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

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Some judges were just born to write. Take Judge M. Margaret McKeown's recent opinion in the USA v. Max Spatig case. The opinion opens with this humdinger of a zinger:

As the saying goes, fences make good neighbors. But when the neighbor collects thousands of containers of hazardous and combustible chemicals in his yard that could explode at any moment, a fence may not be enough to save the neighborly relationship. Instead, the authorities need to get involved.

Three defendants in cases pending before the federal district court in the state of Arizona won their appeal to the Ninth Circuit over the district court's routine shackling of criminal defendants that appear in the courtroom. The IN RE: Rodrigo ZERMENO-GOMEZ decision, however, is less about shackling and more about judicial procedure.

A published opinion from the Ninth Circuit in May 2017 requires district courts to conduct an individualized analysis to determine whether a criminal defendant needs to be shackled in the courtroom. The three defendants that filed the appeal to the Ninth Circuit did not have that individual analysis conducted, but were forced to appear in shackles.

Court Affirms Sentence of Hacker-Journalist

For a twisted technology crime, former journalist Matthew Keys got a simple decision from an appeals court on his conviction and two-year sentence.

Taking only six pages to state the facts, law, and conclusion against the convicted hacker, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. His lawyers had tried to persuade the court that Keys did not cause any damage.

"Keys makes a scattershot of arguments concerning damage and loss, none of which is persuasive," the court said in United States of America v. Keys, an unpublished opinion.

9th Circuit OKs Medical Weed Against DOJ

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit has unanimously found in favor medical marijuana users by declaring that DOJ prosecutions of users is forbidden under Consolidated Appropriations Act sec. 542.

In plain English, the Ninth Circuit said: "DOJ, stop wasting money going after otherwise state-law observant medical pot users."

Sharing Your Password Is a Federal Crime, 9th Circuit Rules

The final decision from the Ninth Circuit case of United States v Nosal II has finally been filed and should make casual users of this thing we call the internet a little nervous. Nosal II involved accusations that a former employee who'd used other current employees' password information to access company information had violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Sounds harmless enough and even intuitive. That is, until you listen to the judge's language. This has all the eerie import of Matish III.

This ruling has petition written all over it. In the short term, we doubt this means that anyone within the Ninth Circuit will have to worry about sharing their email passwords with their friends. But the faintest hint of precedent is enough to send a chill down our spines.

9th Cir: 2nd Amendment Also Means "Right to Buy Arms"

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took on an eyebrow-raising tone recently when it endorsed a pro-gun advocate notion that a "right to buy arms" is implied within the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.

The decision is a major blow to Alameda County's attempts to limit gun sales and the location of gun stores. It's a page flipper, for sure.

When a person's competency to stand trial for a crime is in question in Washington State, state law requires the state Department of Social and Health Services to evaluate them within seven to 21 days. Because of staffing, budgeting, and other limitations, detained individuals often go weeks without an evaluation, during which they may be held in solitary confinement, often exacerbating mental illnesses.

Following a class action lawsuit on behalf of such detained individuals, a federal district required a series of reforms from the state services that included a seven-day maximum for providing competency determinations. On appeal, while the Ninth Circuit agreed that jail was "no substitute" for therapeutic evaluation and treatment, the court tossed the seven-day requirement, finding the week-long limit to go "beyond what the Constitution requires."

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.