United States Supreme Court Address Requirements For Conviction Of Federal Firearm Charges

Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued an important opinion in the case of Rosemond v. United States, holding that the trial court failed to properly instruct a jury of the elements of an “aiding and abetting” charge and reversing the defendant’s conviction as a result of said impropriety.

In Rosemond, the defendant, Justus Rosemond, was in a car with two other men, all of whom were attempting to sell marijuana to another individual. At some point during the transaction, the buyer punched one of the sellers in the face and fled with the drugs. One of the sellers fired several shots from a handgun at the thief, then all the sellers got back into the vehicle and gave chase. Before the three caught up to the thief, however, they were pulled over by a police officer.

Rosemond was charged federally with using a gun in connection with a drug trafficking crime and aiding and abetting that offense. Federal law makes it a special crime to commit a drug offense while using a gun, and allows a court to impose an extra five year prison term for the gun charge. In prosecuting Rosemond, the Government argued that he was the shooter; however, because several witnesses disputed the shooter’s identity, the Government also contended that, even if Rosemond was not the shooter, he had aided and abetted the offense and was therefore punishable as if he had been the shooter.

At trial, Rosemond requested that the trial court instruct the jury that, in order to find him guilty of aiding and abetting, it had to find that he “intentionally…facilitate[d]…the use of the firearm.” Despite this request, the trial court instructed the jury that it need only determine that Rosemond “knew his cohort used a firearm” and that he “actively participated in the drug crime.” Rosemond was convicted of aiding and abetting and the trial court imposed a consecutive sentence of 10 years of imprisonment.

On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Rosemond argued that he had no idea that a gun would be used in the crime and it was error for the trial court not to instruct the jury that Rosemond had to know ahead of time about the firearm to convict him of the gun charge.

In a 7-2 decision, the United States Supreme Court reversed Rosemond’s conviction, holding that, in order to be properly convicted as an aider and abettor, Rosemond had to have “foreknowledge” that one of his cohorts would use a gun, not just that a drug deal would occur. The Court concluded that the trial court had instructed the jury that it was enough that Rosemond knew of the drug crime and that “his cohort used a gun”, not that he knew that his companion would use a gun. Essentially, the Court held that the Government had to prove that Rosemond knew in advance that someone else would use a gun, and far enough in advance so that he could withdraw from the crime if he so chose.

The knowledgeable attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals that have been charged with state and federal crimes, including cases involving mandatory or enhance penalties. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.