Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in Case About Federal Firearms Law

November 11, 2013 in Freedom of Information

Next week, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in a case about a federal firearms law. The case, Rosemond v. United States, involves the offense of aiding and abetting the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime. The statutes at issue are 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A) and (2).

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Appellate Courts Split on the Issue

The issue in this case is whether a conviction under these statutes requires proof of (i) intentional facilitation or encouragement of the use of the firearm, or (ii) simple knowledge that the principal used a firearm during a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime in which the defendant also participated.

The First, Second, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits have all held that the federal offense of aiding and abetting the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime requires “intentional facilitation” or “encouragement” of the principal’s use of the firearm. The Sixth, Tenth, and District of Columbia circuits have held that “simple knowledge” that the principal used a firearm during such a crime suffices.

Appeal of a Tenth Circuit Decision

In September 2012, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals (which hears appeals from federal courts in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma) issued its decision in United States v. Rosemond. The defendant in a case tried by the United States District Court for the District of Utah appealed his conviction for charges stemming from a 2007 shooting.

In August 2007, Ricardo Gonzalez met Justus Rosemond and Ronald Joseph in a Tooele, Utah park. Rosemond and Joseph were to sell Gonzalez a pound of marijuana. Gonzalez attempted to take the marijuana without paying Rosemond and Joseph, and was fired upon while fleeing the park.

The government charged Rosemond with several drug- and firearm-related offenses. At trial, the government alleged that Rosemond either was the person who shot at Gonzalez or that he aided and abetted the shooter. The jury convicted Rosemond on all charges.

On appeal, Rosemond argued that the federal trial court’s instructions to the jury regarding the aiding and abetting offense were insufficient and that his conviction should be overturned. Rosemond argued that in order to convict him for aiding and abetting the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, the jury should have been instructed to find that he “intentionally took some action to facilitate or encourage the use of a firearm.” The Tenth Circuit disagreed, and affirmed Rosemond’s conviction.

Supreme Court Grants Writ of Certiorari

Lawyers for Rosemond filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which the Supreme Court granted in May. They will argue before the Court that a conviction for the offense of aiding and abetting the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime requires proof of  intentional facilitation or encouragement of the use of the firearm, advocating for adoption of the standard applied by the First, Second, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed an amicus brief on Rosemond’s behalf, arguing for the stricter standard applied by the majority of courts to be used in his case. So too did a group of organizations that includes the Gun Owners Foundation, the Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Policy Analysis Center.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for November 12.

Image courtesy of Flickr user [C]larity