ROGERS v. UNITED STATES


Syllabus

ROGERS v. UNITED STATES ( )
Reported below: 94 F. 3d 1519.

ROGERS v. UNITED STATES

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


No. 96–1279. Argued November 5, 1997—Decided January 14, 1998

Petitioner was charged with the knowing possession of an unregistered and unserialized firearm in violation of 26 U. S. C. §§5861(d) and (i) as a result of the discovery of a silencer in his truck. A silencer is included within the meaning of “firearm” under §5845(a)(7). Petitioner repeatedly admitted during his arrest and trial that he knew that the item found in his truck was in fact a silencer. The District Court denied petitioner’s request for an instruction that defined the Government’s burden of establishing “knowing possession” as proof that he had willfully and consciously possessed an item he knew to be a “firearm.” Petitioner was convicted. Under Staples v. United States, 511 U. S. 600, decided after this case was submitted to the jury, the mens rea element of a violation of §5861(d) requires the Government to prove that the defendant knew that the item he possessed had the characteristics that brought it within the statutory definition of a firearm. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed petitioner’s conviction because the omission related to an element admitted by petitioner and, in light of his repeated admissions, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Held : The writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted.

Reported below: 94 F. 3d 1519.

Justice Stevens , joined by Justice Thomas , Justice Ginsburg , and Justice Breyer , concluded that the question on which this Court granted certiorari—whether failure to instruct on an element of an offense is harmless error where, at trial, the defendant admitted that element—is not fairly presented by the record, and that, accordingly, the writ must be dismissed as improvidently granted. The Eleventh Circuit’s conclusion that the denial of petitioner’s requested instruction effectively omitted an essential element of the §5861 offenses was unwarranted for two reasons. First, the tendered instruction was ambiguous. It might have been interpreted to require proof that petitioner knew that his silencer was a “firearm” as defined by §5845(a)(7), not merely that the item possessed certain offending characteristics. Second, and more important, a fair reading of the instructions as actually given did require the jury to find that petitioner knew that he possessed a silencer. The trial judge first explained to the jury that the statute defined “firearm” to include a silencer and then instructed that petitioner could not be found guilty without proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” Since the term “firearm” had been “defined above” to include a silencer, that instruction required the jury to determine that petitioner knew that the item he possessed was a silencer. The instruction telling the jury that the Government need not prove that petitioner knew that his gun “was a ‘firearm’ which the law requires to be registered” is best read as merely explaining that a conviction did not require the jury to find that petitioner knew that the law required registration of the silencer. Under United States v. Freed, 401 U. S. 601, the Government was entitled to such an instruction. Pp. 4–7.

Justice O’Connor concluded that it is sufficient to dismiss the writ that the instructions tendered by the District Court were ambiguous on whether the jury was asked to find, as is required by Staples v. United States, 511 U. S. 600, that petitioner knew that the item he possessed was a silencer. As a result, it is at least unclear whether the question the Court intended to address in this case is squarely presented. P. 1.

Stevens , J., announced the decision of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer , JJ., joined. O’Connor, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, in which Scalia , J., joined. Kennedy , J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Souter , J., joined.


TOP

Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


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Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


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Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


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Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


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Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


TOP

Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


TOP

Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


TOP

Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


TOP

Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


TOP

Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


TOP

Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.


TOP

Dissent

GEORGE G. ROGERS, PETITIONER v.
UNITED STATES

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit


[January 14, 1998]

Justice Kennedy , with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Souter join, dissenting.

The case was submitted to a jury prior to our decision in Staples v. United States , 511 U. S. 600 (1994) , and there was a colloquy between defense counsel and the trial court about whether the Government was required to show the defendant knew the object was a silencer. See, e.g ., App. 84–87. A fair reading of the record indicates that, consistent with then-governing Eleventh Circuit precedent, see 94 F. 3d 1519, 1523, n. 7 (1996), the trial court ruled this knowledge was not a necessary part of the Government’s case.

Under the trial court’s instructions, the defendant could be found guilty if he “knowingly possessed a ‘firearm,’ as defined above.” App. 104. The word “knowingly” in the instruction modifies the word which follows it, viz., “possessed,” rather than the instruction’s further reference to the statutory definition of “firearm.” Although in other circumstances one might argue the instruction was ambiguous, here the trial court agreed with the defendant’s understanding of it. The trial court explained to the jury: “What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant knowingly possessed the item as charged, that such item was a ‘firearm’ as defined above, and that [it] was not then registered to the Defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” Ibid . As understood by the trial court, ibid. , petitioner’s counsel, Brief for Petitioner 2, the Solicitor General, Brief for United States 12, and the Court of Appeals, 94 F. 3d, at 1523, the instruction told the jury it had to find the defendant knew he possessed the device in question but not that he knew it was a silencer.

The plurality proceeds, however, to find not even that the instruction was ambiguous, but that it was a satisfactory implementation of our later-announced decision in Staples. And, though the Court in the end does nothing more than order the case dismissed, the plurality by its extensive discussion suggests in effect that all convictions based on this form of instruction must be affirmed. This is a substantive point; it was neither briefed nor argued; it is contrary to a common-sense reading of the instruction; and it tends to diminish the force of Staples itself.

If the plurality wishes to persist in its interpretation of the instruction, it ought to issue a full opinion addressing the merits of the conviction, rather than mask a substantive determination in its opinion supporting dismissal. As things stand, it brings little credit to us to get rid of the case by a strained and novel reading of the instruction—a reading quite unsupportable on the record—after we granted certiorari and expended the Court’s resources to determine a different and important issue of substantive criminal law. The petitioner, whose conviction now stands based on what is for practical purposes an affirmance on a theory no one has suggested until now, will be hard put to understand the plurality's cavalier refusal to address his substantive arguments.

I dissent from the order dismissing the case.