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Learn more Got it! Legal abbreviations are commonly found in anything from a book to court documents. Having a common set of abbreviations is very important because it allows everyone reading a legal document to understand what is being presented in writing without having to spell out terms that are frequently utilized.
You will be surprised at how many very common abbreviations are actually legal-based. There are literally thousands of legal abbreviations, used under a variety of circumstances both inside and outside of the courtroom.
The following is a listing of some of the more common abbreviations and symbols you may encounter in legal documents. Some of these may already be familiar to you, while others are more commonly seen only by those who work within the legal field. Legal documents are full of abbreviations for legal codes.
Clarify your understanding and refer to these legal abbreviations for court documents as they relate to legal codes, laws and organizations. R 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th, 6th - American Law Reports when followed by the number it represents in the series or edition. Et al. Even people and court systems get abbreviated in legal documents.
There are resources available to help people determine the meaning of different legal abbreviations. Some of these resources include GovSpeak , a very extensive database of abbreviations and acronyms that are commonly used in the government. As the Government concedes, Freed did not address the issue presented here. The question presented by a defendant who possesses a weapon that is a "firearm" for purposes of the Act, but who knows only that he has a "firearm" in the general sense of the term, was not raised or considered.
See Liparota, U. Bailey, U. See also W. Scott, Handbook on Criminal Law Moreover, our analysis in Freed likening the Act to the public welfare statute in Balint rested entirely on the assumption that the defendant knew that he was dealing with hand grenades-that is, that he knew he possessed a particularly dangerous type of weapon one within the statutory definition of a "firearm" , possession of which was not entirely "innocent" in and of itself.
The predicate for that analysis is eliminated when, as in this case, the very question to be decided is whether the defendant must know of the particular characteristics that make his weapon a statutory firearm. Notwithstanding these distinctions, the Government urges that Freed's logic applies because guns, no less than gre-.
But the gap between Freed and this case is too wide to bridge. In glossing over the distinction between grenades and guns, the Government ignores the particular care we have taken to avoid construing a statute to dispense with mens rea where doing so would "criminalize a broad range of apparently innocent conduct.
In Liparota, we considered a statute that made unlawful the unauthorized acquisition or possession of food stamps. We determined that the statute required proof that the defendant knew his possession of food stamps was unauthorized, largely because dispensing with such a mens rea requirement would have resulted in reading the statute to outlaw a number of apparently innocent acts.
Our conclusion that the statute should not be treated as defining a public welfare offense rested on the commonsense distinction that a "food stamp can hardly be compared to a hand grenade.
Neither, in our view, can all guns be compared to hand grenades. Although the contrast is certainly not as stark as that presented in Liparota, the fact remains that there is a long tradition of widespread lawful gun ownership by private individuals in this country. Such a tradition did not apply to the possession of hand grenades in Freed or to the selling of dangerous drugs that we considered in Balint. See also International Minerals, U. Here, the Government essentially suggests that we should interpret the section under the altogether different assumption that "one would hardly be surprised to learn that owning a gun is not an innocent act.
Guns in general are not "deleterious devices or products or obnoxious waste materials," International Minerals,. The Government protests that guns, unlike food stamps, but like grenades and narcotics, are potentially harmful devices.
But that an item is "dangerous," in some general sense, does not necessarily suggest, as the Government seems to assume, that it is not also entirely innocent. Even dangerous items can, in some cases, be so commonplace and generally available that we would not consider them to alert individuals to the likelihood of strict regulation.
As suggested above, despite their potential for harm, guns generally can be owned in perfect innocence. Of course, we might surely classify certain categories of guns-no doubt including the machineguns, sawed-off shotguns, and artillery pieces that Congress has subjected to. The Government, like the dissent, cites Sipes v. United States, F. Brief for United States Indeed, the Government argues that "guns" should be placed in the same category as the misbranded drugs in Dotterweich and the narcotics in Balint because '''one would hardly be surprised to learn' Freed, U.
The dissent relies upon the Government's repeated contention that the statute requires knowledge that "the item at issue was highly dangerous and of a type likely to be subject to regulation. But that assertion merely patterns the general language we have used to describe the mens rea requirement in public welfare offenses and amounts to no more than an assertion that the statute should be treated as defining a public welfare offense.
As explained above, see n. And the statute certainly does not suggest that any significance should attach to readily convertible semiautomatics, for that class bears no relation to the definitions in the Act.
Indeed, in the absence of any definition, it is not at all clear what the contours of this category would be. The parties assume that virtually all semiautomatics may be converted into automatics, and limiting the class to those "readily" convertible provides no real guidance concerning the required mens rea. In short, every owner of a semiautomatic rifle or handgun would potentially meet such a mens rea test. But the dissent apparently does not conceive of the mens rea requirement in terms of specific categories of weapons at all, and rather views it as a more fluid concept that does not require delineation of any concrete elements of knowledge that will apply consistently from case to case.
The dissent sees no need to define a class of items the knowing possession of which satisfies the mens rea element of the offense, for in the dissent's view the exact content of the knowledge requirement can be left to the jury in each case.
As long as the jury concludes that the item in a given case is "sufficiently dangerous to alert [the defendant] to the likelihood of regulation," post, at , the knowledge requirement is satisfied.
See also post, at , , But the mens rea requirement under a criminal statute is a question of law, to be determined by the court. Our decisions. On a slightly different tack, the Government suggests that guns are subject to an array of regulations at the federal, state, and local levels that put gun owners on notice that they must determine the characteristics of their weapons and comply with all legal requirements.
The food stamps at issue in Liparota were subject to comprehensive regulations, yet we did not understand the statute there to dispense with a mens rea requirement.
Moreover, despite the overlay of legal restrictions on gun ownership, we question whether regulations on guns are sufficiently intrusive that they impinge upon the common experience that owning a gun is usually licit and blameless conduct.
Roughly 50 percent of. It is for courts, through interpretation of the statute, to define the mens rea required for a conviction. That task cannot be reduced to setting a general "standard," post, at , that leaves it to the jury to determine, based presumably on the jurors' personal opinions, whether the items involved in a particular prosecution are sufficiently dangerous to place a person on notice of regulation.
Moreover, as our discussion above should make clear, to determine as a threshold matter whether a particular statute defines a public welfare offense, a court must have in view some category of dangerous and deleterious devices that will be assumed to alert an individual that he stands in "responsible relation to a public danger. The truncated mens rea requirement we have described applies precisely because the court has determined that the statute regulates in a field where knowing possession of some general class of items should alert individuals to probable regulation.
Under the dissent's approach, however, it seems that every regulatory statute potentially could be treated as a public welfare offense as long as the jury-not the court-ultimately determines that the specific items involved in a prosecution were sufficiently dangerous.
IV requiring licensing of manufacturers, importers, and dealers of guns and regulating the sale, possession, and interstate transportation of certain guns. American homes contain at least one firearm of some sort,S and in the vast majority of States, buying a shotgun or rifle is a simple transaction that would not alert a person to regulation any more than would buying a car. If we were to accept as a general rule the Government's suggestion that dangerous and regulated items place their owners under an obligation to inquire at their peril into compliance with regulations, we would undoubtedly reach some untoward results.
Automobiles, for example, might also be termed "dangerous" devices and are highly regulated at both the state and federal levels. Congress might see fit to criminalize the violation of certain regulations concerning automobiles, and thus might make it a crime to operate a vehicle without a properly functioning emission control system.
But we probably would hesitate to conclude on the basis of silence that Congress intended a prison term to apply to a car owner whose vehicle's emissions levels, wholly unbeknownst to him, began to exceed legal limits between regular inspection dates.
Here, there can be little doubt that, as in Liparota, the Government's construction of the statute potentially would impose criminal sanctions on a class of persons whose mental state-ignorance of the characteristics of weapons in their. See U. BA ; U. See also M. Anderson, F. Such a gun may give no externally visible indication that it is fully automatic.
See United States v. Herbert, F. But in the Government's view, any person who has purchased what he believes to be a semiautomatic rifle or handgun, or who simply has inherited a gun from a relative and left it untouched in an attic or basement, can be subject to imprisonment, despite absolute ignorance of the gun's firing capabilities, if the gun turns out to be an automatic. As we noted in Morissette, the "purpose and obvious effect of doing away with the requirement of a guilty intent is to ease the prosecution's path to conviction.
But knowledge can be inferred from circumstantial. Historically, the penalty imposed under a statute has been a significant consideration in determining whether the statute should be construed as dispensing with mens rea.
Certainly, the cases that first defined the concept of the public welfare offense almost uniformly involved statutes that provided for only light penalties such as fines or short jail sentences, not imprisonment in the state penitentiary. Raymond, 97 Mass. Farren, 91 Mass. Snow burger, Mich.
As commentators have pointed out, the small penalties attached to such offenses logically complemented the absence of a mens rea requirement: In a system that generally re-. And firing a fully automatic weapon would make the regulated characteristics of the weapon immediately apparent to its owner. In short, we are confident that when the defendant knows of the characteristics of his weapon that bring it within the scope of the Act, the Government will not face great difficulty in proving that knowledge.
Woodrow, 15 M. Winchester Corp. Indeed, some courts justified the absence of mens rea in part on the basis that the offenses did not bear the same punishments as "infamous crimes," Tenement House Dept. McDevitt, N. Price v. Sheffield Farms-Slawson-Decker Co. See R. In rehearsing the characteristics of the public welfare offense, we, too, have included in our consideration the punishments imposed and have noted that "penalties commonly are relatively small, and conviction does no grave damage to an.
In determining whether a criminal statute dispenses with mens rea, "the nature and extent of the penalty attached to the offence may reasonably be considered. There is nothing that need shock any mind in the payment of a small pecuniary penalty by a person who has unwittingly done something detrimental to the public interest". Lindberg, Wash. Maitland, History of English Law 2d ed. Close adherence to the early cases described above might suggest that punishing a violation as a felony is simply incompatible with the theory of the public welfare offense.
In this view, absent a clear statement from Congress that mens rea is not required, we should not apply the public welfare offense rationale to interpret any statute defining a felony offense as dispensing with mens rea.
But see United States v. We need not adopt such a definitive rule of construction to decide this case, however. Instead, we note only that where, as here, dispensing with mens rea would require the defendant to have knowledge only of traditionally lawful conduct, a severe penalty is a further factor tending to suggest that Congress did not intend to eliminate a mens rea require-.
Holdridge v. In such a case, the usual presumption that a defendant must know the facts that make his conduct illegal should apply. Thus, to obtain a conviction, the Government should have been required to prove that petitioner knew of the features of his AR that brought it within the scope of the Act.
We emphasize that our holding is a narrow one. As in our prior cases, our reasoning depends upon a commonsense evaluation of the nature of the particular device or substance Congress has subjected to regulation and the expectations that individuals may legitimately have in dealing with the regulated items. As we noted in Morissette: "Neither this Court nor,. That maxim of construction "is reserved for cases where, '[a]fter "seiz[ing] every thing from which aid can be derived,'" the Court is 'left with an ambiguous statute.
Bass, U. Fisher, 2 Cranch , See also United States v. Certainly, we have not concluded in the past that statutes silent with respect to mens rea are ambiguous. We attempt no definition here, either. We note only that our holding depends critically on our view that if Congress had intended to make outlaws of gun owners who were wholly ignorant of the offending characteristics of their weapons, and to subject them to lengthy prison terms, it would have spoken more clearly to that effect.
Harris, F. For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The statute petitioner Harold E. Staples is charged with violating, 26 U. Ante, at ; see Liparota v. United States, ante, at The question before us is not whether knowledge of possession is required, but what level of knowledge suffices: 1 knowledge simply of possession of the object; 2 knowledge, in addition, that the object is a dangerous weapon; 3 knowledge, beyond dangerousness, of the characteristics that render the object subject to regulation, for example, awareness that the weapon is a machinegun.
Recognizing that the first reading effectively dispenses with mens rea, the Government adopts the second, contending that it avoids criminalizing "apparently innocent conduct," Liparota, supra, at , because under the second reading, "a defendant who possessed what he thought was a toy or a violin case, but which in fact was a machinegun, could not be convicted.
The Government, however, does not take adequate account of the "widespread lawful gun ownership" Congress and the States have allowed to persist in this country. Given the notable lack of comprehensive regulation, "mere unregistered possession of certain types of [regulated weaponsJ-often [difficult to dis-.
O'Mara, F. See The Nation's legislators chose to place under a registration requirement only a very limited class of firearms, those they considered especially dangerous.
The generally "dangerous" character of all guns, the Court therefore observes, ante, at , did not suffice to give individuals in Staples' situation cause to inquire about the need for registration. Only the third reading, then, suits the purpose of the mens rea requirement-to shield people against punishment for apparently innocent activity. The indictment in Staples' case charges that he "knowingly received and possessed firearms.
Knowledge of whether the gun was registered is so closely related to knowledge of the registration requirement that requiring the Government to prove the former would in effect require it to prove knowledge of the law.
Freed, supra, at Brennan, J. See 26 U. The indictment thus effectively charged that Staples knowingly possessed a machinegun. Ratzlaf v. The indictment in this case, but not the jury instruction, properly described this knowledge requirement. I therefore concur in the Court's judgment.
The purpose of adding the word 'knowingly' is to insure that no one can be convicted of possession of a firearm he did not intend to possess. The Government need not prove the defendant knows he's dealing with a weapon possessing every last characteristic [which subjects it] to the regulation. If he has such knowledge and if the particular item is, in fact, regulated, then that person acts at his peril. Mere possession of an unregistered firearm is a violation of the law of the United States, and it is not necessary for the Government to prove that the defendant knew that the weapon in his possession was a firearm within the meaning of the statute, only that he knowingly possessed the firearm.
To avoid a slight possibility of injustice to unsophisticated owners of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns, the Court has substituted its views of sound policy for the judgment Congress made when it enacted the National Firearms Act or Act. Because the Court's addition to the text of 26 U. The Court is preoccupied with guns that "generally can be owned in perfect innocence. This case, however, involves a semiautomatic weapon that was readily convertible into a machinegun-a weapon that the jury found to be "'a dangerous device of a type as would alert one to the likelihood of regulation.
These are not guns "of some sort" that can be found in almost "50 percent of American homes. The question presented is whether the National Firearms Act imposed on the Government the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt not only that the defendant knew he possessed a dangerous device sufficient to alert him to. Although it is not known how many of those weapons are readily convertible into machineguns, it is obviously a lesser share of the total.
Printing Office Three unambiguous guideposts direct us to the correct answer to that question: the text and structure of the Act, our cases construing both this Act and similar regulatory legislation, and the Act's history and interpretation.
Contrary to the assertion by the Court, the text of the statute does provide "explicit guidance in this case. The relevant section of the Act makes it "unlawful for any person Significantly, the section contains no knowledge requirement, nor does it describe a common-law crime. The common law generally did not condemn acts as criminal unless the actor had "an evil purpose or mental culpability," Morissette v.
In interpreting statutes that codified traditional common-law offenses, courts usually followed this rule, even when the text of the statute contained no such requirement. Because the offense involved in this case is entirely a creature of statute, however, "the background rules of the common law," cf.
See Morissette v. The provision's place in the overall statutory scheme, see Crandon v. In , when Congress originally enacted the statute, it limited the coverage of the Act to a relatively narrow category of weapons such as submachineguns and sawed-off shotguns-weapons characteristically used only by professional gangsters like Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, and their henchmen. Ross, F. Your committee is of the opinion that limiting the bill to the taxing of sawed-off guns and machineguns is sufficient at this time.
It is not thought necessary to go so far as to include pistols and revolvers and sporting arms. But while there is justification for permitting the citizen to keep a pistol or revolver for his own protection without any restriction,. Congress therefore could reasonably presume that a person found in possession of an unregistered machinegun or sawed-off shotgun intended to use it for criminal purposes.
The statute as a whole, and particularly the decision to criminalize mere possession, reflected a legislative judgment that the likelihood of innocent possession of such an unregistered weapon was remote, and far less significant than the interest in depriving gangsters of their use.
In addition, at the time of enactment, this Court had already construed comparable provisions of the Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act not to require proof of knowledge of all the facts that constitute the proscribed offense. Cannon v. University of Chicago, U. Like the Act, the current National Firearms Act is primarily a regulatory measure. The statute establishes.
The "policy of the law may, in order to stimulate proper care, require the punishment of the negligent person though he be ignorant of the noxious character of what he sells. The Secretary of the Treasury must maintain a central registry that includes the names and addresses of persons in possession of all firearms not controlled by the Government.
Congress also prohibited certain acts and omissions, including the possession of an unregistered firearm. Not registering your gun, not cleaning up your warehouse, United States v. Park, U. Often the omission occurs because of lack of attention Yet Congress may have sound reasons for requiring people to investigate and act, objectives that cannot be achieved if the courts add mental elements to the statutes.
As the Court notes, because the defendant must know that he is engaged in the type of dangerous conduct that is likely to be regulated, the use of the term "strict liability" to describe these offenses is inaccurate. Ante, at , n. I therefore use the term "public welfare offense" to describe this type of statute. Examples of such offenses include Congress' exertion of its power to keep dangerous narcotics,lO hazardous substances,l1 and impure and adulterated foods and drugs 12 out of the channels of commerce.
Public welfare statutes render criminal "a type of conduct that a reasonable person should know is subject to stringent public regulation and may seriously threaten the community's health or safety. Thus, under such statutes, "a defendant can be convicted even though he was unaware of the circumstances of his conduct that made it illegal. Referring to the strict criminal sanctions for unintended violations of the food and drug laws, Justice Frankfurter wrote:.
Regard for these purposes should in-. We attempt no closed definition, for the law on the subject is neither settled nor static. The prosecution Such legislation dispenses with the conventional requirement for criminal conduct-awareness of some wrongdoing.
In the interest of the larger good it puts the burden of acting at hazard upon a person otherwise innocent but standing in responsible relation to a public danger.
The National Firearms Act unquestionably is a public welfare statute. Congress fashioned a legislative scheme to regulate the commerce and possession of certain types of dangerous devices, including specific kinds of weapons, to protect the health and welfare of the citizenry. To enforce this scheme, Congress created criminal penalties for certain acts and omissions.
The text of some of these offenses-including the one at issue herecontains no knowledge requirement. We thus have read a knowledge requirement into public welfare crimes, but not a requirement that the defendant know all the facts that make his conduct illegal. Although the Court acknowledges this standard, it nevertheless concludes that a gun is not the type of dangerous device that would alert one to the possibility of regulation. Nevertheless, the Court, asserting that the Government "gloss[es] over the distinction between grenades and guns," determines that "the gap between Freed and this case is too wide to bridge.
As such, the Court instead reaches the rather surprising conclusion that guns are more analogous to food stamps than to hand grenades. Our holding in Freed is thus squarely at odds with the Court's conclusion that the "defendant must know the facts that make his conduct illegal," ante, at Ante, at ; ante, at The dissenters accepted the Government's view that the term merely required proof that the defendant had knowledge of the facts that constituted the crime.
The majority, however, concluded that "knowingly" also connoted knowledge of illegality. Contrary to the assertion by the Court, ante, at , n. Compare the Court's description of the Government's position, ibid. The intent requirement applicable to Section d is knowledge that one is dealing with a dangerous item of a type likely to be subject to regulation.
Thus, even assuming that the Court is correct that the mere possession of an ordinary rifle or pistol does not entail sufficient danger to alert one to the possibility of regulation, that conclusion does not resolve this case. Petitioner knowingly possessed a semiautomatic weapon that was readily convertible into a machine gun.
The" 'character and nature' " of such a weapon is sufficiently hazardous to place the possessor on notice of the possibility of regulation. See Posters 'N' Things, Ltd. United States, ante, at citation omitted. Our holding in Posters 'N' Things, illustrates the error in that assumption. A retailer who may not know whether certain merchandise is actually drug paraphernalia, as that term is defined in the relevant federal statute, may nevertheless violate the law if "aware that customers in general are likely to use the merchandise with drugs.
The owner of a semiautomatic weapon that is readily convertible into a machinegun can certainly be aware of its dangerous nature and the consequent probability of regulation even if he does not know whether the. Cases arise, of course, in which a defendant would not know that a device was dangerous unless he knew that it was a "firearm" as defined in the Act.
Freed was such a case; unless the defendant knew that the device in question was a hand grenade, he would not necessarily have known that it was dangerous. But given the text and nature of the statute, it would be utterly implausible to suggest that Congress intended the owner of a sawed-off shotgun to be criminally liable if he knew its barrel was Yet the Court's holding today assumes that Congress intended that bizarre result.
The enforcement of public welfare offenses always entails some possibility of injustice. Congress nevertheless has repeatedly decided that an overriding public interest in health or safety may outweigh that risk when a person is dealing with products that are sufficiently dangerous or deleterious to make it reasonable to presume that he either knows, or should know, whether those products conform to special regulatory requirements.
The dangerous character of the product is reasonably presumed to provide sufficient notice of the probability of regulation to justify strict enforcement against those who are merely guilty of negligent, rather than willful, misconduct. The National Firearms Act is within the category of public welfare statutes enacted by Congress to regulate highly dangerous items.
The Government submits that a conviction under such a statute may be supported by proof that the. If ignorance of the precise characteristics that render an item forbidden should be a defense, items that are likely to be "drug paraphernalia" are no more obviously dangerous, and thus regulated, than items that are likely to be "firearms.