United States v. Nguyen

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 03-23-2012
  • Case #: 11-50061
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Circuit Judge Fletcher and District Judge Zouhary
  • Full Text Opinion

A search warrant is validly issued if there is a “‘fair probability’ that a crime has been committed.”

Tan Nguyen (“Nguyen”) was convicted in federal court of obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3). A California magistrate issued a search warrant to gather evidence from Nguyen’s home and campaign headquarters. The evidence connected Nguyen, a Republican candidate for Congress, to an intimidating letter mailed to Hispanic voters registered as Democrats. The letter warned voters that their personal information might be shared with anti-immigrant organizations if they turned out to vote. The probable cause affidavit alleged three state election law crimes; however, Nguyen was only charged for his failure to disclose his full knowledge of the letter to state investigators. Following his conviction Nguyen challenged the constitutionality of the search warrant used to obtain evidence, and he sought a motion to suppress claiming that there was insufficient probable cause to support the state’s investigation. The district court denied Nguyen’s motion. The Ninth Circuit held that a warrant is constitutional if there is a fair probability that a violation occurred. The Court found that “the contents of the letter and the circumstances of its distribution were sufficient to allow the magistrate to conclude that there was a fair probability that the mailing constituted a violation of California Election Code Section 18540.” Additionally the Court rejected Nguyen’s argument that the letter was political speech protected by the First Amendment. In so doing, the Court cited Supreme Court precedent that states that voter intimidation is a “true threat,” not speech protected by the First Amendment. AFFIRMED.

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