Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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The Ninth Circuit reversed defendant's conviction on two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. The panel held that there were a number of trial errors and, considering that evidence of guilt was not overwhelming, their cumulative effect prejudiced defendant. The trial errors included the following: (1) improper witness testimony that bolstered the victim's credibility and offered opinion on the credibility of sex abuse allegations in general; (2) prejudicial propensity evidence in the form of defendant's ex-wife's testimony regarding a child-incest fantasy defendant allegedly had in 2003; and (3) prosecutorial misconduct, namely: commenting on defendant's decision not to testify, witness vouching, and misstating the evidence in summation. Accordingly, the panel remanded for a new trial. View "United States v. Preston" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for habeas relief challenging petitioner's conviction and death sentence for four counts of first degree murder. The panel held that, because petitioner failed to prove that any of the eyewitnesses provided material, false testimony or that the prosecution knew they committed perjury, the state court's rejection of petitioner's Mooney-Napue claims relating to the eyewitnesses was neither contrary to clearly established federal law nor objectively unreasonable; the state court reasonably denied petitioner's claim that certain testimony from non-eyewitnesses was false; the state court reasonably denied petitioner's claims under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); the state court reasonably denied petitioner's claims relating to the exposure of two eyewitnesses; and the court affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas petition with respect to the Mesarosh claim, lineup card claim, Massiah claim, ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and cumulative error claim. View "Sanders v. Cullen" on Justia Law

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A state court's alteration of the number of presentence credits to which a prisoner was entitled under California law constitutes a new, intervening judgment under Wentzell v. Neven, 674 F.3d 1124, 1125 (9th Cir. 2012). The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a California state prisoner's habeas corpus petition and remanded for further proceedings. In this case, the amendment to the judgment was clearly a new judgment under Magwood v. Patterson, 561 U.S. 320, 341–42 (2010). The panel explained, so too, with the amendment to petitioner's presentence credits, and thus to his sentence. View "Gonzalez v. Sherman" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. In this case, the district court treated defendant's prior conviction under Washington's second-degree assault statute, Revised Code of Washington section 9A.36.021, as a crime of violence under the Sentencing Guidelines. State court documents from the prior conviction demonstrated that defendant had pleaded guilty to violating section 9A.36.021(1)(c), assault with a deadly weapon. The panel held that this case was controlled by its recent decision in United States v. Robinson, 869 F.3d 933 (9th Cir. 2017), in which the panel held that section 9A.36.021 is not a crime of violence under the Sentencing Guidelines. The panel explained that section 9A.36.021 criminalizes conduct that does not meet the generic federal definition of crime of violence and was not divisible. The panel concluded that United States v. Jennen, 596 F.3d 594 (9th Cir. 2010), was overruled. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Slade" on Justia Law

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An obstruction of justice enhancement under USSG 3C1.1 may be founded upon a finding of malingering. The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for receipt and distribution of child pornography. In this case, defendant had no legal or factual basis to challenge either the obstruction of justice or pornography distribution enhancements because defendant made no factual objections and thus there was no violation of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32. View "United States v. Bonnett" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the petition for habeas relief based on lack of exhaustion claims. In this case, the district court dismissed claims challenging petitioner's murder conviction and death sentence, finding that, although he presented them to the California Supreme Court, he subsequently waived them by means of a handwritten, pro se filing. The panel held that there was insufficient evidence in the record to support a finding that petitioner's handwritten form constituted a valid waiver of his right to proceed and that the State failed to carry its burden to the contrary. Therefore, the district court erred by dismissing the claims as unexhausted and the court remanded so that the district court could adjudicate the claims on the merits. View "Kirkpatrick v. Chappell" on Justia Law

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Threats to sue fall within the purview of the constitutionally protected right to file grievances. Both the filing of a criminal complaint by a prisoner, as well as the threat to do so, are protected by the First Amendment, provided they are not baseless. Plaintiff, a prisoner at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was disciplined for threatening to initiate civil litigation and file a criminal complaint against prison officials. The Ninth Circuit held that because plaintiff had alleged cognizable First Amendment retaliation claims regarding his threats to sue, and qualified immunity did not attach, it was improper to dismiss the complaint in its entirety under Rule 12(c). However, in regard to plaintiff's threat to file a criminal complaint, even though it was a constitutionally protected right, qualified immunity attached. Therefore, dismissal of that aspect of the complaint was proper. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. View "Entler v. Gregoire" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition where petitioner challenged his conviction for second degree murder and attempted murder. Petitioner was fourteen years old at the time he was found guilty of the crimes. The panel held that the government relied on a coerced waiver of the right to counsel to secure the conviction because petitioner did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive such right. Because admission of petitioner's confession was not harmless, the panel granted relief under 42 U.S.C. 2254. View "Rodriguez v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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A defendant attempts to produce and transport a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct when he believes that the victim is a minor, regardless of the victim's actual age. In this case, the Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for attempt to produce and transport into the United States a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct (Count 1B); vacated defendant's conviction for attempt to aid and abet travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct (Count 2B) because the statute does not proscribe an attempt to aid and abet such travel; and vacated defendant's sentence as to Count 1B and 2B. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Jayavarman" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Petitioner was found guilty of four crimes involving the robbery and murder of the victim in a Las Vegas jewelry store and was sentenced to death. The panel held that the Supreme Court of Nevada's denial of petitioner's claims under Brady v. Maryland and Strickland v. Washington constituted an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent; petitioner was entitled to a writ of habeas corpus with respect to his convictions of burglary, robbery with the use of a deadly weapon, and murder with the use of a deadly weapon; and petitioner was not entitled to habeas relief as to the escape conviction because he has offered no reason to call the validity of that conviction into question. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Browning v. Baker" on Justia Law