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Media Alerts - United States v. White - Eighth Circuit
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July 28, 2017
  United States v. White - Eighth Circuit
Headline Eighth Circuit overturns longstanding precedent and holds that government must prove knowledge of firearm characteristics requiring registration under the National Firearms Act in order to support a conviction for possession of an unregistered firearm

Area of Law Criminal Law

Issue(s) Presented Whether the district court properly instructed the jury regarding the government's burden of proof with respect to charge of possession of an unregistered firearm.

Brief Summary While executing a search warrant at the home of Robert White's parents, officers recovered a duffel bag containing an unregistered shotgun and a stolen handgun, among other things. White was charged with possession of a stolen firearm and possession of an unregistered firearm. At trial, no direct evidence was presented that White knew the shotgun to be stolen. In addition, the district court's jury instructions with respect to the unregistered handgun did not contain a mens rea requirement indicating the White knew the firearm to have certain characteristics requiring it to be registered. White objected to the jury instruction and offered alternative language, which the district court rejected. White was convicted of both counts.

On appeal, a panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed the unregistered firearm conviction, but reversed the stolen firearm conviction due to insufficient evidence regarding White's knowledge that the firearm had been stolen. White requested, and was granted, rehearing en banc and the panel opinion was vacated.

The Eighth Circuit reinstated the panel opinion with respect to reversal of the stolen firearm conviction with no additional analysis. With respect to the unregistered firearm conviction, the Court noted that the Supreme Court has held that a district court must instruct the jury that knowledge of the characteristics bringing a firearm under the National Firearms Act (the Act) is a necessary element of the offence of possession of an unregistered firearm. A prior Eighth Circuit case, United States v. Barr, 32 F.3d 1320 (8th Cir. 1994), however, created a caveat. The caveat stated that when the characteristics of a weapon are 'quasi-suspect' the government need not show proof that the defendant actually knew of the specific characteristics bringing the weapon within the Act. Instead, the government need only prove that the defendant possessed the 'quasi-suspect' weapon and observed its characteristics. The Eighth Circuit en banc held that Barr in inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent and is overruled. It further held that in this case, the jury instructions did not properly instruct on the knowledge required to secure a conviction for possession of an unregistered firearm. As such, White's conviction on this count was also reversed.

The full text of the opinion may be found at http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/17/07/152027P.pdf

Panel En Banc

Date of Issued Opinion July 11, 2017

Decided Reversed

Docket Number 15-2027

Counsel Rebecca L Kurz for Appellant and Jeffrey Q. McCarther for Appellee

Author Circuit Judge Shepherd

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor Joelle Larson, University of Minnesota Law School

    Posted By: Joelle Larson @ 07/28/2017 03:27 PM     8th Circuit  

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