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United States v. Aka

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 22, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
SAMUEL AKA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Samuel Aka is charged in a superseding indictment with two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition. Count One charges Aka with violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), which prohibits the possession of any firearm or ammunition by a person who has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, and Count Two charges him with violating D.C. Code § 22-4503(a)(1), the District of Columbia's comparable felon-in-possession statute.

         Pending before the Court is Aka's motion to dismiss Count One of the superseding indictment, on the ground that Aka does not have a prior felony conviction as defined under § 922(g)(1).[1] The underlying conviction supporting both charges against him-a 2011 conviction in D.C. Superior Court for fleeing law enforcement-was set aside in 2012 under the District of Columbia's Youth Rehabilitation Amendment Act (“YRA”). See D.C. Code § 24-906(e). And under the federal felon-in-possession statute, a prior felony conviction that has been expunged or set aside does not qualify as a prior felony conviction for purposes of § 922(g)(1) unless the expungement “expressly provides” that the individual cannot possess firearms. See 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20). The certificate Aka received setting aside his conviction made no mention of firearms. But the specific section of the YRA pursuant to which his conviction was set aside does make clear that he remains subject to the District of Columbia's restriction on felons possessing them. See D.C. Code §§ 22-4503, 24-906(f)(8). The Court concludes that because the source of Aka's set-aside-§ 24-906 of the YRA-“expressly provide[d]” that he cannot possess firearms, his District of Columbia conviction may serve as a predicate offense for a charge under § 922(g)(1). Accordingly, and for the reasons explained below, his motion is DENIED

         I. Background

         A. Statutory Framework

         Section 922(g)(1) provides that any person “who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” may not ship, transport, possess, or receive any firearm in or affecting interstate commerce. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). For purposes of that statute, “[w]hat constitutes a conviction of such a crime” is “determined in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the proceedings were held.” Id. § 921(a)(20). However, “[a]ny conviction which has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of this chapter, unless such pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly provides that the person may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms.” Id.

         The District of Columbia has enacted a process under the YRA for setting aside the convictions of youth offenders, either automatically upon discharge from the defendant's sentence or otherwise at the discretion of the sentencing court. See D.C. Code § 24-906. Specifically, § 24-906(e) provides that a court may, in its discretion, discharge a youth offender from probation before the end of the probation period, upon which the offender's conviction will be automatically set aside. In any case where a youth offender's conviction is set aside, the YRA requires that the court issue a certificate to the offender to that effect. See id.

         Under the YRA, a conviction set aside pursuant to § 24-906 may nonetheless be used for a set of enumerated purposes. See Id. § 24-906(f). In particular, and relevant here, such a conviction may be used to determine whether an individual has unlawfully possessed a firearm in violation of D.C. Code § 22-4503, which prohibits any individual who has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year from possessing a firearm. Id. § 24-906(f)(8). That is, an individual whose conviction has been set aside under § 24-906 is still subject to the District of Columbia's restrictions on felons possessing firearms.

         B. Factual and Procedural Background

         On December 8, 2011, Aka pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court to one count of fleeing law enforcement and one count of reckless driving, the former carrying a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment. See Def.'s Ex. A at 1; D.C. Code § 50-2201.05b(b)(2). He was sentenced to a suspended term of six months' incarceration and one year of supervised probation. Def.'s Ex. A at 1. On October 15, 2012, the court, finding that Aka had successfully completed the conditions of his sentence prior to the expiration of probation, discharged Aka from his sentence pursuant to § 24-906(e) of the YRA. Id. at 3-4. As required by that statute, the court ordered that his conviction be set aside, and it issued an “Order of Discharge and Certificate Setting Aside Conviction” (the “Certificate”) to that effect. Id. at 4.

         The Certificate read in relevant part as follows:

The offender has successfully completed the conditions of his/her sentence prior to the expiration of the maximum period previously imposed by the Court.
Therefore, it is hereby ORDERED that the offender be unconditionally discharged from the imposed sentence and,
It is further ORDERED that by this discharge the conviction shall be set aside, and the Court shall issue a copy of this order and Certificate to the offender, and all appropriate ...

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