Author Topic: Felons-in-possession must know they are felons  (Read 607 times)

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Felons-in-possession must know they are felons
« on: June 22, 2019, 12:44:12 am »
SCOTUSblog by Evan Lee 6/21/2019

In order to convict an unauthorized immigrant for gun possession, a federal prosecutor must prove not only that the defendant knew he possessed the gun but also that he knew he was out of immigration status, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on Friday in Rehaif v. United States. The decision will almost certainly lead to collateral attacks on convictions under a much more commonly invoked provision criminalizing gun possession by convicted felons.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion stated that the federal law in question, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), criminalizes possession of firearms by a person falling into any of nine enumerated status categories, one of which is aliens unlawfully in the United States, and another of which is anyone convicted of an offense punishable by at least a year in prison. The majority explicitly held that the government “must show that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and also that he knew he had the relevant status when he possessed it.”

In a vehement dissent, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, protested that the decision will lead to a flood of challenges by people currently incarcerated under Section 922(g), most of them in the felon-in-possession category. Noting that 6,032 people were convicted in fiscal year 2017 alone under Section 922(g), with an average sentence of 64 months, Alito warned of a coming flood of litigation. Those whose direct appeals are not yet exhausted will “likely be entitled to a new trial,” said Alito, and others will move to have their convictions vacated under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

Alito specifically outlined the group of prisoners who could file under Section 2255. “[T]hose within the statute of limitations will be entitled to relief if they can show that they are actually innocent of violating Section 922(g), which will be the case if they did not know that they fell into one of the categories of persons to whom the offense applies,” he wrote. “If a prisoner asserts that he lacked that knowledge and therefore was actually innocent, the district courts, in a great many cases, may be required to hold a hearing … and make a credibility determination as to the prisoner’s subjective mental state at the time of the crime.”