Sunday, December 23, 2018

Case o' The Week: Merry Christmas, from St. Nintholas - Sanchez and Rule 29 Win (After Stip Facts Bench Trial!)

Charged with "felon in possession."
Stip'ed to all elements.
Bench trial.
Found guilty by the district court.

 And . . . home for the holidays!
United States v. Sanchez, 2018 WL 6720559 (9th Cir. Dec. 20, 2018) (mem.), decision available here.

Players: Mem. dispo by Judges D.W. Nelson, Wardlaw, and visiting DJ Pratt. Admirable reversal for insufficient evidence on a stip facts bench trial for CD Cal AFPD Jonathan Schneller.

Facts: After plea negotiations broke down, Sanchez had a stip facts bench trial on a § 922(g) (felon in possession) charge. Id. He stipulated to an essential element of this crime: that he had suffered a prior felony conviction. Id. This stip was discussed at the pretrial conference, mentioned by the government in opening and closing arguments during the stip facts bench trial, and was filed on the docket after the close of evidence. Id. The AUSA, however, forgot to move the stip into evidence or read it into the record. Id. 
  The defense did not identify this oversight in a Rule 29 motion during trial. Id. Instead, after the district court found Sanchez guilty, the defense moved for a judgment of acquittal arguing that the government had not introduced evidence of all elements. Id. (citing United States v. James, 987 F.2d 648 (9th Cir. 1993)). 
  The district court denied the motion. Id.

Issue(s): “John Alexander Sanchez appeals his conviction, by bench trial, of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). . . . Sanchez contends his conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence, because the stipulation to his prior felony was not properly entered in the evidentiary record.” Id. at *1.

Held:We agree, and reverse his conviction.” Id. “In James, we held that a stipulation that had not been read to the jury or received into evidence” could not sustain a conviction, because there was no fact in evidence that the jury could take as proved. We noted that even a correct and signed stipulation not so presented would not be enough, and expressly rejected the argument that a defendant’s stipulation outside the trial record removed that issue from consideration such that no further evidence on the issue was required because a stipulation is conclusive proof of the fact agreed to. . . . .  
  “In the absence of the stipulation here, insufficient evidence exists that would convince any rational trier of fact beyond a reasonable doubt that Sanchez had been convicted of a crime punishable by over a year of imprisonment.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted).
Of Note: Had the government simply agreed to a conditional plea, and allowed Sanchez to appeal the denial of a pretrial ruling, this remarkable reversal of a conviction after a stipulated facts bench trial would have never happened. See Fed. R. Crim. Proc. 11(a)(2).
  We’re told the USAO’s refusal to offer conditional pleas saves government resources. The Feds are right: here, it saved the government the considerable cost of incarcerating Mr. Sanchez after a Section 922(g) conviction.

How to Use: Like a Christmas fruit cake, this brief mem dispo is dense with little nuggets (but is far tastier). The Ninth rebuffs the government’s attempt to limit the legendary James decision to jury trials. The distinction between jury and bench trials is “of no constitutional significance.” Id
  The government’s briefing apparently complained that the defense didn’t identify the government’s failure of proof during trial. See Appellant’s Reply Brief at 2018 WL 4740139. That curious complaint doesn’t even merit discussion in this mem. disp. 
  And the Ninth rejects a “judicial admission” pitch that the government threw into a footnote. “Consigning [the argument to] a single sentence in a single footnote” meant that the government had abandoned the argument. Id. at 1 & n.2.

  Good things come in small packages.  
For Further Reading: Last August, former CJA Panel Attorney David Anderson was nominated by President Trump to serve as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California. 
  There had been some talk of a confirmation by the Senate last week. Other events – like the unfortunate shut down of the federal government of the United States of America – appear to have intervened. 
  For an update on Mr. Anderson’s confirmation odyssey, see Congressional website here. 

Image of Christmas package from 

Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal. Website at


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