RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: University of California Medical School at Davis
DOCKET NO.: 78-1595
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
CITATION: 445 US 55 (1980)
ARGUED: Jan 07, 1980
DECIDED: Feb 27, 1980
Andrew J. Levander - argued the cause pro hac vice for the United States
Andrew W. Wood - argued the cause for petitioner
Facts of the case
Media for Lewis v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 07, 1980 in Lewis v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 27, 1980 in Lewis v. United States
Warren E. Burger:
We have two opinions to announce this morning, the opinion in Lewis against the United States will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.
Harry A. Blackmun:
Well, Section 1202 of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act prohibits the possession of a firearm by any person who has been convicted of a felony.
Mr. Lewis, the petitioner here was charged with a violation of that statute.
The prosecution introduced in evidence an earlier judgment in a Florida state court that on his plea of guilty, Lewis was guilty of a felony for breaking and entering.
That conviction remains outstanding.
Defense counsel, however, informed the Court that Mr. Lewis had not been represented by counsel in the Florida proceeding.
The defense took the position that because the Florida conviction was subject to attack under Gideon against Wainwright, that conviction could not constitute the predicate for a prosecution under the federal statute.
The District Court and by a divided vote, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected that claim.
Because of a conflict on this issue among the Courts of Appeals we granted certiorari.
In an opinion filed today with the clerk, we affirm that judgment.
We hold that even though the earlier state court felony conviction might be subject to collateral attack under the Gideon decision it may properly be used as a predicate for the subsequent federal conviction.
We reach this result because of what seems to us the plain meaning of the language of the federal statute and our perception of the intent of Congress in enacting that statute.
If the Florida conviction is vulnerable, Congress intended that the defendant clear his status by attacking that state conviction successfully or by pardon or by a specific permit to carry a firearm before obtaining the weapon.
Congress could rationally conclude that any felony conviction even an allegedly invalid one is a sufficient basis on which to prohibit the possession of a firearm.
We find this holding not inconsistent with other cases decided by this Court relative to the use of a prior on counsel conviction for certain purposes.
And I am authorized to say Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion and is joined therein by Mr. Justice Marshall and Mr. Justice Powell.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you Mr. Justice Blackmun.