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A comprehensive discussion of new Ninth Circuit cases, and of other new legal challenges and ideas, can be found on the Ninth Circuit blog. The Ninth Circuit blog contains Federal Defender Jon Sands' weekly Ninth Circuit summaries, interesting new defense challenges and theories posted by AFPDs David Porter and Steve Sady, and the “Case o’ The Week” memos by Federal Defender Steve Kalar. The Ninth Circuit blog is a useful starting place for the latest developments in federal criminal defense.

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California Felony-Murder Law Challenge Backed by Ninth

The Ninth Circuit in San Francisco said a Bay Area man now serving 19 years to life for a 1996 murder conviction could try to make a case that the California law felony-murder law, which classifies unintentional killings during the commission of an “inherently dangerous” felony as second-degree murder, is unconstitutionally vague. 

Shedrick Henry fatally shot Candace Richardson in the hallway of a Berkeley apartment in February 1995. Henry said he was trying to shoot a man who pointed a gun at him and that Richardson’s death was accidental. But a jury convicted him of firing a gun in an inhabited dwelling and of second-degree murder under the felony-murder law.

State courts upheld his murder conviction in 1997. But the appeals court, over prosecution objections, said Monday that Henry could file a new challenge to the California law with a federal judge in San Francisco, based on the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling.

That ruling struck down a federal law, part of the Armed Career Criminal Act, that increased punishment for any felon convicted of being armed and committing a crime that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”

The high court said the law was unconstitutional because it based punishment on uncertain standards related to the general nature of a crime and not on the defendant’s acts. This year, the court relied on the ruling to strike down an immigration law requiring deportation for any noncitizen convicted of a “crime of violence.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s appointee, cast the deciding vote in that 5-4 ruling.

Henry’s appeal contends the California law’s definition of an “inherently dangerous” felony is just as vague.

AFPD Carmen A. Smarandoiu argued the motion and AFPD Todd M. Borden wrote the briefs.

See https://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/California-felony-murder-law-challenge-backed-by-13136285.php?src=hp_totn ; see also

Candis Mitchell