Supreme Court of the United States
[Firearm]: Any weapon which shoots, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.
The Defendant (Staples) was charged with possession of automatic weapon which was not registered. The weapon was modified. The defendant argued that he did not know that the weapon was automatic and he stated that his weapon did not work like an automatic weapon. This argument was rejected at trial court and he was convicted under a statue which carried a possible 10 year prison sentence.
-Requested district court to instruct jury that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “knew that the gun would fire fully automatically.”
-District Court rejected proposed instruction
-Convicted and sentenced 5 years probation and $5,000 fine.
“It shall be unlawful for any person...to receive or possess a firearm which is not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer record.”
(Guns vs. Hand Grenades)
-”it is unthinkable to us that congress intended to subject such law-abiding citizens to a possible ten-year term of imprisonment if what they genuinely and reasonably believed was a conventional semi-automatic weapon turns out to have worn down into or been secretly modified to be a fully automatic weapon.”
-Historically, the penalty imposed under a statute has been a significant consideration in determining whether the statute should be construed as dispensing with mens rea.
-In a system that generally requires a “vicious will” to establish a crime, imposing severe punishments for offenses that require no mens rea would seem incongruous.
-Judgement of Court of Appeals reversed/remanded for further proceedings.
Public Welfare offenses share certain characteristics:
1. They regulate dangerous/deleterious devices or products or obnoxious waste materials.
2. They heighten the duties of those in control of particular industries, trades, properties, or activities that affect public health, safety or welfare.
3. They depend on no mental element but consist only of forbidden acts or omissions.
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