Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Supreme Court Upholds Reform in 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act

In 1938, Congress, for the first time, created categories of people who could not legally possess firearms under federal law. In 1968, those categories were expanded. In 1986, under pressure from gun owners and the National Rifle Association, the law was reformed so a person had to know they were in violation in order to be prosecuted. On 23 June, 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the reform in the 1986 law.

Prosecution normally requires a person to know they are committing a crime, or that they are doing something wrong. From the decision:
As this Court has explained, the understanding that an injury is criminal only if inflicted knowingly “is as universal and persistent in mature systems of law as belief in freedom of the human will and a consequent ability and duty of the normal individual to choose between good and evil.”
The phrase "ignorance of the law is no excuse" does not refer to acts where an ordinary person would believe they were engaged in innocent conduct. The phrase means a person does not have to be a legal scholar to knowingly break the law. People are expected to research the law if they are knowingly acting in areas that could reasonably be expected to be constrained by law.  It has been perverted to mean a person can be convicted of crimes they committed without criminal or wrongful intent.  There are few such cases; they are the exception, not the rule. They more commonly apply where penalties are much lower than a felony conviction and ten years in prison, such as exists in the firearms law.

In this particular case, whether this defendant knew he was a prohibited possessor was irrelevant to the Supreme Court opinion. The point the Court addressed was: In the jury instructions, the judge held it was not necessary for the defendant to know he was a prohibited possessor.

The Supreme Court held that a prohibited possessor must know their status in order to be prosecuted. Because the jurors decide whether a person is guilty, they must decide if the person knew they were a prohibited possessor. From
Held: In a prosecution under §922(g) and §924(a)(2), the Government must prove both that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and that he knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm. Pp. 3–12.(a) Whether a criminal statute requires the Government to prove that the defendant acted knowingly is a question of congressional intent. This inquiry starts from a longstanding presumption that Congress intends to require a defendant to possess a culpable mental state regarding “each of the statutory elements that criminalize otherwise innocent conduct,” United States v. X-Citement Video, Inc., 513 U. S. 64, 72, normally characterized as a presumption in favor of “scienter.” There is no convincing reason to depart from this presumption here.
Possession of firearms is presumptively lawful. Possession is unlawful only in specific, particular, circumstances passed into law. The prosecutorial requirement for a person to know they committed a crime of unlawful possession of firearms is particularly important given the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

When a person who lawfully possessed a firearm is made into a felon by a change in law or interpretation of statute, it would be an abomination to the rule of the law if they could be convicted without knowing their status had changed. There are many people who fall into this category.

People who pled guilty to misdemeanor convictions for various charges, resulting from something as simple as a domestic argument, became prohibited possessors when those with "domestic violence convictions" were added to the list of prohibited possessors. The charges of many were resolved decades before the law was changed. Numerous people were transformed into prohibited possessors without their knowledge.

Many people with misdemeanor convictions were and are transformed into prohibited possessors by law, when the sentences for those crimes were changed to longer terms, making them felonies under the federal definition of felony.

Many people presumed they pled to a misdemeanor conviction because of a low penalty, when in fact, it was a felony conviction.

The Supreme Court decision cited the possibility of a person who was brought to the United States as a small child, who did not know they were in the United States illegally.  It would be unjust to prosecute such a case, because the person did not know they would be breaking the law by possessing a firearm.

Prosecution of individuals in any of these circumstances is rare. This is one of the reasons most people denied during  FBI National Instant background Checks (NICS) are never prosecuted. Many had no idea they were a prohibited possessor until they applied to purchase a gun from a federal dealer. From SCOTUSblog:
Now that the court has decided that knowledge of status is required for a conviction under Section 922(g), prosecutors must think about what kinds of tangible evidence can be used to show that state of mind, and those looking to challenge their convictions must scour their records to find some evidence casting doubt on the existence of such knowledge. These tasks are complicated greatly by the fact that there are nine different status categories. While reminding prosecutors that they may prove state of mind through circumstantial evidence, the majority refused to get too specific, saying, “We express no view … about what precisely the Government must prove to establish a defendant’s knowledge of status in respect to other Section 922(g) provisions not at issue here.”  
For decades, those who demand an unarmed population have worked to delegitimize and demonize possession of firearms. They have worked hard to portray the exercise of an enumerated Constitutional right as abnormal, disfunctional, and immoral. This Supreme Court decision does much to confirm the obvious in most of the United States: Ownership of firearms is a normal, positive, and useful condition. Mere possession of a firearm is *not* a reason for suspicion of criminal activity.

A person in possession of a firearm cannot be prosecuted for mere possession, unless they had reason to believe they were not allowed to possess a firearm.

©2019 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

Gun Watch 


ScienceABC123 said...

On two separate occasions, two separate colleges tried to tally the number of laws on the books every citizen was required to obey. Both gave up the task after surpassing 1.5 million. No one, not even the top lawyer in the country could possibly know all the laws to which they are subject.

Anonymous said...

Actually all of the laws, acts and regulations on the books exceeds 63 million, More than 90% are unconstitutional for one reason or another. In the first place laws can not be construed to mean some thing that is not physically written. We are ruled by written laws , not by individuals opinions that construe a law to mean any thing it does not say in the words actually used. The authority to interpret the constitution or any law is not written any where

Unknown said...

The phrase as shown, and commonly stated, is incomplete. The actual phrase is, 'Innocence of the law is no excuse, but the law must be knowable.' I believe it was Cicero (d. 43 BC) who said that.

Yes, too many laws makes the law onerous which causes the People to suffer needlessly.


Anonymous said...

One of the major problems with enforcing the law is Judicial officers are not required to have a law degree, any one can be elected to a judgeship. That presents a second problem too many lawyers with law degrees are incompetent. I embarrassed one lawyer so bad she closed her practice and went to work for the D.A. The judge told me I should take the bar exams and get licensed as an attorney. He said you know the law better than I do and better than most of the attorneys that practice in this court. I just got tired of hiring lawyers that Knew less about the law than I do and I have never spent a day in law school. I wanted to know the law and taught myself what I needed to know. One lawyer I hired was disbarred on numerous ethics issues by many clients. I was the first to complain to the bar association I have filed substitution of attorney three times and won the cases myself. four other times I just represented myself and won. I put the country government on notice , next time they mess with me I will file all the charges and complaints I have against them, several are so serious they have no statute of limitations. the county attorney resigned and the judge retired. Five people in planning and zoning were fired. I'm generally a very law abiding citizen and I refuse to accept corruption in government or the courts. believe me there are plenty of corrupt courts in this country, My cases were in several states. I have had my share of incompetent corrupt law enforcement trash. I call them badge heavy bastards. High school bullies with a gun. To get the name activist judge is very specific to Judicial behavior. Our legal system is not supposed to tolerate an activist judge. an activist judge rules in cases according to his opinion not according to the written law. the volumes of American Jurisprudence says they are required to resign or be impeached. Let me know if you ever hear of an activist judge being impeached. I would be happy to buy you a case of beer. It is my opinion that getting a fair hearing in this country is rare. I lost what I consider a very big case. The judge told me to my face " I don't care what the law says I am required to do, this is my court and I will do as I see fit. So she systematically violated 22 state and federal laws. I immediately file a complaint with that states appeals court. I documented every violation and purchased an audio transcript of the hearing the violations were recorded in the judges voice. the appeals court could find no violations. When I personally served the clerk of the court I insisted on a receipt for all of the documents delivered. 10 days passed. at 15 days I went to the appeals court to find out why the court had not responded. the clerk of the appeals court called and asked why the court had not responded , they claimed they did not have a complete file. I presented my detailed receipt. the court responded the next day. Corruption , corruption , corruption. U.S. Martials, county sheriffs. Local police, FBI and U.S. attorneys, ass holes.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but to properly correct the Phrase is ignorance of the law is no excuse.