U.S. v. Langley, No. 93-5219

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore ERVIN, Chief Judge, RUSSELL, WIDENER, HALL, MURNAGHAN, WILKINSON, WILKINS, NIEMEYER, HAMILTON, LUTTIG, WILLIAMS, MICHAEL, and MOTZ, Circuit Judges, and PHILLIPS; HAMILTON; PHILLIPS; Chief Judge ERVIN
Citation62 F.3d 602
Docket NumberNo. 93-5219
Decision Date14 August 1995
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Richard LANGLEY, Defendant-Appellant.

Page 602

62 F.3d 602
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Richard LANGLEY, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 93-5219.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fourth Circuit.
Argued March 7, 1995.
Decided Aug. 14, 1995.

Page 603

ARGUED: Walter Bruce Dalton, Norfolk, VA, for appellant. Arenda L. Wright Allen, Asst. U.S. Atty., Norfolk, VA, for appellee. ON BRIEF: Kenneth E. Melson, U.S. Atty., Norfolk, VA, for appellee.

Before ERVIN, Chief Judge, RUSSELL, WIDENER, HALL, MURNAGHAN, WILKINSON, WILKINS, NIEMEYER, HAMILTON, LUTTIG, WILLIAMS, MICHAEL, and MOTZ, Circuit Judges, and PHILLIPS, Senior Circuit Judge, sitting en banc.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge HAMILTON wrote the majority opinion, in which Judges RUSSELL, WIDENER, HALL, WILKINSON, WILKINS, NIEMEYER, LUTTIG, WILLIAMS, and MOTZ joined. Senior Judge PHILLIPS wrote a concurring and dissenting opinion, in which Chief Judge ERVIN and Judges MURNAGHAN and MICHAEL joined.

OPINION

HAMILTON, Circuit Judge:

Richard Langley appeals his convictions for making a false statement to a federally-licensed firearms dealer, see 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a)(1)(A), and knowingly possessing a firearm after having previously been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year, see 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(g)(1). 1 We affirm.

I

In October 1991, Langley purchased two firearms from Guns Unlimited, a federally-licensed firearms dealer in Carrollton, Virginia. Prior to the sale, Langley completed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Form 4473. 2 On ATF Form 4473, Langley certified that he had not been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year.

After a routine check of Langley's criminal history, Special Agent Herbert Tatem of the ATF discovered that Langley had previously been convicted of robbery in Pennsylvania, a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year. 3

On September 24, 1992, a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia returned a two-count indictment charging Langley with making a false statement to a federally-licensed firearms dealer, see 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a)(1)(A), and possession of a firearm after having previously been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year, see 18 U.S.C.

Page 604

Sec. 922(g)(1). A jury convicted Langley on both counts. The district court sentenced Langley to twelve months' imprisonment, and he now appeals.
II

Langley argues the district court's instructions to the jury on the Sec. 922(g)(1) felon-in-possession count were erroneous because the jury was not instructed that the government was required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he knew: (1) he was a convicted felon, and (2) the firearm travelled in or affected interstate commerce. With respect to this count, the district court instructed the jury that it should return a verdict of guilty if it found beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) Langley had been convicted in some court of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year; (2) he thereafter voluntarily and intentionally possessed a firearm; and (3) the firearm had been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce at some point during its existence. We conclude that the district court properly instructed the jury.

A

Section 922(g)(1), enacted as part of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA), Pub.L. 99-308, 100 Stat. 449 (1986), is a consolidation of portions of three former provisions of Title 18: Sec. 922(g)(1) (unlawful for convicted felon to ship or transport a firearm in interstate commerce); Sec. 922(h)(1) (unlawful for convicted felon to receive a firearm that has been shipped or transported in interstate commerce); and Sec. 1202(a) (18 U.S.C.App.) (unlawful for convicted felon to receive, possess, or transport a firearm in or affecting commerce). The predecessor statutes to Sec. 922(g)(1) contained no mens rea requirement. However, cases interpreting these predecessor statutes made clear that these statutes required proof of a mens rea element and were not strict liability offenses; that is, courts required proof that "the defendant knowingly received, transported, or possessed a firearm," but, at the same time, recognized that "the defendant's knowledge of the weapon's interstate nexus or of his felon status was irrelevant." United States v. Dancy, 861 F.2d 77, 81 (5th Cir.1988) (collecting cases); see also United States v. Santiesteban, 825 F.2d 779, 782-83 (4th Cir.1987); United States v. Williams, 588 F.2d 92, 92-93 (4th Cir.1978).

Similar to its predecessors, Sec. 922(g)(1) contains no mens rea requirement. Section 922(g)(1) makes it:

unlawful for any person ... who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year ... to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.

When Congress amended Sec. 922 in 1986, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a), the penalty provision applicable to Sec. 922, was also amended. See Pub.L. 99-308, Sec. 104(a), 100 Stat. 449, 456 (1986). Pre-FOPA Sec. 924(a) provided penalties for "[w]hoever violate[d]" any provision of Title 44, including Sec. 922. The FOPA version of Sec. 924(a) provided penalties for violations of Title 44 committed either "knowingly" or "willfully." Id. (codified until amended in 1988 at 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a)(1)(B)-(D)). The FOPA penalty provision applicable to Sec. 922(g) provided "whoever ... knowingly violates subsection ... (g)." In 1988, Congress amended Sec. 924(a), increasing the term of imprisonment for, among other things, certain "knowing" violations, including violations of Sec. 922(g). See Pub.L. 100-690, Sec. 6462, 102 Stat. 4359, 4374 (currently codified at 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(a)(1) and (2)). 4

Langley argues that Congress' insertion of the word "knowingly" in Sec. 924(a), as amended in 1986, mandates that the government must prove, in a Sec. 922(g)(1) prosecution, not only that the defendant knowingly possessed, transported, shipped, or received the firearm, but also that he or she knew, at the time he or she knowingly possessed, transported,

Page 605

shipped, or received the firearm, of his or her prior felony conviction and the firearm's interstate nexus. We disagree.

It is firmly entrenched that Congress is presumed to enact legislation with knowledge of the law; that is with the knowledge of the interpretation that courts have given to an existing statute. See Holmes v. Securities Investor Protection Corp., 503 U.S. 258, 267-68, 112 S.Ct. 1311, 1317-18, 117 L.Ed.2d 532 (1992); Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19, 32, 111 S.Ct. 317, 325, 112 L.Ed.2d 275 (1990); Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 696-97, 99 S.Ct. 1946, 1957-58, 60 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). "Thus, it is proper to consider that Congress acts with knowledge of existing law, and that 'absent a clear manifestation of contrary intent, a newly-enacted or revised statute is presumed to be harmonious with existing law and its judicial construction.' " Estate of Wood v. C.I.R., 909 F.2d 1155, 1160 (8th Cir.1990) (quoting Johnson v. First Nat'l Bank of Montevideo, 719 F.2d 270, 277 (8th Cir.1983)). Because these concepts were firmly entrenched judicially, we may assume that Congress was aware that: (1) no court prior to FOPA required the government to prove knowledge of felony status and/or interstate nexus in prosecutions under Sec. 922(g)(1)'s predecessor statutes; (2) the only knowledge the government was required to prove in a prosecution under Sec. 922(g)(1)'s predecessor statutes was knowledge of the possession, transportation, shipment, or receipt of the firearm; and (3) Congress created the FOPA version of Sec. 922(g)(1) and Sec. 924(a) consistent with these judicial interpretations. We, therefore, must determine whether, in enacting FOPA, Congress manifested a clear intent to change the well-settled law.

B

Prior to FOPA, many provisions regulating firearms were classified as strict liability offenses. See United States v. Collins, 957 F.2d 72, 74 (2d Cir.1992); United States v. Sherbondy, 865 F.2d 996 (9th Cir.1988). Because liability could be imposed on law-abiding citizens for "unintentional missteps," United States v. Obiechie, 38 F.3d 309, 312 (7th Cir.1994), Congress enacted FOPA in 1986, which "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.' " Sherbondy, 865 F.2d at 1001; see also David T. Hardy, The Firearms Owners' Protection Act: A Historical and Legal Perspective, 17 Cumb. L.Rev. 585, 604-07 (1987). Though it is unusual that Congress chose to add a mens rea requirement to a penalty provision, we agree with the Sherbondy court that "it is highly likely that Congress used section 924(a) simply to avoid having to add 'willful' or 'knowing' into every subsection of section 922." Sherbondy, 865 F.2d at 1002.

Prior to the passage of FOPA, the scienter debate pitted the Treasury Department against the National Rifle Association (the NRA). In an effort to make prosecutions easier, the Treasury Department advocated the "knowing" standard; while the NRA, in an effort to protect gun owners, wanted the "willful" standard to govern. Hardy, supra, at 615-16. A compromise was reached: the term "knowingly" would govern the more serious firearm offenses. Id. at 615-17, 647-48; Sherbondy, 865 F.2d at 1002. Accordingly, it is fair to say that Congress, through FOPA, intended the term "knowingly" to modify each section of 922 that it applied to.

It is far from clear, however, exactly what Congress intended to modify in each section of 922 with its use of the term "knowingly." For example, it is not clear from the legislative history...

To continue reading

Request your trial
213 practice notes
  • Rehaif v. United States, No. 17-9560
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 21, 2019
    ...United States v. Smith , 940 F.2d 710, 713 (CA1 1991) ; United States v. Huet , 665 F.3d 588, 596 (CA3 2012) ; United States v. Langley , 62 F.3d 602, 604–608 (CA4 1995) (en banc); United States v. Rose , 587 F.3d 695, 705–706, and n. 9 (CA5 2009) (per curiam ); United States v. Dancy , 861......
  • Brach v. Conflict Kinetics Corp., Case No. 1:16–cv–978
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • December 1, 2016
    ...of the law; that is with the knowledge of the interpretation that courts have given to an existing statute." United States v. Langley , 62 F.3d 602, 605 (4th Cir. 1995) ; Howell , 827 F.3d at 530 ("Congress is presumed to be aware of judicial interpretations of the law, and ... is assumed t......
  • Barnette v. Brook Road, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:05CV590.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • May 3, 2006
    ...expressed a clear intent to alter the existing enforcement scheme and revoke the private right of action. See United States v. Langley, 62 F.3d 602, 606 (4th Cir.1995) (en The opposite occurred. In a provision unexamined by any court addressing the FACTA amendments to date, section 312(f) o......
  • United States v. Gibert, Nos. 10–4848
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • April 20, 2012
    ...proof of knowledge that the activity was “in or affected interstate commerce.” 17 See, e.g., [677 F.3d 629] United States v. Langley, 62 F.3d 602, 605–06 (4th Cir.1995) (conviction under felon-in-possession statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), does not require knowledge of firearm's interstate n......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
219 cases
  • Rehaif v. United States, No. 17-9560
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 21, 2019
    ...United States v. Smith , 940 F.2d 710, 713 (CA1 1991) ; United States v. Huet , 665 F.3d 588, 596 (CA3 2012) ; United States v. Langley , 62 F.3d 602, 604–608 (CA4 1995) (en banc); United States v. Rose , 587 F.3d 695, 705–706, and n. 9 (CA5 2009) (per curiam ); United States v. Dancy , 861......
  • Brach v. Conflict Kinetics Corp., Case No. 1:16–cv–978
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • December 1, 2016
    ...the law; that is with the knowledge of the interpretation that courts have given to an existing statute." United States v. Langley , 62 F.3d 602, 605 (4th Cir. 1995) ; Howell , 827 F.3d at 530 ("Congress is presumed to be aware of judicial interpretations of the law, and ... is as......
  • Barnette v. Brook Road, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:05CV590.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • May 3, 2006
    ...expressed a clear intent to alter the existing enforcement scheme and revoke the private right of action. See United States v. Langley, 62 F.3d 602, 606 (4th Cir.1995) (en The opposite occurred. In a provision unexamined by any court addressing the FACTA amendments to date, section 312(f) o......
  • United States v. Gibert, Nos. 10–4848
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • April 20, 2012
    ...proof of knowledge that the activity was “in or affected interstate commerce.” 17 See, e.g., [677 F.3d 629] United States v. Langley, 62 F.3d 602, 605–06 (4th Cir.1995) (conviction under felon-in-possession statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), does not require knowledge of firearm's interstate n......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT