United States v. Gary, Michael A.

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: January 8, 2021
  • Case #: 20-444
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 954 F.3d 194 (4th Cir. 2020)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether a defendant who pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(a), is automatically entitled to plain-error relief if the district court did not advise him that one element of that offense is knowledge of his status as a felon, regardless of whether he can show that the district court’s error affected the outcome of the proceedings.

Respondent was arrested after running a red light and a loaded firearm was found in his car. Subsequently, Respondent’s car was searched again due to a different infraction and officers then found a stolen firearm that Respondent admitted was his. Respondent pled guilty, without a plea agreement, to two federal charges of felon in possession of a firearm. Respondent appealed his sentence and while the appeal was pending, Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019) was decided, requiring that the government show that a defendant knew they possessed a firearm and that defendant knew that they were of felon status when they possessed the firearm. Respondent was allowed to assert Rehaif in his appeal despite not initially appealing his conviction and the court of appeals held that plain error was established in light of the Rehaif decision. The court held that Respondent’s substantial rights were affected because it was a structural error not to require the United States to establish Respondent’s mental state. The United States asserts that the lower court was wrong in finding plain error because the issue arose for the first time on appeal, after the decision in Rehaif. The United States further argues there is no reason to presume the Rehaif requirement would have changed Respondent’s decision to enter a guilty plea.

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