On June 21, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) decided the case of Rehaif v. United States. In this case, Rehaif entered the United States on a nonimmigrant student visa to attend college. However, three semesters later, he was dismissed for bad grades and his immigration status was terminated. Nevertheless, Rehaif remained in the United States and later attended a shooting range, where he shot two firearms.

Subsequently, Rehaif was charged under with violating two federal statutes.  The first, 18 U. S. C. § 922(g), which makes it unlawful for certain people, including aliens illegally in the country, to possess firearms.  The second, §924(a)(2), which provides that anyone who “knowingly violates” the first provision can go to jail for up to ten (10) years.

The main issue of this case was whether the “knowingly” provision of 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2) applies to both the possession and citizenship status elements of a § 922(g) crime, or whether it applies only to the possession element.

At trial, the district court instructed the jury as to the possession element only and the jury returned a guilty verdict. Rehaif then appealed his case to the Eleventh Circuit, which affirmed the district court’s holding. Then, SCOTUS heard the case, reversed the lower court’s decision, and remanded it back to the Eleventh Circuit.

Ultimately, SCOTUS held that the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that: (1) an individual knew they possessed a firearm and (2) that the individual knew they were barred from possessing a firearm, given their status. Both are required.

What Impact Could the SCOTUS Decision in Rehaif Have on Me in Rhode Island?

SCOTUS decisions are binding on all Federal Courts and on State Courts regarding issues of the Constitution and Federal law. Federal laws—including the above-described 18 U. S. C. § 922(g) and § 924(a)(2)—apply uniformly throughout the United States, while State laws vary from State to State.

Rhode Island Laws Regarding Possession of Firearms

Rhode Island law prohibits the following people from possessing firearms under § 11-47-5:

  • People convicted of a “crime of violence”;
    • Murder
    • Manslaughter
    • Rape, first- or second-degree sexual assault
    • First- or second-degree child molestation
    • Kidnapping
    • First- and second-degree arson
    • Mayhem
    • Robbery
    • Burglary
    • Breaking and entering
    • Certain felony drug convictions
    • Assault with a dangerous weapon
    • Assault or battery involving grave bodily injury
    • Assault with intent to commit any offense punishable as a felony
  • People deemed a “fugitive from justice”;
  • People who entered a plea of nolo contendere to or have been convicted of a felony domestic violence offense and certain misdemeanor domestic violence offenses

What are the Penalties for Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in Rhode Island?

Under RI Gen Law § 11-47-5, those convicted of illegal possession of a firearm will face a felony charge, punishable by a minimum of two (2) years in prison, up to ten (10) years in prison.

Additionally, similar to the federal statute at play in Rehaif, RI Gen Law § 11-47-7, makes it unlawful for an “alien” to possess a firearm.

Have You or A Family Member Been Charged with A Firearm-Related Offense? Contact Us Today for Your FREE Consultation!

While the Second Amendment gives United States citizens the right to bear arms, many people may find themselves barred from doing so.  With the variances and complexities of State and Federal firearm laws, do not fight firearm charges alone! Get the skilled Rhode Island criminal defense attorneys from Abilheira Law working for you today. Call us now (401) 245-5100, or fill out our online form!