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9th Circuit Affirms Life Sentence Despite 'Reclassification'

A state's post-conviction reclassification of a crime from a felony to misdemeanor has no bearing on a federal statute's sentencing guidelines, the Ninth Circuit said recently. Even though a criminal might get relief from his felony status years after the fact by the state, federal sentencing rules will still look to the time of conviction in meting out the proper punishment.

Criminal law practitioners would do well to educate their clients on the finer nuances that blend federal and state criminal law.

Courts Can't Forcibly Medicate to Make a Defendant Stand Trial

Can the court force criminal defendants to take medication to make them competent to stand trial? Apparently, no. At least, not in the Ninth Circuit in this particular case.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that a lower district judge should not have allowed the forcible medication of defendant Nna Alpha Onuoha, the former LAX security officer who was accused of making threatening calls over the airport's phone system, calling for authorities to evacuate. Why? Because it wasn't in his best medical interests.

An attempt by the Justice Department to speed up the death penalty process survived a challenge in the Ninth Circuit last week. Under a federal program, states that provide certified, competent representation to capital prisoners can have those prisoners' federal habeas petitions "fast-tracked," dropping the time prisoners have to file habeas petitions in half, reducing delays before the guillotine falls.

Two capital defense providers sued, arguing that the new regulations made it impossible to tell if state programs would be certified, making it difficult for them to protect death row inmates' rights. But those concerns, the Ninth Circuit ruled, aren't sufficient enough to give them standing.

9th Cir. Affirms Denial of Habeas Relief to Armed Robbery Defendant

In what is certainly a confounding jumble of legal issues indeed, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower district court's decision to deny habeas relief to a man who'd been convicted of numerous crimes arising out of his early 2000s Washington state crime spree.

In what was not presented as a petitioned issue, the circuit concluded that although it had affirmed on the issue of habeas, the defendant was free to appeal possible constitutional violations.

9th Circuit Decides Indian Reservation Murder Case

It's rare when issues of jurisdiction actually sound interesting, but a recent case in California makes the grade. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part a criminal judgment against a defendant in a murder case where jurisdiction over the defendant turned on whether or not the victim was Indian.

This case reminds of the duality in the Continental United States between the US Government and the Indian Nations.

9th Circ. Overturns 34-Year-Old Arizona Death Sentence

The Ninth Circuit just overturned a 1982 death sentence handed down by an Arizona court because it found that the convicted was intellectually disabled at the time of the crime; and thus his execution would be cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment and prongs of Atkins v Virginia.

There was not unanimity in the ruling and the dissent opined that the circuit should have deferred more greatly to the state's determination of the defendant's mental capacity. Following this ruling, his sentence has been reduced to life imprisonment.

When Mario Garcia was arrested for a DUI in Riverside County, California, the police booking system matched him to an outstanding felony warrant in Los Angeles. Garcia was quickly transferred to L.A.

Except the police had the wrong Mario Garcia. And despite Garcia's numerous objections, officers refused to perform even the most basic checks, checks which would have revealed their mistake. In so failing, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Wednesday, the Los Angeles County, the L.A. Sheriff's Department, and individual officers forfeited their legal immunity.

When James McKinney was sentenced to death for two murders, evidence of his turbulent childhood and post-traumatic stress disorder wasn't considered a mitigating factor. For over 15 years, Arizona courts relied on a "causal nexus" test for mitigating factors, which forbids consideration of family background and mental illness as mitigating factors.

Arizona's causal nexus test for mitigating factors is unconstitutional, a divided Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, ruled on Tuesday. The decision not only puts McKinney's death sentence into question, it could jeopardize many Arizona capital sentences issued between 1989 and 2005.

'No' Means 'No' When Questioned by Police, 9th Cir. Rules

The Ninth Circuit reaffirmed a law that has been fundamental to criminal law for an entire generation of criminal attorneys: "No" means just that -- no. In its opinion, the circuit court vacated the trial court's ruling as being established on inadmissible evidence, and affirmed the lower appeal's court grant of habeas corpus.

This case underscores the limits of police custodial interrogations. The best tip for a would-be criminal about to be questioned by the police? Just say "no."

Last week, the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in Facebook v. Power Ventures. There's a $3M judgement at stake, but that's nothing compared to the impact the case could have on the reach of an anti-hacking law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

That law, once intended to punish hackers who broke into computer systems, has been read by some circuits to prohibit all sorts of unauthorized access, from looking at protected company files to access someone's Facebook information.