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7th Circuit upholds conviction

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a defendant's conviction and sentence for selling a firearm to a felon, ruling the wording of his indictment did not require the government to prove he knew about the gun buyer's past convictions.

In U.S.A. v. Dwayne Haskins, No.06-1438, Haskins was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 922(d) after selling a firearm to co-worker Darryl Eller, who was a convicted felon. Eller cooperated with federal agents after police arrested him as a felon in possession and confiscated his gun after an incident at work. Police inadvertently returned the gun to Haskins, who worked as a security guard with Eller at a bar. Haskins then told Eller he would sell the gun back to Eller.

Eller worked with police and was wired during phone calls with Haskins about purchasing the gun. Haskins was arrested and told an ATF agent he knew Eller had been in some trouble but didn't know if he had been in prison. At trial, Eller testified Haskins and other co-workers knew he was a convicted felon.

Haskins appealed his conviction and sentence of 18 months, arguing there was insufficient evidence, his sentence was too harsh, and the government and District Court amended his indictment. Specifically, Haskins argued the government had to prove he knew Eller was a felon and knew of the particular felony referred to in the indictment. Haskins relied on United States v. Willoughby, 27 F.3d 263 (7th Cir. 1994), in which the court reversed a conviction where the defendant's indictment for using a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime specified a particular drug trafficking crime. That indictment stated the crime as distribution of cocaine, but the government only proved at trial a connection between the defendant's use of a firearm and possession of cocaine.

In Haskins' case, the indictment specified Eller's 1993 felony conviction and did not narrow the description of charges against Haskins or his knowledge of Eller being a felon. Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner described Eller's felony conviction information as "superfluous background information" that the government doesn't need to prove.

Haskins also argued his conviction should be reversed because there was insufficient evidence to prove he knew Eller had been convicted of a felony. Judge Rovner wrote Eller's testimony that Haskins knew he was a felon, Haskins' comment to ATF agents that he knew Eller was a felon "the first time I saw him", and his conversation with Eller before and during the sale of the gun all prove he knew Eller was a felon.

Haskins believed his sentence to be unreasonable, arguing a mitigating factor was used against him in sentencing and the judge relied on improper and irrelevant factors when sentencing him. Haskins told the court he had been shot by a felon 14 years ago but was not given the opportunity at trial to explain why his victim status justified a lower sentence. The District Court deemed this incident as irrelevant to his current crime, wrote Judge Rovner. The circuit judges found the District Court gave "meaningful consideration" to sentencing factors found in 18 U.S.C. 3553 and affirmed Haskins' conviction and sentence.

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