), the government must prove that the alien's criminal conduct occurred at a time and place designated for "examination or inspection by immigration officers." In this case, the government conceded that defendant crossed into the United States far from a port of entry and thus failed to make such a showing. View "United States v. Corrales-Vazquez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an Arizona state prisoner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief, challenging his conviction for four counts of first degree murder and his capital sentence. The panel held that the record failed to establish that plaintiff's pre-trial counsel were incompetent or provided constitutionally deficient representation. Therefore, petitioner's challenges to his waiver of counsel and guilty pleas, as both claims were premised on constitutionally inadequate representation, failed. The panel also held that there was no reasonable probability that state post-conviction proceedings would have turned out differently if petitioner had advanced a pre-trial ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and the panel could not excuse the procedural default of that claim. Furthermore, the state court reasonably concluded that sentencing counsel was not ineffective, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing on that claim. Finally, the panel held that any causal nexus during petitioner's sentencing was harmless. View "Djerf v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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18 U.S.C. 2423(c), which prohibits engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, did not exceed Congress's authority under the Foreign Commerce Clause, as applied to the criminalization of non-commercial sexual abuse of a minor. The Ninth Circuit applied rational basis review and held that the elements of the crime fairly relate to foreign commerce. The panel affirmed defendant's conviction for travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, engaging in illicit sexual conduct abroad, attempted witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. The panel rejected defendant's claims of error regarding the jury instructions and claims of evidentiary error. However, the panel held that the district court miscalculated defendant's guidelines range by failing to apply an obstruction of justice enhancement under USSG 3C1.1. Therefore, the panel vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Lindsay" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized after law enforcement agents entered into defendant's condo without a warrant. The agents secured a court order authorizing insertion of a tracking device to conduct the controlled delivery, but their entry into defendant's condo to secure the package was warrantless. The panel held that the record supported the district court's decision that the agents' warrantless search was justified by exigent circumstances, defendant's subsequent consent for a more thorough search was not therefore tainted by an illegal entry, and the district court did not err by denying the motion to suppress. View "United States v. Iwai" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law