Friday, April 28, 2023

US v. Ramos, No. 21-10184 (4-10-23)(Owens w/Bybee; Collins partial dissent and partial concurrence)(Note: This is an AZ FPD case). This appeal concerns a denial of a motion to suppress statements as involuntary and, pertinent, whether the district court properly adopted the magistrate’s report part and parcel (including a key factual error and credibility determination) without conducting an independent de novo review. The majority, over a dissent, finds the district court did not abuse its discretion by wholly adopting the magistrates’ record and recommendation finding the statements were not involuntary, despite the defendant alleging he was threatened and coerced.  The 9th writes the court did what the Federal Magistrate Act allows. When a district court states, on the record, it conducted such a review, the 9th takes it at face value, unless there is an error of law or apparent contradiction. Collins, dissenting on this issue, would find this district court might not have conducted such a review given his track record (concerns expressed in the past), and the sense that the same templates have been repeatedly used. The dissent points out the absence of any case specific or distinct facts in the order. The dissent uses the term “rubberstamp” for the 41/2 pages. (“Rubber Stamp” is defined as a person or organization that gives automatic approval or authorization to the decisions of others, without proper consideration).


A valiant effort by Elizabeth Kruschek, AFPD, AZ (Phoenix)

The decision is here:

Thursday, March 16, 2023

US v. Salazar, No. 22-50060 (3-8-23)(Tallman w/Schroeder & Ikuta).  This is a significant “safety valve” decision. On the government’s appeal, the 9th vacated a sentence and remanded for resentencing because the sentencing court did not make a finding under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)(5) for “safety valve” relief from a mandatory minimum sentence that the defendant had complied with the statutory proffer requirement. The defendant relied upon the lengthy factual basis in the plea agreement (conspiracy to distribute drugs in the LA County Jail system) to argue he gave all the information he had.  The 9th writes that the court, on the record, could not assume the defendant had truthfully disclosed all the information he had about the drug conspiracy.  The finding it would have been “futile” is not supported and the court’s conclusion that the prosecution already had all the information the defendant could have provided did not excuse or obviate the need for this finding. There is not a “implicit proffer” or “futile exception” to the statutory requirement of a proffer. In practical terms, the defendant needs to show they met or gave all the truthful information through an oral or written proffer or a like opportunity. The plea’s factual basis on this record does not suffice.

US v. Taylor, No. 21-10377 (3-1-23)(Bress w/VanDyke & Restani). This is about a car stop and whether the car stop was unreasonably prolonged. The 9th holds it was not. The defendant here was stopped for driving without a license plate or registration. The officers asked him if he had weapons (the defendant said “no”) and whether he had been arrested before (yes). The officers asked the defendant to get out of the car. The 9th states the asking of the defendant to get out of the car did not unreasonably prolong the stop; neither did running of a criminal records check. Also, the defendant had an unzipped fanny pack, which was reasonable to question given the lack of identification and the fact the defendant was under supervised release. Defendant’s consent to search the car was not forced. The case was remanded to conform the written judgment of a SR condition with the oral pronouncement (pay for programs if the defendant had the ability).

1. US v. Alvarez, No 21-50088 (2-16-2023)(R. Nelson w/M. Smith & Drain). The 9th affirms a 1326 conviction. The defendant’s prior Ohio assault conviction under Ohio Rev Stat 2903.13(a) is a COV. The 9th follows the 6th Circuit.

2. US v. Farias-Contreras, No. 21-30055 (2-15-23)(Wardlaw w/Gould; dissent by Bennett). The prosecutor agreed to recommend a low-end GL sentence. However, the prosecutor undermines the recommendation with an inflammatory sentencing memorandum decrying the harm and pain drug trafficking visited on the community by “pumping poison” to the streets. The majority, under plain error, concludes the inflammatory statements violated the plea agreement.  Bennett dissents. He argues the prosecutor complied by stating the recommendation, and as expressly permitted by the plea, could present other facts. Bennett concludes by calling for en banc or SCOTUS review.

3. US v. Michell, No. 19-10059 (2-15-23)(Wardlaw w/Garner; partial concurrence and dissent by Baker). This is a Rehaif issue. Under plain error, the 9th affirmed convictions for unlawful firearm possession. The error was plain – knowledge of a felony is an element – but here the 9th could take judicial notice outside the record of other convictions, where the knowledge of felonies was clear. No prejudice existed. Baker dissents. He argues the defendant had a fighting chance of arguing to the jury he really didn’t know.

Monday, October 31, 2022

1.  US v. Richards, No. 21-10190 (10-31-22)(Callahan w/Bybee & Collins). The 9th affirms two consecutive 24-month sentences for SR violations. The 9th rejected the argument that SR violations for criminal conduction should be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and not preponderance. Justice Breyer’s controlling concurrence in Haymond still rules the day; the 9th rejected this in previous precedent; and all other circuits have rejected this argument. The consecutive sentences are supported by the actions of two distinct offenses, at different places and times (possession of a firearm and ammunition). The sentences also flow from two distinct counts in the underlying indictment. Last, the violation and sentences are supported by sufficient evidence.


2. In re Jane Doe, No. 22-70098 (Graber w/Friedland & Koh). The 9th reiterates that a defendant may agree to restitution in a plea agreement even where there is otherwise no statutory authority for it.


Friday, October 28, 2022

US v. Holguin, No. 19-50158 (10-13-22)(Nguyen w/Bea; partial concurrence/partial dissent by Berzon).  It would be “prudent” to test expert witnesses under Daubert, especially with such expertise as gangs and when the experts were law enforcement.   Such testing did not occur in this Mexican Mafia case when the “experts”  were just lay witnesses and officers. Yet the  9th affirmed  under plain error because of the harmlessness. Other issues include dual role of law enforcement  as experts and lay witnesses, adequacy of jury instructions about how to use such testimony, and gang evidence.

Berzon dissents on the harmlessness of introducing drug jargon expert testimony.

US v. Saelee, No. 20-10209 (10/11/22)(Collins w/Nguyen & Burgess). The 9th affirmed convictions for attempted possession of ecstasy and conspiracy. The 9th find the “independent source” doctrine permitted evidence to come in despite 4th amendment violations (the warrant was issued minutes after the violations based on previous information). The 9th also held evidence was sufficient evidence to support the convictions. Co-conspirator statements were not hearsay and admission of other evidence, such as showing a photo of a wad of money, and testimony about ammunition, were not erroneous nor prejudicial. 

The decision is here:

Sunday, September 25, 2022

1. US v. Chen, No. 20-50333 (9-14-22)(Navarro w/Rawlinson & Christen). “We hold that a district court may consider the First Step’s non-retroactive changes to sentencing law, in combination with other factors particular to the individual defendant, when determining whether extraordinary and compelling reasons exist for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A).” p. 3.

The issue was stacked 924(c)s. The sentencing court can consider the change in law.

Congrats to Joshua Weiss & Kathryn Young, Deputy FPDs, Cal C (L.A.).

2.  US v. Fowler, No. 21-30172 (9-13-22)(Miller w/Ikuta & Pregerson). Affirming denial of a suppression motion, the 9th upheld the cross-deputization of a Montana state trooper to enforce tribal law when there is a gap in the jurisdictions. The trooper stopped the defendant, an Indian, on a highway cutting through the reservation. The cross-deputization agreement was valid. The fact the deputy did not carry an identification card which clearly violates the agreement did not rise to a serious enough violation to cause the sovereign parties to seek a remedy.

3. US v. Montoya, No. 21-50129 (9-13-22)(Lee w/Ikuta; concurrence by Forrest). The 9th wouldn’t let appellant withdraw her guilty plea. The appellant argued the court’s saying it “rejected” a non-binding sentencing recommendation transformed the plea to an 11(c)(1)(C). “No,” says the 9th; the word didn’t make it what it wasn’t. The 9th also held failing to orally recite the standard conditions was not err. US v Napier, 463 F.3d 1040 (9th Cir 2006) does not require it. At the COP colloquy, the court’s failure to say the defendant had a right to a jury trial did not affect her rights. Concurring, Forrest regards Napier as wrong. The “standard” conditions are too broad a definition.

Monday, September 05, 2022

1. US v. Latu, No. 19-10069 (Nguyen w/Wardlaw & Owens). The 9th affirms a conviction for Assault resulting in serious bodily injury that occurred at a federal detention center. The victim, also a detainee, refused to testify. His statements as to the injuries and pain came in, over a Crawford confrontation objection, because the statements fit into a hearsay exception (medical treatment) and they were given in medical treatment as opposed to questioning or law enforcement. This was true even though the medical nurse was a BOP employee. The primary purpose was treatment for traumatic injuries and medical care. Of note, the 9th emphatically states it is not adopting a categorical rule or presumption that all statements to medical staff or during treatment is admissible and not Crawford barred. The 9th emphasizes sometimes, the statements are testimonial and subject to Crawford. The factors here are the role of the nurse (treatment and not questioning), the trauma, and the informality.


2. Wright v. Alaska, No. 19-35543 (8-31-22)(Murguia w/Nelson; concurrence by Rawlinson). Custody on a failure to register as a sex offender charge  is not “custody” for habeas jurisdiction to challenge underlying state convictions that gave rise to the requirement to register. The Supreme Court dealt with the argument in Alaska v. Wright, 141 S. Ct 1467 (2021). Petitioner’s attempt here to argue a “restraint-on-liberty” condition by registration also fails. He was not in custody. Rawlinson concurs, stating the Court’s per curium decision dealt with both theories and the “rehash’ in this opinion was not necessary.

US v. Anderson, No. 20-50207 (8-25-22)(Rawlinson w/Owens; dissent by Fletcher). The 9th considers whether a contracted private security guard threatened by defendant is an “official” under 18 USC 115 through a cross reference to 1114 which extends to those assisting officials.  The majority says “yes,” while acknowledging the ambiguity and confusion in the statute. The majority concludes the term “official” in 115 is not meant as a limitation. The dissent, Fletcher, says: yes it should. The statute is ambiguous and the language must be read as a limitation. It should not apply to this guard as an “official.” The Rule 29 should be granted. The majority joins the 3rd and 8th Circuits.

Interesting statutory issue and one that may have appeal to SCOTUS.

Righteous fight by Gia Kim, Deputy Public Defender, Cal Central (Los Angeles).


1. Nguyen v. Frauenheim, No. 20-56284 (8-22-22)(M. Smith w/Bade & VanDyke). The 9th affirms denial of a habeas petition, finding no Batson violation. The Batson challenge went to gender and mixed race. The 9th reiterates that Teague bars new rules being established in habeas. As such, looking at a class of Hispanic women would be a new class (Hispanic and gender). There was also no Batson violation as to the Hispanic juror.


2. US v. Ramirez-Ramirez, No. 21-10127 (8-22-22)(Paez w/Hawkins & Watford). Summary by Ryan Moore, AFPD (Appeals), D. AZ, who argued the case: “The CA9 holds on plain error that the 6A public-trial right applies to the phase of announcing guilt in a bench trial. Only the CA2 so held previously. The district court announced its findings of guilt about a week after the bench trial only in writing, while the defendant sat in jail. The panel held that the 6A requires findings of guilt be made in open court, even when the factfinder is the judge. Although the panel also held that the district court’s later reiteration of its findings at sentencing satisfied the 6A’s open-court requirement, it nonetheless remanded for specific findings of fact because the district court had denied as untimely a request for specific findings made after the written announcement of guilt, which was “legally insufficient.” Unfortunately, the plain error standard doomed what the panel called “a strong argument” that the guilt by email scheme also violated the rights to be present under the 5A and Rule 43(a). And we really should have gotten a new trial for the 6A violation, in my opinion, because a mere reiteration at sentencing of a decision made long after the judge has moved on is not a substitute for the moment of truth when the judge faces a defendant in trial and makes/announces the decision in open court. But the caselaw isn’t great on the remedy for this structural error and a new trial was always a longshot.


3. US v. Jaimez, No. 19-50253 (8-23-22)(Bress w/Fitzwater; Concurrence/dissent by Owens). The 9th affirms convictions for RICO, money laundering, and conspiracy. There was sufficient evidence. Owens dissents on money laundering, arguing the defendant, a low level “foot soldier,” did not know the purpose of the money laundering actions was to conceal financial transactions. 

Crespin v. Ryan, No. 18-15073 (8-19-22)(Hurwitz w/Hawkins & M. Smith). The 9th affirms a conditional grant of habeas. This presents a Miller claim, narrowed under Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S. Ct 1307 (2021). Petitioner was 16 when charged with a capital offense. He pled to LWOP, pre-Miller. The 9th held he could challenge post-conviction. The 9th then held that Miller and Jones both require the court to exercise its discretion. Here, the trial court stated he had no discretion in sentencing and had to impose LWOP. The 9th rejects the State’s argument that the court could have rejected the plea. Rejection is not discretion in sentencing, and did not comply with Miller.

1. US v. Rodriguez, No. 21-50108 (8-17-22)(M. Smith w/Bade; concurrence by VanDyke). The 9th remands for resentencing. In sentencing for importation, the court erred in denying a minor role adjustment by misapplying the factors set out in 3B1.2(b). In denying the adjustment, the court failed to recognize the comparison is with an average participant in a particular conspiracy or enterprise; failed to consider a recruiter’s culpability in luring the defendant; failed to consider the degree of involvement in the factors; and failed to consider the totality of circumstances. The court tended to have a stark choice about applicability.  Upon resentencing, as to certain factors, the 9th instructs the court to focus on the scope of defendant’s knowledge of the entire criminal enterprise (which was limited); the fact he was paid a discrete amount rather than a percentage; and the receiving of instructions does not mean one plans or organizations conduct.

Concurring, VanDyke agrees with the remand. He writes to stress a court can consider evidence beyond the five factors listed in 3B1.2(b). He also states that running large quantities of drugs across the border can indicate a knowledge of participants involved.

This is a good case for use of “minor role” and the factored approach.


2. US v. Carter, No. 19-10411(8-17-22)(Bea w/Murguia & Berzon). This is a First Step Act issue about what changes and facts can be considered in using discretion to reduce a sentence in resentencing. The 9th states that Concepcion v US, 142 S. Ct 2389 (2022) allows (1) district courts to examine intervening changes in the law or fact in exercising discretion in reducing a sentence; (2) the court must consider nonfrivolous arguments in exercising discretion, and so changes of fact can be considered; and (3) the court must explain its reasoning. The 9th holds Concepcion abrogates 9th precedent in US v. Kelly, 962 F. 3d 470 (9th Cir. 2020). Kelly limited the First Step Act to sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act and the changes there. Concepcion expands the scope.

Congrats to David Porter, AFPD, Cal E (Sacramento).


US v. Magdaleno, No. 20-10390 (8-11-22)(Clifton w/M. Smith & Reiss). Siblings don’t qualify as an “intimate familial relationship”? At least not under plain error, and on this record, which involves a SR condition for the defendant, a member of the East Las Casitas Norteno street gang, not to associate with fellow gang members. His siblings and half-siblings are members of the gang. The 9th  considers Wolf Child, which holds that certain close family ties are fundamental liberty interests that need special findings and proof. The relationship with brothers and half-brothers, on this record, did not rise to such a relationship. The court did not procedurally err by failing to make certain findings; and did not err in imposing this condition on the record.

1. Fauber v. Davis, No. 17-99001 (8-5-22)(Bress w/Forrest; dissent by Watford). The 9th affirms denial of a capital habeas. Under AEDPA deference, the 9th finds no IAC when counsel failed to object to prosecutorial vouching. In closing,  the prosecutor read the cooperating witness’s plea agreement which state the prosecutor and court would assess testimony for truthfulness.

More concerning, the majority found no error in the exclusion from mitigation the State’s plea offer to life. Petitioner sought to introduce to counter the argument of future dangerousness. The majority concludes there is no clearly established federal constitutional law that holds an unaccepted plea is mitigating evidence. Even if it were, the majority concludes exclusion was not prejudicial.

Dissenting, Watford points to the need to counter the prosecutor’s full-throated argument the petitioner would kill again  if given LWOP. Watford argues federal law is clear on this point and it is not harmless.

Righteous fight by Deputy Fed Defenders John Crouchley & Ajay Kusnoor, Cal Central (Los Angeles).


2. Montiel v. Chappell, No. 15-99000 (Friedland w/Fletcher & Hurwitz)(8-5-22). The 9th affirms denial of a petitioner for IAC under AEDPA deference. The 9th concludes, again, the state supreme court’s summary denial of a review petition was on the merits. Even assuming counsel was IAC for failing to present expert evidence of diminished capacity due to substance abuse and a history of substance abuse, the state court was reasonable in finding there was no prejudice.


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

US v. Brown, No. 20-50313 (8-2-22)(Daniels w/McKeown & Ikuta). After such knowledge, what forgive? Sure, a bit poetic, but it comes into play with this “safety valve” defendant and the First Step Act. The First Step Act proscribes using information in a safety valve proffer from enhancing a sentence. The defendant gave a safety valve proffer, which disclosed other drug courier trips. The court referenced this as part of the 3553 factors, along with other information, in sentencing the defendant to a 78 month sentence: below the mandatory minimum and below the guidelines range, but higher than the government recommendation (71 months) and what the defendant wanted. The court focused on a variety of factors, including use of a minor in the transport, the length of involvement with the traffickers, the impact on the community, and the earning of considerable sums. The case thus turns on “enhancing.”

As a first impression, the 9th holds the sentence was not improper. A failure to reduce a sentence is not an enhancement. [The opinion cites extensive authority that a failure to reduce is not an enhancement.] The court considered a variety of factors – aggravating and mitigating – in fashioning this sentence. The First Step Act does not strip the court of the ability to consider the information in its sentencing discretion.

1.  United States v. Wright, No. 20-50361 (Bennett (D. Md.) with Berzon and Bea) –- The panel affirmed the denial of a motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), holding that error in treating the Guidelines’s policy statement on compassionate release as binding can be harmless when the district court makes an alternative ruling based on the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors that is itself a proper exercise of sentencing discretion.  The panel also held that the defendant had abandoned his alternative request for home confinement by failing to separately argue it.

Kudos to Jessica Agatstein and Katie Hurrelbrink, Federal Defenders of San Diego, for a hard-fought appeal. 

The decision is here:


2.  Sansing v. Shinn, No. 13-99001 (Watford with Callahan; Berzon dissenting) –- [This is an Arizona CHU case.]  The panel denied a petition for rehearing and issued a revised opinion and revised dissent that does not change the previous outcome of the appeal (no relief, but Berzon dissented and would order resentencing) but accounts for the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Brown v. Davenport, 142 S. Ct. 1510 (2022), which discusses how to apply harmless-error review (here, to a claim under Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002)) in habeas proceedings.  The panel did not allow further petitions for rehearing based on the revised opinion and dissent.

The revised opinion is here: