69 F.3d 891 (8th Cir. 1995), 95-1822, United States v. Farrell

Docket Nº:95-1822.
Citation:69 F.3d 891
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Anthony FARRELL, Appellant.
Case Date:November 08, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 891

69 F.3d 891 (8th Cir. 1995)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Anthony FARRELL, Appellant.

No. 95-1822.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 8, 1995

Submitted Sept. 12, 1995.

Page 892

Joseph Blake Hendrix, Little Rock, Arkansas, argued, for the appellant.

Linda B. Lipe, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued, for the appellee.

Before RICHARD S. ARNOLD, Chief Judge, HEANEY and McMILLIAN, Circuit Judges.

HEANEY, Circuit Judge.

Anthony Farrell conditionally pleaded guilty to unlawful possession and transfer of machine guns in violation of 18 U.S.C. Secs. 922(o ) and 924(a)(2). He appeals, pursuant to Rule 11(a)(2), arguing that the government must prove as an element of the offense Farrell's knowledge that his conduct violated the law. We affirm Farrell's conviction and hold that for a "knowing violation" under The Firearms Owners' Protection Act, the government need only prove knowing and intentional conduct, not specific knowledge of the statutory offense.


On August 16, 1994, Special Agents Bill Buford and Glen Cook of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms arrested Robert Darryl Row after their undercover attempt to purchase two fully automatic machine guns from him. After his arrest, Row informed the Special Agents that he was selling the weapons--a Romanian, AKM and a Chinese, Type 56-1, both 7.62 X 39 mm caliber selective fire rifles--for Farrell under an arrangement in which Farrell would get $1,200 and Row $100. Row then made a monitored telephone call to Farrell, told him that he had sold the weapons, and set up a time to transfer the money to Farrell.

The following day Special Agent Martinez of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations arrested Farrell for his involvement in the sale of the automatic weapons. Farrell admitted his participation. He had received the weapons from a Kurdish villager while serving for the United States Air Force in northern Iraq. After returning to the United States and while experiencing financial difficulties, Farrell gave the weapons to Row and his wife to find a buyer. Farrell contends, however, that the weapons were war mementos and that he was unaware of the illegality of his conduct.

A grand jury indicted both Farrell and Row with the unlawful possession and transfer of machine guns in violation of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act (FOPA), 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(o ) and 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a)(2). At his trial, prior to jury selection, Farrell argued that the government must prove as an element of the statutory offense that he knew his conduct violated the law. The district court denied Farrell's motion and held that the relevant statutes require the government to prove only that Farrell was aware that the items were firearms and that they were fully automatic. With the consent of the government, the district court permitted Farrell to enter a conditional guilty plea and to appeal the mens rea issue. The district court subsequently sentenced Farrell to thirteen months in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $5,000 fine.


Farrell's conviction involves two statutory provisions: one that defines his substantive offense and the other that sets out the penalty for the offense. Both of these provisions are part of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986, Pub.L. No. 99-308,

Page 893

100 Stat. 449-461 (1986). 1 Under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(o ), it is "unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun." Section 922(o ) defines the illegal conduct but does not specify the criminal intent necessary for a conviction. It is the penalty provision under section 924 that supplies the requisite state of mind for the underlying offense. Section 924(a)(2) attaches the penalty to whoever "knowingly violates" section 922(o ).

Farrell urges the court to apply fundamental rules of grammar and to follow the plain and unambiguous meaning of the statute to arrive at his interpretation of the requisite mens rea for the offense. See United States v. Albertini, 472 U.S. 675, 680, 105 S.Ct. 2897, 2902, 86 L.Ed.2d 536 (1985). Farrell argues that because the adverb "knowingly" modifies the verb "violates," the state must prove that Farrell knew his conduct was illegal and that his violation of the law was intentional. Farrell contrasts the construction "knowingly violates" from statutes that proscribe knowing conduct, such as "knowingly deliver." See United States v. Udofot, 711 F.2d 831, 836 (8th Cir.1983) cert. denied 464 U.S. 896, 104 S.Ct. 245, 78 L.Ed.2d 234 (1983) (sustaining a conviction without proof of defendant's knowledge of the law because "the word 'knowingly' modifies the verb 'to deliver,' which it immediately precedes.").

Despite the plausibility of appellant's plain-language interpretation of sections 922(o ) and 924(a), this court has previously cited with approval the Ninth Circuit holding that a "knowing"...

To continue reading