United States v. Yamashiro

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 06-12-2015
  • Case #: 12-50608
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: District Judge Bell for the Court, Circuit Judges Silverman and Bea; Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Bea
  • Full Text Opinion

A defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel is violated when he is denied counsel during victim allocution.

Steven Yamashiro pled guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. At the initial sentencing hearing, Yamashiro requested, and was granted, a substitution of attorney. At the new sentencing hearing, Yamashiro’s newly substituted attorney had not yet arrived, but the court proceeded with the allocution from the victim witnesses who were present. After the first victim completed his allocution, Yamashiro’s attorney arrived. Three months later, at the second phase of the sentencing hearing, the district court denied Yamashiro’s request to withdraw his guilty plea. Subsequently, Yamashiro was sentenced to prison and to pay restitution to the victims. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed Yamashiro’s contention which alleged that the court erred in allowing victim allocution without a defense attorney present. The panel agreed and remanded the case to a different judge for resentencing. The panel reasoned that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right was attached at that point in the Yamashiro’s case. Therefore, the denial of counsel during a portion of allocution from the victim witnesses during the sentencing proceedings was a structural error. Further, because the structural error occurred during sentencing, the panel found that reassignment of case to a different judge was advisable to preserve the appearance of justice. Lastly, the panel concluded that the district court did not err in denying Yamashiro’s motion to withdraw his plea because Yamashiro’s failed to present evidence his plea was not voluntarily or knowingly entered. Conviction AFFIRMED, Sentence VACATED and REMANDED.

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