If an undocumented immigrant is arrested for illegal possession of a firearm, the person’s knowledge of his immigration status matters, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday. Hamid Mohamed Ahmed Ali Rehaif found himself in that situation after obtaining a student visa to enroll at the Florida Institute of Technology. An Emerati national, Rehaif says he did not understand the full ramifications of his visa’s expiring when he was dismissed from classes for poor grades, reports Courthouse News Service.
Because Rehaif visited at a shooting range in the following days, the government alleged that the pistol he rented constituted illegal possession of a firearm. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed that this conviction made Rehaif deportable. The Supreme Court reversed that decision on Friday. Justice Stephen Breyer said for a 7-to-2 majority that prosecutors “must prove both that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and that he knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.” Justice Samuel Alito, dissenting for himself and Justice Clarence Thomas, said the ruling “will make it significantly harder” to prosecute some firearms cases and “will create a mountain of problems with respect to the thousands of prisoners currently serving terms” under the law involved in the case.