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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The City of Almaty, in Kazakhstan, filed suit against defendant and his family under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), alleging that they engaged in a scheme to defraud the city of millions of dollars. The City claimed that it was forced to spend money and resources in the United States to trace where its money was laundered. The district court dismissed the City's claim on the basis that it failed to state a domestic injury pursuant to the Supreme Court's recent decision in RJR Nabisco, Inc. v. European Community, 136 S. Ct. 2090 (2016). The Ninth Circuit held that the City failed to state any cognizable injury other than the foreign theft of its funds, and its voluntary expenditures were not proximately caused by defendants' acts of money laundering. In this case, the City's expenditure of funds to trace its allegedly stolen funds is a consequential damage of the initial theft suffered in Kazakhstan and is not causally connected to the predicate act of money laundering. View "City of Almaty v. Khrapunov" on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, the district court sentenced him to 184 months in prison. The Ninth Circuit held that defendant's prior convictions for carjacking under section 215 of the California Penal Code are not categorical crimes of violence under USSG 4A1.1(e). Therefore, the district court incorrectly calculated defendant's criminal history by improperly including two points for his prior carjacking convictions. However, the panel held that the district court did not err in finding that defendant possessed a firearm under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1). Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Baldon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of five counts of money laundering, holding that a reasonable trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that the money laundering transactions, in which payment was made via bitcoin, affected interstate commerce in some way or to some degree. In this case, the transfer involved the use of an Internet or cellular network connected Personal Computer Device (PCD) to transfer bitcoin (together with the digital code necessary to unlock the bitcoin) to the digital wallet of another Internet or cellular network connected PCD. View "United States v. Costanzo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to TRAX in a disability discrimination action brought by plaintiff under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). After TRAX terminated plaintiff from her position as a Technical Writer allegedly due to an inability or unwillingness to accommodate her disability, TRAX discovered during the course of litigation that plaintiff lacked the requisite bachelor's degree for her position. The panel held that, although McKennon v. Nashville Banner Publishing Co., 513 U.S. 352 (1995), held that after-acquired evidence cannot establish a superseding, non-discriminatory justification for an employer's challenged actions, after-acquired evidence remains available for other purposes, including to show that an individual is not qualified under the ADA. Because plaintiff did not satisfy one of the prerequisites for her position, she is not "otherwise qualified," and TRAX was not obligated to engage in the interactive process. View "Anthony v. TRAX International Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction of attempted Hobbs Act robbery. In this case, the evidence overwhelmingly showed that defendant had the specific intent to commit the robbery and had taken a "substantial step" toward its completion − arming himself with a handgun and driving to within about a block of the planned robbery with his accomplice, turning around only because he got ensnared in the fake crime scene. In light of recent Supreme Court cases, the panel reiterated its previous holding that Hobbs Act armed robbery is a crime of violence for purposes of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A). The panel also held that when a substantive offense is a crime of violence under section 924(c)(3)(A), an attempt to commit that offense is also a crime of violence. The panel agreed with the Eleventh Circuit that attempted Hobbs Act armed robbery is a crime of violence for purposes of section 924(c) because its commission requires proof of both the specific intent to complete a crime of violence, and a substantial step actually (not theoretically) taken toward its completion. The panel reversed defendant's conviction of money laundering in Count Four and affirmed the remainder of the judgment. View "United States v. Dominguez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Ninth Circuit denied an application under 28 U.S.C. 2244(b) for leave to file a second or successive habeas corpus petition challenging the applicant's 2005 Washington state sentencing judgment. The panel held that the habeas petition applicant seeks to file is a second or successive petition under Magwood v. Patterson, 561 U.S. 320 (2010), because removal of the victim-restitution condition from applicant's sentencing judgment did not create a new, intervening judgment under Washington law. Therefore, in order to proceed with his habeas petition, applicant must satisfy the requirements for filing a second or successive petition under section 2244(b)(2), which he cannot do. In this case, none of the arguments raise in the petition related to a new constitutional rule. Likewise, each of applicant's arguments raises a procedural error that, even if proven true, has no bearing on his guilt. View "Colbert v. Haynes" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a petition for federal habeas relief brought by petitioner, challenging his California state murder conviction and death sentence. Petitioner alleges that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel at the penalty phase because his lawyers failed to present additional evidence of his family history and social background. The panel held that reasonable jurists could conclude that admission of this evidence would not have led to a reasonable probability of a different sentence and thus petitioner was not prejudiced by any deficiency in counsel's performance. The panel granted petitioner's motion to expand the certificate of appealability as to four additional claims. The panel held that the state court reasonably concluded that a mens rea defense theory would not have been reasonably probable to persuade the jury to acquit. Even assuming that counsel rendered deficient performance in failing to conduct further investigation, it was eminently reasonable for the court to conclude that petitioner failed to show that the omission of this argument adversely affected the outcome. Finally, the panel held that petitioner was not prejudiced by his counsel's failure to obtain a transport order and funding authorization for EEG tests and a PET scan during the guilt or penalty phase. View "Berryman v. Wong" on Justia Law

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Appellant sought habeas corpus relief, arguing that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel because the defense lawyer who represented him in his child molestation trial in Arizona state court was ineffective. After the jury reported that it was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial, the jury requested permission to resume deliberations. Appellant's counsel did not object and the jury convicted appellant on all grounds. The Ninth Circuit held that appellant's counsel was not ineffective because, on the facts of this case, it was a reasonable prediction that appellant had a better chance of a more favorable verdict from the existing jury on the existing trial record than he would from a retrial. View "May v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of a petition for habeas corpus as time-barred. The panel held that the district court erred in its refusal to consider whether petitioner's claimed impairment was the cause of the untimeliness of the federal filing, despite his representation by state habeas counsel, and that the district court applied the wrong legal standard in evaluating whether state habeas counsel's misconduct supported equitable tolling. In this case, because the district court thought abandonment was required, it did not consider whether petitioner's state habeas counsel's misconduct qualified as an "extraordinary circumstance" under all the facts of this case. Accordingly, the panel remanded for the appropriate analysis. View "Milam v. Harrington" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's application of a fifteen-year-minimum sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) to defendant's sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The panel held that defendant's predicate domestic violence convictions under California Penal Code 273.5 qualified as categorical violent felonies, and that defendant's arguments to the contrary were foreclosed by United States v. Laurico-Yeno, 590 F.3d 818 (9th Cir. 2010), and its progeny. The panel rejected defendant's claim that the Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a sentencing judge, to find that a defendant's prior convictions were for crimes on different occasions. Rather, the panel held that defendant's argument was foreclosed by United States v. Grisel, 488 F.3d 844 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc), which held that a sentencing judge may find the dates of prior offenses in deciding if a defendant has committed three or more violent felonies. Therefore, the district court did not err in finding that defendant committed three separate offenses. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law