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United States v. Bowling - 770 F.3d 1168 (7th Cir. 2014)


To sustain a conviction that a defendant violated 18 U.S.C.S. § 922(a)(6), the government must establish: (1) that the defendant knowingly made a false statement to a licensed firearms dealer; (2) that the false statement was made in acquisition of a firearm, and; (3) that the false statement was intended or likely to deceive the firearms dealer with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale of the firearm. 


A prosecutor in Rush County, Indiana charged defendant James Bowling with strangulation, battery, and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The strangulation charge constituted a felony, while the others were misdemeanors. He was told that he faced potential imprisonment exceeding one year for the strangulation charge. Bowling's trial was originally set for the beginning of July 2012, but did not proceed as scheduled. At some point in the first half of July, the matter was continued when the prosecutor extended a plea offer to Bowling's counsel to dismiss the felony count against Bowling in exchange for a plea of guilty to misdemeanor offenses. On July 14, 2012, while the charges were still pending, Bowling attempted to purchase a firearm from Fields Outdoor Adventures ("Fields"), a federally licensed firearms dealer in Rushville, Indiana. Per federal regulations, Bowling was required to fill out a form in which he was asked if he there was any indictment or information in any court for a felony, or for any other crime, for which he could be imprisoned for more than one year; he was also asked to provide a current residence address. Bowling provided a former address that was listed on his driver's license and where he maintained an office, but no longer resided. Before completing the paper-work, Bowling certified that his answers were correct. On Oct. 23, 2012, Bowling pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct—a new misdemeanor charge—in exchange for the dismissal of all other state charges against him. Based upon Bowlings answers in the form, the government filed a superseding indictment on June 4, 2013, charging Bowling with two counts of making a false statement in connection with the acquisition of a firearm. Prior to trial in federal district court, Bowling filed a motion in limine to preclude the government from introducing the charging information and the transcript of the Feb. 9, 2012 initial hearing. The court denied the motion. After trial, the jury convicted Bowling on both counts and he was sentenced to 21 months' imprisonment on each count, to be served concurrently. Bowling appealed.


Were the convictions proper?




The appellate court remanded the case for new trial. It held that a new trial was warranted because the trial court violated Bowling's due process right to present a mistake-of-fact defense since the testimony of a county prosecutor, regarding whether he made a plea offer, presented facts relevant to a possible mistake-of-fact defense. The appellate court could not say beyond a reasonable doubt that a jury would still have found Bowling guilty had the defense been able to cross-examine the county prosecutor and develop mistake-of-fact defense in full. However, the court noted that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in allowing the government to prove the underlying felony charge rather than stipulate to it.

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