John Balazs is an attorney in Sacramento, California, specializing in criminal defense, including appeals, habeas corpus, pardons, expungements, and civil forfeiture actions. After graduating from UCLA Law School in 1989, he clerked for Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. John was an Assistant Federal Defender in Fresno and Sacramento from 1992-2001. He currently serves as an adjunct professor in clinical trial advocacy at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Please email EDCA items of interest to Balazslaw@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @balazslaw.
This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated. Do your own research or consult with an attorney.
Here is the Ninth Circuit en banc opinion in Nettles v. Grounds, No. 12-16935, which will be up on the Court's website later today. It's a wonky, habeas jurisdiction case with broad implications. A tough 6-5 loss for me. Cert petition to follow.
Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit granted en banc review in Nettles v. Grounds, No. 12-16935. It will be my first en banc oral argument, now scheduled for March 22, 3:30 p.m, in San Francisco. The issue involves whether federal judges have habeas jurisdiction over California prisoner actions challenging disciplinary violations that would affect the inmate's parole eligibility date, but that would not necessarily result in the inmate's earlier release from prison. (The Ninth Circuit denied a judge's sua sponte en banc call with respect to the consolidated appellant, Matta Santos in No. 13-15050). Here's my Petition for Rehearing En Banc. [Updated 1/29/16]
A man serving a 15-year prison sentence for conspiring to burn down his North Natomas restaurant had his convictions thrown out earlier this month on a rare argument: His trial was not actually public.
Sundeep Dharni, now 42, walked free because spectators, including some members of his family, were briefly excluded from the courtroom during at least part of jury selection to make room for an unusually large pool of prospective jurors.
* * *
n July 2014, a split three-judge circuit panel sent the case back to Sacramento for additions to be made to the record reflecting the scope of the courtroom closure, and for the lower court to decide “whether spectators had an opportunity to re-enter the courtroom during (jury selection), including whether seats in fact opened up and, if so, whether spectators would have been aware of the vacancies, and whether the district court and court officials would have allowed the spectators to enter” while jury selection was underway.
The parties agreed it would be next to impossible to come up with precise answers to the circuit’s questions about 7 1/2 -year-old events. Instead, in January Denvir and the prosecutor asked the circuit to let them find out whether the court in Sacramento would grant a motion by the government to dismiss Dharni’s convictions, conditioned upon Dharni’s acceptance of a plea agreement and a re-sentence to time served.
The circuit granted the request [here], which was signed for the government by Assistant U.S. Attorney Audrey Hemesath.
“I’m gratified that the government would consider such a reasonable solution,” Denvir said in an interview. “Ms. Hemesath was a pleasure to work with. She listens to what you have to say and takes it seriously.”
A split federal appellate panel on Monday upheld a Sacramento judge’s ruling that a death row inmate’s conviction and sentence for a gruesome double murder in Chico almost 29 years ago was tainted by racism and cannot stand. [Crittenden v. Chappell, No. 13-17327]
Two years ago, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller threw out the jury’s 1989 guilty verdict and death sentence of Steven Edward Crittenden. Mueller faulted the prosecutor’s dismissal of the only African American in the jury pool and ordered the state to set Crittenden free unless Butte County cranked up a new trial within 60 days.
Mueller concluded that prosecutor Gerald Flanagan was substantially motivated by race when he used one of his peremptory strikes to eliminate Manzanita Casey from the jury that would sit in judgment of Crittenden, who is African American.
In a rare unanimous 11-0 decision, the Ninth Circuit, en banc, reversed an EDCA ruling in a highly-technical appeal involving the timeliness of habeas petitions challenging California misdemeanor convictions. McMonagle v. Meyer, No. 12-15360 (9th Cir. 10/6/15). Congratulations to local attorney Charles Bonneau for the victory.
So-called ecoterrorist Eric McDavid was ordered released from prison this morning after the U.S. Attorney's Office conceded their office withheld key documents relating to McDavid's entrapment defense. Sacramento Bee, 1/9/15; New York Times, 1/9/15. For more background on the case and the government's "honeypot" informant, see Honey Stinger. My thoughts later.
In this U.S. v. Reves, No. 13-15845, opinion, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the 2255 motions filed by former San Joaquin Supervisor Lynn C. Bedford and J. Tyler Reves on the ground that they were no longer in "custody" since they filed their 2255 motions on the day after (Monday) their probationary periods expired (Sunday). They were co-defendants in the Allen Sawyer/T. Baxter Dunn/ Monte D. McFall "public corruption" prosecution.
For the second time in two years, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a federal judge must order the release of one of three men found guilty for the 1999 murder of a beloved Sacramento minister and gay rights activist, unless local prosecutors want to retry him, because he was denied his constitutional right to an attorney while under police questioning.
An enlarged panel of the appellate court ruled by a 6-5 margin that Tio Dinero Sessoms’ “unambiguous” request for an attorney was unlawfully ignored by Sacramento police detectives.
The same panel with the same split had ruled the same way in August 2012. Just as it did the first time around, the appellate court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez with directions that he order the state to release Sessoms unless the district attorney in Sacramento wants to retry him.
A federal judge on Tuesday threw out the death penalty of a transient who fatally stabbed a man 33 years ago on a bank of the American River in Sacramento and fled in the victim’s car.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton adopted the recommendation of a magistrate judge that a lesser sentence be imposed on Larry Junior Webster, unless the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office initiates a retrial of the penalty phase within 90 days.
“We’re glad the guilt phase was not overturned,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said. “We will take a hard look at the penalty phase and decide whether we want to retry it.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Dale A. Drozd had found that Webster, the recipient of a Bronze Star for combat bravery in the Vietnam War, was denied a fair trial in the penalty phase because his counsel was incompetent. Karlton agreed with Drozd that Webster was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to “effective assistance of counsel” due to his lawyer’s “failure to investigate and present a mitigation case ... to the jury.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, Judge Karlton granted habeas relief, overturning a 1998 murder conviction, because the prosecutor was found to have struck an African-American juror because of her race. The decision adopted findings and recommendations by Magistrate Judge Claire.