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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Republican Loses Appeal Over|Intimidation of Hispanic Voters

(CN) - A Republican congressional candidate cannot contest the search he faced after his campaign threatened Hispanic voters, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.

About a month before the 2006 midterm elections, some 14,000 Hispanic immigrants in California's 47th District received a letter warning them that, if they voted, "their personal information would be collected by a 'new computer system,' and that this information could be provided to organizations who are 'against immigration,'" according to the court. The letter went out only to residents with Hispanic surnames who had been born outside the United States and had registered Democrat or no party affiliation.

When recipients complained, an investigation by the California Attorney General's office led to Tan Nguyen, a Republican candidate hoping to unseat incumbent Democrat Loretta Sanchez in the Orange County district.

Nguyen denied knowledge of the letter, but a magistrate judge issued a search warrant based on a probable violation of California's voter-intimidation law. A raid of Nguyen's home and campaign headquarters turned up "emails showing greater involvement by the defendant in the drafting and mailing of the letter than he had previously acknowledged."

California didn't charge Nguyen until a year after his failed campaign, lobbing a charge for obstruction of justice. A jury eventually convicted him for "failing to disclose the full extent of his knowledge regarding the mailing of a letter that could reasonably be believed to constitute an attempt at voter intimidation," according to the court. U.S. District Judge David Carter sentenced Nguyen to a year in jail and six months in a halfway house after denying his motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search. Nguyen argued that the magistrate judge had lacked probable cause to issue the warrants, but Carter found that the contents of the letter provided evidence that a crime had likely been committed.

Nguyen appealed the denial of his motion to suppress, but the 9th Circuit affirmed unanimously from Pasadena.

"The letter targeted immigrant voters with threats that their personal information would be provided to anti-immigration groups if they exercised their right to vote, and was mailed by a campaign with a vested interest in inducing these voters - members of the competing political party and of a minority group supporting the opposing candidate - not to vote in the upcoming election," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for a three-judge panel. "These facts created a fair probability that the distribution of the letter constituted an act of voter intimidation under California law and provided a sufficient basis for the issuance of the warrant."

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