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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The case revolves around Gabriel Mirabal, a prisoner at a federal correctional institution in Victorville, California, who was convicted of two counts of assaulting a federal officer resulting in bodily injury. The incident occurred when Mirabal and another inmate, Erik Rojo, passed through metal detectors after lunch. A dispute arose over which inmate wore a white shirt and which wore a brown shirt, as the color of the shirt was linked to the initiation of the assault. The government consistently portrayed Mirabal as the person in the white shirt, while Mirabal maintained that he was clad in brown. Mirabal's defense was predicated upon the theory that he acted in self-defense, a theory that was practically unavailable to the white-shirted individual who joined the fight after it started.In the lower courts, the government filed a motion in limine to exclude the original factual basis under Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 403, and 802. The district court granted the government’s motion, reasoning that the original factual basis constituted inadmissible hearsay. The court held that Rule 801(d)(1)(A)’s hearsay exclusion for prior inconsistent statements did not apply to the original factual basis because Rojo was not called to testify at Mirabal’s trial. And it reasoned that Rule 801(d)(2)’s hearsay exclusion for an admission of a party opponent did not apply to the “opinion” of a prosecutor.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in excluding the sworn statement of a government attorney as hearsay at Mirabal’s trial. The court stated that in a criminal case, the sworn statement of a government attorney in a plea agreement or sentencing memorandum is a party admission, excluded from the definition of hearsay under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2). The court further held that the error was not harmless. As a result, Mirabal’s conviction was vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "USA V. MIRABAL" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Genaro Medina-Luna, a Mexican national, was charged with attempted reentry by a removed noncitizen, a violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326, after he was found concealed in the trunk of a car at the Otay Mesa, California Port of Entry. Medina-Luna had been previously removed from the United States five times between 2006 and 2022. He waived his right to a grand jury indictment and pleaded guilty unconditionally. The district court sentenced him to 41 months of imprisonment, a downward variance from the Guideline range of 63–78 months, considering his sincere family reasons for reentry and overcoming methamphetamine addiction.Medina-Luna appealed his sentence, raising two issues: the validity of his waiver of the right to a grand jury indictment and the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Medina-Luna waived his right to appeal the validity of his waiver of indictment by entering an unconditional guilty plea. The court overruled a previous decision, United States v. Travis, which characterized any defect in the waiver of indictment as jurisdictional, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Cotton, which held that defects in an indictment do not deprive a court of jurisdiction.Regarding the substantive reasonableness of the sentence, the court found no abuse of discretion. The district court had considered the statutory factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), acknowledged Medina-Luna's sincere family reasons for reentry, and his overcoming of methamphetamine addiction. The court affirmed the 41-month sentence, which was the sentence Medina-Luna himself had requested. The appeal was dismissed in part and affirmed in part. View "United States v. Medina-Luna" on Justia Law

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Six defendants were convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud for their sales companies' tactics in selling printer toner. The government's case was based on the argument that a representative from the sales company would call a business, falsely imply that the sales company was the business's regular supplier of toner, and falsely state that the price of toner had increased. The representative would then state that the business could lock in the old price by purchasing more toner that day. The defendants argued that this theory of fraud was overbroad because it permitted the jury to convict even though all of the businesses received the toner they ordered at the agreed price.The case was heard in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where the defendants were found guilty on all counts. The defendants appealed their convictions, arguing that the government's theory of fraud was overbroad.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the defendants, holding that the government's theory of fraud was overbroad because it did not require the jury to find that the defendants deceived customers about the nature of the bargain. The court vacated the defendants' convictions and remanded the case back to the lower court. View "United States v. Milheiser" on Justia Law

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The case under review is an appeal regarding the resentencing of Vivian Tat, who was involved in a money-laundering scheme. At her initial sentencing, Tat was convicted on several counts and sentenced to 24 months imprisonment. However, she appealed and the higher court vacated her conviction on one count and her sentence, remanding for de novo resentencing. At the resentencing hearing, Tat received an 18-month sentence.Her appeal to this court is her second one, and she argues that the lower court erred in applying sentencing enhancements related to her role as an organizer/leader and her abuse of trust, improperly considered "cost" in dismissing her community-service proposal at sentencing, and violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32 by failing to make factual findings about certain parts of her presentence report.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a criminal defendant’s failure to challenge specific aspects of her initial sentence on a prior appeal does not waive her right to challenge comparable aspects of a newly imposed sentence following de novo resentencing. The court found that the lower court had erred in applying an organizer/leader enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1, as Tat’s status as a mere member of the criminal enterprise did not bear on whether she was an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of the criminal activity, and the criminal conduct was not “otherwise extensive.” However, the district court did not err in applying an enhancement for abuse of trust under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.3, where Tat’s position as a manager at the bank gave her the discretion to carry out transactions like the one at issue here without oversight, and where her position of trust facilitated her role in the underlying offense. The court also found that the lower court did not improperly consider “cost” in dismissing Tat’s community-service proposal. The court vacated Tat’s sentence and remanded to the district court for resentencing consistent with this opinion. View "United States v. Tat" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Criminal Law
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In this case, Markanthony Sapalasan was arrested and his backpack was searched. After the arrest, his backpack was taken into police custody, and Sapalasan was taken to the police station for questioning regarding a potential murder. After questioning, Sapalasan was released, but his backpack remained in police custody. Approximately six hours later, Officer Tae Yoon conducted an inventory search of the backpack and discovered methamphetamine. Sapalasan was subsequently convicted of two drug felonies and appealed the conviction, claiming that the search of his backpack violated his Fourth Amendment rights.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the police may constitutionally conduct an inventory search of belongings when the property is lawfully retained and the search is done in compliance with police regulations, even after the individual has been released. The court found that the lawfulness of the initial separation of Sapalasan from his backpack was unchallenged, so the justification of an inventory search did not depend on whether he was headed to jail. The court also determined that Officer Yoon's inventory search substantially complied with the police department's policy. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's denial of Sapalasan's motion to suppress the methamphetamine found during the search. View "USA V. SAPALASAN" on Justia Law

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A petitioner, Joseph William Hart, appealed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case emerged from a 1988 trial in which Hart was convicted of the murder of Diana H., and of the rape, sodomy, and forced oral copulation of Amy R. Hart was sentenced to death.Hart argued that the State suppressed evidence that could have impeached one of the prosecution’s expert witnesses, Dr. Dewitt Hunter, in violation of Brady v. Maryland. He also argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge Dr. Hunter’s qualifications and testimony.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's denial of Hart's petition. It held that the Supreme Court of California could have reasonably concluded that the impeachment evidence Hart referred to was not material. The court also found that Hart's trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to challenge Dr. Hunter's qualifications and testimony. The court determined that Hart's counsel's decisions were entitled to deference and that Hart provided no substantial evidence that another expert would have contradicted Dr. Hunter's findings. View "JOSEPH HART V. RON BROOMFIELD" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the petitioner, Terry Eugene Iversen, appealed the district court’s denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Iversen had been sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) for the crime of public indecency under Oregon’s sex offender recidivism statute due to his extensive criminal history, which included prior convictions for public indecency, rape, and sodomy. Iversen argued that the LWOP sentence was grossly disproportionate to his offense, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.The court, applying the demanding standard required by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, upheld the district court’s decision. The court found that the Oregon state court’s decision concerning Iversen’s sentence was not contrary to Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. The court considered Iversen’s extensive history of adult felony recidivism, his mental health record, his failed opportunities to reform, and the fact that he remained dangerous to others. The court also noted Oregon’s public-safety interest in incapacitating and deterring recidivist felons like Iversen.The court concluded that Iversen’s sentence did not raise an inference of gross disproportionality given the gravity of his offense and criminal history. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s denial of Iversen’s habeas petition. View "Iversen v. Pedro" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed Jose Jimenez-Chaidez's conviction for knowingly importing cocaine and methamphetamine, vacated his sentence, and remanded the case for resentencing.The court's decision had several key components. First, it approved the lower court's decision to admit evidence of Jimenez's prior drug smuggling activities, as it demonstrated his knowledge and intent, and was not unduly prejudicial. Second, the court found no abuse of discretion by the district court in allowing an FBI agent to testify as a lay witness about extracting data from a cellphone, holding that specialized knowledge was not required for this testimony.The court did, however, find error in the district court's failure to make an explicit reliability finding regarding an expert's testimony about the value of the drugs found in Jimenez's vehicle. Nevertheless, it determined this error was harmless.Lastly, the court vacated Jimenez's sentence and remanded for resentencing, in line with recent authority guiding the process for conducting a mitigating role inquiry under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2. The court clarified that the relevant comparison for this inquiry is to other participants in the defendant's crime, not to typical defendants who commit similar crimes. View "USA V. JIMENEZ-CHAIDEZ" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the appellant, Michael McLaughlin, challenged his state court convictions for attempted murder, battery, and burglary arising from a stabbing attack on multiple employees at a social services office in Nevada. He argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for not pursuing a defense of voluntary intoxication to negate specific intent, a required element for the charges.The district court denied McLaughlin's habeas corpus petition, but the Ninth Circuit initially vacated and remanded the decision. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court again denied relief, concluding that despite new evidence, the appellant's trial counsel had not provided ineffective assistance and that McLaughlin had not demonstrated prejudice.On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez, which clarified standards for considering new evidence in federal habeas proceedings, meant that the lower court was barred from considering any new evidence offered by McLaughlin. The Ninth Circuit found that McLaughlin's failure to present that evidence to the state courts "in compliance with state procedural rules" constituted a failure to develop the factual basis of a claim in State court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2) as construed by Shinn. The court also noted that under Shinn, it made no difference that McLaughlin's first post-conviction counsel's negligence led to that failure.As McLaughlin conceded that he could not succeed on his ineffective assistance claim unless the new evidence was considered, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of McLaughlin's habeas petition. View "MCLAUGHLIN V. OLIVER" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the constitutionality of a pretrial release condition that temporarily barred two defendants from possessing firearms pending trial. The defendants, Jesus Perez-Garcia and John Thomas Fencl, were charged with various felony offenses. The district courts imposed a condition barring them from possessing firearms as part of their pretrial release, arguing that the restriction was necessary for public safety. The defendants appealed, arguing that this condition infringed on their Second Amendment rights.The Ninth Circuit disagreed, finding that the firearm condition was constitutional. The court reasoned that the Bail Reform Act of 1984's firearm condition on pretrial release is consistent with how courts have historically balanced the constitutional rights of pretrial detainees with public safety considerations. The court also pointed out that the nation has a long history of temporarily disarming criminal defendants facing serious charges and those deemed dangerous or unwilling to follow the law. Therefore, the court held that the temporary disarmament of the defendants was justified by this historical tradition. View "United States v. Garcia" on Justia Law