U.S. v. Nguyen, No. 11-50061 (3-23-12)(Reinhardt with W. Fletcher and Zouhary, D.J.).
The defendant sent a letter when he was running for Congress as a Republican. The letter was sent to foreign-born registered voters with Hispanic surnames who were registered as Democrats or "decline to state." And what might that letter have said? Well, it raised the specter of investigation and implied the meaninglessness of voting. So much for a civics lesson. The defendant downplayed his involvement, but an investigation ensued, which led to a warrant being issued. No state charges were filed, but eventually he was indicted and convicted of a federal charge, obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. 1512(b)(3). This appeal focuses on the issuance of the warrant. The 9th held that the letter, with its implied threats and discouragement, did provide probable cause for the issuance of a warrant. The warrant led to a search of computers and offices, and disclosed a close connection between (surprise!) the defendant and the letter (via a mass mailing service). The 9th acknowledged that no state charges came from the search, but that the letter, read plainly, did provide probable cause to believe that interference with voters exercising their rights had occurred, or that infringement on the right to vote took place. That was all that was needed. The letter also did not violate the defendant's First Amendment rights as related to the warrant.