U.S. v. Hayden

Decision Date28 August 1995
Docket NumberNo. 94-3349,94-3349
Citation64 F.3d 126
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, v. William O. HAYDEN, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Karen S. Gerlach (argued), Office of Federal Public Defender, Pittsburgh, PA, for appellant.

Michael L. Ivory (argued), Bonnie R. Schlueter, Office of U.S. Atty., Pittsburgh, PA, for appellee.

Before: SCIRICA, NYGAARD and McKEE, Circuit Judges

OPINION OF THE COURT

SCIRICA, Circuit Judge.

Appellant William Hayden was convicted of receiving a firearm while under a felony "information," 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(n) (1988). The issue on appeal is the meaning of "willfully" in the statute's penalty provision, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a)(1)(D) (1988 & Supp. V 1993). We will reverse and remand.

I.

In January 1993, Pennsylvania authorities charged Hayden with receiving stolen property and with the unauthorized use of an automobile. Hayden received a copy of the criminal information, and he signed a form acknowledging receipt that was captioned, in capital letters, "RECEIPT OF COPY OF INFORMATION." Below the caption were the words, "I hereby certify that I have received a copy of the information filed by the District Attorney in the above-captioned action," and the accompanying document states that "[t]he District Attorney of Allegheny County by this information charges" Hayden with receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of automobiles and other vehicles.

A month after receiving the information, Hayden went to a firearms dealer and inquired about purchasing a pistol. The dealer told Hayden that there was a waiting period and that the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office and Pennsylvania State Police would be notified. Hayden then asked about purchasing a rifle. In response, the dealer told him he must give proper identification, be eighteen years of age, and fill out a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Form 4473, which was subject to ATF inspection.

Hayden purchased an AK-47, a semiautomatic rifle with a magazine capacity of one hundred rounds. He also filled out a Form 4473 which defined the meaning of the words "indictment" and "information" and inquired:

Are you under indictment or information * in any court for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year?

Hayden answered "no" to this question, even though Form 4473 twice warned that it was unlawful to answer any of the questions falsely, stating that "[a]n untruthful answer may subject you to criminal prosecution." Just above Hayden's signature, the form provided the following certification:

I understand that a person who answers "Yes" to any of the above questions is prohibited from purchasing and/or possessing a firearm, except as otherwise provided by Federal Law. I also understand that the making of any false oral or written statement or the exhibiting of any false or misrepresented identification with respect to this transaction is a crime punishable as a felony.

The ATF ran a criminal history check on Hayden and found the information pending in Allegheny County. Hayden was indicted and charged with one count of violating 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(n), receiving a firearm while under an indictment or information. At a non-jury trial, Hayden attempted to prove that his low intelligence and reading ability prevented him from understanding the document sent to him was an "information" and that, in purchasing a gun, he did not know he was violating the law. The district court prevented such testimony from Hayden and his experts, ruling that the government need not prove he knew he was violating the law. Hayden was convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $50 special assessment.

II.

Hayden was charged under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(n), which provides as follows:

It shall be unlawful for any person who is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce any firearm or ammunition or receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.

Section 922(n) has a corresponding penalty provision, found in 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a)(1)(D), which provides:

(a)(1) Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, subsection (b), (c), or (f) of this section, or in the section 929, whoever--

(D) willfully violates any other provision of this chapter, shall be fined not more than $5,000, imprisoned not more than five years, or both. (emphasis added).

The district court had jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3231 (1988). We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291 (1988). Because Sec. 924(a)(1)(D)'s willfulness language involves statutory interpretation, our standard of review is plenary. United States v. Meraz, 998 F.2d 182, 183 (3d Cir.1993). We review the trial court's evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion. United States v. Sampson, 980 F.2d 883, 889 (3d Cir.1992).

III.

This case requires us to determine the meaning of the term "willfully" in 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a)(1)(D). The government contends that the term requires merely a purpose to commit the prohibited act. But Hayden alleges "willfully" also requires that the government prove he intended to violate the law. We believe that either interpretation is plausible. Cf. Rachael Simonoff, Ratzlaf v. United States: The Meaning of "Willful" and the Demands of Due Process, 28 Colum.J.L. & Soc.Probs. 397, 397 (1995) (citing Model Penal Code) ("[T]wo interpretations of 'willful' have developed. The first interpretation requires merely a purpose or willingness to commit the act. The second requires, in addition, an intent to violate the law itself."). As the Supreme Court has noted, " 'Willful' ... is a 'word of many meanings,' and 'its construction [is] often ... influenced by its context.' " Ratzlaf v. United States, --- U.S. ----, ----, 114 S.Ct. 655, 659, 126 L.Ed.2d 615 (1994) (citation omitted).

A.

In 1968, Congress barred persons convicted of or indicted for serious crimes from receiving firearms as part of a comprehensive gun control package 1 "enacted in response to the precipitous rise in political assassinations, riots, and other violent crimes involving firearms, that occurred in this country in the 1960's." Lewis v. United States, 445 U.S. 55, 63, 100 S.Ct. 915, 919-20, 63 L.Ed.2d 198 (1980). The offense appeared to contain no scienter requirement, 2 and courts interpreted it as either requiring no specific intent 3 or no scienter at all. 4

Congress recognized later that without a mens rea requirement, the law could inflict severe penalties upon persons who unintentionally violated firearms offenses. So it passed the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986, Pub.L. No. 99-308, 100 Stat. 449 (1986), which overhauled the system of firearms offenses. The Act "added a set of mens rea requirements by amending section 924(a)(1) to punish certain violations only if they are committed 'willfully' and others only if they are committed 'knowingly.' " United States v. Sherbondy, 865 F.2d 996, 1001 (9th Cir.1988). These new penalty provisions, which affected a range of firearms offenses contained in Sec. 922, provide:

Sec. 924. Penalties

(a)(1) Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, subsection (b), (c), or (f) of this section, or in section 929, whoever--

(A) knowingly makes any false statement or representation with respect to the information required by this chapter to be kept in the records of a person licensed under this chapter or in applying for any license or exemption or relief from disability under the provisions of this chapter;

(B) knowingly violates subsection (a)(4), (a)(6), (f), (k), or (q) of section 922;

(C) knowingly imports or brings into the United States or any possession thereof any firearm or ammunition in violation of section 922(l ); or

(D) willfully violates any other provision of this chapter,

shall be fined not more than $5,000, imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a)(1) (1988 & Supp. V 1993) (emphasis added). The "catch-all" provision, Sec. 924(a)(1)(D), is applicable to the offense for which Hayden was convicted, Sec. 922(n), but it is not apparent from the face of the statute what the phrase, "willfully violates," is intended to mean. 5

It took seven years from the time the Firearm Owners' Protection Act ("FOPA") was introduced in 1979 to its enactment in 1986. See David T. Hardy, The Firearms Owners' Protection Act: A Historical and Legal Perspective, 17 Cumb.L.Rev. 585, 585 (1987). Despite contradictory signals from lawmakers, id. at 645-53, the most consistent interpretation of Sec. 924(a)(1)(D) is that Congress intended "willfully" to mean that a defendant must know his conduct is illegal. As one author explained:

Early versions of FOPA required a willful state of mind for any prosecutions. That this was understood to require knowledge of illegality is apparent from the report on S. 1030. The division between "willful" for some offenses and "knowing" for others originated in the Treasury-NRA negotiations, and was specifically premised upon an understanding that proof of willfulness required proof that the defendant knew of the illegality of his conduct.... In light of these extensive considerations, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Congress was fully aware that its use of "willfully" in FOPA would require proof that the defendant actually knew of the illegality of his acts.

Id. at 650-52 (footnotes omitted); cf. Sherbondy, 865 F.2d at 1002. In fact, a House report criticized the bill for its requirement of willfulness for some offenses, but noted that "[p]roponents of the willfulness standard argue that the offenses for which the standard would apply are mere regulatory offenses, for which a conscious and specific intent to violate the law should be required." H.R.Rep. No. 495, 99th Cong.2d Sess. 11 (1986), reprinted in ...

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