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United States v. Payne

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ZAYJUAN PAYNE Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Zayjuan Payne is charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), the federal “felon-in-possession” law. He now moves to dismiss the indictment, arguing that because his prior convictions were set aside under the District of Columbia's Youth Rehabilitation Act (“YRA”), the Government cannot show that he has a qualifying predicate felony as required by Section 922(g)(1). The Court agrees. It will therefore grant his motion and dismiss his indictment.

         I.

         In the early morning hours of a Friday in March, police officers conducted a security sweep of a parking garage near a D.C. night club. ECF No. 1-1 at 1. They noticed an unoccupied car that had a purple (yes, purple) handgun and an extended magazine sticking out of the rear pocket of the driver's seat. Id. Later, they watched three people enter the car and drive away. Id. The police stopped the car. Id. Because they noticed a gun in the car, the officers detained the driver and two passengers, one of whom was Payne. Id. The officers saw the purple handgun and extended magazine were now on the rear floorboard at Payne's feet. Id. Payne was ultimately indicted by a federal grand jury for violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). See ECF No. 2.

         Section 922 makes it unlawful for “any person who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” to “possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition.” 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Congress later narrowed the scope of Section 922 in the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986, 18 U.S.C. § 921(a).

         The Act states that what constitutes a “crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” is determined “in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the proceedings were held.” Id. § 921(a)(20). But any conviction that “has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or 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.

         Payne has twice been convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. See ECF No. 26-2. The first felony conviction was for attempted robbery. See id. at 3. The second was for assault with significant bodily injury. See id. at 6.

         But both convictions were ultimately set aside under the YRA, D.C. Code § 24-906. See id. The YRA provides that the sentencing court may, in its discretion, “unconditionally discharge” a youth offender before the end of any sentence imposed. See D.C. Code § 24-906(a), (e). Any such discharge automatically sets aside the offender's underlying conviction. Id.

         For each conviction, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia unconditionally discharged Payne from the sentence it imposed before he completed it. See ECF No. 26-2 at 3, 6. Payne's convictions were thereby set aside or expunged.[1] Id. The Superior Court issued an “Order of Discharge and Certificate Setting Aside Conviction” for each expunged felony. Id. These certificates read in relevant part:

• “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 agencies, pursuant to D.C. Code 24-906(e).”

See id. at 3. The certificates do not mention any firearms prohibitions. See id.

         Because his convictions were set aside under the YRA, and because the set-aside certificates did not expressly bar him from possessing a firearm, Payne argues that he cannot be convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He has therefore moved to dismiss the indictment against him. ...


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