Here in Maryland, conviction of certain crimes bars an individual from gun and weapon possession. Typically these state laws are in line with federal gun control laws targeting ex-felons. However, a recent case out of the Maryland Court of Appeals demonstrates that our state’s gun control laws are even stronger than the federal government’s, a decision that could affect many people in the future.
Some background on the case
Mashour Howling and Funiba Abongnelah were arrested in March of 2019, and both were found to be in possession of a firearm at the time. Because each was a prohibited person under both federal and state law, they were charged with and convicted of a felony. The men appealed their convictions on the grounds that they could not be found guilty of a crime they were not aware they were committing – specifically, Howling and Abangnelah asserted they did not know they were prohibited persons.
In their appeal, the men referenced the United States Supreme Court 2019 case Rehaif v. United States. Hamid Rehaif was prosecuted for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person when he was arrested for shooting a gun on firing range after overstaying his visa. In his original trial, the jury was instructed that the government did not need to prove that Rehaif knew he was a prohibited person (i.e., unlawfully in the country).
However, when the case made its way to the Supreme Court, Rehaif’s appeal was successful, with the opinion reading, “the Government must prove both that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and that he knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.”
Howling in particular claims he was unaware he was a prohibited person. Though Howling was convicted of a minor assault offense in another state, his lawyers argued that he had no reason to know he was prohibited from possessing a firearm. Per the Daily Record, “Howling’s previous conviction was not for a felony but for simple assault 20 years ago in Pennsylvania. That misdemeanor would not prohibit him from possessing a gun in Pennsylvania but apparently did in Maryland.”
In the ruling of Howling v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the convictions of Mashour Howling and Funiba Abongnelah for possession of a gun by a prohibited person. According to court documents:
Defendants Mashour Howling and Funiba Abangnelah each possessed a firearm at the time of arrest despite being disqualified to do so. In separate jury trials, both Defendants unsuccessfully requested that the respective circuit courts give a jury instruction incorporating the reasoning of Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), where the United States Supreme Court held that the federal statute required proof of knowledge of possession of a firearm and proof of knowledge of the defendant’s status as a person prohibited from possessing a firearm.
What does this mean, exactly? With this decision, Maryland courts are making their gun control laws even stronger than the federal government’s – which should be the cause of some concern.
Federal laws on prohibited persons
Gun control laws in the United States prohibit certain people from possessing weapons. Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, you are generally ineligible to buy, sell, or possess firearms if you have been convicted of:
- A federal crime punishable by prison for more than one year (typically a felony)
- A state crime (not classified as a misdemeanor) punishable by prison for more than one year
- A state crime (classified as a misdemeanor) punishable by prison for more than two years
There are many other restrictions (which you can read about here), but the three points above are most relevant to the case we are discussing.
Maryland laws on prohibited persons
Our state laws mirror basically mirror federal laws. Under Maryland Public Safety Section 5-133, an individual may not possess a firearm if they have been convicted of a felony, or any misdemeanor punishable in prison for more than two years.
It stands to reason that the Rehaif decision sets a precedent at a federal level that should also apply at the state level. (The defense lawyers clearly thought so.) Yet the Maryland Court of Appeals rejected Howling and Abangnelah’s argument:
“Similarity between a Maryland and a federal statute is not sufficient justification for this court to apply a federal court’s interpretation of a federal statute to a Maryland statute,” Judge Michele D. Hotten wrote for the Court of Appeals. “While the plain text of 18 U.S.C. § 924(a) requires knowledge of prohibited status, the plain text of Pub. Safety § 5-133(b) only requires knowledge of the defendant’s possession of a firearm.”
If you are arrested for gun possession
As you can see, laws and legislation around gun and firearms possession are rarely clear-cut. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side can give you a full understanding of how a conviction can potentially affect all aspects of your life – including what may happen if you are arrested and charged with a crime in the future.
You do have rights under both federal and state laws, and your attorney can walk you through the legal system and protect your Constitutional freedoms throughout. Whether you are facing felony or misdemeanor charges, ensure you have knowledgeable representation from the very beginning. Our legal team is ready to help.
At Carey Law Office, if you are facing gun or weapons charges, or need to talk about any criminal charges, we can help. Our criminal defense attorney has the knowledge, the resources, and the experience to protect your rights and fight the charges against you. Talk to us today to find out how we can help you with your case. We serve clients in Bowie, Crofton, and Owings, as well as Calvert County. Schedule a consultation by calling 301-464-2500 or filling out our contact form.
My name is Joe Carey, and I am the founder and principal attorney of the Carey Law Office. I have lived in Maryland my entire life. I grew up in a small town in Prince George’s County and, with the help of my partner in life, Nancy, I raised my family here: three exceptional children (a son and two daughters), and two goofy, spoiled black Labrador Retrievers. Learn More