United States v. Jovon Lovelle Medley (4th Cir. August 2020)

The Federal Docket

September 28, 2020

Firearm Offenses/Rehaif – Defendant’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon was reversible plain error based on Rehaif where the record at trial did not sufficiently establish the defendant’s knowledge simply because he ran from police, had previously served time in prison, and had made stipulations before trial regarding his prior conviction and forfeiture of certain rights.

After a jury trial, Jovon Lovelle Medley was convicted and sentenced to 78 months for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon but acquitted on charges of carjacking and brandishing a firearm.  He was first arrested and convicted in late 2017 for unlawful possession of a firearm under D.C. law.  Law enforcement subsequently linked the firearm to a Maryland carjacking, leading to the federal case.  During questioning without counsel, Medley admitted to buying the gun from an unnamed source but denied involvement in the carjacking.  While his case was on appeal for Sixth Amendment violations, the Rehaif opinion was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Noting that the Court had only previously only reviewed Rehaif errors in the context  of guilty pleas, not trials, the Fourth Circuit reviewed Medley’s conviction under the plain error standard.  The parties stipulated that failure to provide notice and instruct the jury of the knowledge element were plain error but disputed whether the error affected his substantial rights.  As to notice, the Court held that failing to describe an element at all or include factual allegations regarding that element failed to provide even constructive notice. Relying on precedent, the Court held that evidence of Medley running from law enforcement did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt he was a felon in possession, particularly since he was initially arrested under D.C. law for carrying a pistol without a license.  The Court held the cumulative effects of the procedural errors affected Medley’s substantial rights and vacated the district court’s conviction and remanded for dismissal.

Judge Quattlebaum dissented, holding Medley’s prior 12 year prison term and trial statements were overwhelming record evidence of his knowledge he was convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison, so the district court’s conviction should be upheld.

Appeal from the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt

Opinion by Gregory, joined by King.

Dissent by Quattlebaum.

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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