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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the robbery of two jewelry stores in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 1951(a). For his crimes, he was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment, including a mandatory minimum sentence for the use of a firearm during a “crime of violence.” On appeal, Defendant argued that aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence and, therefore, cannot serve as a predicate for his Section 924(c) conviction and mandatory minimum sentence.   The Ninth Circuit disagreed and affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court explained that under the “elements clause” of Section 924(c), the phrase “crime of violence” is defined as “an offense that is a felony and . . . has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” The phrase “physical force” means violent force or force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person. The panel applied the “categorical approach,” asking whether the federal felony at issue always requires the government to prove the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force. The panel held that under United States v. Dominguez, completed Hobbs Act robbery is a crime of violence for purposes of Section 924(c). The panel concluded that, even if it were not bound by Dominguez II, it would still find that Dominguez I’s analysis of the completed Hobbs Act robbery was not clearly irreconcilable with Taylor. View "USA V. LEON ECKFORD" on Justia Law

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Global Master Corporation and its sister company Global Master International Group, Inc., located and headquartered in California (collectively, Global Master) imported nutritional supplements from the United States and marketed them to consumers in China. Global Master alleged that Esmond Natural used lower strength or entirely different supplements to fill orders. The district court held that Global Master failed to satisfy statutory standing because it lacked a domestic injury as its alleged harm was felt in China, and civil claims brought under RICO do not allow recovery for foreign injuries.   The Ninth Circuit reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment, based on a lack of statutory standing, in an action brought by Global Master Corporation, a Chinese company seeking relief under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act for allegedly defective products purchased from California-based Esmond Natural, Inc. The panel held that under Yegiazaryan v. Smagin, 143 S. Ct. 1900 (2023), the district court applied the wrong legal standard. The panel held that, under this test, Global Master suffered a domestic injury because, pursuant to the parties’ contracts, Global Master took all deliveries of the supplements in Los Angeles. Thus, Esmond Natural’s fraud injured Global Master’s property in California. The panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings. In a concurrently filed memorandum disposition, the panel affirmed on other issues. View "GLOBAL MASTER INTL GROUP, INC., ET AL V. ESMOND NATURAL, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of leave to amend his motion to vacate his convictions under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255. He argued that neither witness tampering by attempting to kill a witness nor witness tampering by use of force is a crime of violence as defined by 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c)(3)(A).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Applying the categorical approach, the panel held that Section 1512, as a whole, is not categorically a crime of violence because it criminalizes conduct that does not necessarily require physical force. The panel then applied the modified categorical approach because Section 1512 contains several, alternative elements of functionally separate crimes that carry different penalties, and the statute therefore is “divisible.” The panel held that Dorsey was convicted under a divisible part of the witness-tampering statute that qualifies as a crime of violence under Section 924(c)’s elements clause: either attempted killing in violation of Section 1512(a)(1) or use of force in violation of 1512(a)(2). The panel also held that the use of physical force in violation of Section 1512(a)(2) is a categorical match with Section 924(c)’s elements clause because it requires proving that the defendant intentionally used physical force against another. View "DEVAUGHN DORSEY V. USA" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a Syrian national, appealed his conviction after a jury trial for participating in a conspiracy that targeted U.S. military personnel and property in Iraq. The jury delivered a mixed verdict on the six-count indictment. It convicted Defendant for conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (Count One), conspiring to damage U.S. government property (Count Two), and conspiring to possess a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence and aiding and abetting the same (Counts Three and Four). The jury acquitted Defendant of conspiring to murder Americans (Count Five) and providing material support to terrorists (Count Six).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the conviction. Reversing in part, the panel agreed with the parties that Defendant’s convictions on Counts Three and Four, for conspiring to possess a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence and aiding and abetting the same, could not stand after the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019). On those counts, the panel remanded with direction to the district court to vacate the convictions. The panel affirmed Defendant’s convictions on Counts One and Two for conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiring to damage U.S. Government property by means of an explosive. As to Count Two, the panel held that 18 U.S.C. Section 844(f) and (n) applied to Defendant’s extraterritorial conduct. The panel held that the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to criminal statutes as well as to civil statutes. View "USA V. AHMED ALAHMEDALABDALOKLAH" on Justia Law

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Defendants were convicted of various offenses stemming from an eight-person conspiracy to fraudulently obtain and launder millions of dollars in federal Covid-relief funds that were intended to assist businesses impacted by the pandemic. On appeal, Defendants challenged their restitution obligations on both legal and factual grounds.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendants’ restitution obligations, except that the court vacated and remanded for one Defendant’s judgment and commitment order to be amended to specify that, as all parties agree, his restitution obligation runs jointly and severally with those of his trial co-defendants. The panel held that, under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA), the district court properly imposed restitution in the full amount of the loss caused by the conspiracy instead of just the loss caused by the fraudulent loan applications Defendants personally played a role in submitting. In separately filed memorandum dispositions, the panel affirmed Defendants’ jury convictions, affirmed the district court’s application of the Sentencing Guidelines to one defendant, and vacated and remanded for that defendant’s resentencing. View "USA V. ARTUR AYVAZYAN" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted in California state court of one count of conspiracy to commit murder and one count of attempted murder on an aiding and abetting theory and sentenced to 56 years to life. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. The district court denied his first federal habeas petition on the merits and declined to grant a certificate of appealability (COA); this court also declined to grant a COA. The district court dismissed as second or successive Petitioner’s second federal habeas petition, and the Ninth Circuit court affirmed the dismissal.   In consolidated appeals, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgments dismissing, as second or successive under 28 U.S.C. Section 2244(b), Petitioner’s third and fourth federal habeas corpus petitions, and remanded. The panel held that Petitioner’s due process, ineffective assistance of counsel, and equal protection claims did not become ripe until his application for resentencing was denied, which occurred well after the district court denied his first and dismissed his second habeas petitions. Because Petitioner could not have raised these claims in his first or second petition, his failure to do so is not an abuse of the writ. Applying Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007), the panel concluded that the third and fourth habeas petitions were, accordingly, not second or successive under Section 2244(b). View "GREGORY BROWN V. M. ATCHLEY" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his sentence following a guilty plea to two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 2241(c), 2246(2) & 1152. He contends that the district court misapplied a sentencing enhancement for abduction and thus improperly added four levels to his sentencing range.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel wrote that whether it evaluates the plain meaning of the term “abducted” as it appears in the Guideline itself or considers “abducted” to be ambiguous and looks to the definition in the Guidelines’ commentary, it would reach the same conclusion: the victim was “abducted” when the defendant forced her from the roadside where he encountered her into a nearby cornfield to perpetrate the sexual assault. View "USA V. JOSHUA SCHEU" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted after a jury trial of one count of attempting to commit racially motivated violence. On appeal, Defendant argued that he is entitled to a new trial because the district court held his trial in violation of the public trial right under United States v. Allen, 34 F.4th 789 (9th Cir. 2022). Defendant also contended that his prosecution was unconstitutional because 18 U.S.C. Section 249(a)(1) exceeds Congress’ authority under Section Two of the Thirteenth Amendment.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that Defendant forfeited his claim, that plain error review applies, and that the balance of costs in this case counsels against reversal. Applying the deferential test set forth in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968), the panel wrote that the rationality of concluding that violence (or attempted violence) perpetrated against victims on account of the victims’ race is a badge or incident of slavery is well established. The panel rejected Defendant’s contention that Section 249(a)(1) is subject to heightened scrutiny apart from the Jones test. View "USA V. OLE HOUGEN" on Justia Law

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In 2006, a Nevada jury convicted Leeds of first-degree murder. Although Petitioner resided at the house where the murder occurred, the prosecution presented a felony-murder theory at trial, alleging that Petitioner committed the murder during the course of a burglary because he entered the home’s garage as he struggled with the victim. Petitioner’s trial counsel failed to argue that a person cannot burglarize his own home. The jury’s general verdict form did not specify whether the jury relied on the felony-murder theory or the State’s alternative theory of willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder to convict Petitioner of first-degree murder. Petitioner later sought state habeas relief, but his postconviction counsel failed to allege in the petition that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that Petitioner could not burglarize his own home. The claim was, therefore, procedurally defaulted under Nevada law. Petitioner then filed a habeas petition in federal district court, which the court ultimately granted. The State of Nevada appealed the grant of Petitioner’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that Petitioner established a basis to excuse the procedural default of his claim because (1) Petitioner’s trial counsel IAC claim is substantial and therefore satisfies Martinez’s prejudice requirement; and (2) Petitioner’s postconviction counsel provided ineffective assistance under Strickland, meeting the Martinez cause requirement. The panel held that Petitioner is entitled to relief on the merits because (1) the trial counsel’s failure to raise the objectively important burglary argument constituted deficient performance, and (2) there is a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different. View "ROBERT LEEDS V. PERRY RUSSELL, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought to expunge records that were created by several federal agencies as part of a surveillance program in 2018–2019, arguing that the collection and retention of these records violated their constitutional rights. The district court granted summary judgment to the government, holding that Plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to seek expungement.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the government. The panel rejected Plaintiffs’ central argument that the government’s retention of illegally obtained information about them was per se an injury-in-fact. Under Supreme Court precedent, the retention of records alone does not constitute a concrete injury, and Plaintiffs must assert that such retention gives rise to a tangible harm or material risk of future tangible harm or bears a close relationship to harms traditionally recognized as providing a basis for lawsuits in American courts. The panel rejected Plaintiffs’ alternative argument that the government’s retention of records allegedly obtained in violation of their First and Fourth Amendment rights constituted a concrete and ongoing injury under that framework.   The evidence did not show that the government was using or will use the records to investigate plaintiffs or prevent them from crossing the border or that a third party will obtain the records and use them to Plaintiffs’ detriment. Plaintiffs had not shown that retention of the type of information contained in the records could give rise to a common law tort claim. Finally, plaintiffs failed to explain (or identify supporting authority) why retention of the records was an ongoing violation of their constitutional rights. View "NORA PHILLIPS, ET AL V. U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROT., ET AL" on Justia Law