It can be difficult to comply with strict immigration and visa requirements. If you are in the United States on a student visa, for example, the exact procedures for maintaining enrollment can be tough to follow.
Sometimes, even seemingly harmless actions can result in even more serious consequences. In the recent case of United States v. Mohamed Ahmed Ali Rehaif, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit examined a case in which a person who overstayed a student visa was caught in possession of ammunition. The defendant in this case entered the country on a student visa around 2013. However, after only three semesters in college, he was dismissed for academic reasons.
Because he was no longer enrolled in school, the university informed the defendant that his immigration status was due to be revoked unless he transferred to another school. The defendant took no action and his visa was officially terminated a few weeks later. However, he did not leave the United States.
A few months later, the defendant purchased a box of ammunition, rented two firearms, and went to a firing range. Not long after, a hotel employee called the police to report a guest that was acting suspiciously. An FBI agent investigated, and after a search of the defendant’s room the remainder of the box of ammunition was found. The defendant was charged with violating a federal law that specifically makes it illegal for an alien to possess a firearm or ammunition. If convicted, he could face up to ten years imprisonment.
When the case went to trial, the prosecution asked that the jury be instructed that it did not matter if the defendant knew that he was in the United States illegally; instead, all that mattered was that the defendant had the ammunition and was not legally in the United States. The defendant objected but was overruled, and was convicted. The defendant then appealed.
The Court of Appeals closely examined the issue. Noting that the law did not say exactly that the government had to prove the defendant knew his immigration status, the Court of Appeals looked at the general purpose of the law and related cases. One general concept of any criminal law is that it should not punish “innocent” conduct. However, the court found that the “innocent” conduct in this case, being in the country without a visa, was not exactly innocent.
The court also looked at cases from other federal courts. After examining all of the previous cases, it found that no court had decided that the government had to prove that the offender knew they were in the country illegally. As a result, the court found that the trial court had gotten it right.
If you are involved in a criminal case, it is important to know your rights and the best way to go forward. Having an experienced criminal lawyer on your side can make the difference between jail time and being out living your life. If you are involved in a criminal case, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 335-2640 for all of your criminal law needs.