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United States v. Hilger

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 26, 2013

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Jeffrey Alan Hilger, Defendant-Appellant.

Argued and Submitted June 4, 2013 —Seattle, Washington

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Montana Charles C. Lovell, Senior District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 6:06-cr-00018-CCL-1

Michael Donahoe, Senior Litigator, Federal Defenders of Montana, Helena, Montana, for Appellant.

Leif M. Johnson (argued) and Marcia Hurd, United States Attorney's Office for the District of Montana, Billings, Montana, for Appellee.

Before: M. Margaret McKeown and Sandra S. Ikuta, Circuit Judges, and Cormac J. Carney, District Judge. [*]

SUMMARY[**]

Criminal Law

Affirming a judgment revoking supervised release, the panel held that the Opper rule, which requires a conviction to rest on more than the uncorroborated confession of the defendant, does not apply to revocation of supervised release.

The panel concluded that on the record in this case the district court did not abuse its discretion in revoking the defendant's supervised release based on his confession.

OPINION

KEOWN, Circuit Judge

In criminal prosecutions, where guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt, the Supreme Court requires a conviction to rest on more than the uncorroborated confession of the defendant. Opper v. United States, 348 U.S. 84 (1954). The question here is whether the same standard should be extended to revocation of supervised release.

Jeffrey Hilger was on supervised release after a child pornography conviction. After he confessed to repeatedly violating restrictions on contact with minors, the district court revoked his supervised release. In view of the fundamental differences between a criminal conviction and revocation of supervised release, including the lowered burden of proof, we decline Hilger's invitation to erect an equivalent barrier here. The Opper rule does not apply to supervised release proceedings.

I. The Opper Rule Does Not Apply to Supervised Release Revocation Proceedings.

The corpus delicti—or "Opper"—rule was developed in the context of criminal prosecutions and their attendant heightened protections for defendants. Opper imposes two evidentiary requirements before a confession can be used as the basis for conviction. First, the government "must introduce sufficient evidence to establish that the criminal conduct at the core of the offense has occurred." United States v. Lopez–Alvarez, 970 F.2d 583, 592 (9th Cir. 1992). This foundation ensures that convictions are not based on confessions to nonexistent crimes. Id. "Second, [the government] must introduce independent evidence tending to establish the trustworthiness of the admissions, unless the confession is, by virtue of special circumstances, inherently reliable." Id. This additional requirement ensures that defendants are not convicted for making false confessions to crimes committed by others. "[O]nly when both [of] these prongs are satisfied will ...


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