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

Recently in Criminal Law Category

Appeals are often able to correct miscarriages of justice. Sadly, sometimes the appellate court is bound by precedent, and is powerless to do so.

Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt with one such injustice in the Ellis v. Harrison matter. The defendant in the case, Ezzard Ellis, was represented by a racist attorney at trial. Sometime after Ellis was convicted, he discovered that his attorney was a racist and filed a habeas petition. The attorney's own daughters even provided evidence that their father was a racist. Unfortunately for Ellis, the court refused to grant his petition.

The hemp industry is not pleased with a recent ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Industry proponents filed a challenge with the court to the DEA's final rule listing cannabinoids as a schedule 1 controlled substance.

Cannabinoids, or CBD, may sound similar to cannabis, but are actually rather different from the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, THC, or tetrahydrocannabinols. Although the medical marijuana industry has long since pushed for CBD extracts to be defined separately, particularly as there is no psychoactive effect and it has proven to be medically beneficial, the federal government still lumps these in with drugs like heroin and LSD.

In 2012, Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz shot and killed a sixteen year old Mexican boy, Jose Elena Rodriguez. The federal murder trial over whether the killing was justified recently ended with the jury returning a not guilty verdict for the second degree murder charge.

The jury, however, could not reach an agreement on the lesser charges of involuntary and voluntary manslaughter. The court ordered a mistrial as to those charges, yet the decision to retry those charges has not yet been made. Given the gory, and uncontested, details, it would not be surprising to see the matter retried.

The now infamous website Backpage.com has been shut down by federal authorities and the federal criminal indictment filed in Arizona's district court against the site, its founders, and others has been unsealed. The allegations and details are unsettling to say the least.

Despite the founders allegedly divesting in 2015, it was alleged that they still retained "significant control." The charges include allegations of seventeen victims ranging from adults to minors. In addition to charges for knowingly facilitating prostitution, the founders are also accused of money laundering. There are a total of 93 counts, and the government alleges that Backpage.com earned over $500 million in prostitution related advertising since 2004.

Court Upholds California Laws Against Prostitution

Sex sells, but that doesn't make prostitution legal.

That's a quick summary of Erotic Service Provider Legal Education and Research Project v. Gascon. The case drew a lot of attention -- because the plaintiff sued to legalize prostitution -- but the world's oldest profession was outlawed long ago.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said there's no fundamental right to engage in prostitution -- at least not in California.

Judge Throws Out Bundy Stand-Off Case

It was the Western shootout that never happened.

Cliven Bundy and his sons stood their ground against federal agents in an armed standoff outside his Nevada ranch. The Bundys refused -- over their dead bodies -- to pay federal grazing fees.

They were charged with multiple felonies, but they didn't stick. Like the shootout, it's like they never happened.

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."