I’ve handled hundreds of gun cases prosecuted in the federal court system over the past 36 years, here in Atlanta and elsewhere. Most federal gun prosecutions involve a claim that the Defendant had a firearm (or ammunition) and the accused was a “prohibited person” who cannot have the gun. Most times it is the usual “FIPF”, meaning a felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm. However, this same law law applies to firearms possessors who might be an illegal alien, a fugitive from justice, committed to a mental institution, convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime, or, who is an illegal user of a controlled substance. Yes, that’s right, smoking a joint in a state where that is illegal might cause the dope-smoker to get prosecuted in federal court if the person’s other hand is wrapped around a firearm.
The main federal gun law, (18 U.S.C. §922(g)) says it is unlawful for anyone who falls into one of the prohibited categories to “…possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition.” Then, a separate sentencing provision (18 U.S.C. §924(a)(2)) says the accused person is liable to a prison sentence if he or she “knowingly” violates §922(g). Over the years, the Courts ruled that there are three elements of this crime: 1) prohibited status, 2) possession, and 3) that the possession was in or affecting commerce. Also, over the years, prosecutors convinced the courts that the word “knowingly” only applies to one of these elements, namely, the possession requirement. As a result, there are lots of prior cases ruling that prosecutors don’t need to prove that the accused person “knew” he or she was a prior felon, illegal immigrant, fugitive, or a dope smoker. Continue reading