Firearm Offenses/§ 922(g) – The defendant was not a “convicted felon” under § 922(g) based on receiving a prior “conditional discharge” in North Carolina, despite violating the conditions of that discharge, because the state court had not entered a judgment of conviction when he possessed the firearms in question.
The only question in this appeal from Tyrius Smith’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a conviction felon was whether Smith was actually a “convicted felon” under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) given his prior guilty plea to a felony offense in North Carolina for which he received a “conditional discharge.”
Under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20), whether a defendant has been convicted of a felony is determined by reference to the laws of the jurisdiction where the offense is prosecuted, in this case North Carolina state law. After pleading guilty to felony larceny, Smith had received a “conditional discharge.” Under North Carolina law, a “conditional discharge” allows the state court to defer proceedings “without entering a judgment of guilt” and dismiss the charges against the defendant if the defendant successfully completes a term of probation. If a defendant violates the terms of their probation, the court can revoke the discharge, enter an “adjudication of guilt,” and impose a sentence.
What made Smith’s case a little more complicated was that he did violate the terms of his conditional discharge probation, twice, by possessing firearms. Notably, however, the state court judge had not yet revoked his conditional discharge and entered a judgment of conviction when Smith was indicted in federal court for violating § 922(g). Nonetheless, the district court held that Smith’s conditional discharge under North Carolina law was a conviction under § 922(g).
On appeal, the Court reversed. Since the state court had not yet revoked his conditional discharge for his probation violations, Smith was not a convicted felon at the time that he possessed the firearms. The Court looked to North Carolina law prohibiting the possession of firearms by convicted felons, under which a conviction is defined as a “final judgment” in any case involving a felony. By definition, Smith’s conditional discharge was imposed “without entering a judgment of guilt.”
From the Western District of North Carolina
Opinion by Richardson, joined by Motz and Wynn