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  • United States v. AbernathyUnited States v. Abernathy
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United States v. Abernathy

United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
83 F.3d 17 (1996)


The federal government (plaintiff) indicted James H. Abernathy (defendant) for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and for possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(k). Abernathy pleaded guilty to both counts. Neither the prosecutor, the defense counsel, nor the trial judge understood, and no one informed Abernathy, that a conviction on the § 922(k) count required proof that Abernathy actually knew that the weapon in his possession carried an obliterated serial number. There were indications on the record that Abernathy remained unaware of the requirement throughout the plea proceedings. Based on federal sentencing guideline USSG § 2K2.1(b)(4), the judge sentenced Abernathy to an enhanced prison term. The judge subsequently denied Abernathy's Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 motion to withdraw his guilty pleas, and Abernathy appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the judge's ruling as to the § 922(g)(1) count. Abernathy focused his § 922(k) appeal on the knowledge element of the crime. As a threshold matter, the court ruled that USSG § 2K2.1(b)(4) was irrelevant to the appeal, because it explicitly applied "whether or not" a convicted defendant knew or had reason to know of the serial number's obliteration.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Aldrich, J.)

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