9th Circuit Criminal Law News - U.S. Ninth Circuit
U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Criminal Law Category

Jury instructions that impermissibly merged first-degree murder's mens rea elements violated due process, the Ninth Circuit ruled last Friday. As a result, they invalidated the 1990 murder conviction and death sentence of Billy Ray Riley based on faulty jury instructions.

The guilt-phase instructions advised the jury that if it found premeditation, it has found deliberation. Those are two separate elements, however, and the state needed to prove each one, according to the Ninth.

Her Royal Highness isn't entitled to any restitution from an Australian criminal who bilked the U.S. and Canada out of millions in a fraudulent biodiesel scheme. Nathan "Nati" Stoliar has been described by The Australian as a "Forrest Gump-style character" of Down Under's "corporate sleaze set." Last year, he pled guilty to defrauding the U.S. government, forfeited $4 million and agreed to pay $1 million in restitution. Stoliar, whose name should have given him away, could face up to 69 years in prison and an additional $2 million in fines.

And the Queen wants her share. Since Canada was also a victim of Stoliar's, the Canadian Department of Justice, in Her name, sought restitution in federal court for a little over $1 million (Canadian). Unfortunately, Stoliar's scams were too separate to entitle Canada to restitution for his U.S. crimes, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Tuesday.

A California high school student won't be going to prison for 30 months for shooting a laser pointer at a small aircraft, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Thursday. Adam Gardenhire, the kid who shined his friend's laser pointer at a Cessna airplane as it approached L.A.'s Burbank Airport in 2012, wasn't reckless, the court said, since he lacked knowledge of the risks he was creating.

Gardenhire will now face no more than ten months for his crime of endangering an aircraft. That should give him plenty of extra time to use lasers as they're intended -- to trick cats.

A sentencing enhancement for committing a sexual act can be applied to child sex trafficking charges, the Ninth Circuit held on Tuesday. So can enhancements for undue influence, even if the victims entered into the arrangement voluntarily.

The case involved Tamrell and Tynisha Hornbuckle, sisters who ran a prostitution ring with both underage and adult women. They were eventually caught as part of an FBI sting and pled guilty to two counts of child sex trafficking. They challenged the application of the two enhancements to their sentences.

Last year, we brought you the bizarre story of an FBI sting into illegal gambling at some of the private villas at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. But how did the FBI get the probable cause necessary to support search warrants leading to their arrest?

Illegally, according to lawyer and SCOTUSblog co-founder Tom Goldstein, who represents Wei Seng Phua, one of the defendants. Last week, a federal district court agreed with Goldstein that  evidence obtained from the illegal search must be suppressed.

Marijuana will remain on the federal list of Schedule I drugs, next to heroin and LSD. After a five day evidentiary trial, the District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a motion to dismiss an indictment involving marijuana growing, which challenged the classification was unconstitutional.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs are those which have a high potential of abuse and "no currently accepted medical use." Defense lawyers for 16 men accused of growing marijuana challenged the listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, arguing that it violated the Tenth Amendment's limitations on federal power. Marijuana is legal for medical use in 23 states.

Probationers in the great state of Arizona can't be denied their right to toke up -- for medical reasons! -- according to the state's Supreme Court. Nor can the state condition plea agreements on one's abstention from medical marijuana.

In two cases decided on Tuesday, the court recognized the "broad grant of immunity" created when the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act was passed by public referendum five years ago. AMMA prohibits penalizing qualified medical use or possession in any way. That includes forbidding its use in probation and plea agreements, the court held.

Online credit card scammers must pay $26 million following an FTC action over the scheme. The U.S. District Court of Nevada ruled that Cardflex, Blaze Processing, Mach I Merchanting and their officers, operating together through a series of iWorks websites, had fraudulently and illegally bilked consumers out of millions of dollars.

The iWorks scam promised consumers that they could get rich quick through online advertising and obtain government grants to pay off personal debts. Instead, consumers were enrolled in membership plans and repeatedly charged for services that were not delivered.

Back in May, Arizona joined a host of other states in criminalizing "revenge porn," defined there as the distribution of a nude depiction of another adult without the other's consent. Arizona's law made it a class 5 felony, and a class 4 if the person was recognizable, meaning a sentence of six months to three years depending on the offense.

Such laws have been introduced, or enacted, in 28 states. Civil liberties groups, however, contend that, as written, they suffer from some serious constitutional defects. Right before Thanksgiving, the Arizona Attorney General, recognizing these problems, agreed to stay enforcement of Arizona's law pending further developments.

Back in 2012, Californians decided to double down on punishment for registered sex offenders. Proposition 35 required sex offenders to provide law enforcement with a list of their "Internet identifiers," which could include email addresses, Facebook accounts, or even a user name on an obscure online forum. (Note that Prop. 35 was largely about increasing penalties for human trafficking; the part about sex offender Internet accounts was barely ever mentioned.) Failure to provide law enforcement with written notice of additions or changes to these identifiers, within 24 hours, would subject the offender to criminal penalties.

On the day the proposition took effect, several registered sex offenders sued to block the law's enforcement on First Amendment grounds and on the ground that it was void for vagueness. The district court enjoined enforcement and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.