Firearm Offenses

The Federal Docket

Jones v. Hendrix (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2023)

In a 6-3 opinion, the majority reinforced that a petitioner cannot file a second or subsequent motion to vacate a sentence under 28 USC 2255 unless they can show “newly discovered evidence” or a “new rule of constitutional law.” Even though a majority of circuits had held that the “savings clause” under 2255(e) creates an additional exception when the available options are “inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention,” the Court held that this exception did not apply to second or subsequent motions.

Lora v. United States (June 2023)

At issue was whether the sentencing court erred in holding that it 924(c) deprived it of discretion to run Lora’s two sentences concurrently for drug trafficking and violating 924(j). In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that 924(j) and 924(c) set forth different offenses with different sentencing provisions. Since courts otherwise have discretion to run sentences concurrently or consecutively, the sentencing court erred in finding that it was bound by 924(c) in imposing a sentence for a violation of 924(j).

Another District Court Strikes Down Part of 18 USC 922(g) Pursuant to Bruen

In yet another blow to 18 U.S.C. 922(g), the statute prohibiting certain categories of people from possessing, a district court in Texas has struck down 922(g)(3) as unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bruen. Section 922(g)(3) prohibits “unlawful users” of controlled substances from possessing firearms. After a detailed analysis, the district court found there was no history or tradition criminalizing the mere possession of firearms by unlawful drug users.

District Courts across the country are striking down federal firearm statutes.

Since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in New York State Rifle v. Bruen, where the Court held that firearm regulations must be consistent with firearm regulations as they existed at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, district courts across the country have applied the new framework in Bruen to strike down several criminal firearm statutes as unconstitutional. Most recently, courts have struck down federal statutes prohibiting possession of firearms with obliterated or altered serial numbers, possession of a firearm by a person under indictment, and possession of a firearm by a person subject to a domestic restraining order.

United States v. Heyward (4th Cir. August 2022)

The Fourth Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The Court held that the defendant met his burden of showing a Rehaif error where there was evidence that he did not know he was a felon given that he was sentenced to 6 months probation for possession of cocaine under South Carolina and the record showed he genuinely did not know he was a felon.

King v. United States (11th Cir. July 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s denial of a defendant’s motion under 28 USC 2255. The Court held that the defendant’s motion was properly waived based on his plea agreement, notwithstanding changes in the law that undermined his conviction under 924(c), holding that the waiver exception for sentences over the statutory maximum is based on the maximum “in effect at the time of sentencing,” and not the maximum based on subsequent new laws.

United States v. Melaku (4th Cir. July 2022)

The Fourth Circuit reversed the denial of a defendant’s motion under 28 USC 2255 where the defendant challenged his conviction and sentence under 924(c). The Court concluded that the underlying offense for the 924(c) charge, damaging government property under 18 USC 1361, was not a “crime of violence.”

United States v. Lesane (4th Cir. July 2022)

The Fourth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of a defendant’s petition for writ of coram nobis where the defendant’s prior convictions under state law would no longer qualify him for an enhanced sentence. The Court held that the district court had standing based on the possibility of an invalid sentence being used to enhance a sentence again and excused the defendant’s long delay in filing his petition.

U.S. Sentencing Commission Releases Report: “What Do Federal Firearm Offenses Really Look Like?

This month, the Sentencing Commission released a new report regarding federal firearm offenses. The report primarily looks at the kinds of sentences imposed on firearm offenders, including the Guidelines for more firearm offenses under USSG 2K2.1. The report includes data on recidivism rates, penalties, offender demographics, propensity for violence, etc.

Senate Confirms New ATF Director

This week, the senate confirmed Steven Dettelbach as the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, often referred to as the “ATF,” on a 48-46 vote. Director Dettelbach is the first ATF leader confirmed in seven years. The confirmation comes on the heels of Congress passing new gun control measures that, among …

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