ATF agent’s testimony supports gun conviction

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a man’s weapons conviction Tuesday, ruling that the expert testimony of an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives could be used to prove that a gun had crossed state lines.

In order to convict Joseph Brownlee of being a felon in possession of a gun in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(1), the government had to prove the .40 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol had been “shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.” The government presented the expert testimony of a special agent of the ATF who testified that the gun was manufactured in Connecticut and so it must have been transported by interstate commerce to get to Indiana.

She based her research on a search of an ATF database of information about the places where guns are manufactured, as well as a phone conversation she had with the manager of the Connecticut plant where she believed the gun was made. He told her it was his plant that made the gun.

Brownlee’s attorney didn’t question the ATF agent’s qualifications to give expert testimony and only asked her two “pointless” questions, according to Judge Richard Posner, who authored United States of America v. Joseph C. Brownlee, 13-2745.

“The government didn’t have to prove where the gun had been manufactured, only that it had not been manufactured in Indiana, a conclusion the expert had arrived at on the basis of her database searches before she talked to the manager,” Posner wrote in rejecting Brownlee’s claim the expert gave impermissible hearsay evidence in testifying to what the manager told her.

The 7th Circuit also rejected Brownlee’s claim that the manager of the plant should have been called to testify.

“The agent not only works in Indiana, but her job involves determining the state in which a gun is manufactured (or in which it is not manufactured — because, to repeat, it doesn’t matter where the defendant’s gun was manufactured so long as it was not manufactured in the state in which he possessed it). The manager of Tri Town Plastics’ plant has a different job, the performance of which would be disrupted if he had to fly to remote locations any time a person was being prosecuted as a felon in possession of a gun believed to have been manufactured in that plant. It’s no surprise that the use of expert testimony to prove that a gun has crossed state lines is the standard method of proof of that element of the crime of being a felon in possession—evidence accepted as valid by (so far as we have been able to determine) all courts,” Posner wrote.


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