United States v. Argueta-Rosales, Nos. 14-50384, 14-50385 (9th Cir. Apr. 12, 2016).
Omar Argueta is a Mexican national who was deported from the United States in his teens. Addicted to meth and having suffered a beating at the hands of Mexican gangsters, Argueta began to believe his life was in danger. He decided to cross the border into California. He vaulted over a fence and was walking casually away when a border patrol agent called out to him. Argueta approached the agent, who told him to return to Mexico. When Argueta didn’t do that, he was put under arrest, telling the agent to do what he had to do.
Later, in a jail interview, Argueta claimed he was afraid of persecution in Mexico, and then began referring to people who were in his cell with him. The problem is that he wasn’t sharing a cell with anyone. A court-appointed psychologist later testified that Argueta was delusional.
Argueta was charged with attempting to reenter the United States unlawfully. He was convicted after a bench trial. The question in this appeal is whether a man who crosses the border under the spell of a paranoid delusion—here, a delusion that he was in immediate danger of being knocked off by gangsters—can be convicted of attempted unlawful reentry.
Under Ninth Circuit precedent, it’s not enough that Argueta knew he was crossing the border without permission. To be convicted, he also had to have crossed the border without the principal purpose of being taken into government custody. (As an example of somebody who would not face conviction, imagine a refugee who illegally enters the country and immediately goes to DHS, asking for asylum.) Because there’s conflicting evidence on what Argueta’s principal purpose was—he didn’t exactly flee from the border patrol—the conviction is vacated.
Judge Bybee, concurring, urges the court to overturn the earlier precedent under which Argueta’s conviction has now been vacated. The panel majority devotes the last section of its opinion to responding to his arguments.