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United States v. Jackson

September 3, 1997

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

ARNOLD JACKSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt.

Herbert N. Maletz, Senior Judge, sitting by designation. (CR-95-349-DKC)

Before WILKINSON, Chief Judge, and LUTTIG and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge

Argued: June 5, 1997

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Williams wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge Wilkinson and Judge Luttig joined.

OPINION

A jury found Arnold Jackson guilty of possessing an unregistered firearm (a sawed-off shotgun) in violation of 26 U.S.C.A. Section(s) 5861(d) (West 1989), and of possessing the firearm despite a previous felony conviction in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. Section(s) 922(g)(1) (West Supp. 1997). The district court sentenced Jackson under the United States Sentencing Guidelines to 262 months imprisonment, to be followed by three years supervised release, and a $100 special assessment. Jackson appeals both of his convictions and his sentence. He argues that the district court erroneously admitted two hearsay statements into evidence, erroneously denied his Motion for Judgment of Acquittal on both counts due to the insufficiency of the Government's evidence, erroneously found that he stipulated to his prior felon status, see 18 U.S.C.A. Section(s) 922(g)(1), and failed to charge the jury on an essential element of possessing an unregistered firearm, see 26 U.S.C.A. Section(s) 5861(d). Finding no reversible error, we affirm Jackson's convictions and his sentence.

I.

On July 31, 1992, police officers were summoned to the home of Genavy Jackson, Jackson's mother, in response to a domestic disturbance call. When Ms. Jackson answered the door, she immediately informed Officer Michael D'Ovidio that Jackson had been threatening to shoot family members and that she wanted him removed from the premises. Once inside the home, Officer D'Ovidio observed Jackson and his sister engaged in a heated argument in the hallway of the first floor of the home. Officer D'Ovidio described Jackson as "very aggressive in his actions and his manners and his words." (J.A. at 20.) When the officers separated Jackson and his sister, Jackson began arguing with his mother. After breaking up that argument, the officers instructed Jackson to gather his personal belongings and leave the premises.

While Jackson gathered his belongings, Ms. Jackson informed the officers that Jackson had a gun, but that she had secured it upstairs. Minutes later, standing outside the home, Jackson asked the officers if he could get his gun for protection while he was"on the street." (J.A. at 23.) The officers refused his request, and Jackson left the premises. Because they were afraid that Jackson would return to the home, get his gun, and carry out his threats to harm his family, the officers asked Ms. Jackson to retrieve the gun from upstairs and give it to them for safekeeping. Ms. Jackson complied and brought the officers a red and gray plastic bag that was tied at the end. Upon returning to the police station, Officer D'Ovidio opened the plastic bag and discovered a sawed-off shotgun approximately 18 inches in total length, and several shotgun shells. Realizing that the weapon had been illegally altered, Officer D'Ovidio returned to Ms. Jackson's home to locate Jackson. Unable to find Jackson that night, he transferred the case to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (ATF). Approximately three years later, in August 1995, Jackson was arrested.

Jackson proceeded to trial on an indictment charging him with possession of an unregistered weapon in violation of 26 U.S.C.A. Section(s) 5861(d), and with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. Section(s) 922(g)(1). *fn1 A jury found Jackson guilty of both charges and the district court sentenced him to 262 months imprisonment, three years supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.

II.

Jackson first makes a sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge to his conviction for possession of an unregistered firearm, see 26 U.S.C.A. Section(s) 5861(d), arguing that the Government failed to prove (1) that Jackson possessed the weapon; (2) that the weapon fit the statutory definition of "firearm," see 26 U.S.C.A.Section(s) 5845(a) (West 1989); and (3) that Jackson knew that the weapon he possessed had characteristics triggering the statutory duty to register it in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, see Staples v. United States, 511 U.S. 600, 619 (1994) (holding that Section(s) 5861(d) requires proof that the defendant knew that his weapon had the characteristics of a "firearm" under the Act); see also United States v. Starkes, 32 F.3d 100 (4th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). Also, Jackson claims that the district court committed plain error in failing to instruct the jury that the Government had the burden of proving the third element of the offense, i.e., that Jackson knew that the firearm had the pertinent characteristics. See United States v. David, 83 F.3d 638, 648 (4th Cir. 1996) (noticing the district court's plain error in failing to instruct on an essential element of the crime because a jury conceivably could have determined that the Government had not proven that element).

When reviewing a sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim, we will sustain the jury's verdict "if there is substantial evidence, taking the view most favorable to the Government, to support it." Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80 (1942). "[S]ubstantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849, 862 (4th Cir. 1996) (en banc), cert. denied, 117 S. Ct. 1087 (1997). Viewing the record in the light most favorable to the Government, we conclude that there is substantial evidence from which a reasonable juror could find that Jackson possessed the firearm, that the firearm had the characteristics that brought it within the scope of the Act, and that Jackson had knowledge of these characteristics. Moreover, we conclude that the district court's failure to properly instruct the jury that the Government had the burden of proving that he knew the firearm had the statutory characteristics was not reversible error. Accordingly, we affirm the conviction.

A.

Jackson claims that the Government failed to present evidence from which a reasonable finder of fact could conclude that Jackson possessed the sawed-off shotgun while living in his mother's home. Because the Government does not contend that Jackson actually possessed the firearm, we must determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the jury's finding that Jackson constructively possessed the sawed-off shotgun. See United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849, 873 (1996) (holding that possession of contraband may be actual or constructive). "Constructive possession may be proved by demonstrating `that the defendant exercised, or had the power to exercise, dominion and control over the item.'" Id. ...


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