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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Petitioner, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend and her daughter, appealed the district court's denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Ninth Circuit reversed in part, holding that petitioner demonstrated cause and prejudice to overcome the procedural default of his ineffective assistance of trial claim. In this case, post conviction counsel, whom Arizona concedes performed deficiently, failed to raise a substantial claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel in petitioner's initial state collateral proceeding. The panel remanded the claim for the district court to allow evidentiary development of petitioner's ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim. The panel affirmed the district court's conclusion that petitioner's right to due process under Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985), was not violated; agreed that the Arizona state courts did not improperly exclude mitigating evidence that lacked a causal connection to his crime; and declined to expand the certificate of appealability to include the three uncertified issues raised by petitioner. View "Ramirez v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction under the Assimilative Crimes Act for felony telephone harassment in violation of Washington Revised Code section 9.61.230(1)(a),(b). Defendant's conviction stemmed from his repeated telephone calls to a Veterans Administration medical center. Washington Revised Code section 9.61.230(1)(a) requires proof that the defendant specifically intended to harm the victim when initiating the call. As applied here, the panel held that the requirement ensures that defendant was convicted for his conduct, not for speech protected by the First Amendment. Therefore, the panel rejected defendant's claim that the statute violated his First Amendment rights because he just wanted to talk about his medical care and the VA's unpaid bills, and did not intend to harass or want to harass the secretary who answered the calls. View "United States v. Waggy" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner appealed the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition challenging his conviction and capital sentence for first degree murder and rape of a fifteen year old girl. The Ninth Circuit applied the habeas standards in effect prior to the implementation of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996; petitioner's numerous ineffective assistance of counsel claims, governed by Strickland v. Washington, were unavailing because he did not show that trial counsel's performance fell below an objective reasonableness standard at the time of the trial in 1987; petitioner failed to show prejudice in the few instances where counsel's performance was deficient; and petitioner's conflict of interest claim under Mickens v. Taylor, 535 U.S. 162, 171 (2002), were unpersuasive. However, the panel held that the issue of juror misconduct must be remanded to the district court in light of the panel's recent decision in Godoy v. Spearman, 861 F.3d 956 (9th Cir. 2017) (en banc). The panel otherwise denied habeas relief and affirmed the district court's denial of evidentiary hearings for all claims. View "Clark v. Chappell" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed an amended opinion affirming a conviction for knowingly possessing a firearm as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1); denied a petition for panel rehearing; and denied a petition for rehearing en banc. The panel held that the district court correctly refused to instruct the jury that, to convict, they had to find that defendant knew that his firearm was manufactured after 1898. In this case, defendant did not dispute the government's evidence that his gun could not have been manufactured before 1915, and he offered no evidence that he reasonably believed that the gun was manufactured before 1898. Therefore, the panel held that defendant failed to meet his burden of production to put the antique firearm affirmative defense at issue, and his sufficiency of the evidence argument failed as well. The panel also held that, at a minimum, the prior convictions for being a felon in possession of a firearm and being a felon in possession of ammunition proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant had the knowledge required by Rehaif v. United States , 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), and that any error in not instructing the jury to make such a finding did not affect defendant's substantial rights or the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the trial. Finally, the confrontation clause error was harmless. View "United States v. Benamor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he was convicted of one count of unlawful possession of a firearm. The panel held that defendant's prior Minnesota conviction for aiding and abetting simple robbery qualifies as a predicate violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act's force clause because the minimum force required to sustain a Minnesota simple robbery includes the amount of force necessary to overcome a victim’s resistance. The panel noted that its prior distinction between "substantial" and "minimal" force in the robbery context under the Act could not be reconciled with the Supreme Court's holding in Stokeling v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 544 (2019). View "Ward v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for engaging in a monetary transaction of over $10,000 derived from a specified unlawful activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1956. In this case, defendant, a citizen of South Korea employed at a government-funded research institute, solicited and received payments from two seismometer manufacturers in exchange for ensuring that the research institute purchased their products, and gave the companies inside information about their competitors. The panel held that "bribery of a public official" in section 1956 is defined by that phrase's ordinary, contemporary, common meaning and is not constrained by 18 U.S.C. 201, a statute to which section 1956 makes no reference. Because the panel found the crime described in Article 129 of the South Korean Criminal Code fits comfortably within the ordinary meaning of "bribery of a public official" as used in section 1956, the panel held that the indictment was sufficient and that there was no instructional error. View "United States v. Heon-Cheol Chi" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his sentence imposed for receipt of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2) and a consecutive prison sentence imposed under 18 U.S.C. 3583(k), upon revocation of his supervised release. The panel held that the district court plainly erred by violating the Constitution's Ex Post Facto Clause when it sentenced defendant under section 3583(k). Therefore, the panel vacated and remanded for complete resentencing. The panel affirmed defendant's 2017 conviction because the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence related to defendant's prior 2007 child pornography conviction under Federal Rules of Evidence 414 and 404(b). The panel explained that because defendant was sentenced for his supervised release violation and his 2017 conviction in the same proceeding, both were based on the same underlying conduct found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and because it appears the district court was attempting to fashion an appropriate "sentencing package" to account for both transgressions, the panel followed its customary practice and remanded for resentencing on both the supervised release violation and the 2017 conviction. View "United States v. Hanson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit reversed defendant's felon in possession conviction under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). In United States v. Murillo, 422 F.3d 1152 (9th Cir. 2005), a felony was a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year as defined by the statute of violation. In light of intervening authority not previously available to the district court or the parties, the panel explained that United States v. Valencia-Mendoza, 912 F.3d 1215 (9th Cir. 2019), now defines "punishable by" as the sentence to which the defendant is actually exposed under Washington's mandatory sentencing scheme, explicitly overruling Murillo. The panel held that it was bound by Valencia-Mendoza and none of defendant's prior convictions actually exposed him to a term of imprisonment exceeding one year. View "United States v. McAdory" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order granting the government's motion to seize funds in defendant's inmate trust account under section 3664(n) of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. The funds were to be applied to defendant's outstanding restitution debt related to a prior conviction. The panel held that defendant's action was not moot and that de novo review, rather than plain error review, was appropriate in this case. The panel also held that the language and statutory context of section 3664(n) favor Amicus's view that section 3664(n) does not apply to periods of pretrial detention, and that the rule of lenity resolves any remaining ambiguity in defendant's favor. View "United States v. Lillard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm. The panel held that defendant's prior Nevada conviction for attempted battery with substantial bodily harm in violation of Nev. Rev. Stat. 200.481(2)(b) and 193.330 qualifies as a felony conviction for a crime of violence under USSG 2K2.1. In this case, it was clear that the state treated defendant's conviction as a felony. The panel held that it was not evident that there was a realistic probability that a defendant could be convicted of Nevada attempted battery with substantial bodily harm without the attempted use of violent force. View "United States v. Fitzgerald" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law