Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The defendant, Ahmed Alahmedalabdaloklah, a Syrian national, was convicted after a jury trial for participating in a conspiracy that targeted US military personnel and property in Iraq. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed some convictions and reversed others. The court agreed with both parties that Alahmedalabdaloklah's convictions 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. The court reversed these convictions and remanded to the district court to vacate them. However, the court affirmed Alahmedalabdaloklah's convictions for conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiring to damage US government property by means of an explosive. The court held that the statutes under which Alahmedalabdaloklah was convicted applied extraterritorially, meaning they applied to acts committed outside the United States. The court also held that the district court properly used procedures set forth in the Classified Information Procedures Act to withhold or substitute classified information from discovery. Despite several errors by the government in invoking the state-secrets privilege, the court excused these errors because remanding for proper invocation would be of little or no benefit. Finally, the court held that the use of overseas deposition testimony did not violate Alahmedalabdaloklah's rights under the Confrontation Clause or other constitutional and evidentiary rules. The court remanded the case to the district court for resentencing. View "USA V. ALAHMEDALABDALOKLAH" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a habeas corpus petition filed by Thomas E. Creech, a death row inmate in Idaho. Creech was sentenced to death in 1981 for killing a fellow prisoner while serving two life sentences for first-degree murder. In his habeas corpus petition, Creech raised an Eighth Amendment claim, arguing that societal standards have evolved since Ring v. Arizona (2002) to deem a death sentence imposed by a judge rather than a jury as unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, stating that Creech's claim was barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b), which mandates the dismissal of most claims filed in "second or successive" federal habeas petitions. The court held that Creech's claim was ripe and could have been brought in his prior petition challenging the same judgment, making his current petition second or successive. The court also dismissed as moot Creech's motion to stay his execution while the appeal was pending. View "Creech v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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A man named Brett Wayne Parkins was convicted of aiming a laser pointer at a police helicopter. Police officers searched Parkins's apartment without a warrant after obtaining consent from his girlfriend. Parkins, who was present but not at the doorway of his apartment, verbally objected to the search. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided that under the Fourth Amendment, a defendant must be physically present and expressly refuse consent to nullify a co-tenant’s consent to a warrantless search. The court clarified that physical presence does not require the defendant to stand at the doorway — presence on the premises, including its immediate vicinity, is sufficient. The court ruled that Parkins was physically present on the premises and had expressly refused consent, so the search of his apartment violated his Fourth Amendment rights. However, the court upheld the district court's denial of Parkins's motion to suppress his pre-arrest and post-arrest statements because Parkins was not subject to interrogation for his pre-arrest statements and his post-arrest statements at the police station were not a product of the unlawful search of his apartment. The case was sent back to the lower court for further proceedings. View "USA V. PARKINS" on Justia Law

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Israeil Guzman-Maldonado, a lawful permanent resident of the United States and a citizen of Mexico, was convicted of three counts of armed robbery under Arizona Revised Statutes (“A.R.S.”) § 13-1904(A) in 2019. He was sentenced to concurrent eight-year terms for the first two counts and two years of probation for the third. In 2022, an immigration judge ordered Guzman's removal because he had been convicted of an aggravated felony theft offense and two crimes involving moral turpitude not arising from a single scheme. Guzman appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which dismissed his appeal, prompting him to petition for review with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.The Ninth Circuit denied Guzman's petition for review, concluding that a conviction for armed robbery under A.R.S. § 13-1904(A), for which the term of imprisonment imposed is at least one year, is categorically an aggravated felony theft offense under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), thereby giving rise to removability. Applying the categorical approach, the court compared the elements of the generic federal crime and of Arizona armed robbery and concluded that Guzman’s conviction under A.R.S. § 13-1904(A) necessarily required proof of each element of generic theft. The court rejected Guzman's arguments that the Arizona statute encompasses "consensual" takings or the theft of services, both of which would have made it broader than generic theft. View "GUZMAN-MALDONADO V. GARLAND" on Justia Law

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In the case of Donald Sherman, who was convicted of robbery, burglary, and first-degree murder in Nevada, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower courts' decision to deny Sherman's habeas corpus petition. Sherman had argued that his constitutional right to present a defense was violated when the trial court excluded certain impeaching evidence about Dr. Bauer’s daughter, whom Sherman had dated.Sherman claimed that this evidence would have countered the prosecution's narrative that Sherman had murdered Dr. Bauer out of spite for his daughter after their breakup. Instead, he argued, the evidence would have shown that he was manipulated into confronting Dr. Bauer.The Ninth Circuit found that Sherman's argument was not presented to the district court and, in any case, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s (AEDPA) deferential standard of review was applicable because Sherman did not rebut the presumption that the Nevada Supreme Court adjudicated his federal constitutional claim on the merits.On the merits, the Ninth Circuit held that Sherman did not show that the Nevada Supreme Court's denial of his right-to-present-a-complete-defense claim was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. The panel found that the Nevada Supreme Court's rulings on the exclusion of the evidence were not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. The panel also concluded that the Nevada Supreme Court's alternative conclusion that any error was harmless was not unreasonable. View "Sherman v. Gittere" on Justia Law

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In a criminal case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the defendant, Conrado Virgen-Mendoza, was convicted for conspiracy to aid and abet his brother, Paulo Virgen-Mendoza, in his flight to Mexico to avoid prosecution for the murder of a police officer. This was in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1073. Conrado appealed his conviction, arguing that the district court had made a reversible error by allowing the government to argue during closing statements that each co-conspirator did not need to have knowledge about Paulo’s intention to travel to Mexico.Conrado also argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish that he had knowledge of and specifically intended to further Paulo's escape to Mexico. Furthermore, he contested that the district court had abused its discretion by allowing the government to read transcripts of his interviews with law enforcement to the jury without also admitting into evidence the Spanish-language interview recordings.The appellate court held that, since the substantive offense of flight to avoid prosecution under § 1073 never occurred, the government was required to prove that the conspirators knew of the fact giving rise to federal jurisdiction, i.e., that they were aiding Paulo’s flight into Mexico to avoid prosecution. The court concluded that any misstatement of the law by the government did not materially affect the verdict, as the brief misstatement was neutralized by the district court’s instructions to the jury.The court further held that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Conrado knew about and specifically intended to help Paulo cross the border to Mexico to avoid prosecution. Lastly, the court ruled that even if the district court had erred by not admitting the Spanish-language interview recordings into evidence, the exclusion did not materially affect the verdict. Thus, the court affirmed Conrado's conviction. View "USA V. VIRGEN-MENDOZA" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the defendant, José Gambino-Ruiz, was convicted and sentenced for illegal re-entry into the U.S. under 8 U.S.C. § 1326. Gambino-Ruiz appealed his conviction, arguing that the removal order, which was the basis for his charge, was improper under the Immigration and Nationality Act. He also contested his sentence, claiming that the district judge considered impermissible factors in denying a downward sentencing adjustment for acceptance of responsibility.The Court ruled that Gambino-Ruiz was properly subject to expedited removal under § 1225(b)(1)(A)(i) and therefore did not violate his due process rights when he was removed via expedited proceedings in 2013. He was properly convicted of illegal re-entry under 8 U.S.C. § 1326. Furthermore, the Court affirmed his sentence, ruling that Gambino-Ruiz did not demonstrate that his was a rare circumstance where the adjustment for acceptance of responsibility is due after the defendant has proceeded to trial.The facts of the case are as follows: Gambino-Ruiz, a native and citizen of Mexico, entered the U.S. illegally several times. Each time, he was apprehended by border patrol agents and subsequently deported through expedited removal proceedings. In 2020, he was again found in the U.S. illegally and was charged with illegal re-entry of a removed alien. His motions to dismiss the charges and to suppress his admissions to the border patrol agents were denied, leading to a trial where he was found guilty. At sentencing, Gambino-Ruiz's request for a downward sentencing adjustment for acceptance of responsibility was denied, leading to his appeal. View "USA V. GAMBINO-RUIZ" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed two defendants’ convictions for violating the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA), which prohibits the possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute while on board a covered vessel. The defendants were arrested after their speedboat, which was carrying at least 1,000 kilograms of cocaine, was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard off the coast of Ecuador. The vessel carried no nationality flag, but both defendants verbally claimed Ecuadorian nationality for the vessel. The Ecuadorian government neither confirmed nor denied the nationality. The United States treated the vessel as stateless and exercised jurisdiction. The defendants challenged the government’s jurisdiction, arguing that the relevant provision of the MDLEA under which jurisdiction was exercised is unconstitutional because it conflicts with international law regarding when a vessel may be treated as stateless. The court held that the definition of “vessel without nationality” under the MDLEA does not conflict with international law, and thus affirmed the lower court’s denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss the indictment. View "USA V. MARIN" on Justia Law

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In the case reviewed, Mario Gonzalez-Godinez was convicted for attempted illegal entry under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a) after being found near a border fence and admitting to being a Mexican citizen without documentation. After his arrest, a Border Patrol agent read him his Miranda rights as well as his immigration-related administrative rights. Gonzalez waived both sets of rights and then confessed to having been smuggled across the border. Gonzalez argued on appeal that the Miranda warning was inadequate and his conviction should be vacated under the corpus delicti doctrine. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected both arguments.Firstly, the court ruled that the Miranda warning was not inadequate despite also warning Gonzalez that the post-arrest interview may be his only chance to seek asylum. While these two warnings may have posed difficult decisions for Gonzalez, the court found them to be neither contradictory nor confusing. The court held that the government did not need to provide further clarification to the Miranda warning.Secondly, the court held that the corpus delicti doctrine, which requires some evidence to support a confession, did not require vacating Gonzalez's conviction. The court found that sufficient evidence supported Gonzalez’s confession, as he had twice admitted to being a Mexican citizen and his behavior at the border supported his confession. Thus, the court affirmed Gonzalez’s conviction. View "USA V. GONZALEZ-GODINEZ" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, Myron Motley, was convicted and sentenced for his involvement in a conspiracy to distribute controlled substances—oxycodone and hydrocodone. Motley appealed his conviction, arguing that the evidence obtained from two GPS tracking warrants and a wiretap warrant was obtained illegally.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision to deny Motley's motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the GPS tracking warrants. The court held that Motley had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his opioid prescription records maintained in Nevada's Prescription Monitoring Program database due to the government's long-standing and pervasive regulation of opioids. Therefore, the Fourth Amendment challenge to the GPS tracking warrants failed.Additionally, the court affirmed the lower court's determination that the wiretap warrant was supported by probable cause and was necessary. The court found that the affidavit supporting the wiretap warrant application contained sufficient evidence establishing probable cause that Motley was engaged in a conspiracy to illegally distribute prescription opioids. The affidavit also contained enough information for the court to reasonably conclude that a wiretap was necessary to identify the full scope of the conspiracy.The court dismissed Motley's counterarguments, stating that the government's need for a wiretap was not negated simply because it managed to obtain some evidence of a conspiracy without a wiretap. The court explained that the government has a powerful interest in identifying all conspirators and the full scope of the conspiracy. For these reasons, the court affirmed the lower court's decisions. View "USA V. MOTLEY" on Justia Law