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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

9th Cir: Willful Ignorance of Crime = Knowledge

Yesterday, the 9th Circuit published an opinion allowing juries to be instructed that a defendant's willful ignorance of a crime amounts to knowledge of the crime.  In other words, if a defendant claims she didn't know she was committing a crime, but she probably should have known, her state of mind is akin to knowlege.  Needless to say, defense attorneys take issue with the ruling.

In his opinion for a 15 member en banc panel, Judge Alex Kozinski said, he wanted to "clear away the underbrush"..."of narrow, heavily fact-dependant and at times contradictory opinions that have been difficult for both judges and litigants to navigate" regarding when "knowledge" exists.  Ten of the fifteen members of the panel agreed that trial judges should have broad discretion in instructing a jury that a defendant's willful ignorance amounted to knowledge of criminal activity.

The majority opinion came in the case of Carmen Heredia, caught driving her aunt's car from Mexico into Arizona with about 350 pounds of pot in the trunk. Heredia said she hadn't known about the drugs, though she admitted she'd been suspicious of the overwhelming smell of fabric softener--and of her aunt's explanation that she'd spilled some in the car. U.S. District Judge John Roll of Arizona gave the jury a "Jewell instruction," telling them that if Heredia had intentionally ignored criminal conduct, they could decide she'd had knowledge of it.  Story from The Recorder at Law.com. . . [Michele Berry]

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