United States v. Werle (9th Cir. June 2022)

The Federal Docket

June 13, 2022

Justin Curtis Werle pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(a)(2) and 922(g)(1), but he made his plea without being properly informed of the mens rea element of the crime as set out by Rehaif. Werle filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his conviction on this ground, and the district court denied it without a hearing or making factual findings.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for a hearing, finding this summary denial inappropriate. Without supplementation, the record could not conclusively establish that Werle could not overcome his procedural default. Neither the fact that Werle had a previous sentence for over a year of imprisonment, nor his admission on the record that he had been “convicted of felonies” was sufficient to show conclusively that he would have pled guilty even if he had known of the mens rea element.

Appeal from the Eastern District of Washington
Opinion by Smith, joined by Tashima and Nguyen

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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