Monday, March 26, 2012
Court Upholds Conviction of Former Congressional Candidate
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld the conviction of a former Republican congressional candidate implicated in the sending of a letter that was allegedly designed to intimidate Latino and immigrant voters.
The panel rejected Tan Nguyen’s claim that evidence obtained in a search, pursuant to a warrant, of his residence and campaign headquarters should have been suppressed because the state probe that resulted in the warrant did not result in the filing of charges.
A U.S. District Court jury found Nguyen guilty of obstruction of justice, based on allegations that he lied to agents conducting the state probe, knowing that the false information would be turned over to federal authorities.
Nguyen won the three-way Republican primary in 2006 for the right to run against Rep. Loretta Sanchez, an Orange County Democrat. Before the general election, a letter was sent out in Spanish to voters, generally with Spanish surnames, warning that immigrants could not vote and that any immigrant who attempted to do so might have his or her personal information turned over to anti-immigration groups.
District Judge David O. Carter sentenced Nguyen to a year and a day in prison, plus six months in a halfway house. He is now serving the latter part of the sentence in a Minneapolis-area facility, according to Bureau of Prisons records and his attorney, H. Dean Steward.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing Friday for the panel, said that even though the state probe did not result in charges, the state warrant was valid because the magistrate had probable cause to believe Tan had violated the voter intimidation statute, Elections Code Sec. 18540.
Nguyen originally denied knowing very much about the letter. But investigators turned up e-mails between Nguyen and a staff member indicating a far deeper knowledge of the plan, as well as evidence that the candidate had asked the printer to expedite the print job.
The Ninth Circuit also rejected Nguyen’s claim that his conduct was protected by the First Amendment. Voter intimidation, Reinhardt said, is one of the harms that the state may punish, contrary to the general rule against content-based restrictions on speech.
Steward said he would not ask for an en banc rehearing—“If you can’t get Judge Reinhardt, who can you get,”—he told the MetNews, but said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to look at the free-speech issue.
There was, he said, evidence of potential alternative translations for the word “immigrant,” he said, which could cause the high court to conclude that there was no intent to intimidate legal voters and thus look at the issue in a different light.
Tan’s supporters claimed that he was being framed for his opposition to Sanchez, who got more than 62 percent of the vote, and set up a website for another run against the congresswoman in 2010. Tan didn’t run, but a video of the aborted campaign’s theme song—“Stand by Our Tan,” to the tune of the country standard “Stand by Your Man,” is “still quite popular on You Tube,” Steward said.
The case is United States v. Tan, 11-50061.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company