Hamid Mohamed Ahmed Ali Rehaif was enrolled at the Florida Institute of Technology (“FIT”) on an F-1 nonimmigrant student visa. Due to his poor grades, he was dismissed by his university in December 2014, which put his immigration status at risk since he was no longer attending school. Rehaif had one of two choices – either transfer to another university or leave the United States.
During this time, Rehaif visited a shooting range and gained access to firearms and ammunition to practice target shooting. The government became aware that Rehaif was in possession of firearms while unlawfully being on American soil. Rehaif was arrested, charged, and tried before a jury for violating the laws that prohibit anyone illegally in the United States to possess firearms and ammunition. The 18 U. S. C. §922(g) and §924(a)(2) states that any person who knowingly possesses firearms or ammunition unlawfully shall be fined or imprisoned for a maximum of 10 years. This law contains the keyword knowingly. How can the court prove that Rehaif knowingly violated these laws?
During the trial, the judge ruled that it was not a requirement to prove that Rehaif knew he was in the United States illegally. He was then sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Rehaif’s case was later reviewed by a higher court where he argued that it was necessary for the court to prove he knew he was in the country illegally. This argument was rejected by The Eleventh Circuit of Appeals. After another denial, Rehaif appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case.
The Supreme Court held 7 to 2 in favor of Hamid Rehaif and decided that the word “knowingly” helps to separate wrongful acts from innocent acts. This term applies to the defendant’s conduct and status, so the government must prove that the defendant was aware of his both his status and his illegal conduct. In this case, Rehaif’s conviction was overturned because the government failed to prove he was aware he was in the country illegally.
This case is important because there many other defendants may claim that their status was not proven by the government. This may allow other cases to be reopened and retried.
If you or a loved one has experienced a similar one, you should contact a qualified law firm for assistance. Our experienced Atlanta criminal lawyers at Yates & Wheland could secure your rights during the legal process and fight for a positive outcome in your case. Schedule a consultation today to learn more about your options.