Starks v. United States

Decision Date23 May 1963
Docket NumberNo. 18238.,18238.
Citation316 F.2d 45
PartiesMorris Drew STARKS, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Donald W. Malouf, San Francisco, Cal., for appellant.

Cecil F. Poole, U. S. Atty., and Jerrold M. Ladar, Asst. U. S. Atty., San Francisco, Cal., for appellee.

Before ORR, HAMLIN and DUNIWAY, Circuit Judges.

DUNIWAY, Circuit Judge.

Appellant was convicted under the first count of an indictment which charges that he did "knowingly possess a firearm as defined in Section 5848 of Title 26, United States Code * * * which firearm had not been registered as required by Section 5841 of Title 26, United States Code, said possession being in violation of Sections 5851 and 5861, Title 26, United States Code."

On this appeal he makes four contentions:

(1) That conviction of possession of an unregistered firearm deprives defendant of the privilege against self-incrimination guaranteed by the fifth amendment to the Constitution;

(2) that section 5851 is unconstitutional because it unlawfully shifts the burden of proof to the defendant;

(3) that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict in that it does not show that defendant had possession of the gun, and

(4) that the court committed prejudicial error in its instructions.

(1) Section 5851 is not unconstitutional.

The parties are agreed that the statute involved is section 5851, not section 5861, which merely defines the penalty. Appellant's contention is based upon our decision in Russell v. United States, 9 Cir., 1962, 306 F.2d 402. In that case we held that section 5841, which requires every person possessing a firearm to register it, is unconstitutional because by the act of registering, the possessor necessarily incriminates himself. Appellant urges that it follows from this decision that the portion of section 5851 here involved is also unconstitutional for the same reason. That section reads as follows:

"It shall be unlawful for any person * * * to possess any firearm which has not been registered as required by section 5841. Whenever on trial for a violation of this section the defendant is shown to have or to have had possession of such firearm, such possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to authorize conviction, unless the defendant explains such possession to the satisfaction of the jury."

This same contention was presented to us in the recent case of Frye v. United States, 9 Cir., 1963, 315 F.2d 491. We rejected the contention, pointing out that the defendant was not charged with failing to register the weapon, as was the defendant Russell, but was charged with possession of an unregistered weapon. Section 5841, considered in Russell, makes it an offense to fail to register, and we held in Russell that to that extent, it is invalid. It is the possession of a gun that no one has registered, not the failure by appellant to register, that is the essence of the offense with which appellant was charged in this case. Appellant did not have to accept or acquire possession of the gun, and when he did so, that gun not having been registered by any one, the offense was complete. We adhere to the views expressed in Frye.

(2) In this case, as in Frye, the government proved, by the production of an official certification to that effect, that no one had registered the gun. Under these circumstances, that portion of section 5851 which appears in the last sentence thereof "added nothing to the government's case." (See Frye, supra.) In Frye, the court instructed the jury as to the language of the last sentence of the section. Here, the court declined to do so, feeling that this was unnecessary. Defense counsel agreed with the court. When the instructions were being discussed and the court indicated that it would not instruct on this matter, defense counsel stated that such an instruction would be surplusage, would not be applicable to the case, and that it would be perfectly agreeable if the court did not instruct upon it. Under these circumstances, the claim that section 5851 is unconstitutional because it unlawfully shifts the burden of proof to the defendant is not available to appellant.

(3) There was sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. One Walter Smith, Jr., testified that on the night of November 7, 1961, at about 11:30 or perhaps midnight, appellant and one Johnny Love knocked at his door and were admitted. Appellant asked Smith if he would keep a package for him, opened the package, and showed Smith a sawed-off shotgun. Smith agreed to keep it, wrapped it up, and placed it, together with two shotgun shells, under his child's bed. Appellant and Love then left. One Christine Deadwyler, who was apparently appellant's girl friend, testified that on that same evening, she, appellant, and Johnny Love, in appellant's car and with appellant driving, went to 42nd and Adeline Streets in Oakland, California, and that Johnny Love got out of the car, taking his coat with him, and returned with something wrapped in the coat. There had been some conversation, she said, between appellant and Starks about what they were going to get. They mentioned a gun. They then drove to Smith's house. When they got to Smith's house, she saw a piece of wood...

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21 cases
  • United States v. Thompson
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Delaware
    • November 19, 1968
    ...an instruction should be requested the issue of its constitutionality can be raised and decided at that time. See Starks v. United States, 316 F.2d 45, 46 (C.A. 9, 1963). The motion to dismiss on the ground that § 5851 creates an unconstitutional presumption of guilt is, therefore, Present ......
  • Haynes v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • January 29, 1968
    ...cases in the courts of appeals. See, in addition to the opinion below, Frye v. United States, 9 Cir., 315 F.2d 491; Starks v. United States, 9 Cir., 316 F.2d 45; Mares v. United States, 10 Cir., 319 F.2d 71; Sipes v. United States, 8 Cir., 321 F.2d 174; Taylor v. United States, 10 Cir., 333......
  • Deckard v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • August 7, 1967
    ...Frye v. United States, 315 F.2d 491, 494 (9 Cir. 1963), cert. denied 375 U.S. 849, 84 S.Ct. 104, 11 L.Ed.2d 76; Starks v. United States, 316 F.2d 45, 46 (9 Cir. 1963). It is true, of course, that the information against Deckard alleged possession. It charged that he "did have in his possess......
  • Meadows v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • December 23, 1969
    ...510, 97 L.Ed. 754 (1953), overruled in Haynes and its companion cases, were still unchallenged law. In this Circuit, Starks v. United States, 316 F.2d 45 (9th Cir. 1963) and Frye v. United States, 315 F.2d 491 (9th Cir. 1963), closed the door to any contention that a plea of the privilege a......
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