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United States v. Huet

November 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge


Memorandum Opinion

I. Introduction

Pending before this Court are numerous pre-trial motions, including defendant Melissa A. Huet‟s (hereinafter "Huet" or "defendant Huet") Motion to Dismiss Count Three of a Three-Count Indictment charging her with aiding and abetting possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, from on or about August 10, 2007 to on or about January 11, 2008, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922(g)(1) and 2(a).

Huet‟s co-defendant and paramour, Marvin E. Hall (hereinafter "Hall" or "defendant Hall"), was charged at Count One of the Indictment, with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon on or about January 11, 2008, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(1). Count Two charged Hall with transfer of unregistered firearms, on or about January 11, 2009, in violation of Title 26, United States Code, Section 5861(e). On February 1, 2010, defendant Hall pled guilty to Count One of the Indictment, and on June 25, 2010, Hall was sentenced by this Court to time served.*fn1 Defendant Hall already had served twenty four (24) months imprisonment in pretrial detention, and actually served more time than was called for under the advisory sentencing guideline range of fifteen (15) to twenty-one (21) months imprisonment. See the Vue case, 09-cr-48, doc. no. 120.

Defendant Huet moves to dismiss Count Three of the Indictment pursuant to Fed.R.Crim.P. 12(b)(3)(B) on the basis that: (1) it fails to state an offense under the aiding and abetting statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2, and/or (2) if it does state an offense under section 2, on the grounds that said offense violates the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, as it has been construed in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. ___, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008).

II. Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(3)(B) permits a Court "at any time while the case is pending... [to] hear a claim that the indictment or information fails to... state an offense." When ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state an offense under Fed.R.Crim.P. 12(b)(3)(B), the Court is generally limited to reviewing the face of the Indictment, and the allegations of the Indictment are to be accepted as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. United States v. Besmajian, 910 F.2d 1153, 1154 (3d Cir. 1990). A motion under Fed.R.Crim.P. 12(b)(3) is appropriate when it raises questions of law rather than fact. See United States v. Levin, 973 F.2d 463, 469 (6th Cir. 1992) (affirming the district court's dismissal of an Indictment when "undisputed extrinsic evidence" demonstrated that "the government was, as a matter of law, incapable of proving" an element of the offense). As the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit explained in United States v. Levin:

Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and its component parts encourage district courts to entertain and dispose of pretrial criminal motions before trial if they are capable of determination without trial of the general issues. Moreover, district courts may make preliminary findings of fact necessary to decide questions of law presented by pretrial motions so long as the trial court's conclusions do not invade the province of the ultimate finder of fact. 973 F.2d 463, 469.

A pretrial motion raising factual issues may be ruled upon where there is no right to jury resolution of a factual dispute. United States v. MacDougall, 790 F.2d 1135 (4th Cir. 1986). Where, as here, the factual information underpinning the indictment is not in dispute and the only question is a legal one, motions to dismiss an Indictment may be ruled upon as a matter of law. See United States v. Ali, 557 F.3d 715, 719-29 (6th Cir. 2009)(court may rule on a motion to dismiss where defendant‟s motion pleads that undisputed facts did not give rise to the offense charged in the Indictment, or whether the Indictment, based on such undisputed facts failed to state an offense). United States v. Todd, 404 F.3d 1062, 1067 (10th Cir. 2006); United States v. Flores, 404 F.3d 320 (5th Cir. 2005).

The Indictment must include all of the elements of the crime alleged, United States v. Spinner, 180 F.3d 514 (3d. Cir. 1999), as well as specific facts that satisfy all those elements; a recitation "in general terms the essential elements of the offense" is not sufficient. United States v. Panarella, 277 F.3d 678, 684-85 (3d Cir. 2002). The dismissal of an Indictment is authorized only if its allegations are not sufficient to charge an offense, but such dismissals may not be based upon arguments related to the insufficiency of the evidence that will be offered to prove the charges in the Indictment. United States v. DeLaurentis, 230 F.3d 659, 660-661 (3d Cir. 2000).

This pretrial motion to dismiss is properly addressed and resolved by this Court because defendant Huet‟s argument that the Indictment fails to state an offense is based upon facts which are, for purposes of this Motion, either undisputed or resolved in the government‟s favor, and involve a constitutional claim involving her Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

III. Background Factual Information*fn2

A. Investigation of Defendant Huet

Defendant Huet is 35 years old, has never been convicted of any crime, and is not disabled or otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), or its Pennsylvania counterpart, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105.

Count Three (3) of the Indictment charges Huet with aiding and abetting the possession by her paramour, defendant Hall, of a firearm identified as an SKS rifle,*fn3 from August 10, 2007 to January 18, 2008. During discovery, materials provided to defendant pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 16 describe the rifle as an Interordnance M59/66 Rifle, Serial Number F151932 (hereinafter referred to as "the SKS rifle"), which as described more fully later in this Opinion is not an "assault" rifle (like an AK-47) but a "curio" or collectors‟ rifle. Defendant Hall‟s guilty plea and sentencing at Count One of the Indictment confirm that he had been convicted in March, 1999, of possessing an unregistered firearm in violation of Title 26, United States Code, Section 5861(d).

The genesis of the investigation by federal agents claims that they worked undercover "to penetrate a cell of militia extremists," and during their investigation, they met defendants Hall and Huet, while the agents pretended to have an interest in the activities of Morgan Jones, of Lucinda, Clarion County, including Jones‟ collection of guns and his hosting of an annual "flame-throwing" party in 2005.*fn4 See United States v. Hall, Doc. No. 44, Detention Hearing Transcript, June 11, 2008, p. 13-14.

Under authority of a search warrant, federal agents seized the SKS rifle from an upstairs bedroom at the Hall/Huet home at Lawsonham Road in Clarion County, during a raid conducted on June 6, 2008. The raid occurred approximately nine (9) months to a year after the agent first met the couple, and nearly five (5) months from the end date of defendant Huet‟s "aiding and abetting" possession by a convicted felon charge pleaded in the Indictment. Doc. No. 120-1.

According to the Rule 16 discovery materials, at no time during the undercover investigation did agents observe either Huet or Hall actually handle the SKS rifle. They did not observe Huet handle or otherwise deliver the rifle to Hall or direct him to handle it. Importantly, at no time over the five (5) months period covered by the Indictment did agents observe Huet in the same room as the rifle. There is no allegation that it had been discharged, either legally or illegally, by either Hall or Huet, and in particular, there is no allegation that Huet directed Hall to discharge the rifle, or possess the rifle, nor that Huet was a "straw" purchaser of the rifle for Hall.

As set forth in the affidavit of probable cause, Huet indicated to one or more of the agents on August 10, 2007 the following:

That she was angry that HALL had been showing off an SKS assault rifle. HUET said that if it happened again, she would take it back to MORGAN. HUET further elaborated that she was worried that if HALL "gets in trouble with that, I get in trouble, too. Cause it‟s in my name and he‟s got it.‟ HALL invited [the undercover agent] into his residence, where the [undercover agent] observed an SKS rifle assault in HALL‟s computer room. Referring to the SKS rifle HALL said, "That‟s her SKS rifle, I‟m not allowed to have a gun.‟ Doc. No. 120-1, ¶ 19.

According to the Agent‟s summary of Huet‟s June 8, 2009 (FBI Form 302) statement, government agents reported that after they told Huet that they raided her house, arrested Hall and had a warrant to search her truck, she told them that "the guns in her home belong to her and that it is not illegal for her to purchase weapons." Doc. No. 120-2.

While the affidavit is filled with labels of "assault" rifle and "militia" language, there are no allegations that SKS rifle is a "true" assault weapon (at least for the last 50 to 60 years), or that Huet was personally involved in any militia activities, legal or illegal. The attempt to "label" Huet should not deter a thorough analysis in this case - - is the government, through the framework of "aiding and abetting," attempting to convert a lawful rifle owner into a criminal?

Importantly, absent from the Indictment are any facts supporting an inference that Huet did anything to aid and abet defendant Hall in "possessing" her firearm, the SKS rifle, or that Huet purchased or possessed the rifle as a means to assist Hall to avoid his restrictions. In other words, the government has set forth no facts addressing any specifics as to how defendant Huet aided and abetted Hall. The government simply charges its conclusion that Huet "knowingly and unlawfully aided and abetted the possession of a firearm, that is an SKS rifle assault rifle, in and affecting interstate commerce, by Marvin E. Hall." Doc. No. 1. The ...

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