Category Archives: Federal Crimes & Prosecutions

Inmate Lawsuits

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In Entler v. Gregoire, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a prisoner may not be disciplined for threatening to file civil suit against prison staff. The filing of a criminal complaint against prison officials by a prisoner, as well as the threat to do so, are protected by the First Amendment, provided they are not baseless.

BACKGROUND

John Thomas Entler  is a prisoner at the Washington State Penitentiary (“WSP”). During the summer of 2012, he took issue with certain incidents at the WSP and submitted written complaints to the prison officials involved.

In all but one, Entler threatened to initiate civil litigation if his concerns were not addressed; in the other, he threatened to file a criminal complaint against a number of state officials and have them arrested. Entler was disciplined for these threats under a Washington Department of Corrections (“DOC”) regulation that bars prisoners from
intimidating or coercing prison staff.

Later, Entler brought a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was disciplined for threatening to initiate civil litigation and file a criminal complaint against prison officials.

The complaint ended up in federal court.

The Defendants – here, the DOC – moved for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). Initially, the federal district court summarily adopted Magistrate Judge Hutton’s Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that Defendants’ 12(c) motion be granted and that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice.

Entler sought reconsideration. In a written decision denying Entler’s motion, the federal district court, disagreeing with the magistrate judge, held that Entler’s informal complaints were not protected by the First Amendment because they “were not part of the grievance process”; but the court agreed that there was a “rational connection” in the “particular context” of the case with the correctional institution’s “legitimate penological interest,” namely the “peaceable operation of the prison through the insistence on respect.” The court also agreed with the R&R that, in any event, “defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.”

This appeal followed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying that running a prison is an inordinately difficult undertaking, and that it should give adequate consideration to the judgment of the prison authorities.

“We cannot, however, condone punishing a prisoner for simply threatening to sue if his grievances are not addressed,” said the Court of Appeals. It reasoned that regardless of the prisoner’s misdeeds—however reprehensible—prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution:

“The most fundamental of the constitutional protections that prisoners retain are the First Amendment rights to file prison grievances and to pursue civil rights litigation in the courts . . . for without those bedrock constitutional guarantees, inmates would be left with no viable mechanism to remedy prison injustices.”

With that, the Court reasoned that Entler did exactly what he was “expected” to do by the DOC Grievance Program Manual: he sought informal resolution of his concerns through regular administrative channels prior to utilizing the grievance machinery by submitting “kites” to the appropriate prison officials. “This is as it should be,” said the Court. “Entler gave the prison administration the opportunity in the first instance to attempt to resolve his concerns and thus obviate the need to engage in the formal grievance process—with its attendant administrative burdens and costs —and litigation.”

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that it may well be that if the prison officials were able to address Entler’s concerns rather than to punish him for his threats to sue, this litigation might never have come to pass. “It would have been a good thing,” said the Court.

In 2012, the year Entler initiated this suit, prisoners nationwide filed 54,402 of the 267,990 civil cases brought in the district courts.14 In 2016, the most recent year with complete statistics, these filings had increased to 76,417 out of 292,159.15 Thus, over 25% of the district courts’ civil caseload in our country entails prisoner litigation.

The Court of Appeals concluded that Since Entler has alleged cognizable First Amendment
retaliation claims regarding his threats to sue, it was improper to dismiss the complaint in its entirety under Rule 12(c). However, in regard to Entler’s threat to file a criminal complaint, even

My opinion? Good decision. As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said, “The most fundamental of the constitutional protections that prisoners retain are the First Amendment rights to file prison grievances and to pursue civil rights litigation in the courts.” Exactly. Prisons are nowhere fun, and they’re not easy to manage, but an inmate’s Constitutional rights do not totally disappear once they’re incarcerated. Indeed, the only right inmates have left to exercise is the First Amendment. And denying them that one right – the right to express themselves – chills free speech. Pure and simple.

‘Sanctuary’ Cities Targeted by ICE in Immigration Raids

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Erik Ortiz reported that a federal operation to arrest undocumented immigrants netted nearly 500 people in cities and states that have openly opposed the Trump administration’s deportation initiatives.

According to Ortiz, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said last Thursday that its four-day “Operation Safe City” targeted people in residing in the so-called “Sanctuary Cities” of New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Denver, Washington and Baltimore as well as Cook County, Illinois; Santa Clara County in California’s Bay Area; Portland, Oregon; and Massachusetts.

Officials in those places — some referring to themselves as “sanctuary  communities” — have been vocal about not fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities, at times clashing with state leaders who support President Donald Trump’s agenda. Sanctuary communities have passed ordinances limiting compliance with federal immigration laws and seek to shield undocumented immigrants who may be deported simply over their immigration statuses or low-level criminal offenses.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration,” Tom Homan, ICE’s acting director, said in a statement. “As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”

It is not unusual for ICE to round up immigrants by the hundreds or even low thousands, although the latest raid comes on the heels of a planned operation that would have targeted about 8,400 undocumented immigrants this month.

But the Department of Homeland Security scrapped the operation after the agency said it was halting nationwide enforcement actions in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Harvey. This latest effort indicates the administration is ready to renew its efforts.

“ICE’s goal is to build cooperative, respectful relationships with our law enforcement partners to help prevent dangerous criminal aliens from being released back onto the streets,” Homan said.

According to ICE, of the 498 people arrested this week, 317 had criminal convictions. Some were also categorized as “immigration fugitives,” “previously deported criminal aliens,” and/or associated with a gang.

Most of the criminal convictions were for driving under the influence as well as assault- and drug-related offenses, ICE said. Others were arrested for marijuana possession, traffic offenses and even charges of being a “peeping tom.”

City officials declared Portland a sanctuary city in March, and its mayor, Ted Wheeler, has criticized the Trump administration’s push to end the Obama-era program that has allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country.

The administration, meanwhile, has faced setbacks as it seeks to overhaul immigration — an issue that has failed repeatedly to gain traction in Congress. Weeks ago, a U.S. district judge in northern Illinois gave sanctuary cities a temporary victory, saying the Justice Department can’t withhold public safety grants to Chicago because officials there don’t want to impose certain immigration policies.

My opinion? As a criminal defense attorney, my role is to protect people’s Constitutional Rights under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, I have a natural inclination to prevent warrantless, unlawful searches and seizures.

That said, I understand if the government declares a state of emergency holding that exigent circumstances warrants the immediate seizure and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

However, there’s lots of controversy surrounding the subject of ICE raids on Sanctuary Cities. Some civil rights advocates say the raids fit with the Trump administration’s pattern of scapegoating, criminalizing, and demonizing immigrants. Also, courts have said that holding someone without a warrant could violate their constitutional rights, putting jailers at risk of lawsuits. Finally, others have accused Trump’s attack on sanctuary cities as a malignant executive power grab that subverts the Spending Clause and tramples the 10th Amendment.

Let’s see what happens . . .

Does Sex Offense Registration Violate the Constitution?

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An article written by Jacob Sullum of www.reason.com talks about how a federal judge recently ruled that Colorado’s online database of sex offenders violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Last week, a federal judge recognized what anyone dealing with the burdens, obstacles, and dangers of life on the registry knows: Its punitive impact far outweighs any value it might have in protecting the public. In fact, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch concluded, registration can violate the Eighth Amendment by imposing what amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The three men who challenged Colorado’s Sex Offender Registration Act were sentenced to probation. Two of them also served 90 days in jail. Their real punishment began later, when they found that appearing in the state’s online registry of sex offenders made it impossible to lead a normal life.

David Millard

David Millard, who pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault on a minor in 1999, has been employed by the Albertsons grocery chain since 2003. His job was jeopardized after a customer saw his name and photo on a sex offender website.

Millard was forced to move repeatedly after his status as a registered sex offender was revealed, once by police and once by a local TV station. The second time, he had to fill out about 200 rental applications before finding an apartment he could rent.

Millard later bought a house in Denver, which is periodically visited by police officers seeking to verify his address. “If he is not home when they visit,” Matsch notes, “they leave prominent, brightly colored ‘registered sex offender’ tags on his front door notifying him that he must contact the Denver Police Department.”

Millard experienced name calling and vandalism, and he worries that worse may be coming. “Because of the fear and anxiety about his safety in public,” Matsch writes, “Mr. Millard does little more than go to work, isolating himself at his home.”

Eugene Knight

Eugene Knight was convicted of attempted sexual assault on a child in 2006 based on a crime he committed when he was 18. He’s a “full-time father” because he is unable to find work that pays well enough to cover the cost of child care. However, Knight is not allowed on school grounds to drop off his kids or attend school events.

Arturo Vega

Arturo Vega, who pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual assault as a juvenile but is listed in Colorado’s public database because he failed to comply with registration requirements he did not understand, has tried twice to get off the registry. Both times his petitions were rejected by magistrates who insisted he prove a negative: that he was not likely to commit another sexual offense.

The Court’s Rationale

Judge Matsch held that the lower court’s justices did not foresee the ubiquitous influence of social media, the proliferation of commercial websites peddling information from sex offender registries, or the cheap scare stories that local news outlets would produce based on that information. Those developments have magnified the life-disrupting potential of registration, as illustrated by the experiences of the plaintiffs in this case.

Judge Matsch noted that because of the registry, these men face “a known, real, and serious threat of retaliation, violence, ostracism, shaming, and other unfair and irrational treatment from the public…regardless of any threat to public safety based on an objective determination of their specific offenses, circumstances, and personal attributes.”

By forcing sex offenders into this precarious situation, Judge Matsch reasoned, the state is punishing them. He noted that State or federal courts have reached the same conclusion in AlaskaMaineMichiganNew HampshireOklahoma, and Pennsylvania.

“Maybe someday the Supreme Court will stop pretending otherwise,” wrote Sullum.

Sessions on WA Marijuana

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The Rise of Bitcoin

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 of The Washington Times claims that the value of the shadowy digital currency known as Bitcoin has jumped to record highs this month, sending shock waves through America’s defense and intelligence agencies, which fear its growth signals a surge in use by terrorists, drug kingpins, white-collar criminals and Russian cybercriminals who don’t want to be tracked by the world’s governments.
BACKGROUND ON BITCOIN
For those who don’t know, Bitcoin is a worldwide cryptocurrency and digital payment system invented by an unknown programmer, or a group of programmers, under the name Satoshi Nakamoto. It was released as open-source software in 2009. The system is peer-to-peer, and transactions take place between users directly, without an intermediary. These transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Since the system works without a central repository or single administrator, bitcoin is called the first decentralized digital currency.

Besides being created as a reward for mining, Bitcoin can be exchanged for other currencies, products, and services in legal or black markets.

As of February 2015, over 100,000 merchants and vendors accepted bitcoin as payment. According to research produced by Cambridge University in 2017, there are 2.9 to 5.8 million unique users using a cryptocurrency wallet, most of them using Bitcoin.

The currency’s unique power comes from its independency and lack of reliance on any single government for its legitimacy. Unlike regular money, digital or cryptocurrencies are not connected to banks or governments and allow anonymous purchases or money exchanges completely outside the realm of banks, credit card firms or other third parties. Instead, the coins exist because users “mine” them by lending their computing power to verify other users’ transactions.

CYBER TERRORISM & BITCOIN

In Britain, screenshots on social media showed National Health Service computer screens with messages demanding $300 worth of Bitcoin to regain access to files.

While cyberattacks have increasingly targeted businesses around the world, Bitcoin ransom attacks, especially in the U.S., are skyrocketing. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported it received 2,673 ransomware incidents last year — nearly double the  figure from 2014.

Despite Moscow’s denials of meddling in the U.S. presidential election, major investigations also continue into Russian hackers suspected of using cyberattacks to undermine or influence the vote.

WORLD GOVERNMENTS STRIKE BACK AGAINST CYBER CRIMES AND BITCOIN
This summer, the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Department of Justice and scores of European illicit finance law enforcement officials have fought back with a wave of operations against Russian cybercriminals. Late last month, they shuttered AlphaBay and Hansa — two of the biggest “dark web” contraband marketplaces rife with the illegal sale of guns, drugs and other forbidden merchandise.

In an even more startling sign of the battle raging around Bitcoin, a FinCEN-led international illicit financing task force arrested a Russian “mastermind of organized crime” on a small beachside village in northern Greece less than two weeks ago.

 Alexander Vinnik, who is accused of laundering more than $4 billion worth of illegal funds using Bitcoin accounts, operated BTC-e, one of the world’s oldest Bitcoin exchanges.

U.S. authorities accuse Mr. Vinnik of facilitating crimes including drug trafficking, public corruption, hacking, fraud, identity theft and tax refund fraud.

“Just as new computer technologies continue to change the way we engage each other and experience the world, so too will criminals subvert these new technologies to serve their own nefarious purposes,” Brian Stretch, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, said about BTC-e.

Mr. Vinnik was arrested amid worldwide cyberhavoc triggered by massive WannaCry’s Bitcoin ransomware attacks in May and June. The attacks forced a production shutdown at Renault auto plans, crashed computers at Britain’s National Health Service and targeted India’s ATM network.

A little-noticed provision of the law passed by Congress and signed by President Trump this month imposing new sanctions for North Korea, Iran and Russia mandated the formulation of a national security strategy to combat “the financing of terrorism and related forms of illicit finance.” Among those forms, according to the text of the law, were “so-called cryptocurrencies and other methods that are computer, telecommunications, or internet-based” for cybercrime.

America’s defense and intelligence agencies, FinCEN in particular, pride themselves on the U.S. government’s ability to track and disrupt the illicit financial networks that work through traditional banks and finance channels.

This summer’s crackdowns on illicit Bitcoin activity has been considerable, but the dramatic surge in the currency’s overall value poses even more challenges.

WHAT IS A BITCOIN WORTH NOWADAYS?

Over the past month, Bitcoin prices are up more than 30 percent. According to the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index, a bitcoin traded for more than $3,000 — a record high — this past weekend.

The surge follows a spinoff another cryptocurrency, Bitcoin Cash. Anticipation of the spinoff sent bitcoin values spiraling last month as market analysts predicted a “civil war” with the rival. The opposite appears to have occurred with the spinoff driving up Bitcoin’s value. Market analysts say the value surge demonstrated bitcoin’s resiliency in addition to a growing public appetite for cryptocurrencies.

On Thursday, bitcoins traded at $3,439.55 per coin, driving the overall market value of all existing bitcoins to $56 billion. Adding Bitcoin’s overall value to other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Litecoin and the total market capitalization of such digital cash is roughly $120 billion.

HOW DO WE RESPOND TO THE INCREASED USE OF CRYPTOCURRENCIES?

Yaya Fanusie, a former counterterrorism analyst for the CIA, is credited with identifying the first verifiable instance of a terrorist organization attempting to use bitcoin to raise funds. He now runs analysis for the Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and told The Washington Times in an interview that the increased volume of bitcoin trading in itself is not the concern.

“The national security concern is not that criminals will use this type of technology — they use all technologies,” Mr. Fanusie said. “The policy question is: How do you deal with something that governments can’t control?” He said the U.S. needs to engage with the cryptocurrencies as much as possible and pointed to Defense Department procurement experiments already underway.

“Bitcoin is like a rebellious teenager,” he said. “It wants to do its own thing. So what do you do? Do you ban it? No, you want to have a good relationship with it and influence how it develops.”

BUILDING A CRIMINAL DEFENSE 

Virtual currencies like Bitcoin can play a central role in more traditional types of crime. Bitcoin trading enables some types of unlawful purchases that may be serious offenses, such as illegal purchases of weapons or drugs. One such high-profile case is that of Silk Road’s alleged owner, Ross Ulbricht, whose Bitcoin assets of over $28 million were seized in a criminal investigation into alleged illegal drug sales.

Even ordinary cash has a history of being used for nefarious ends, but digital currency transactions can make the courtroom defense of criminal charges more complex. When facing the possibility of fines, forfeiture, or even incarceration, it is best to find an attorney with the experience it takes to build a nuanced, creative defense.

Immigrants Make Up 22% of Federal Prison Population

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 of The Washington Times claims that a stunning 22 percent of the federal prison population is immigrants who have either already been deemed to be in the country illegally or who the government is looking to put in deportation proceedings, the administration said Tuesday.

President Trump requested the numbers as part of his initial immigration executive orders. The 22 percent is much higher than the population of foreign-born in the U.S. as a whole, which is about 13.5 percent.

All told, the government counted more than 42,000 aliens in federal prisons as of June 24. About 47 percent already face final deportation orders, making them illegal immigrants, and 3 percent are currently in immigration courts facing deportation proceedings.

Almost all of the rest are being probed by federal agents looking to deport them.

Immigrants who commit serious crimes, even if they once had legal status, can have that status revoked and can be subject to deportation, which explains the high number of cases where an alien is still being probed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The U.S. Marshal Service, meanwhile, is holding about 12,000 “self-reporting” aliens, and almost all of them have already been ordered deported.

Government officials said they’re still trying to collect information on the foreign-born population in state and local prisons and jails.

Marijuana and Violent Crime

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports violent crime rate in Washington has declined since voters here legalized recreational marijuana use in November 2012. The FBI numbers are based on crimes reported to law enforcement agencies.

2010: 313.5 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2011: 294.6 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2012: 295.6 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2013: 289.1 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2014: 285.8 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2015: 284.4 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

The state’s rate of violent crime in 2015, the most recent year of data available, also was substantially lower than the national average, according to the FBI. Nationally, the estimated rate of violent crime was 372.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015.

Border Patrol Backs Trump

Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, told "Fox and Friends" on July 17, 2017, that morale is the highest he's seen throughout his 20 years within the agency. (Fox News Channel screenshot)

According to a news article by reporter Douglass Ernst of the Washington Times, President Trump received a glowing performance review Monday from the head of the National Border Patrol Council.

Brandon Judd, who is the President of the National Border Patrol Council, appeared on “Fox and Friends” on Monday to discuss illegal immigration, Mr. Trump’s plan to build a border wall with Mexico, and morale within the agency. The union president said that agents have a new “energy” to them due to a concrete commitment to enforcing existing federal laws.

“There’s a vibe, there’s an energy in the Border Patrol that’s never been there before,” Mr. Judd told host Steve Doocy. “In the 20 years I’ve been in the patrol, we haven’t seen this type of energy, and we’re excited because we signed up to do a job and this president is allowing us to do that job.”

Mr. Judd said that having a giant contiguous wall along the southern border was not as important as having barricades at “strategic locations” such as El Paso and San Diego.

“The president has done a great job of actually enforcing the law — something we didn’t see in the last eight years,” Mr. Judd said, Fox News Channel reported. “And if we continue to do that, then a clear message will be sent throughout the world that if you cross our borders illegally, you will be detained and you will be sent back.

“If you look at the rhetoric that the president sent out, we’ve had a drop that we’ve never seen before with any president,” he continued. “If you’re in the left, right or middle, you have to say this president has done exactly what he promised to do and we do have border security like what we expect to see.”

My opinion? Let’s observe how these ongoing immigration issues develop. Last month,  the U.S. Supreme Court Supreme Court had a ruling which allowed parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to go into effect and will hear oral arguments on the case this fall. In its decision, the court is allowing the ban to go into effect for foreign nationals who lack any “bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States.” The court, in an unsigned opinion, left the travel ban against citizens of six majority-Muslim on hold as applied to non-citizens with relationships with persons or entities in the United States, which includes most of the plaintiffs in both cases.

Juror Misconduct

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In Godoy v. Spearman, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a murder conviction because a juror inappropriately communicated with a “judge friend” about the case during deliberations.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Enrique Godoy was convicted of second-degree murder by a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury. A week before his June 12, 2006 sentencing, he moved for a new trial alleging that Juror 10 had improperly communicated about the case with a “judge friend” during deliberations. To substantiate his allegations, Godoy brought brought alternate juror “E.M.” to his sentencing hearing. The trial court continued Godoy’s sentencing to a future court date. Later, Godoy sent the Prosecutor a declaration about Juror 10’s misconduct from alternate juror N.L., who wrote the following:

“During the course of the trial, juror number ten kept continuous communication with a gentleman up north, who she referred to as her “judge friend.” Juror number ten explained to us, the jury as a whole, that she had a friend that was a judge up north. From the time of jury selection until the time of verdict, juror number ten would communicate with her “judge friend” about the case via her TMobile Blackberry, a two way text paging system. When the jury was not sure what was going on or what procedurally would happen next, juror number ten would communicate with her friend and disclose to the jury what he said.”

Despite this “smoking gun” declaration, the trial court nevertheless sentenced Godoy to 16 years’ to life imprisonment. Godoy appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeal, arguing the trial court erred by (1) refusing to presume Juror 10’s communications prejudiced the verdict and (2) refusing to hold an evidentiary hearing on the alleged misconduct. However, the California Court of Appeal rejected both of these arguments on the merits and affirmed Godoy’s conviction. Gody again appealed, this time going to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION

This Ninth Circuit’s opinion began with the following:

“One of the most fundamental rights in our system of criminal justice is the right to trial before an impartial jury. Its common law origin can be traced back to the Middle Ages. It was enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, and it has been embraced by the Supreme Court in numerous cases . . .”

Against this backdrop, the Ninth Circuit held that the California Court of Appeal decision violated the clearly established Supreme Court law that governs this case. It reasoned that under Mattox v. United States, due process does not tolerate any ground of suspicion that the administration of justice has been interfered with by external influence.

“Thus, when faced with allegations of improper contact between a juror and an outside party, courts apply a settled two-step framework,” said the Ninth Circuit. At step one, the court asks whether the contact was “possibly prejudicial,” meaning it had a tendency to be injurious to the defendant. If so, the contact is deemed presumptively prejudicial and the court proceeds to step two, where the burden rests heavily upon the State to establish the contact was, in fact, harmless. If the State does not show harmlessness – or in other words, if the defendant was, in fact, harmed by the juror’s contact with an outside party – then the court must grant the defendant a new trial.  However, when the prejudicial effect of the contact is unclear, then the trial court must hold a hearing to determine the circumstances of the contact, the impact thereof upon the juror, and whether or not it was prejudicial.

“Here, the California Court of Appeal failed to adhere to this framework in three key respects,” said the Ninth Circuit. First, although the State court correctly acknowledged at step one that N.L.’s declaration raised a presumption of prejudice, it never required the State to rebut that presumption at step two. It concluded instead that the presumption was rebutted because Godoy’s evidence failed to prove prejudice.” The Ninth Circuit further reasoned that under Mattox and Remmer, however, Mr. Godoy was not required to prove prejudice at step two. Once he triggered the presumption, the burden rested heavily upon the State to disprove prejudice. “Thus, in denying relief because Godoy’s evidence did not prove prejudice at step two, the State court acted contrary to well established law,” reasoned the Ninth Circuit.

Second, the California Court of Appeal decision to set aside the State court’s failure to hold the State to its burden was error. In other words, it was wrong for the California Court of Appeal to rely on the very same statement from N.L.’s declaration both to raise the presumption of prejudice and to rebut it.  “This defies not only logic, but also the clearly established definition of a ‘presumption,’” reasoned the Ninth Circuit.

Third, the California Court of Appeal denied Godoy a hearing on prejudice under the wrong legal rule. It held he had to show a “strong possibility” of prejudice, but Remmer requires a hearing whenever, as here, the presumption attaches but the prejudicial effect of the contact is unclear from the record. “Because the state court’s decision contravened these bedrock principles, it was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1),” reasoned the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that because Godoy showed the presumption of prejudice, he was entitled to the evidentiary hearing that he never had to begin with. With that, the Ninth Circuit reversed the judgment of the lower court and remanded the case back with instructions to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the circumstances of Juror 10’s misconduct, the impact thereof upon the jury, and whether or not it was prejudicial.

My opinion? There’s a lot to be learned from this case. First, in all of my trials I admit a jury instruction prohibiting the jurors from accessing the internet and/or their smartphone devices. Jurors must rely on the evidence and the law and not be guided by outside influences. Second, I try and discuss the case with jurors immediately after they render verdicts. These conversations are very helpful teaching moments because jurors reveal what swayed their decisions. Also – and important to the defense of my clients – jurors may reveal whether their fellow jurors committed misconducts  similar to the type described in this case.

Good decision. And kudos to the defense attorney who discovered the juror misconduct. Although my heart goes out to the friends and family of the murder victim, justice is not served when our courts fail to administer their obligation to give defendants a fair trial.

Guilty Pleas & Deportation

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In Lee v. United States, the United States Supreme Court held that a defendant was prejudiced by his attorney’s bad advice to accept a guilty plea when following that advice ultimately led to Lee’s deportation.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Defendant Jae Lee moved to the United States from South Korea with his parents when he was 13. He spent 35 years in this country. He never returned to South Korea. He also never became a U. S. citizen, and lived instead as a lawful permanent resident.

In 2008, federal officials heard from a confidential informant that Lee had sold the informant ecstasy and marijuana. After obtaining a warrant, the officials searched Lee’s house. They found drugs, cash, and a loaded rifle. Lee admitted that the drugs were his. Later, a grand jury indicted him on one count of possessing ecstasy with intent to distribute. Lee retained a private defense attorney and entered into plea discussions with the Government.

Importantly, during the plea process, Lee repeatedly asked his attorney whether he would face deportation. His attorney assured him that he would not be deported as a result of pleading guilty. Based on that assurance, Lee accepted a plea and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Unfortunately for Lee he had, in fact, pleaded guilty to an “aggravated felony” under the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U. S. C. §1101(a)(43)(B). Therefore, Lee was subject to mandatory deportation under federal law §1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) as a result of that plea following his attorney’s advice

When Lee learned of this consequence, he filed a motion to vacate his conviction and sentence, arguing that his attorney gave constitutionally ineffective assistance. At an evidentiary hearing, both Lee and his plea-stage counsel testified that “deportation was the determinative issue” to Lee in deciding whether to accept a plea, and Lee’s counsel acknowledged that although Lee’s defense to the charge was weak, if he had known Lee would be deported upon pleading guilty, he would have advised him to go to trial. A Magistrate Judge recommended that Lee’s plea be set aside and his conviction vacated. The District Court, however, denied relief, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

Applying the two-part test for ineffective assistance claims from Strickland v. Washington, the Sixth Circuit concluded that, while the Government conceded that Lee’s counsel had performed deficiently, Lee could not show that he was prejudiced by his attorney’s erroneous advice. Lee appealed the Sixth Circuit’s decision. He was granted review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

COURT’S DECISION & ANALYSIS

The U.S. Supreme Court held that Lee successfully showed he was prejudiced by his defense attorney’s bad advice.

The Court reasoned that when a defendant claims that his attorney’s bad performance deprived him of a trial by causing him to accept a guilty plea, then the defendant can show prejudice by demonstrating a reasonable probability that, but for the attorney’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Here, the Court believed Lee’s argument that he never would have accepted a guilty plea if he knew he would be deported upon accepting the guilty plea.

The Court further reasoned that the decision whether to plead guilty involves assessing the respective consequences of a conviction after trial and by plea. It explained that when consequences are similarly dire, even the smallest chance of success at trial may look attractive:

“For Lee, deportation after some time in prison was not meaningfully different from deportation after somewhat less time; he says he accordingly would have rejected any plea leading to deportation in favor of throwing a “Hail Mary” at trial.”

Finally, the Court reasoned that under the unusual circumstances of this case, Lee has adequately demonstrated a reasonable probability that he would have rejected the plea had he known that it would lead to mandatory deportation. Here, both Lee and his attorney testified that deportation was the determinative issue to Lee when Lee accepted the plea deal.  Also, Lee’s responses to the judge’s questioning during the entry of his plea confirmed the importance that Lee placed on deportation. He had strong connections to the United States, while he had no ties to South Korea.

Finally, the Court rejected the Government’s argument that Lee cannot convincingly argue that his decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances since deportation would almost certainly result from a trial:

“Unlike the Government, this Court cannot say that it would be irrational for someone in Lee’s position to risk additional prison time in exchange for holding on to some chance of avoiding deportation.”

With that, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Lee’s conviction.

My opinion? Good decision. In Padilla v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a defense attorney has an obligation under the Sixth Amendment to advise non-citizens about the potential adverse immigration consequences of a plea to criminal charges, and that the absence of such advice may be a basis for claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Clearly, it’s of the utmost importance that defense attorneys competently advise their clients of the ramifications of pleading guilty. As demonstrated here, pleading guilty to aggravated felonies results in the unwanted consequences of immediate deportation.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member faces criminal charges bringing the risk of deportation.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

119 North Commercial St.
Suite #1420
Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: (360) 746-2642
Fax: (360) 746-2949

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