9th Circuit Criminal Law News - U.S. Ninth Circuit
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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.

The "machinery of death" is creaking back into action in California after a Ninth Circuit decision revived the state's capital punishment system today. In a surprising ruling last year, Judge Cormac Carney declared that the state's death penalty system was so slow and arbitrary that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. He ordered the whole thing shut down.

But that ruling has now been overturned on a technicality, with the Ninth announcing today that the district court should not have entertained the argument in a habeas review.

Foie Gras May Be Banned in California ... Again

The Ninth Circuit Court may soon hear a case involving the legality of foie gras in California eateries.

If you're not a regular consumer of the French delicacy, you're probably not aware that the production and selling of traditionally made foie gras (which is essentially any foie gras) was made illegal in 2012. It's also a pretty good bet that you did not know that District Judge Stephen V. Wilson overturned a section that banned the sale of foie gras in California. If you love foie gras, you'd better start savoring the memory because it could be made illegal again in a state near you.

Want Federal Habeas Review? It Just Got Easier in the 9th Circuit

The 9th Circuit clarified the law for misdemeanants seeking Habeas Review this Wednesday. The court en banc overruled its own 1995 decision, Larche v. Simons, requiring misdmeanants in California to exhaust all available state remedies before seeking Federal Habeus review by filing a petition in California's highest court.

The circuit found that Larche created "needless confusion for California misdeamants seeking federal habeas review," particularly in wake of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Further, the panel found that the Larche unduly restricted California's ability to dictate its appellate review system. The court found that because McMonagle relied on the Larche to fully exhaust his California remedies before seeking federal habeas review, he was entitled to have his case reviewed, given the circumstances of the case.

You can still be sentenced to death in California, but you can't be executed -- not since a surprise ruling last year struck down the state's death penalty program as unconstitutional. The program wasn't struck down because executions are inherently cruel punishment, but because the state was too slow to kill death row prisoners.

That case is now before the Ninth Circuit, which will decide whether the state's sluggish and arbitrary death penalty system is so dysfunctional that it's unconstitutional.

Brett Pensinger, a teen-aged killer who was sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of a five-month-old more than 30 years ago, won't be executed after the Ninth Circuit overturned his death sentence on Tuesday. In 1981, the 19-year-old Pensinger kidnapped a San Bernadino infant and her brother. The brother was dropped off unharmed, but the infant was found murdered and mutilated.

Pensinger was subsequently convicted of murder, with a kidnapping and torture enhancement, and sentenced to death. However, the jury was given improper instructions, leading to the overturning of his sentence many years later.

Idaho's ban on abortions that occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy has been struck down as unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit. That law placed an arbitrary time limit on abortions before viability, the Court found, and violated women's constitutional right to obtain an abortion before fetal viability.

The case arose after Idaho prosecuted a single mother of three for inducing her own abortion. The Ninth had recently struck down a similar law in Arizona, but several other states have enacted laws limiting abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy.