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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant challenged the sentence he received after violating several conditions of his supervised release. Defendant first argued that the district court unlawfully delegated its judicial authority to his probation officer to determine the duration of his inpatient substance abuse treatment. His second argument is that the court erred because one year of inpatient treatment, plus the prison time he was sentenced to serve, exceeds the maximum recommended sentence for his offense, and the district court failed to explain what Defendant considers an upward variance.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the special conditions of supervised release. The panel held that the district court, which ordered a specific time range for Defendant’s inpatient substance treatment with a hard upper limit of one year, did not unconstitutionally delegate its judicial authority by ordering the probation officer to supervise Defendant’s progress in inpatient treatment, and allowing the probation officer the discretion to reduce—but not increase—the duration of his inpatient treatment in consultation with Defendant’s care provider. The panel held that the district court’s imposition of Special Condition 2 in addition to a high-end Guidelines sentence did not constitute an upward variance. View "USA V. ARNOLD TAYLOR" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 habeas petition. Petitioner was convicted in California state court of making criminal threats and assault with a deadly weapon. The victim was not authorized to reside in the United States at the time of the crimes. Prior to testifying in Petitioner’s trial, the victim received a U-Visa, which provides immigration benefits for victims of certain crimes who cooperate with law enforcement. At trial, the court barred Petitioner from cross-examining the victim about his U-Visa status, which Petitioner asserted was relevant to the victim’s credibility.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that under the standard prescribed in Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993), which requires a habeas petitioner to persuade the court that a constitutional error at trial had a “substantial and injurious effect or influence” on the verdict, the panel held that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief. The panel wrote that nothing in the record indicates that the victim had an eye toward immigration benefits when he made his initial statement implicating Petitioner; rather, the record suggests the opposite. The panel therefore did not harbor the requisite “grave doubt” that the jury would have convicted Burgos had it known about the victim’s immigration status. View "ORLANDO BURGOS V. RAYMOND MADDEN" on Justia Law

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Defendant challenged the district court’s judgment on the third revocation of his supervised release. He contends that the district court lacked jurisdiction because, at the time of his third violation, he was serving a term of supervised release that exceeded the applicable statutory maximum.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Applying the rationale of United States v. Castro Verdugo, 750 F.3d 1065 (9th Cir. 2014), which involved the same issue in the context of probation revocation, the panel held that because Defendant was serving a term of supervised release when he committed the instant violation, the district court had jurisdiction to revoke his supervised release and impose an additional term of imprisonment, regardless of any error in the sentence imposed on the second revocation. The panel declined to reach Defendant’s argument that the term of supervised release imposed on his second revocation exceeded the statutory maximum. Consistent with Castro Verdugo and earlier precedent, the panel held that an appeal challenging a supervised release revocation is not the proper avenue through which to attack the validity of the underlying sentence. View "USA V. CARLOS ESTRADA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was arrested for murder and held for almost four years before the charges against him were dismissed, months after another person confessed to the crime. Years later, Plaintiff then sued the County of Riverside and various County officials under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, claiming that they had violated his due process rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by suppressing the separate confession. The district court denied a motion for judgment on the pleadings on the Brady claim.   The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded, without prejudice to Parker, asserting a different due process claim. A Brady violation requires that the withheld evidence have a reasonable probability of affecting a judicial proceeding, and no such proceeding was affected here. The panel held that Plaintiff could not show prejudice from the nondisclosure of the confession. A Brady violation requires that the withheld evidence have a reasonable probability of affecting a judicial proceeding. Plaintiff did not state a Brady claim because he did not assert the nondisclosure would have changed the result of any proceeding in his criminal case. The panel rejected Plaintiff’s contention that the prejudice inquiry should be whether the withheld evidence had a reasonable probability of affecting counsel’s strategy. The panel noted that no court has adopted Plaintiff’s proposed rule, and most other courts require a conviction to establish prejudice. Moreover, here, the cause of Plaintiff’s continued detention was not the suppression of the confession, but the District Attorney’s continued prosecution even after receiving the confession. View "ROGER PARKER V. COUNTY OF RIVERSIDE, ET AL" on Justia Law

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After pleading guilty to a single count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(1), Defendant argued at his sentencing that the district court should not consider certain prior convictions in determining his sentencing range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. According to Defendant, subsequent case authority made clear that the guilty plea that produced those prior convictions was not knowing and voluntary, thereby rendering those convictions constitutionally invalid. Defendant argued that the district court should not consider his prior 2004 federal convictions in determining his sentencing range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines because the subsequent authority in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), made clear that the guilty plea that produced those prior convictions was not knowing and voluntary, thereby rendering those convictions constitutionally invalid.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that, under Custis v. United States, 511 U.S. 485 (1994), neither the Constitution nor any federal statute granted Sadler a right to collaterally challenge the validity of his 2004 convictions in connection with their use in enhancing his sentence in this Section 922(g) prosecution. The panel also held that the Guidelines’ provisions and commentary did not create any such right. Defendant argued that the commentary accompanying Guidelines Section 2K2.1 requires that any conviction that is disregarded for criminal history purposes must also be disregarded in applying Section 2K2.1(a)(4)(A)’s enhanced base offense level for a felon-in-possession offense that follows a conviction for a crime of violence or drug-trafficking crime. View "USA V. JASON SADLER" on Justia 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