Rehaif v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: June 21, 2019
  • Case #: 17-9560
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, GORSUCH, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS, J., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

In a prosecution under §922(g) and §924(a)(2), the Government must prove both that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and that he knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.

Petitioner was dismissed from university enrollment while under a nonimmigrant student visa. After failing to properly extend his visa, Petitioner shot weapons at a firing range. Petitioner was convicted of possessing firearms as an unlawful alien under 18 U.S.C. §922(g) and §924(a)(2). Petitioner appealed, arguing the trial court erred in issuing jury instructions which did not require the government to prove Petitioner knew of his illegal status. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding criminal law does not require knowledge of one’s own status. The Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the government must prove Petitioner both knew he possessed a firearm and also knew he belonged to a category barred from firearm possession. The Court reiterated the longstanding presumption that Congress intends a culpable mental state for each statutory element that criminalizes innocent conduct. The term “knowingly” modifies the elements of §922(g): (1) status; (2) possession; (3) jurisdiction; and (4) a firearm. The Court found no basis to not apply “knowingly” to “status,” when it is generally agreed to apply to “possession,” the second element. While Congress does not normally require defendants to know their own status, here status is the “crucial element” as the conduct would not be wrongful without such status. Without knowledge of his illegal status, one "does not have the guilty state of mind” demanded by the language and purpose of the statute. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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