Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of five counts of money laundering, holding that a reasonable trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that the money laundering transactions, in which payment was made via bitcoin, affected interstate commerce in some way or to some degree. In this case, the transfer involved the use of an Internet or cellular network connected Personal Computer Device (PCD) to transfer bitcoin (together with the digital code necessary to unlock the bitcoin) to the digital wallet of another Internet or cellular network connected PCD. View "United States v. Costanzo" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to TRAX in a disability discrimination action brought by plaintiff under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). After TRAX terminated plaintiff from her position as a Technical Writer allegedly due to an inability or unwillingness to accommodate her disability, TRAX discovered during the course of litigation that plaintiff lacked the requisite bachelor's degree for her position. The panel held that, although McKennon v. Nashville Banner Publishing Co., 513 U.S. 352 (1995), held that after-acquired evidence cannot establish a superseding, non-discriminatory justification for an employer's challenged actions, after-acquired evidence remains available for other purposes, including to show that an individual is not qualified under the ADA. Because plaintiff did not satisfy one of the prerequisites for her position, she is not "otherwise qualified," and TRAX was not obligated to engage in the interactive process. View "Anthony v. TRAX International Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction of attempted Hobbs Act robbery. In this case, the evidence overwhelmingly showed that defendant had the specific intent to commit the robbery and had taken a "substantial step" toward its completion − arming himself with a handgun and driving to within about a block of the planned robbery with his accomplice, turning around only because he got ensnared in the fake crime scene. In light of recent Supreme Court cases, the panel reiterated its previous holding that Hobbs Act armed robbery is a crime of violence for purposes of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A). The panel also held that when a substantive offense is a crime of violence under section 924(c)(3)(A), an attempt to commit that offense is also a crime of violence. The panel agreed with the Eleventh Circuit that attempted Hobbs Act armed robbery is a crime of violence for purposes of section 924(c) because its commission requires proof of both the specific intent to complete a crime of violence, and a substantial step actually (not theoretically) taken toward its completion. The panel reversed defendant's conviction of money laundering in Count Four and affirmed the remainder of the judgment. View "United States v. Dominguez" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied an application under 28 U.S.C. 2244(b) for leave to file a second or successive habeas corpus petition challenging the applicant's 2005 Washington state sentencing judgment. The panel held that the habeas petition applicant seeks to file is a second or successive petition under Magwood v. Patterson, 561 U.S. 320 (2010), because removal of the victim-restitution condition from applicant's sentencing judgment did not create a new, intervening judgment under Washington law. Therefore, in order to proceed with his habeas petition, applicant must satisfy the requirements for filing a second or successive petition under section 2244(b)(2), which he cannot do. In this case, none of the arguments raise in the petition related to a new constitutional rule. Likewise, each of applicant's arguments raises a procedural error that, even if proven true, has no bearing on his guilt. View "Colbert v. Haynes" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a petition for federal habeas relief brought by petitioner, challenging his California state murder conviction and death sentence. Petitioner alleges that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel at the penalty phase because his lawyers failed to present additional evidence of his family history and social background. The panel held that reasonable jurists could conclude that admission of this evidence would not have led to a reasonable probability of a different sentence and thus petitioner was not prejudiced by any deficiency in counsel's performance. The panel granted petitioner's motion to expand the certificate of appealability as to four additional claims. The panel held that the state court reasonably concluded that a mens rea defense theory would not have been reasonably probable to persuade the jury to acquit. Even assuming that counsel rendered deficient performance in failing to conduct further investigation, it was eminently reasonable for the court to conclude that petitioner failed to show that the omission of this argument adversely affected the outcome. Finally, the panel held that petitioner was not prejudiced by his counsel's failure to obtain a transport order and funding authorization for EEG tests and a PET scan during the guilt or penalty phase. View "Berryman v. Wong" on Justia Law

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Appellant sought habeas corpus relief, arguing that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel because the defense lawyer who represented him in his child molestation trial in Arizona state court was ineffective. After the jury reported that it was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial, the jury requested permission to resume deliberations. Appellant's counsel did not object and the jury convicted appellant on all grounds. The Ninth Circuit held that appellant's counsel was not ineffective because, on the facts of this case, it was a reasonable prediction that appellant had a better chance of a more favorable verdict from the existing jury on the existing trial record than he would from a retrial. View "May v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of a petition for habeas corpus as time-barred. The panel held that the district court erred in its refusal to consider whether petitioner's claimed impairment was the cause of the untimeliness of the federal filing, despite his representation by state habeas counsel, and that the district court applied the wrong legal standard in evaluating whether state habeas counsel's misconduct supported equitable tolling. In this case, because the district court thought abandonment was required, it did not consider whether petitioner's state habeas counsel's misconduct qualified as an "extraordinary circumstance" under all the facts of this case. Accordingly, the panel remanded for the appropriate analysis. View "Milam v. Harrington" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's application of a fifteen-year-minimum sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) to defendant's sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The panel held that defendant's predicate domestic violence convictions under California Penal Code 273.5 qualified as categorical violent felonies, and that defendant's arguments to the contrary were foreclosed by United States v. Laurico-Yeno, 590 F.3d 818 (9th Cir. 2010), and its progeny. The panel rejected defendant's claim that the Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a sentencing judge, to find that a defendant's prior convictions were for crimes on different occasions. Rather, the panel held that defendant's argument was foreclosed by United States v. Grisel, 488 F.3d 844 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc), which held that a sentencing judge may find the dates of prior offenses in deciding if a defendant has committed three or more violent felonies. Therefore, the district court did not err in finding that defendant committed three separate offenses. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of wire fraud and filing false tax returns. The jury found that defendant embezzled over $300,000 from the company for which he served as managing member and president. The panel overruled its prior decisions in light of the Supreme Court's intervening decision in Shaw v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 462 (2016), and held that wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. 1343 requires the intent to deceive and cheat, and that the jury charge instructing that wire fraud requires the intent to "deceive or cheat" was therefore erroneous. However, in this case, the panel held that the erroneous instruction was harmless. The panel noted that it was deeply troubled by an Assistant U.S. Attorney's disregard for elementary prosecutorial ethics, but that the misconduct did not entitle defendant to any relief. The attorney here had a personal and financial interest in the outcome of the case. The panel wrote that as soon as the Department of Justice became aware of the impropriety, it took every necessary step to cure any resulting taint, including turning over the entire prosecution of the case to disinterested prosecutors from the Southern District of California. Finally, the panel found defendant's remaining arguments to be without merit. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The en banc court affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition as untimely. Petitioner argued that he was entitled to extend the one-year limitations period set forth in 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1) by equitable tolling for the 66 days between the date his conviction became final in the state appellate court and the date when his attorney informed him of that unsuccessful appeal and provided him with the state appellate record. The en banc court held that petitioner failed to exercise reasonable diligence during the 10 months available after he received his record from his attorney and before the time allowed by the statute of limitations expired. In view of the historic practice of courts of equity and modern Supreme Court precedent governing equitable tolling, the en banc court made two related holdings. First, for a litigant to demonstrate "he has been pursuing his rights diligently," and thus satisfies the first element required for equitable tolling, he must show that he has been reasonably diligent in pursuing his rights not only while an impediment to filing caused by an extraordinary circumstance existed, but before and after as well, up to the time of filing his claim in federal court. Second, and relatedly, it is only when an extraordinary circumstance prevented a petitioner acting with reasonable diligence from making a timely filing that equitable tolling may be the proper remedy. In this case, the en banc court held that petitioner was not entitled to relief. View "Smith v. Davis" on Justia Law