A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

Scotus plazaBy Burt Rose

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The SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES has issued a ruling in the case of BRUCE JAMES ABRAMSKI, JR., PETITIONER v. UNITED STATES,  No. 12–1493, ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT. The Court affirmed a forearms conviction under 18 U. S. C. §922(a)(6) by a vote of 5-4. JUSTICE KAGAN delivered the opinion of the Court. JUSTICE SCALIA, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE THOMAS, and JUSTICE ALITO joined, dissented.

Before a federally licensed firearms dealer may sell a gun, the would be purchaser must provide certain personal information, show photo identification, and pass a background check. To ensure the accuracy of those submissions, federal law imposes criminal penalties on any person who, in connection with a firearm’s acquisition, makes false statements about “any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale.” In this case, the Court considered how that law applies to a so-called straw purchaser, i.e., a person who buys a gun on someone else’s behalf while falsely claiming that it is for himself. The Court held that such a misrepresentation is punishable under the statute, whether or not the true buyer could have purchased the gun without the straw purchaser.

Once again, Justice Kennedy provided the decisive swing vote.

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