Published on: Monday, October 2, 2023

Puerto Rican man accused of dealing drug is arrested, and the ensuing search turns up a 9mm pistol. Whoa! It's been modified to fire fully automatic—so it's a machine gun! Yikes! The man is charged with possession of a machine gun in furtherance of a drug crime, which carries a 30-year sentence. Double yikes! He objects that he had no idea the pistol was modified—he was holding it temporarily for his boss—and asks for a jury instruction requiring the gov't prove he knew the pistol had been modified. District court: no instruction for you, and he's convicted. First Circuit: Vacated. Instruction for him. "The contention that an injury can amount to a crime only when inflicted by intention is … as universal and persistent in mature systems of law as belief in freedom of the human will and a consequent ability and duty of the normal individual to choose between good and evil."

The ruling created a split between the First Circuit and the D.C. and Eleventh Circuits.

The case is United States v. Pérez-Greaux, No. 21-1699 (1st Cir. Sept. 28, 2023).