Thursday, April 17, 2014

“Innocent Possession” and "Entrapment By Estoppel" Did Not Apply To Defendant Allegedly Returning Gun Under State or Local Amnesty Program

United States v. Miles, No. 13-1158-cr (2d Cir. Apr. 10, 2014) (Wesley, Carney, and Rakoff) (per curiam), available here

This summary was prepared by noted criminal defense attorney Francisco Celedonio, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of Federal Defenders of New York, Inc.:

Defendant Miles appealed his conviction and sentence as a felon in possession of  a firearm (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)) after a bench trial on stipulated facts. He was sentenced to a mandatory prison term of fifteen years under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). The stipulated facts at trial included that Miles had been previously convicted of at least one felony; that he possessed the pistol in the Southern District of New York; and that an interstate nexus existed.

Miles claimed at trial that his possession of the weapon (while riding the NYC subway) was in connection with the New York “cash for guns” program as he was en route to provide the gun to law enforcement. On appeal, the Circuit held that the affirmative defense of entrapment by estoppel was not available to Miles, because, as eight other Circuits have held, “a defendant charged with violating a federal crime must show reliance on the advice or authority of federal officials or agents to invoke this defense.” Here, however, Miles allegedly relied on representations made to him by state and local officials, not federal officials, offering "cash for guns."

The Circuit also rejected Miles's "innocent possession" defense. While noting that the Circuit had not yet decided whether to recognize an innocent possession defense in the context of § 922(g), the panel cited the Court’s “repeated” rejection of an innocent possession defense where “possession was not ‘momentary’ or ‘only for as long as necessary’ to deal with a justifying necessity.” Under that standard, the district court properly precluded Miles from asserting the defense. 

In addition, the Court summarily affirmed the police officer’s probable cause to arrest Miles, based on his passage through various NYC transit cars in violation of an administrative ordinance.

Finally, the Circuit upheld Miles's fifteen-year prison term under ACCA. The Court rejected the argument that the defendant's prior state court conviction for robbery in the third degree did not qualify as a "violent felony" under ACCA because he was sentenced to less than a year in custody for that offense. The Court noted that the crime need only be "punishable" by more than a year in prison; it does not matter what sentence the defendant actually received.

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