On June 14, 2021, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Greer v. Unites States. The principal issue concerned the federal offense of being a felon in possession of a firearm and the mind state or mens rea required to support a conviction.
Justice Kavanaugh wrote for the 8-1 majority in relevant part: In Rehaif v. United States, 588 U. S. ___, the Court clarified the mens rea requirement for firearms-possession offenses under 18 U. S. C. §922(g). After Rehaif, the Government in a felon-in-possession case must prove not only that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm, but also that he knew he was a felon when he possessed the firearm. Prior to Rehaif, Gregory Greer and Michael Gary were separately convicted of being felons in possession of a firearm in violation of §922(g)(1). Greer’s conviction resulted from a jury trial during which Greer did not request—and the District Court did not give—a jury instruction requiring the jury to find that Greer knew he was a felon when he possessed the firearm.
Gary pled guilty to two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. During Gary’s plea colloquy, the District Court did not advise Gary that, if he went to trial, a jury would have to find that he knew he was a felon when he possessed the firearms. On appeal, both Greer and Gary raised new mens rea arguments based on Rehaif. Greer requested a new trial based on the District Court’s failure to instruct the jury that Greer had to know he was a felon to be found guilty. Applying plain-error review, the Eleventh Circuit rejected that argument.
Charges like the one at issue almost always lead to a bifurcated jury trial. If a jury finds the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt with regard to the firearm possession, they are then presented with evidence of his or her status as a convicted felon. Otherwise, the evidence of the defendant’s status would be unduly prejudicial to the defense.