CASE LAW UPDATE:  Whether lack of knowledge that one is prohibited from possessing firearms is not a defense?

Defendant was convicted of felon in possession of a firearm.  Defendant appealed.  On appeal, defendant argued that his conviction should be reversed on the ground that the question of whether he knew he was a felon was not presented to the grand and petit juries.  Even acknowledging that these were plain errors, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the plain errors did not affect his substantial rights because he could not show a reasonable probability that he would not have been charged or convicted if the right question had been presented.  (So apparently, it is a defense to not know one is a felon).

The crime of felon in possession of a firearm is a rather common charge.  Despite its being common, its potential punishments are severe.  For a first time felon in possession of a firearm charges, the range of sentence is mandatory 5 to 15 years in prison.  Most sentences do not even mandate prison.  Here, it is 5 to 15 years.  However, on a first time felon in possession charge, it is still possible, in State court, to get a downward departure to probation, and avoid an executed prison sentence.  However, on a second felon in possession charge, a prison sentence is mandatory.  This is called a “mandatory mandatory.”

United States v. Willis, 19-3361, per curiam.  Appealed from the United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri.

Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyer Lynne Torgerson was not attorney of record in this case.

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