Six Justices joined Justice Brier’s opinion today Rehaif v. United States, a twelve page ruling overturning the conviction of an illegal alien in possession of a firearm. The court held that while defendant Hamid Rehaif was indeed in the country illegally and did possess firearms, he may not have known his immigration status or that it was unlawful for an illegal alien to possess firearms. After acknowledging that “The Court of Appeals believed that the criminal law generally does not require a defendant to know his own status, and further observed that no court of appeals had required the Government to establish a defendant’s knowledge of his status in the analogous context of felon-in-possession prosecutions,” (emphsis added), the Court cites 18 U.S.C. § 924 (a) (2) which states “whoever knowingly violates subsection (a)(6), (d), (g), (h), (i), (j), of section 922 shall be fined as provided in this title, imprisoned not more than 10, years, or both. Section 922 (g) specifies that it is unlawful for an illegal alien to possess a firearm. From this, the court announced that the prosecution is required to prove that a defendant knew both his status and that possessing a gun was illegal. In a dissent Justice Alito joined by Justice Thomas, notes that the majority’s holding “overturns a longstanding interpretation of an important criminal statute, (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)) an interpretation adopted by every single Court of Appeals to address the question. That interpretation has been used in thousands of cases for more than 30 years.”
Why did the court take this case? There was no conflict or controversy, no split among the circuits. The defendant in this case came to the U.S. from the United Arab Emirates on a student visa which, at entry, he was informed automatically expired when he was no longer a student. After he flunked out he was notified by the college that he was no longer legally in the country. He then moved to a hotel near an airport in Florida, checking in and out each day for 53 days at a cost of $11,000. Each time he checked in he insisted on an eighth floor room facing the airport. During this time he frequented a nearby firing range. A suspicious hotel employee called the FBI after the defendant informed him that he had firearms in the room. He was convicted, sentenced to 18 months, and would have been deported after serving his sentence. Was anything about this wrong?
How many thousands of convicted felons, dangerous mentally ill people, stalkers, wife beaters and illegal aliens, the court has now determined were improperly convicted for unlawful possession of a firearm, can petition for new trials?