SCOTUS supreme court prohibited persons
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Well this is an unexpected turn of events. The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that in order to prosecute a prohibited person in possession of a firearm, it must be shown that the person knew that having a gun was illegal.

The Supreme Court says prosecutors must prove that people charged with violating federal gun laws knew they were not allowed to have a weapon. The government says the decision could affect thousands of prosecutions of convicted criminals who are barred from having a firearm.

The court ruled 7-2 Friday in the case of a foreign student from the United Arab Emirates who took target practice at a Florida shooting range, even though he had been dismissed from the Florida Institute of Technology and was in the United States illegally. He was prosecuted under a law that bars people who are in the country illegally from having guns. …

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his majority opinion that the law at issue requires prosecutors to show both that the person had a gun and knew he shouldn’t.

Otherwise, Breyer said, the law could ensnare someone “brought into the United States unlawfully as a small child and was therefore unaware of his unlawful status.”

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a dissent that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas that the decision “opens the gates to a flood of litigation that is sure to burden the lower courts.”

– Associated Press in Supreme Court says prosecutors must prove that people knew they couldn’t have guns


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  1. Whatever happened to “ignorance of the law is no excuse?”

    This also seems inconsistent with the suppressor case, where the defendants thought that, according to the laws of their state, they were legally able to buy a suppressor. As I recall the SC refused to hear that appeal.

    • Agree on both points.

      Although, I never did understand though how the average person is supposed to know all the laws.

      Likewise, the concept of mens rea, guilty mind. If they didn’t know they were breaking the law there is no mens rea

      • @D,

        Super agree on the point that nobody can possibly know all the laws on the books now. When our country was formed, there were only four federal crimes (treason, counterfeiting, murder, and I forget the fourth one). Now there are over 4500+ federal crimes on the books, plus all the state level ones (felonies, misdemeanors, infractions) and local city/municipal ordinances (can’t park here, can’t feed the birds there). Even law enforcement can’t be expected to know all the laws they’re paid to enforce.

        • Actually there are closer to 300,000 federal crimes that a person might conceivably become guilty of violating.

        • Yup, this ruling seems like it will clash but I don’t mind. A person being expected to know the laws is a joke when you need three or more different kinds of specialized lawyer just to run a clean, private life. There are enough people usually below the radar, due to being poor and not terribly dangerous if at all, and enough laws that they could be crucified for, it amounts to the authorities being able to take practically whoever they want below a certain wherewithal level.

      • I have to stand with ownership of weapons being a natural right. It doesn’t just apply to people here legally but is inherent to any living being. Though if someone is here illegally… boot.

      • I always thought that was total BS. They have thousands of complex laws both federally and state which no human could ever know all of of be aware of them all, but then the legal standard is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. What kind of crap is that anyway??
        I just found out at my age it is actually against the law to walk along a road that doesn’t have a sidewalk and NOT FACE TRAFFIC. I had no idea it was actually a law that you had to do that. Naturally it’s a good idea, but a LAW??

        • Unless youre on a bicicle, then you’re supposed to go WITH the traffic, facing away from it. Cuz you know, having a semi come up on you from behind at 40mph 2 feet from your handlebars feels totally safe.

          Fuck the law, if I’m cycling along a road, I ride on the opposite side, towards traffic. I prefer to see the asshole on his phone, drifting off into the shoulder. So I can avoid him.

          Frankly the whole “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” has always been a bullshit argument to me made up to make the prosecutor’s job easier.

        • @ Icabod
          Yes it is and it says highway, but that’s any road. This could be a residential street like I live on and if I’m walking on the wrong side of the road, some cop could come mess with me and give me a hard time.
          Hell, you can get busted flicking a booger out the car window!!

        • Nickel, I recall from Latin Readings class that the “ignorance of the law is no excuse” notion — “Ignorantia juris non excusat” in Latin — was derided back during the Roman Empire because it essentially allowed the emperor to arrest anyone just by making a law and not publicizing it, or making a law so confusing that just about everyone would end up violating it. I think the jurists of that day would have been horrified at the idea that the government might have hundreds of thousands of laws, and seen such an accumulation as a deliberate attempt to turn everyone into a criminal.

    • Perhaps someone noted that the shooting range violated the law handing him the gun, presumably not knowing his legal status?

    • Once we move beyond the realm of physical damages like murder, assault or theft ignorance of the law really should be the only viable excuse. I like to think of ET landing in New Jersey. How is ET supposed to know all the against-the-law stuff he may be doing in NJ as he goes about his day not causing any harm to anyone or anything?

      Laws should be like art. If you have to write treatises explaining it it probably isn’t any good.

      • Shire-man,

        Our nation is already supposed to be under Common Law which, as I understand it, means there can be no crime if there is no victim who suffered loss/damages, regardless of what any state or federal governmental body says.

        I will argue that Common Law should also criminalize/penalize activity that is exceedingly dangerous. An example would be that our Common Law should assign criminal status to driving a car at 100 m.p.h. through a residential neighborhood. Another example would be that Common Law should assign criminal status to firing bullets into the air at low angles (in densely populated areas) for entertainment.

      • “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse” in fact applies only to the Common Law. It is assumed that every adult is aware of the Common Law provisions, even if not in the finer details. This, however, does not apply to other laws, which are not a direct derivative of the Common Law. I have successfully used this argument in court and the charge was dismissed. In that case, it was an administrative law that was added a few years prior that an average person would not have a reasonable way to know of its existence. The judge agreed.

    • Its a great ruling and your second statement shows how it is.
      Now the guys that thought they were legal, judged illegal have the precedent handed to them from SCOTUS to successfully appeal their case in the lower courts as it should be and should receive a ruling in a more timely manner.
      Sometimes it takes a while for the genius of a well seated Supreme Court to sink in.

    • Ignorance is never an excuse…unless you’re a protected illegal immigrant. Why do you think the left wingers liked this?

    • I am looking for the actual case. But it could be more related to the charges. He could still be charged with unlawful possession, but possible to a lesser charge or sentencing. Breaking a law with intent carries heavier penalties.

    • This isn’t about ignorance of the law, it’s about ignorance of a status that’s relevant to the law.

      Let’s say in your state that it’s illegal to carry a gun into some place with a “no guns” sign. If a store has a sign on one door and you enter through another, you’re off the hook. But if you think that the store probably has a sign, so you climb through the window to avoid knowing, you’re guilty.

      So the prosecutor doesn’t have to show that you know the law. They do have to show you had a “guilty mind” for each of the elements of the law.

      This might get interesting around state borders, property boundaries, and ownership issues.

    • “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” is an impossible standard in today’s world.

      I’ve been saying for years its going to have to go. We have an impossible Labyrinth of laws that no person could possible know.

      If we want that “ignorance” standard to be legal, we’re going to have to make a law degree a core part of basic education. As that is both unreasonable and impossible, we need to shave off a tremendous volume of laws. On the order of 99% or perhaps greater.

      Otherwise, nearly every crime in existence will need to start with a warning.

      A basic Law class in middle school will probably eliminate the need for some of these “warnings”. But at the current volume of laws and regulations (so many in fact that no one knows precisely how many there are) the “ignorance is no excuse” standard will eventually in and of itself be deemed unconstitutional.

      • The “ignorance is no excuse” standard was impossible at the time it was first popularized, too, and I’ve always thought it was bullshit.

        We are all walking felons who haven’t been caught yet for some arcane law that we happen to be breaking at any given time and have absolutely no knowledge of. We are all one cop’s bad mood away from prison. That’s no way to run a country.

    • When the law becomes a Byzantine maze of landmines, that argument loses strength. When our courts & legislators *refuse* to make things easier to abide by, it necessitates such concessions in prosecution authority.

    • Just an extension of the Hillary defense: “I had no idea keeping classified intel on a server in my bathroom was a crime, or deleting evidence, or laundering bribes through the Clinton Foundation, or…”

    • I was disappointed in SCOTUS for not hearing the State silencer law case. Meanwhile weed stores are open everywhere and that’s still Federally Illegal. Even TSA in Alaska and Washington State doesn’t care about weed in your baggage as long as there is a State ID copy with it from a State where it’s OK. I can’t imbibe but I have friends who do.
      Heroin and Fentanyl are huge problems up here and I understand everywhere and possession with intent to sell is a big Federal Felony because it all comes in from other states…
      Feds/ATF have plenty to do and yet come down hard on a former soldier, I believe, who thought he bought a can legally by State Law? Seller in trouble too… Maybe buyer should have been more discreet and not have waved it around on Facebook but he was probably happy as a clam and just wanting to go have some quiet shooting fun…
      Hey did you guys know that lots of people are crossing illegally into America??

    • There shouldn’t be so many laws as to even have that as a possible defense. The fact that there is 10,000+ pages of federal statues, not to mention probably millions (total) more state individual statutes, a person, even a lawyer, cannot possibly know if they are violating a law at any given point in their day-to-day life. Statutory regulations have become the world largest micro-management system, and it needs to end.

    • You missed a point – although the case will help out citizens of the United States, who does this case initially help out – ILLEGAL ALIENS.

      And how else will this benefit ILLEGAL ALIENS?

      “Judge, I had no idea it was a Federal crime to cross the border illegally.”

      • So we keep shitty laws around because it happens to be convenient for us for now? I’m willing to bet money you’ve broken your fair share of laws you had no idea about.

        • “Judge, I had no idea it was a Federal crime to cross the border illegally.”

          Also that would be a pretty stupid line to use in your defense. I’ll let you try to figure out why.

      • I’m just back from Lake Powell. The Navajo Nation is south of the San Juan and East of the Colorado Rivers. If you walk on another tribe’s land, you are trespassing. The Central Americans have trespassed at least two other tribes’ land before arriving.

    • Whatever happened to “ignorance of the law is no excuse?”

      It is a myth passed around by ignorant lay people.

    • because “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is asinine and needs to be constantly challenged.

  2. So if I make a machine gun…and then claim I did not know it was illegal…I can get off …right???

    • No, the defense isn’t not knowing the law. The defense is not knowing the facts of the situation. So in this context the defense would be not knowing you had a machinegun (say the internals of the gun had been Modified by the previous owner).

      • That’s already settled law in the 10th with the Dalton decision. If you receive a machine gun unknowingly, you aren’t criminally liable, but they’ll still seize the gun. It’s a tough defense if your giggle switch has more than 2 settings or you’ve fired it full auto. You might be able to make the argument for a bump stock. “How would I know it’s been reclassified as a machine gun? Nobody sent me a notice.”

  3. I have yet to read the opinions, but this appears to work as an expansion of the Haynes decision and a clarification of mens rea. While I understand Alito and Thomas’ dissent, criminal intent is an immensely important part of any conviction, especially given our Byzantine labyrinth of laws (that always grows).

    • One of the two things Trump has done right was to demand bureaucrats remove two regulations for every new one they create. The more obvious thing was to appoint better judges, which so far, is the only reason I can see to actually vote FOR him.

    • Agreed. Simply put: just because they technically CAN charge someone with a crime does not always mean they SHOULD. Or that they have to. If there was no intent and no victim, what do charges accomplish?

      • The charges may lead to a conviction. Convictions fuel career advancement, maybe even into high political office.

  4. Odd that I’d side with the liberals on the court on just about anything…

    This will be a Miranda rights type of thing. Get out of prison and you’ll be presented a document to sign that says in great big bold letters ‘I acknowledge I can’t possess a gun legally.’ Might be a little difficult with illegal aliens, but they’ll still be prosecuted if they misuse a firearm and we (at least should be) kicking them out of the country anyway, so who cares if they had a firearm once they’re gone?

    • I suspect this is already the case almost everywhere. The only people I could see this really applying to are illegals arrested with guns.

  5. The law is about federal laws – not state laws. This means a 10 year sentence in a state prison, where you might do 4, instead of a federal prison where you will do 9 years and 8 months. Of course the fed pen is much better than the state pen……..

    I wish they will rule on due process being needed to confiscate anything from a person.

    • If you behave yourself you’ll get out in 8-1/2 years in the fed prison. 85% minimum though.

      Depending on your state, you’ll probably be out in 2.

  6. I am not sure if I can post links here or not. But I will include them below. This blog post and the PBS post should have done a little more homework. The ex-student is still guilty of possession of a firearm. The SCOTUS challenge was in regards to his penalty with regards to (18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2)). They’re saying that because the student didn’t “knowingly violate” the law, his penalty should be reduced. “knowingly violates” is written into the law, and the lower court ignored this clause when determining jail time/fines for the student. This ruling is not “Ignorance of the law is an excuse”. He is still going to have jail time/probation/fines.

  7. Why illegal aliens are treated with such deference by the courts and politicians is perplexing. This ruling is just another manifestation of how the government in all its forms – local, state, national – treats us citizens in capricious and arbitrary ways.

  8. I have been clobbered with a state conviction even when the judge agreed that there was ‘no identifiable victim’ and also admitted it was unlikely that I knew how the law functioned because he hadn’t known either. I only got probation but that is small consolation when I also lost the highest paying job I ever had and that lucrative career track ended. I have been bitter about it for decades. I wouldn’t piss on a prosecutor if they were on fire.

  9. Won’t do a thing to help all of the people jacked up by state police here in Pennsylvania for not knowing they were prohibited.

  10. Once in awhile the courts get it right…and what’s with Thomas being such a prick?!? Did he forget a multitude of black men are screwed by what he dissented from? BREAKING😄: Hickok45 distances himself from the NRA. News at 11…

  11. There should be a difference between violating a law in a way that harmed others in some way and BS regulations where the violation caused no harm to any other citizen.

    Prison for causing harm; nothing or a small fine for violating the regulations.

    Get caught with a suppressor without a tax stamp = $200 for the stamp plus $100 for not getting it first.

    • They want hard time for offenses they don’t like and no jail time for their causes and pet peeves.

  12. I want the scotus come down hard on cities like ny and Chicago and all of California bust their heads shall not be infringed

  13. Not related to the ruling, but if the only crime here was him being in the country illegally (trip to the shooting range notwithstanding), why spend the money to put this guy up for 18 months in a federal prison rather than simply deporting him back to the UAE?

  14. It’s unconstitutional to prohibit someone in the first place. If you served your time, you should get your rights back. If you’re too dangerous, they shouldn’t let you out in the first place.

    This is a hollow/pyrrhic victory if you ask me.

  15. The headline is incorrect.

    SCOTUS ruled 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.

    In this case, the illegal alien was brought to the US when he was an infant and apparently did not know that he was illegal. Since the statute requires that the defendant only commits a crime if he “knowingly violates” the statute prohibiting illegal aliens from possessing a gun, the case was correctly decided.

    Not knowing that an illegal cannot possess a gun is ignorance of the law and it will NOT be an excuse. Not knowing that you are an illegal is a mistake of fact and negates any wrongful intent.

  16. I’d like to know the facts of the case in more detail.

    If the guy got booted from school and went target shooting while getting ready to leave and go home or while he was appealing something with the school I can totally see how he might not know it was illegal if he rented the gun rather than buying it so there was no background check.

    In that case he has no particular reason to think it’s illegal. He wasn’t denied a sale, he just wanted to try something here that maybe he can’t do in his home country, and do it before he left.

    There’s also the question of if he was ensnared by the law or some regulation that Carrie’s the force of law.

    Let’s be real here, at this point the whole “ignorance of the law is no excuse” thing is bullshit. The feds don’t even know how many laws, nevermind regulations, they have. If they can’t even tell you how many laws they have then by definition they can’t tell you what they all are. If they can’t do that then no one can be expected to follow the letter of the law at all times because there literally is no way to know it, even the enforcers can’t tell you.

    • I suspect that the ignorance of the law defense is not allowed for one reason only – it’d make it harder to convict people in a lot of cases.

  17. Maybe the government needs to examine the rules they created over who can’t possess a gun and why. Most restrictions are recent developments including Chucky Schumers rule on misdemeanor offenses in domestic cases.

  18. I have mixed feeling about this but it could be good news to otherwise law abiding firearm owners who do not read up on gun laws every few months to see what has changed. For instance husband dies and widow takes his guns to pawn shop to sell. A few minutes later police show up to arrest her because some of these firearms had been banned by federal law, making them a felony just to possess, which she says she had no idea about which is not a stretch IMO. This may also have an impact on state firearm laws with blue states banning firearms and magazines. I bet NJ prosecutors were not happy to read this decisions.

    • Trying living in California, where the law changes every couple of years. Trying to own a modern rifle in that state is like trying to walk across a minefield. Every new law is another mine to step on. If you don’t pay attention to the bills being passed and read them all, you will go to the gun range one day and get caught by a cop looking to please his master.

      It’s complicated on purpose. An intentional minefield of law. This gun control was not designed by stupid people. They know making it extremely confusing will push people away from buying guns (so they can stay away from prison) and those that decide to take the risk will be increasingly closer to prison for exercising their human/civil rights.

      • Dear God, they want your head to explode from the insanity.

        Why does he keep calling it a rifle when he has clearly stated it’s a pistol and is registered as such.

        • Because it’s stupid to change our language to conform with dumbass laws written by people who know nothing about guns. Yes, legally it’s a “pistol”. But come on, really, it’s a rifle. Are you going to argue that a 500 Shockwave is not really a shotgun? A Glock 18 is really a machinegun? I’m sure the support gunners of practically any military will laugh at you for that one.

  19. I haven’t read the full opinions yet, but the title of this post seems misleading.

    From the majority opinion: the prosecution “must show that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and also that he knew he had the relevant status when he possessed it.”

    In other words, to be convicted, a felon has to know that he has a gun and is a felon, which should be pretty easy to establish through court records. Same with most immigration statuses: if you snuck in, you know your status. It seems like this will mostly be limited to narrow circumstances of overstaying a visa, where ignorance will be a murkier question. You don’t have to know there is a law prohibiting a felon from having a gun.

    • Knowing the law for crossing the border without permission is different than knowing all the California gun laws. I wouldn’t expect a Mexican national to know the gun laws in America (the country that claims to have unrestricted access to weaponry).

      • That’s the point. If somebody knows he’s here illegally and knows he possesses a gun, he can be convicted. He doesn’t have to know that possessing a gun while being here illegally is illegal. Clear as mud?

        • You have to prove a Mexican national knew the gun laws of the United States. The guy doesn’t even know English. I don’t think he is going to research on a .gov website to read a statute about possessing weapons during his stay in America. He is going to walk across the border carrying his pistol like it’s any other day. Don’t they give licenses or IDs to illegals and give them sanctuary residency? Why would they think they couldn’t possess a gun?

          If they have other rights whilst in the U.S. illegally, why can’t they own a gun? Isn’t it a human right after all? Isn’t crossing the border a misdemeanor?

          I wouldn’t argue against the notion. It’s beneficial for us. It may have came out of a ruling for “diversity” sake, but we can use it for our benefit in the future.

  20. Carve outs for United Arab Inmates, no doubt. Now let’s see, would that sht work for me, uh duh no, says right here on my probation agreement, no gunms, nives or deadly wapons. 2 more months,

  21. Fine line between not knowing something and not knowing something you should have known. The unfortunate example of ccp holders crossing state lines come to mind.

  22. ‘Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a dissent that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas that the decision “opens the gates to a flood of litigation that is sure to burden the lower courts.”’

    This says a lot about governments… Some perceived burden on government functions are of greater importance than the rights of an individual. Who serves whom?

    • Yup, this ruling notwithstanding, the SC is primarily loyal to the status quo. People can excuse it by saying they try not to legislate from the bench. It’s hard to pin down but Scalia for instance we know was full of it because he paid lip service to constitutional originalism.

    • Except the only beneficiaries of this ruling are those who are ineligible to possess a firearm, i.e. people who DO NOT have the right to keep and bear arms.

      • People, you say? Who do not have the right to keep and bear arms…

      • “those who are ineligible to possess a firearm, i.e. people who DO NOT have the right to keep and bear arms.”

        That would be dead people. All the rest retain an unalienable individual right to keep and bear arms.

        Here’s your goat.

  23. The long-term fix is a constitutional amendment that requires a sunset clause on every law, new or old, federal, state or local.

    • About 5 years, long enough to see if it has the desired effect, not so long people get too accustomed to it.

  24. “This says a lot about governments… Some perceived burden on government functions are of greater importance than the rights of an individual. Who serves whom?”

    We have people who believe in fantasy and people who are well aware of reality. Reality in all countries especially in the U.S. of Corrupt Capitalvania is that the “people serve the government” and its always been that way.

    The Founding Father Swamp Rats made damn sure of that from the very corrupt beginning of the country. Anyone who would deny this reality must also be ignorant enough to believe the U.S. was established as a democracy too. Gerrymandering and the corrupt Electoral College made damn sure there would not ever be a democracy in the U.S. ever so that the “people serve the governments will”

    It was stated this morning that Trump can win the 2020 election even if he loses the popular vote (real democracy) by 5 million people. You read that right 5 million people and even if he loses 2 more states (that he had won last time) he could still win by 1 electoral vote. That is right just 1 corrupt electoral vote but then again isn’t every Electoral Vote an obscenity to true democracy. Get ready for 4 more years of Trump , Capitalvania guarantees it. Yes simply “Follow the Money” because Capitalvanian Greed Mongers got 2 trillion in tax breaks and after 2020 they want 2 trillion more.

    Yes I paid more in taxes last year than I ever paid before but hey, its the Capitalvanian way, give all the money to the filthy rich and make the working man pay for it. If you think that is fake news you are either a conniving billionaire Capitalvanian or a glazed eyed follower of Trump making part time minimum wage.

  25. Whether it “opens the gates to a flood of litigation that is sure to burden the lower courts,” or not is irrelevant. Do the right thing. We pay you to carry that burden. And while we’re at it, SCOTUS should not have a choice about whether to hear cases properly appealed.

  26. The problem with this decision is that every person convicted of a felony is told point blank what they can and can’t do. For them to claim under oath they didn’t know they were prohibited from possessing a firearm would be perjury. That being said, I’m a firm believer that if you’ve done your time and paid your debt ALL rights should be restored. The flip side of that is if you can’t be trusted with a ballot or a bullet, why are you walking around free instead of behind bars.

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