Skip to main content

Government’s failure to establish element of offense results in reversal.

In United States v, Ambrose Daniel, No. 07-2413 (3rd Cir. March 6, 2008), the defendant Ambrose Daniel was convicted of unlawful possession of ammunition, in violation of Virgin Islands’ law. Daniel had initially been charged in an eight count indictment, including several federal offenses, but was only convicted of the ammunition offense. Daniel appealed his conviction, arguing there was insufficient evidence to convict him of that offense. The Third Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Roth, reversed, holding that the government had failed to prove a requisite element of the offense.

To prove that Daniel was guilty of unlawful possession of ammunition, the government had the burden of showing that: (1) he possessed ammunition on the day of his arrest; and (2) he was not licensed or otherwise authorized to possess the ammunition. In his jury instructions, the judge explained: "The phrase, ‘unless otherwise authorized by law’ means that the defendant had no license nor other legal authority to possession [of] ammunition." During the trial, the government called a witness to confirm that Daniel was not licensed to posses a firearm. However, the government presented no evidence as to whether he was licensed or otherwise authorized to possess ammunition. The government also failed to present any evidence on what was required to become authorized to possess ammunition.

The Third Circuit emphasized that it owed considerable deference to a jury’s guilty verdict. Nevertheless, the Court found that the government presented no evidence on the issue of authorization to possess ammunition. Virgin Islands’ law does not have a licensing requirement for ammunition and the law is unclear as to how one becomes authorized to possess ammunition. The government argued that the court should infer that Daniel’s possession of the ammunition was unlawful because he did not possess a firearms license. However, the Third Circuit refused to make such an inference, holding that it was the duty of the legislature to determine the standards for what constituted unlawful possession of ammunition. Also, the Court further ruled that the government could not meet its burden of proof by substituting proof that defendant was not authorized to carry a firearm, for proof that he was not authorized to possess ammunition.

Finally, the government argued that defendant had failed to raise an affirmative defense that he was authorized to possess a firearm even though he was not licensed. The Third Circuit rejected this position, finding that authorization to possess ammunition is not an affirmative defense. Accordingly, the Court reserved Daniel’s conviction.


Popular posts from this blog

Double Jeopardy Claim Falls Short on Deferential Habeas Review

In the habeas matter of Wilkerson v. Superintendent Fayette SCI, Nos. 15-1598 & 15-2673, the Third Circuit defers to a state court determination that the defendant’s conviction of both an attempted murder count and an aggravated assault count based on the same altercation did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.
The evidence was that during the altercation, the defendant both struck the victim in the head with a gun and shot him in the chest. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld consecutive sentences on the theory that the evidence was sufficient to permit a jury to find the striking to support one count and the shooting the other. Despite the jury instructions’ and verdict form’s failure to require each of these discrete findings, the Third Circuit holds that the state court’s reasoning was sound enough to withstand deferential review the AEDPA’s “clearly established Federal law” limitation. “[W]here the jury instructions were merely ambiguous and did not foreclose the jury…

Mailing Threatening Communications is a Crime of Violence and a Judicial Proposal for Reform of the Categorical Approach

In United States v. Chapman, __F.3d__, No. 16-1810, 2017 WL 3319287 (3d Cir. Aug. 4, 2017), the Third Circuit held that mailing a letter containing any threat to injure the recipient or another person in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c) qualifies as a crime of violence for the purposes of the career offender enhancements of the Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.1(a).The Court acknowledged in a footnote that the analysis is the same for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 871, threats against the president.

The Court began its analysis by reviewing the definition of “crime of violence” and specifically the meaning of the words “use” and “physical force.”Quoting United States v. Castleman, 134 S. Ct. 1405 (2014), and Tran v. Gonzales, 414 F.3d 464 (3d Cir. 2005), it defined “use” as “the intentional employment of force, generally to obtain some end,” which conveys the notion that the thing used “has become the user’s instrument.” The Court confirmed the definition of “physical force” as “force ca…

A Traffic Stop Followed by a Summons is not an Intervening Arrest for Sentencing Guidelines Purposes

In United States v. Ley, __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 5618617 (3d Cir., Nov. 22, 2017), the Third Circuit held that a traffic stop, followed by the issuance of a summons, is not an intervening arrest for the purpose of calculating a defendant’s prior convictions under USSG § 4A1.2(a)(2).   Defendant John Francis Ley received two speeding tickets on two consecutive days.  After writing each ticket, the police released Ley and informed him that the matter would proceed via summons.  No arrest was made and Ley was sentenced for both matters on the same day. The District Court, however, held that the issuance of the summons constituted an intervening arrest for the purposes of the Guidelines and each ticket therefore merited an individual criminal history point.  Ley appealed.  Looking at the ordinary meaning of both “arrest” and “summons,” as well as the Supreme Court’s history of distinguishing arrests from other interactions with law enforcement, the Third Circuit, joining three other circuits …