Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Evidence Insufficient to Sustain Conviction for Conspiracy to Transport Firearms

In United States v. Tyson, No. 09-3487 (3d Cir, Aug. 3, 2011) , the defendant was found guilty by jury of multiple firearms-related offenses, under both federal and Virgin Islands law. Specifically, the federal counts charged conspiracy to transport firearms from Tennessee to the Virgin Islands, and related gun trafficking offenses. However, the District Court granted the defendant's motion for judgement of acquittal as to the federal counts.

The Third Circuit concluded that, while the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for transporting and dealing firearms without a license, the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for conspiracy to transport firearms. Explicitly rejecting the “rule of consistency” in multi-defendant conspiracy trials, the court concluded instead that the evidence simply failed to prove an illegal agreement existed between the defendant and the only co-conspirator identified by the government. The court reasoned that the government’s evidence of “unusual and suspicious activity” showed only that the defendant and the alleged co-conspirator engaged in “parallel conduct,” not the requisite concerted action to further a common goal.

The Third Circuit also upheld the defendant’s conviction for transferring a firearm with intent to commit a crime. The court noted that mens rea requirement of 18 U.S.C. § 924(b) may be satisfied by showing that either the defendant himself intended to commit a crime with the firearm, or he knew or had reasonable cause to believe a crime would be committed with the firearm. Citing United States v. McBane, 433 F3d. 344, 349 n.9 (3d Cir. 2005), the court interpreted the phrase “reasonable cause to believe” to require proof that, under the factual circumstances of the case, either a reasonable person would have believed or it would have been reasonable for the defendant himself to believe. The Third Circuit concluded that the defendant’s overall sale process sufficiently proved that he had reasonable cause to believe that a crime would be committed with the firearms he transferred from Tennessee to the Virgin Islands.

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