Skip to main content

Puerto Rican Felony Conviction Qualifies as Predicate Offense under 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1)

In United States v. Laboy-Torres, No. 08-1220, the defendant challenged his conviction for making a false statement to a licensed firearms dealer under 18 U.S.C. §922(a)(6), arguing that his previous conviction in Puerto Rico was not a domestic conviction under 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1).

The defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, claiming that the government failed to adequately allege the materiality element of 18 U.S.C. §922(a)(6). Citing Small v. United States, 544 U.S. 385 (2005), the defendant argued that his Puerto Rican conviction was “foreign” and not “domestic,” and therefore it could not serve as a qualifying predicate offense under 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1). According to the defendant, the existence of his Puerto Rican conviction was not material to the lawfulness of the sale because the foreign conviction did not make it illegal for him to purchase a firearm under 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1). The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, ruling that his Puerto Rican conviction was domestic. The defendant pled guilty on the condition that he could appeal the trial court’s denial of his dismissal motion.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, sitting by designation, wrote the opinion for the Court. Justice O’Connor determined that Small was inapplicable to the case because, unlike the Japanese conviction at issue in Small, the defendant’s Puerto Rican conviction was in fact “domestic.” In Small, the Supreme Court recognized a presumption that Congress intends its statutes to prohibit only domestic, not foreign, conduct. Consequently, Congress must also intend only domestic criminal acts to serve as predicate offenses for its statutes.

Justice O’Connor recognized that, as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was in essence a “State,” federal laws applied to Puerto Rican conduct. Therefore, based upon the presumption discussed in Small, the defendant’s Puerto Rican conviction was in fact domestic and therefore could serve as a qualifying predicate offense under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). As a result, Justice O’Connor affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Comments

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 …