Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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On remand from the Supreme Court for further consideration in light of Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), the Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Because defendant did not raise his sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge in the district court, the panel reviewed that challenge for plain error under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b). The panel held that the district court erred by not requiring the government to prove defendant's knowledge of his status as a convicted felon, and that error is now clear following Rehaif. The panel also assumed without deciding that the error affected defendant's substantial rights. However, in assessing the fourth prong of plain error review, the panel may consider the entire record on appeal, not just the record adduced at trial. In this case, given the overwhelming and uncontroverted nature of that evidence, the panel concluded that defendant cannot show that refusing to correct the district court's error would result in a miscarriage of justice. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress contraband found in the vehicle defendant was driving. The district court held that the evidence was discovered during a valid inventory search. As a preliminary matter, the panel held that defendant has not waived arguments challenging the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. On the merits of the motion, the panel affirmed and held that the officers' failure to precisely comply with police department towing policy by failing to completely fill out the CHP 180 form did not render the search invalid. The panel stated that this case was considerably clearer than United States v. Garay, 938 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2019), which held that the failure to complete the form under the circumstances was not a material deviation from policy and did not make the search invalid. In this case, by creating a list of recovered items and incorporating it into a CHP 180 form, an officer complied substantially with the policy's direction to inventory the property in an impounded vehicle. Furthermore, given the early stage at which an officer decided to impound the vehicle, it is a reasonable view of the evidence that the officer's intent at the time the vehicle was impounded was administrative rather than investigatory. Finally, the panel vacated three conditions of supervised release where the government conceded error or made no argument. The panel remanded for revision, as well as vacated and remanded the notification-of-risk condition. View "United States v. Magdirila" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of first degree murder. Petitioner moved for a new trial based on his discovery that a juror had made a false representation during voir dire. The panel applied review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), holding that it was not unreasonable for the state court to conclude that McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984), which permits a new trial where a juror's lies during voir dire hide a fact that would have permitted the juror to be stricken for cause, accommodates a prejudice analysis. Because the Supreme Court has not given explicit direction as to whether McDonough requires a criminal defendant to show prejudice to obtain a new trial, and because the state court's interpretation is consistent with many other courts' interpretations, the panel cannot hold that the state court's interpretation was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent. View "Scott v. Arnold" on Justia Law

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An order denying a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 70(a) motion to enforce a conditional writ of habeas corpus pertains to the district court's adjudication of the habeas petition, and 28 U.S.C. 2253(c)(1)(A) therefore requires a habeas petitioner to obtain a certificate of appealability (COA) in order to appeal the district court's order. The Ninth Circuit denied petitioner a COA and dismissed for lack of jurisdiction his appeal from the district court's order denying his motion under Rule 70(a) to enforce the district court's conditional writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner was convicted, after a jury trial, of aggravated kidnapping, assault with a weapon, and assault on a peace officer, and sentenced to 100 years in prison with 20 years suspended. In this case, petitioner failed to make the requisite showing that reasonable jurists would debate whether the district court abused its discretion in finding that the State complied with the conditional writ and thus in denying petitioner's Rule 70(a) motion. Consequently, petitioner failed to make a substantial showing under section 2253(c)(2) to permit the issuance of a COA. View "Rose v. Guyer" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea filed after he was sentenced to a mandatory 30 year prison term and before the district court entered an amended judgment ordering restitution. Defendant filed his notice of appeal the day after the district court entered the amended judgment. The Ninth Circuit held that defendant's appeal was timely because it was filed within fourteen days of entry of the amended judgment. The panel explained that, because the district court had delayed a final sentence by deferring restitution, it had jurisdiction to allow defendant to withdraw his guilty plea until the final restitution order if he presented a "fair and just reason" to do so. The panel affirmed the district court's refusal to allow defendant to withdraw his guilty plea because it was knowing and voluntary. Finally, the panel held that defendant's remaining claims are waived and did not consider his ineffective assistance of counsel claim for the first time on appeal. View "United States v. Shehadeh" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's conviction and capital sentence for murdering his parents. Petitioner alleged that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because his lawyer failed to present additional evidence of third-party culpability. Petitioner also alleged that a contract for indigent defense services between Los Angeles County and the Pomona Contract Lawyers Association (PCLA) violated his constitutional rights because it interfered with his ability to obtain second trial counsel. The panel held that trial counsel rendered deficient performance by failing to present testimony that gang members appeared to claim credit for the murders, but that counsel did not perform deficiently by failing to find and call a gang expert to counter the testimony of the prosecution's gang expert. In this case, fairminded jurists could disagree as to whether the testimony of five witnesses regarding the gang members' boasting was reasonably likely to have changed the outcome of petitioner's trial. Therefore, there were reasonable grounds for the California Supreme Court to conclude that the omitted testimony would not have altered the outcome. The panel also held that the California Supreme Court's summary denial on the merits of the PCLA contract claims (claims 1, 2, 3, and 11) was not unreasonable, because there is no evidence in the record that trial counsel was appointed to represent petitioner under the contract, was a member of the PCLA at the time the initial contract was signed, or was a signatory to the original contract. View "Staten v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2). The panel held that defendant's prior conviction under California Penal Code section 261.5(c) is not a categorical match to the generic federal definition of sexual abuse of a minor. The panel explained that because the minimum conduct required for a conviction includes consensual sexual intercourse between an individual a day shy of eighteen and an individual who is 21 years of age, section 261.5(c) is not a categorical match to the general federal definition of sexual abuse of a minor. Although the "relating to" language in section 2252(b)(1) has a broadening effect and will allow certain flexibility at the margins, the panel cannot say that the minimum conduct criminalized under section 261.5(c) relates to abusive sexual conduct involving a minor. Finally, because the district court determined defendant's sentence in view of the incorrect statutory and Guidelines ranges, the district court's weighing of the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors was potentially affected and must be redone. Accordingly, the panel remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Jaycox" on Justia Law

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The First Step Act of 2018 does not permit a plenary resentencing proceeding in which a defendant's career offender status can be reconsidered. The Act permits the court to sentence "as if" parts of the Act had been in place at the time the offense occurred, not "as if" every subsequent judicial opinion had been rendered or every subsequent statute had been enacted. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court properly exercised its discretion when it acknowledged that the Act did not authorize it to conduct a plenary resentencing and instead recalculated defendant's Guidelines range to be 188-235. The panel held that the district court correctly applied the applicable laws existing when defendant's covered offense was committed, "as if" the Act was also in existence. The district court then proceeded to the second step of the resentencing and exercised its discretion to impose a reduced term of imprisonment of 180 months. The panel found no error in the district court's approach. View "United States v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the convictions of Defendants Eduardo Hernandez, Leonidas Iraheta, and Vladimir Iraheta; affirmed in part and reversed in part the convictions of Javier Perez; vacated Perez's sentence; and remanded for resentencing. Defendants' convictions and sentences stemmed from their involvement in the Columbia Lil Cycos clique of the 18th Street gang. The panel held that the post-verdict filing made in camera by a third party did not contain Brady material and there was no abuse of discretion in not allowing Leonidas and Hernandez's attorneys to view it; in the few instances in which admission of the witnesses' testimony was error, Leonidas and Hernandez suffered no prejudice; the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (VICAR) statute may reach a crime committed abroad with sufficient nexus to the conduct of an enterprise's affairs; but VICAR does not reach all crimes committed in other countries; because California requires the formulation of criminal intent—and a non-de-minimis act in furtherance of the crime’s commission—in California, the district court's instruction on Perez's count one, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen was in error; the error as to count eighteen was not harmless and required reversal; and the evidence was sufficient to support defendants' underlying convictions. The panel also held that, although the district court improperly applied the firearm enhancement to Hernandez, the error was harmless, and all of Hernandez and Leonidas's other sentencing-related challenges failed; there was no error in the district court's decision to give both Hernandez and Leonidas life sentences; and remand of Perez's sentence was necessary in light of the error on his count eighteen conviction. View "United States v. Perez" on Justia Law

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A conviction for being under the influence of a controlled substance, in violation of California Health and Safety Code 11550(a), is divisible with respect to controlled substance such that the modified categorical approach applies to determining whether a conviction under the statute is a controlled-substance offense as defined by federal law. The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's dismissal of petitioner's appeal from the IJ's decision finding him removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(B)(i) for having been convicted of a controlled-substance offense as defined by federal law. The panel explained that, where, as here, the controlled-substance requirement of a state statute is divisible and where, as here, the relevant substance is shown by application of the modified categorical approach to be federally controlled, then there is "a direct link between an alien's crime of conviction and a particular federally controlled drug" such that section 1227(a)(2)(B)(i) is satisfied. Furthermore, the divisibility of the actus reus element of Section 11550(a) is irrelevant, because under the modified categorical approach a conviction for using or being under the influence of amphetamine relates to a federally controlled substance. View "Tejeda v. Barr" on Justia Law