United States v. Wyatt
No. 18-1135. D.Colo. Judge Ebel. Conspiracy to Deal Firearms without a Federal License—Jury Instruction—Willfulness Requirement—Sufficient Evidence—Double Jeopardy Clause—Remedies.
July 6, 2020
A grand jury indicted defendant on 13 counts arising from the operation of his gun store, including two unlicensed gun-dealing charges. Defendant’s defense to the unlicensed gun-dealing charges was that he did not know what he was doing was unlawful. As to these counts, the district court did not instruct the jury that the government had to prove that defendant’s conduct was willful. The jury convicted defendant on several counts, including two counts of conspiring with others to deal in firearms without a federal firearms license.
On appeal, the government conceded that the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury that, to convict defendant of the conspiracy offenses, the jury had to find that he and his alleged co-conspirators acted willfully. The government further conceded that this error warrants vacating defendant’s conspiracy convictions and remanding for a new trial.
Defendant contended that because there was insufficient evidence presented at trial from which a reasonable jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that he and his co-conspirators agreed to do something they knew was illegal, the district court should be ordered to dismiss those charges with prejudice. Here, defendant and his co-conspirators testified that they did not think what they were doing was illegal; defendant offered explanations for his actions based on his understanding of the firearm regulations, and his co-conspirators testified that they received guidance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms indicating that what they were doing was not against the law. But a reasonable jury would not be required to deem any of that testimony credible because there was also sufficient evidence presented at trial that defendant and his co-conspirators instead tried to cover up what they were doing. Viewing the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the government, there was sufficient evidence presented at trial from which a reasonable jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant and the co-conspirators knew what they agreed to do was unlawful.
The two conspiracy convictions for conspiring to deal in firearms without a federal firearms license were vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings on these counts.