Thursday, June 15, 2017

U.S. v. Hernandez (9th Cir. - June 15, 2017)

I seriously don't know how we expect juries to do their job competently.  Because I'm not a moron, and have also been an attorney for a quarter century now, and even I can't fully follow the Ninth Circuit's explanation today as to what it means (or what we have to tell a jury) when we say that someone who ships firearms from one state to another may be acting in "willful"violation of the law.

If even someone like me can't fully understand what we're saying, how in God's Green Earth can we expect a jury of laypeople with absolutely no legal training to figure it out on their own (instructed properly or not)?

I understand why there's sufficient evidence to convict here.  Mr. Hernandez drove a super long way to buy a ton of guns in Arizona that he couldn't have bought in California, and then drove back here and they ended up in the hands of others.  Yeah.  That may well be illegal.

But it's only illegal if it's willful, and, geeze, I'm just at a total loss to explain to a nonlawyer -- or even a lawyer! -- what the true dividing line is between willful knowledge of illegality and lack of such knowledge.  Even after reading the opinion.

Look, I understand, we have to do our best, and I appreciate the Ninth Circuit both caring deeply about the issue (it reverses the conviction here because the instruction, while admittedly "accurate", allegedly wasn't "clear enough") and trying their absolute best.

But lots of the opinion nonetheless reads like eleventh century theological analyses of how many angels can fit on the head of the opinion, and -- worse -- how to explain that reasoning to largely disinterested nontheologians.