A Supreme Court Decision That Will Affect Tampa Federal Firearms Cases
Facts of the Case – Rehaif v. United States
Mr. Hamid Rehaif, a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, entered the United States on a student visa to attend the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida. Under the terms of his visa, he was allowed to stay in the United States only so long as he remained a full-time student.
In 2014, after Rehaif received poor grades, the Florida Institute of Technology dismissed him from the school and told him that his immigration status would be terminated unless he transferred to a different university or left the country
Rhaif stayed in the United States and did not enroll at any other university.
In December of 2015, Rehaif went to a shooting range, bought ammunition, rented a firearm, and shot targets for an hour. The FBI learned about Rehaif when an employee at the hotel where Rehaif was staying reported to the police that Rehaif had been acting strangely. Following up on the tip, an FBI agent interviewed Rehaif, who admitted shooting guns at the range.
The FBI arrested Rehaif and a federal grand jury subsequently charged him with violating federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).
What is Federal Statute 18 U. S. C. §922(g)?
Federal statute 18 U.S.C. §922(g) makes it against the law for certain persons to knowingly possess a firearm or ammunition that has crossed state lines or come from another country. In a Tampa, Florida, 18 U. S. C. §922(g) prosecution, the gun or ammunition would have to have come from outside of Florida for this federal law to apply.
Under 18 U. S. C. §922(g), the following persons are not allowed to knowingly possess a firearm:
- Convicted felons
- Fugitives from justice
- Drug addicts
- Persons adjudicated as mentally defective
- Persons with a dishonorable military discharge
- Persons with a domestic violence restraining order
- Persons convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,
- Illegal aliens
A person that fits into one of these categories that possesses a firearm or ammunition can go to federal prison for up to 10 years.
How 18 U.S.C. §922(g) Was Interpreted Before June of 2019
Prior to June of 2019, federal law did not require the Government to prove that an accused knew he or she belonged to one of the classes of persons listed above. So, before June of 2019, the Government only had to prove that the person knew that they possessed a firearm or ammunition, not that the person knew that when they possessed the gun for ammunition they were: a convicted felon, an illegal alien, convicted of a domestic violence offense, a drug addict, adjudicated mentally defective, had a dishonorable military discharge, or had a domestic violence injunction against them.
How did Mr. Rehaif’s Case Change the Way Tampa Federal Courts Will Interpret 18 U. S. C. §922(g)?
At Mr. Rehaif’s trial, his lawyers argued that federal law required the Government to prove not only that Rehaif knew he had possessed the firearm and ammunition, but also that Mr. Rehaif knew that his lawful immigration status had been terminated.
The judge at Mr. Rehaif’s trial ruled that the Government only had to prove that Rehaif knew he had possessed the firearm and ammunition, not that he knew his immigration status had been terminated. The jury found Mr. Rehaif guilty and the judge sentenced him to 18 months of prison. Rehaif appealed and his appeal eventually reached the United States Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court reviewed the case, and by a majority of 7-2 decided that 18 U.S.C. §922(g) required that the Government prove not only that Rehaif knew he had possessed the firearm and ammunition, but also that he knew that his immigration status in the United States had been terminated. The basic idea behind the Supreme Court’s decision is that in federal criminal firearms cases, a person should not be punished unless they knowingly violate the law.
What Impact Will the Supreme Court’s Decision have on Tampa Federal Firearms Cases?
From now on, when the government prosecutes a person for violating 18 U.S.C. §922(g), federal prosecutors are going to have more work cut out for them than they have had in the past. They will have to prove not only that an accused knew that he possessed a firearm or ammunition, but also that the accused knew that he was a member of one of the listed classes of persons prohibited from possessing a firearm.
For example, let’s say a person is accused of violating 18 U.S.C. §922(g) because the person was a fugitive from justice at the time they possessed a firearm. The Government will now have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused knew that he possessed a firearm or ammunition and that the accused knew he was a fugitive at the time of possession.
This might be tricky for the Government to do because there are times when a person may be considered a fugitive and not even know it. For example, suppose that a Tampa defendant in Florida state court misses a court dates because the clerk’s office sends the notice of hearing to the wrong address. When the defendant does not show up in court, a judge issues a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. In a case like this, the defendant would be a fugitive and not even know it.
Are you looking for the best Tampa federal criminal defense lawyer?
If the federal government has accused you or a loved one of a federal firearms offense, your best option is to hire an experienced Tampa federal criminal defense attorney to represent you.
Tampa criminal defense attorney David C. Hardy is a former prosecutor that now represents persons accused of Tampa federal drug crimes. David Hardy is Board Certified by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocacy as an Expert in Criminal Trial Law. He has extensive experience handling federal criminal drug cases and federal firearms cases. Contact Tampa federal criminal defense attorney David C. Hardy and get help today.
Posted in Federal Criminal Defense