323 F.3d 263 (4th Cir. 2003), 01-4927, United States v. Jennings

Docket Nº:01-4927
Citation:323 F.3d 263
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RAYMOND JENNINGS, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:March 19, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Page 263

323 F.3d 263 (4th Cir. 2003)

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

RAYMOND JENNINGS, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 01-4927

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

March 19, 2003

Argued: September 26, 2002

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Columbia. CR-00-587, Matthew J. Perry, Senior District Judge.

Page 264

COUNSEL

ARGUED:

John Herman Hare, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellant.

Stacey Denise Haynes, Assistant United States Attorney, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

J. Strom Thurmond, Jr., United States Attorney, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee.

Before WILKINSON and WIDENER, Circuit Judges, and HAMILTON, Senior Circuit Judge.

Affirmed by published opinion. Senior Judge Hamilton wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge Wilkinson joined. Judge Widener wrote a dissenting opinion.

OPINION

HAMILTON, Senior Circuit Judge:

Raymond Henry Jennings (Jennings) appeals from a judgment entered by the district court following his conditional guilty plea and sentencing for violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). On appeal, Jennings makes several arguments, all of which attack the district court’s refusal to dismiss the indictment returned by the grand jury. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I

A

In 1996, Congress amended the Gun Control Act of 1968, id. § 922, by providing that a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV) is prohibited from, inter alia, possessing a firearm or ammunition. Id. § 922(g)(9). A MCDV is defined as an offense that is a "misdemeanor under Federal or State law," id. § 921(a)(33)(A)(i), and

has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating or

Page 265

has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.

Id. § 921(a)(33)(A)(ii). Under the statutory scheme, however, a person shall not be considered to have been convicted of a MCDV offense unless, among other things: (1) the person "knowingly and intelligently waived the right to counsel" in the MCDV case, id. § 921(a)(33)(B)(i)(I); (2) the person, if he was entitled to a jury trial in the MCDV case under the laws of the jurisdiction in which the MCDV case was "tried," id. § 921(a)(33)(B)(i)(II), "knowingly and intelligently waived the right to have the [MCDV] case tried by a jury, by guilty plea or otherwise," id. § 921(a)(33)(B)(i)(II)(bb); and (3) the person, with regard to the MCDV offense, did not have his civil rights "restored," id. § 921(a)(33)(B)(ii). B

In March 1997, following a bench trial, Jennings was convicted of criminal domestic violence (CDV) in Sumter, South Carolina Municipal Court. For this misdemeanor offense, he received a suspended sentence of thirty days. Jennings does not dispute that his March 1997 CDV offense meets the definition of a MCDV set forth in 18 U.S.C. §§ 921(a)(33)(A)(i) and (ii). However, because Jennings was not incarcerated for his March 1997 CDV conviction, the parties agree that Jennings lost none of his civil rights under South Carolina law. Cf. S.C. Ann. Code § 7-5-120(B)(2) (noting that a person is disqualified from being registered to vote or voting if he "is serving a term of imprisonment resulting from a conviction of a crime"). The parties also agree that, had Jennings been incarcerated for the March 1997 CDV conviction, his civil right to vote would have been completely restored upon his release from incarceration.

On December 2, 1999, Jennings possessed a firearm, namely, "a Dreyse, 7.65 mm pistol," and ammunition, in the form of "12 gauge shotgun shells and .410 shotgun shells." (J.A. 11). In June 2000, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of South Carolina returned a one-count indictment charging Jennings with a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9).

Following the grand jury’s indictment, Jennings moved to dismiss the indictment on August 22, 2000 on the ground that, with regard to his March 1997 conviction for CDV, his civil rights, even though they had never been taken away, had been "restored" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33)(B)(ii), and, therefore, he could not be subject to prosecution for an 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) violation. On October 11, 2000, the district court held a hearing on the motion, at which Jennings’ motion to dismiss the indictment was denied.

Near the conclusion of the October 11, 2000 hearing before the district court and following the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment, Jennings suggested to the district court that he could not be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) because, with regard to his March 1997 CDV conviction, he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to counsel as required by 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33)(B)(i)(I). The district court allowed Jennings to make an oral motion along this line and Jennings filed a written motion to dismiss the indictment on October 13, 2000.

On this second motion to dismiss, the district court held a hearing on November 29, 2000. At the hearing, Sumter Municipal Court Judge Mary Herbert (Judge Herbert) testified that she had no specific recollection of Jennings’ case and, thus, could not recall the circumstances surrounding Jennings’ waiver of his right to Page 266

counsel and waiver of his right to a jury trial in the March 1997 CDV case. However, Judge Herbert described the procedure that she routinely employed, in her twenty-one years as a municipal court judge, to secure a defendant’s waiver of his right to counsel and his right to a jury trial. Jennings also testified at the November 29, 2000 hearing. Although he did not remember much of what happened before Judge Herbert, Jennings acknowledged that Judge Herbert advised him of his right to a jury trial and that, if he opted for a jury trial, he would have the opportunity to pick a jury and have a jury trial. According to Jennings, he decided to forego a jury trial and opt for a bench trial because he "just wanted to get out [of the courtroom] and get back to work." (J.A. 119).1

On December 1, 2000, Jennings filed a memorandum in which he raised another ground to dismiss the indictment. In the memorandum, Jennings argued that he could not be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) because, with regard to his March 1997 CDV conviction, he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to a jury trial as required by 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33)(B)(i)(I)(bb).

On December 15, 2000, the district court rejected Jennings’ remaining attacks to the validity of the indictment. Following the district court’s ruling, Jennings entered a conditional guilty plea to the 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) violation, reserving his right to appeal the district court’s rejection of his attacks on the indictment.

On April 24, 2001, Jennings filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied by the district court. On November 14, 2001, Jennings was sentenced to fifteen months’ imprisonment, but he remains free on bond pending this timely appeal.

II

The first and principal issue raised in this appeal is whether a person convicted of a MCDV but never stripped of his civil rights under state law is thereafter subject to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). According to Jennings, he could not be convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) because, with regard to his March 1997 conviction for CDV, his civil rights, even though they had never been taken away, were nevertheless "restored" under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33)(B)(ii).

Our examination of issues involving statutory interpretation begins with an analysis of the language of the statute. Holland v. Big River Minerals Corp., 181 F.3d 597, 603 (4th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1117 (2000). In analyzing the meaning of a statute, we must first "determine whether the language at issue has a plain and unambiguous meaning." Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 340 (1997). Our determination of ambiguity is guided "by reference to the language itself, the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole." Id. at 341. "[T]he sole function of the courts is to enforce [the statute] according to its terms." Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 485 (1917). Consequently, we cannot go beyond the plain meaning of the statute unless there is "a clearly expressed legislative intent to the contrary," Russello v. United States, 464 U.S. 16, 20 (1983) (internal quotation marks omitted), Page 267

a literal application of the statute would thwart its obvious purpose, Griffin v. Oceanic Contractors, Inc., 458 U.S. 564, 571 (1982), or a literal application of the statute would produce an absurd result, United States v. American Trucking Ass’ns, 310 U.S. 534, 543 (1940). Under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33)(B)(ii), a person shall not be considered to have been convicted of a MCDV

if the conviction has been expunged or set aside, or is an offense for which the person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored (if the law of the applicable jurisdiction provides for the loss of civil rights under such an offense) unless the pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly provides that the person may not ship, transport, possess or receive firearms.

Id. § 921(a)(33)(B)(ii) 2. Jennings conceded at oral argument that his plain language argument is weak. This concession was wise, as it is obvious that Jennings’ civil rights were never taken away and, thus, were never "restored." As the court noted in McGrath v. United States, 60 F.3d 1005 (2d Cir. 1995), the "wordrestore meansto give back...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP