Firearm Offenses

The Federal Docket

Greer v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In an almost unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that defendants in post-conviction proceedings alleging plain error under Rehaif must make a sufficient showing that they could have presented evidence at trial that they did not know they were a felon at the time they possessed the firearm. The Court affirmed the conviction of two defendants, one who pleaded guilty and one who was convicted by a jury, after finding that neither of them had presented any evidence or argument that they were unaware that they were felons and that both had multiple prior convictions.

Borden v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court held that prior convictions for offenses that only require a mens rea of “recklessness” cannot serve as predicate convictions under the “elements clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act. The Court reasoned that the language requiring that an offense involved the use of force “against the person of another,” reflected that the perpetrator must act purposefully and intentionally.

Carlos Granda v. United States (11th Cir. March 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a defendant’s motion under 2255. The trial court in the defendant’s case had erroneously instructed the jury that the defendant’s charge for Hobbs Act conspiracy could be a predicate offense for finding the defendant guilty of conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence under 924(o). However, the defendant had procedurally defaulted on this claim by not bringing it up in front of the trial court or on direct appeal, and he could not show prejudice or actual innocence because the jury found him guilty of other predicate offenses that were “inextricable intertwined” with the Hobbs Act conspiracy count.

United States v. Dontiez Pendergrass (11th Cir. March 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s convictions for armed robbery of five businesses. Among its holdings, the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a motion to continue, it did not err in declining to excuse a juror for cause who was a probation officer, admission of geo-location data that was gathered as fruit of an unlawful search was harmless, an agent’s testimony regarding out-of-court statements was not hearsay since it was helpful to describe investigative tactics, and there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant based on a modus operandi and pattern reflected in each of the five robberies.

United States v. Tony Dewayne Williams (6th Cir. March 2021)

The Sixth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence which was enhanced based on a prior felony conviction under Tennessee law involving marijuana. The Court held that the sentencing court erred in enhancing the defendant’s sentence based on that conviction because the Tennessee law at issue included hemp under the definition of marijuana, while hemp was distinguishable and legal under federal law. Therefore, the Tennessee conviction was not a “controlled substance offense” under the Guidelines. However, since the defendant had only objected generally at sentencing and did not articulate grounds for his objection, plain error review applied, and the sentencing court’s error here were not clear or obvious given the complexity of the issue.

Attorney General’s Remarks on Gun Violence Prevention Suggest Increase in Federal Prosecutions for Firearm Offenses

Earlier this month, Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke about the rise of gun-related deaths in the U.S. and the federal government’s strategy to reduce them. His remarks suggest that criminal prosecutions will play a central part to that strategy. The AG’s remarks about keeping guns “out of the hands of criminals” suggest an increase in …

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United States v. Lance Cannon & Vincent Holton (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a pair of Hobbs Act robbery convictions, holding that 1) erroneous jury instructions regarding two predicate offenses under 924(c) were harmless where the offenses were inextricably entwined and one was properly instructed as a predicate offense; 2) defendant’s could not show entrapment or outrageous government conduct when the government set up a fake safe house and had an informant suggest to the defendant that they should rob the safe house; and 3) the defendants were not entitled to discovery for selective prosecution based on a showing that a racial group was disproportionately prosecuted unless they could show evidence of prosecution of similarly situated members of another racial group.

United States v. Jose Antonio Morales (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction after he challenged a search warrant that led to his arrest and conviction for marijuana distribution and unlawful possession of a firearm. The Court held that, even if the search warrant was not supported by probable cause based on officers finding small quantities of marijuana in the defendant’s trash, the good faith exception applied. The Court also reiterated that a failure to allege the knowledge element for a 922(g) charge under Rehaif does not deprive the district court of subject matter jurisdiction.

United States v. Melvyn Gear (9th Cir. January 2021)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm by a nonimmigrant visa holder, but held that the Government must prove more than merely the fact that a defendant’s visa is labeled as a nonimmigrant visa. The Government must show that the defendant knew his visa’s classification or knew the offending characteristics of the visa that makes his firearm possession unlawful.

United States v. Julian Mora-Alcaraz (9th Cir. January 2021)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s order suppressing a defendant’s statements under Miranda. The officers had interrogated the defendant without advising him of his Miranda rights after they approached him in marked cars and separated him from his seven-year-old son. However, the Court remanded for the district court to determine if the defendant’s subsequent consent to search his vehicle was voluntary.

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