Firearm Offenses

The Federal Docket

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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United States v. Ziesel (6th Cir. June 2022)

The Sixth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence for bank robbery, holding that the district court erred in applying an enhancement for using physical restraint. The Court held that ordering tellers to the ground, and their accompanying compliance, without more, was insufficient to constitute “physical restraint.”

United States v. Jackson (11th Cir. June 2022)

The Eleventh Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence that had been enhanced under the ACCA after the district court held that the defendant’s prior conviction was a “serious drug offense.” However, the statute under which the defendant was previously convicted under state law also prohibited ioflupane, which was not a controlled substance at the time of the defendant’s federal prosecution. Citing fair notice and due process concerns, the Court concluded that sentencing courts must “apply the version of the Controlled Substance Act Schedules in place when the defendant committed the federal firearm-possession offense for which he is being sentenced,” as opposed to the schedules in effect when the defendant is convicted of his predicate state offenses.

United States v. Taylor (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2022)

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under 924(c) “because no element of the offense requires proof that the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use force.” Applying the categorical approach, the Court held that a generic defendant could be convicted of attempted Hobbs Act robbery without using or threatening force based simply on their “intent” and their taking a non-forceful “substantial step.”

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