Without the knowledge that an offense that he has committed was a felony, a defendant would be ignorant of the facts necessary for him to come within the proscription of Cal. Penal Code § 12021. Under those circumstances, Cal. Jury Instructions - Criminal No. 4.35 on mistake or ignorance of fact and Cal. Jury Instructions - Criminal No. 1.21 on knowledge of the facts that make the act unlawful- should be given.
In 1969, Bray pled guilty in Kansas to being an accessory after the fact (Kansas Statutes Ann. 21-106) and was placed on two years probation that he completed before moving to California. On a California voter-registration form, appellant stated that he had been convicted of a felony; but he submitted a supplementary form to find out if, in fact, he had committed one. Appellant was allowed to vote; and on various subsequent forms, including one pertaining to his purchase of a revolver, appellant indicated he had not been convicted of a felony, or indicated he had been convicted of a "felony or misdemeanor." Having been found with the revolver and a pistol, appellant was charged with and convicted of being a felon in possession of a concealable firearm, under Cal. Penal Code § 12021. The court held that if appellant was without knowledge that the offense he had committed was a felony, appellant was not within the proscription of § 12021.
Can a prosecution be defended by showing the defendant lacked knowledge he was a felon?
Knowledge that one is a felon becomes relevant where there is doubt the defendant knew he had committed a felony. Here, even the prosecution had substantial difficulty in determining whether the offense was considered a felony in Kansas and had sought a Kansas attorney's expert testimony, the district attorney said, ". . . in even our own jurisdiction, let alone a foreign jurisdiction such as the State of Kansas, it's extremely difficult to determine whether a sentence was a felony or a misdemeanor." Although the district attorney had great difficulty in determining whether the Kansas offense was a felony or a misdemeanor, he expects the layman Bray to know its status easily. There was no doubt Bray knew he had committed an offense; there was, however, evidence to the effect he did not know the offense was a felony. Without this knowledge Bray would be ignorant of the facts necessary for him to come within the proscription of section 12021. Under these circumstances the requested instructions on mistake or ignorance of fact and knowledge of the facts which make the act unlawful should have been given.