Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The United States sought an interlocutory appeal of the district court's order suppressing evidence in a criminal prosecution. Defendant was indicted for being an alien in possession of a firearm, and the evidence suppressed resulted from a confrontation between police officers and defendant while he was with his seven-year-old son at a shopping mall.As a preliminary matter, the Ninth Circuit held that United States v. Healy, 376 U.S. 75 (1964), foreclosed defendant's contention that the appeal is untimely. The panel affirmed the district court's suppression of the statements because they were the product of a custodial interrogation conducted without the required Miranda warnings and thus inadmissible. However, the panel explained that a Miranda violation does not alone warrant suppression of the physical fruits of defendant's inculpatory statements. Furthermore, both parties agree that the appropriate inquiry is whether, looking at the totality of the circumstances, defendant's consent to the search of the trunk was voluntary. Therefore, the panel remanded for the district court to resolve the voluntariness issue in the first instance. View "United States v. Mora-Alcaraz" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a 28 U.S.C. 2241 habeas corpus petition where petitioner challenged an Oregon Circuit Court order under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), authorizing involuntary medication to restore petitioner's competency to stand trial for murder. The district court applied Younger abstention and concluded that intervention by a federal court would be inappropriate in light of the important state interests at stake in the pending criminal prosecution.The panel held that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction and the authority to rule on the petition. In this case, the state mischaracterized the cognizability issue as a subject matter jurisdiction issue. Furthermore, although the basic Younger criteria are satisfied in this case, the irreparable harm exception to Younger applies and the district court erred in abstaining. The panel remanded for the district court to consider the issue of the cognizability of petitioner's claim in habeas. View "Bean v. Matteucci" on Justia Law

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Gear, a native of Australia, moved to Hawaii to work. Gear’s employer applied for, and Gear received, an “H-1B” nonimmigrant visa. Gear later returned from visiting Australia with a rifle. Gear was fired and needed a new visa. Gear created a new company and obtained a new H-1B visa. A DHS agent learned Gear was present on an H-1B visa and bragged about owning firearms, and obtained a search warrant. Before the search, Gear stated, “he couldn’t possess a firearm … because he was not a U.S. citizen.” Gear stated his ex-wife had shipped a rifle and gun safe to Hawaii but he claimed they had been discarded because “he couldn’t have it.” Gear eventually admitted that the gun and safe were in the garage.He was charged under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(B) for possessing a firearm while being an alien who had been admitted under a nonimmigrant visa. The jury was instructed the government had to prove Gear “knowingly possessed” the rifle, that had been transported in foreign commerce, and that Gear had been admitted under a nonimmigrant visa. Before Gear was sentenced, the Supreme Court decided Rehaif, holding that under section 922(g), the government must prove the defendant “knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.”The Ninth Circuit affirmed Gear’s conviction. While the government must prove the defendant knew he had a nonimmigrant visa, the erroneous jury instructions did not affect Gear’s substantial rights because the record overwhelmingly indicates that he knew it was illegal for him to possess a firearm. View "United States v. Gear" on Justia Law

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In light of the Supreme Court's decision in Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000), which held that Miranda is a rule of constitutional law that could not be overruled by congressional action, the Ninth Circuit concluded that where the unMirandized statement has been used against the defendant in the prosecution's case in chief in a prior criminal proceeding, the defendant has been deprived of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and he may assert a claim against the state official who deprived him of that right under 42 U.S.C. 1983.In this case, plaintiff alleged that his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated when his un-Mirandized statement was used against him at his criminal trial. The panel concluded that plaintiff sufficiently demonstrated a Fifth Amendment violation caused by the officer under section 1983, such that the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury on this claim. The panel explained that there is no question that plaintiff's statement was introduced into evidence in the failed state criminal prosecution of him. Furthermore, there is no question that the officer "caused" the introduction of the statements at plaintiff's criminal trial even though the officer himself was not the prosecutor. The panel also concluded that the error was not harmless. Accordingly, the panel vacated the district court's judgment on the jury's verdict; reversed the district court's judgment as to plaintiff's requested jury instruction; and remanded for a new trial. View "Tekoh v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress firearms and dismissal of the remainder of his appeal as waived. Defendant had entered a conditional guilty plea to being a felon in possession.The panel concluded that the search warrant did not violate the Fourth Amendment where the warrant sufficiently justified the search for and seizure of "any firearm" and the good faith exception also justifies denying the suppression motion. The panel also concluded that defendant's knowing and voluntary appellate waiver precludes defendant from appealing his career offender sentence enhancement. Finally, the panel rejected defendant's contention that he should be allowed to withdraw his plea and enter a new agreement preserving his right to appeal his sentence because the district court violated Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1) by participating in his plea negotiations. As a threshold matter, the panel disagreed with the government's contention that this claim is subsumed by defendant's appellate waiver and that the panel has no jurisdiction to consider it. The panel concluded that neither of the two instances defendant alleged demonstrated inappropriate judicial pressure on plea negotiations. View "United States v. King" on Justia Law

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Sandoval died of a methamphetamine overdose at the San Diego Central Jail after medical staff left him unmonitored for eight hours, despite signs that he was under the influence of drugs, and then failed to promptly summon paramedics when they discovered him unresponsive and having a seizure. A suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 was rejected on summary judgment.The Ninth Circuit reversed. The district court abused its discretion by summarily sustaining the defendants’ “frivolous” evidentiary objections. An objective standard applies to constitutional claims of inadequate medical care brought by pretrial detainees; the district court erroneously applied the subjective deliberate indifference standard. A jury could conclude that Sandoval would not have died but for the defendants’ unreasonable response to his obvious signs of medical distress and that a reasonable nurse who was told that Sandoval was shaking, tired, and disoriented, and who was specifically directed by a deputy to evaluate Sandoval more thoroughly, would have understood that Sandoval faced a substantial risk of serious harm. Failure to check on Sandoval and to promptly call paramedics were objectively unreasonable. The available law was clearly established at the time. The nurses were not entitled to qualified immunity. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, there was a triable issue of fact as to the county’s liability. View "Sandoval v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for conspiracy, attempt to possess with intent to distribute heroin or marijuana, and bribery: public official accepting a bribe. Defendant's charges arose from his involvement in a drug smuggling scheme at the prison where he worked as a correctional officer.The panel rejected defendant's contention that the district court erred by admitting testimony from another participant in the smuggling scheme who identified defendant from a Facebook photo. The panel concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the government's identification evidence where the photo was not so suggestive that it rendered the identification unreliable. The panel also rejected defendant's contention that he is entitled to a new trial because the government violated the discovery obligations imposed by Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Although the panel agreed with defendant that at least some of the withheld evidence regarding another prison guard's alleged malfeasance was exculpatory, the panel concluded that it was not material within the meaning of Brady. Therefore, the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion for a new trial. View "United States v. Bruce" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's Arizona state conviction and death sentence for multiple offenses including two counts of first-degree murder.The panel addressed three certified issues and concluded that (1) even assuming the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) does not bar the panel's review of petitioner's Brady claims, the delay in producing the photos and police reports, and the failure to disclose the Merrill benefits, were not material; (2) the district court did not err in denying him leave to amend his petition to add a claim that his death sentence violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments because amendment would be futile; and (3) petitioner's ineffective assistance of sentencing counsel claim is procedurally defaulted and petitioner failed to show cause under Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), to excuse the default. Finally, the panel declined to expand the COA. View "Hooper v. Shinn" on Justia Law

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Defendant was arrested with nearly a quarter pound of methamphetamine and an inoperable pistol on his person. He was found guilty of simple possession of methamphetamine and pleaded guilty for being a felon-in-possession of a firearm. The district court sentenced defendant to 120-months in prison after applying a four-level sentencing enhancement for possession of a weapon in connection with another felony (simple possession) under USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B).After determining that defendant did not waive the issue, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court erred in concluding that defendant's pistol emboldened him to possess methamphetamine where the district court made no findings that defendant's firearm made his drug possession more likely. The panel vacated the 120-month sentence on the felon-in-possession count and remanded for further consideration. The panel also vacated the concurrent 36-month sentence for the possession count because the parties agree that the district court erred in exceeding the maximum applicable sentence. The panel remanded for further proceedings. Finally, the panel explained that nothing in the plain text of Fed. R. Crim. P. 32 requires excluding from a presentence report prior arrests for which there was no conviction. Therefore, the panel concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant's motion to strike portions of his presentence report. View "United States v. Grimaldo" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for one count of conspiracy to commit bank robbery under 18 U.S.C. 371; five counts of armed bank robbery under 18 U.S.C. 2113(a) and (d); two counts of bank robbery under section 2113(a); and three counts of brandishing a firearm during the bank robberies under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)(ii).The panel held that defendant's assertion of his rights and pretrial motion to dismiss for Speedy Trial Act violations preserved the issue for appeal; the district court made sufficient findings to support its three ends-of-justice continuances under 18 U.S.C. 3161(h)(7); and the delay of 315 days was not prejudicial where each continuance was supported by detailed information and it was reasonable to allow the codefendants and defendant additional time to adequately prepare. The panel rejected defendant's claim that United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019), and Honeycutt v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 1626 (2017), prohibit using section 2113(d) convictions based on a Pinkerton theory of liability as predicates for section 924(c) convictions. Although defendant did not waive this claim, the panel concluded that it need not decide which liability theory the jury used to convict, because defendant's convictions are valid under either.The panel also rejected defendant's claim that his section 924(c) convictions should be vacated because the jury instructions and verdict form for the predicate section 2113(d) convictions only required the jury to find a conspiracy to commit generic bank robbery. The panel concluded that the district court instructions on aiding-and-abetting liability were not plainly erroneous, and defendant's conviction on either a Pinkerton or an aiding-and-abetting theory was amply supported. Finally, the panel concluded that defendant preserved the claim that the indictment failed to allege the necessary elements of armed bank robbery under section 2113(d). The panel explained that although the failure to include the "use of a weapon" element in the verdict form for armed robbery was incorrect, there is no basis for reversal where the district court correctly instructed the jury on the use of a dangerous weapon. View "United States v. Henry" on Justia Law