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A defendant's use of a weapon can make its regulated characteristics immediately apparent. Evidence a defendant observed and handled a sawed-off shotgun can be sufficient for jury to reasonably infer his knowledge of the weapon's statutory characteristic relative to length of gun or length of barrel.
Defendant, Hazen Shaw, was convicted by jury of one count of possessing an unregistered short-barreled shotgun under 26 U.S.C.S. §§ 5861(d) and 5871 of the National Firearms Act, 26 U.S.C.S. §§ 5801-5872. On appeal, defendant contended that the government failed to present sufficient evidence that he knew the shotgun's barrel was shorter than 18 inches, the statutory characteristic under 26 U.S.C.S. § 5845(a) that subjected the weapon to the Act.
Did the government fail to present sufficient evidence that the defendant knew the shotgun's barrel was shorter than 18 inches?
The judgment was affirmed. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant knew that the barrel of the sawed-off shotgun was shorter than 18 inches. His acquaintance with the particular weapon, his familiarity with firearms generally, and the external and readily observable shortened feature of the gun's sawed-off barrel permitted the jury to infer defendant's knowledge relative to barrel length. The gun was admitted into evidence, which allowed jurors to see the weapon for themselves. Thus, the jury had ample opportunity to reach its own determination as to whether the statutorily prescribed short barrel length was clear from simply looking at the shotgun. The evidence permitted the jury to conclude that the barrel's length visually appeared to be some stretch shorter than the actual internal measurement.