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United States v. Smoot, No. 11-4442

Decided: August 13, 2012

The Court of Appeals affirmed Charles Lee Smoot’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, rejecting Smoot’s 18 U.S.C. § 922 challenges to his conviction.

In 2008, an anonymous call to the Hyattsville, Maryland, police led to Charles Smoot’s arrest on an outstanding warrant.  Smoot was seized in the backyard of the address given by the anonymous citizen, and during the ensuing pat down, an officer seized a loaded .38 caliber revolver from Smoot’s waistband.  Smoot was indicted in 2009 for being a felon in possession of a firearm.  Prior to trial, Smoot filed objections to the government’s proposed jury instructions, positing that District of Columbia v. Heller, created an additional element of a § 922 offense requiring the government to affirmatively rebut a presumption that his possession of the revolver was for legitimate self-defense purposes.  The district court rejected Smoot’s arguments, and he was convicted in 2010.  At his sentencing in 2011, the court denied Smoot a decrease in his offense level on the basis of acceptance of responsibility.  Smoot timely appealed his conviction and sentence.

On appeal, Smoot challenged § 922 as-applied, arguing that even as a convicted felon, he was entitled under the Second Amendment to possess a firearm in his home for self defense.  The Court of Appeals summarily rejected this argument, referring to the “longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons,” as presumptively lawful regulators measures under Heller.  Furthermore, under United States v. Chester, decided after Heller, a two-prong test was established for assessing Second Amendment challenges.  The first prong requires an evaluation of whether those rights are “burdened or regulated” by the statute in question.  Under the second prong, the statute must pass constitutional muster.  In order for Smoot to rebut the presumption of lawfulness of § 922 as applied to him, he must show that his factual circumstances remove his challenge from the realm of ordinary challenges.  The Court of Appeals held that since Smoot’s criminal history was egregious, he clearly could not be considered a law-abiding responsible citizen under Heller or avail himself of any remedies under Heller, affirming the decision of the district court.

Full Opinion

-Nora Bennani