13 June 2010
Aiding and Abetting
The latest issue contains some fine material, including a note addressing the question "what is the required mens rea for an aider and abettor of a felon in possession of a firearm?"
For the non-lawyers and non-Latin speakers among my readers, "mens rea" means guilty mind. A criminal offense at common law must have both a physical and a mental component -- the mental component is the mens rea. This can, but need not be, "intent." (It might be recklessness.)
As to aiding and abetting, the US code says, "Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces, or procures in commission, is punishable as a principal."
Certain crimes are defined in part by whether the person committing them is a felon. For example, a convicted felon is forever after prohibited from lawfully owning a firearm. Hence the question above. What if you are the one who gave a firearm to a convicted felon? What if you shipped it to him across state lines?
He clearly is guilty of a crime by virtue of possessing it. Have you aided and abetted that crime? What if you had no knowledge of his being a felon? Is there a "mens rea" requirement that the prosecutors seeking your conviction must meet and, if so, what is it?
I admit I had never given any thought to this query. It turns (WNEC School of Law student James O'Connor tells us) that there is a split among the federal courts of appeal on this point. For example, United States v. Canon, 993 F.2d 1439 (9th Cir. 1993) takes one view and United States v. Xavier, 2 F.3d 1281 (3d Cir. 1993) takes another.
The first circuit court of appeals -- where Springfield, Mass., and thus the WNEC School of Law is located -- has so far not addressed the matter.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.