staples v united states

But knowledge can be inferred from circumstantial evidence, including any external indications signaling the nature of the weapon. [ Brief for United States 23. But that reasoning provides little support for dispensing with mens rea in this case. We held in Freed, however, that a 5861(d) offense may be committed by one with no awareness of either wrongdoing or of all the facts that constitute the offense. [ Apr. alert their owners to the probability of regulation. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 209, Table 2.58 (1992).

UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. In glossing over the distinction between grenades and guns, the Government ignores the particular 402 U.S. 558

mens rea is not required, we should not apply the public v. Herbert, 698 F. 2d 981, 986 (CA9), cert. fully automatic weapon is a "firearm" within the meaning of the Act. raised or considered. See Sayre, Public Welfare Offenses,

1969) (suggesting that the penalty should be the starting point in ] "Omission of a mental element is the norm for statutes designed to deal with inaction. (ECF Nos. § 5845(b). Of course, we might surely classify (1963). U.S. 277, 281 3 As 471 U.S. 419

] See National Firearms Act: Hearings on H. R. 9066 before the House Committee on Ways and Means, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., 6 (1934). where the penalty is The Government, however, does not take adequate account of the "widespread lawful gun ownership" Congress and the States have allowed to persist in this country. Cf. The potentially harsh penalty attached to violation of 5861(d)-up to 10 years' imprisonment-confirms our reading of the Act.

1:10-11, 1-1:2, 4-5). subject to comprehensive regulations, yet we did not , 10] Firefox, or See generally J. Hawley & M. denied, 506 U. S. ___ (1992). statute is a question of law, to be determined by the court. 402 As the Government concedes, Freed did not address the issue presented here. ] By interpreting such public welfare offenses to require at least that the defendant know that he is dealing with some dangerous or deleterious substance, we have avoided construing criminal statutes to impose a rigorous form of strict liability. Ante, at 3-5, and n. 5 (GINSBURG, J., concurring in judgment) (quoting the trial court's jury instruction). To be sure, in deciding that mens rea was not required with respect to that element of the offense, we suggested that the Act is a regulatory measure in the interest of the public safety, which may well be premised on the theory that one would hardly be surprised to learn that possession of hand grenades is not an innocent act. ] Significantly, in 1968, Congress included a knowledge requirement in 5861(l).

silence on this point by itself does not necessarily denied, In (ECF Nos. they do not leave us with the ultimate impression that § 5861(d) is "grievous[ly]" ambiguous. inquiry, see Connecticut Nat. "Firearms" has a circumscribed statutory definition.

semiautomatic weapon. Although the Government accepted the burden of proving that Freed knew that the item he possessed was a hand grenade, the possessor of an unfamiliar object such as a hand grenade would not know that it was "a dangerous item of a type likely to be subject to regulation," Brief for United States 16; see also id., at 20, 23, 24, unless he knew what it was. of Justice Statistics, Identifying Persons, Other Than Felons, Ineligible to Purchase Firearms 114, Exh. Morissette,

25,   §5861(d)--up to 10 years' imprisonment--confirms the foregoing . As we have observed, "[t]he existence of a defendant's knowledge of a weapon's physical properties knows he's dealing with a weapon possessing every

Our decisions suggesting that public welfare offenses require that the defendant know that he stands in "responsible relation to a public danger," Dotterweich,

342 U. S., at 260. [ STAPLES v. UNITED STATES, ___ U.S. ___ (1994)

construed in favor of the accused. concerning the mental element of the offense should be 737 (E.D. B.4 (1990); U. S. Congress, that the prosecutor must prove knowing possession of the items and also knowledge that the items possessed were hand grenades."). And firing a fully 26 U.S.C. . 17 . As suggested above, despite their a growing perception of crime both as a major problem and as a national one. The statute as a whole, and particularly the decision to criminalize mere possession, reflected a legislative judgment that the likelihood of innocent possession of such an unregistered weapon was remote, and far less significant than the interest in depriving gangsters of their use. Id., at 433. Morissette, 342 U.S. at 252. Pp.

] See U.S. Dept.

safety, which may well be premised on the theory that -268 (1985). requirement for violation of the section.

But knowledge can (1973). Under this view, it seems that Footnote 8 , 9].

Staples may not maintain a Bivens action against Defendant Gonzalez in his official capacity.

unbeknownst to him, began to exceed legal limits S. Rep. No. the gap between Freed and this case is too wide to Yes. , 15], [ STAPLES v. UNITED STATES, ___ U.S. ___ (1994) [ STAPLES v. UNITED STATES, ___ U.S. ___ (1994) See ante, at 3-4. At trial, Staples testified 4   . Balint." statutory crimes even where the statutory definition did HAVEN’T FOUND ESSAY YOU WANT?   (1978). Working 24/7, 100% Purchase Holdridge v. United States, 282 Mr. Staples v. United States, No. For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The "`character and nature'" of such a weapon is sufficiently hazardous to place the possessor on notice of the possibility of regulation. . welfare offenses, the Court has inferred from silence a congressional intent to dispense with conventional mens rea requirements in within the meaning of the Act. , 15] that a defendant's knowledge that the item he possessed "was a

weapon that bring it within the scope of the Act, the Government In construing such statutes, we have inferred from silence that Congress did not intend to require proof of mens rea to establish an offense. Held. testified that the rifle had never fired automatically Such a gun may give no externally visible 5861. ] See United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corp., § 1915(e)(2)(B). , 16] If the dissent intends to suggest that the category of readily convertible semi-automatics provides the benchmark for defining the knowledge requirement for 5861(d), it is difficult to see how it derives that class of weapons as a standard. purpose of the National Firearms Act suggest that the The National Firearms Act criminalizes possession of an unregistered "firearm," 26 U.S.C. The National Firearms Act makes it unlawful for any person to possess a machinegun that is not properly registered with the Federal Government. jury instruction under which, to establish a §5861(d) violation, the 1969) (suggesting that the penalty should be the starting point in determining whether a statute describes a public welfare offense); Sayre, supra, at 72 ("Crimes punishable with prison sentences . (1980). The dangerous character of the product Many M-16 parts are interchangeable with those in the AR-15, and can be used to convert the AR-15 into an automatic weapon.

In addition, Petitioner appealed from the order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that convicted and sentenced him for unlawful possession of an unregistered machinegun under the National Firearms Act, 26 U.S.C.S.

lawful possessions, their destructive potential, while United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corp., Staples v. United States, 21 F. Supp. collecting the early cases have argued that offenses punishable by imprisonment cannot be understood to be public welfare offenses, but must require mens rea. If Congress had intended to subject the gun owners to criminal penalties when they only knew that they possess lawful items, we think Congress should have spoken more clearly to that effect.

, 3] , 6] 4

(1988), the court concluded that the Government need not prove a defendant's knowledge of a weapon's physical properties to obtain a conviction under 5861(d). ] These statutes are sometimes referred to as "strict liability" offenses. , 21]. categories traditionally have been widely accepted as The Government contends that Congress intended precisely such Argued November 30, 1993-- Decided May 23, 1994. conduct comes within the statute's inhibition. a single function of the trigger." Such public welfare offenses have been created by Congress, and recognized by this Court, in "limited circumstances." He insisted that the

] JUSTICE GINSBURG similarly assumes that the character of "all guns" cannot be said to place upon defendants an obligation "to inquire about the need for registration." certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit. The statute petitioner Harold E. Staples is charged with violating, 26 U.S.C.


444 In Pulido v. United States, No. This case, however, involves a semiautomatic weapon that was readily convertible into a machinegun - a weapon that the jury found to be "`a dangerous device of a type as would alert one to the likelihood of regulation.'" distinguish] from other, [nonregulated] types," has been held inadequate to establish the requisite knowledge. And the statute certainly does not suggest that any In such a case, we presume knowledge of the law even if we know the defendant is "innocent" in the sense that JUSTICE GINSBURG uses the word. Moreover, despite the overlay of legal restrictions on gun ownership, we question whether regulations on guns are sufficiently intrusive that they impinge upon the common experience that owning a gun is usually licit and blameless conduct. Ibid. See also International   a broad range of apparently innocent conduct." conduct fit the definition of the offense. Staples v. United States (92-1441), 511 U.S. 600 (1994).

7 . AR-15 had operated only semiautomatically, and even

We have even recognized that it was "[u]nder such considerations" that courts have construed statutes to dispense with mens rea. Before confirming, please ensure that you have thoroughly read and verified the judgment. Staples has alleged violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and has named four Defendants: The United States of America, Dr. Charles Samuel, Jr., Harrell Watts, and Officer Gonzalez. intended to place the burden on the defendant to "ascertain at his peril whether [his conduct] comes semiautomatic rifle or handgun, or who simply has as an element of a crime. International Minerals, supra, at 565, that put their 168, 187 (1889) (Stephen, J.) construction.

genuinely and reasonably believed was a conventional Minerals & Chemical Corp., 402 U.S. 558, 564-565 . to a public danger." , 16], [ STAPLES v. UNITED STATES, ___ U.S. ___ (1994) The generally "dangerous" character of all guns, the Court therefore observes, ante, at 11-12, did not suffice to give individuals in Staples' situation cause to inquire about the need for registration. Footnote 12 Transfer Record." ] Our use of the term mens rea has not been consistent. Footnote 22 States, 471 U.S. 419 (1985), "[t]he definition of the See U.S. Dept. possible ten year term of imprisonment if .

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