United States of America v. Harold E. Staples, III

Court:United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma
Case No:90-CR-75-C, US Supreme Court Case No. 92-1441
Defendent:Harold E. Staples, III
Prosecutor:United States Attorney
Experts:William Fleming - Firearms Dealer, Charles Fagg - Firearms Expert

Mr. Staples’ home was searched by the ATF and the Jenks Police Department. Two firearms were seized. An M-1 Carbine used in World War II by Mr. Staples’ father, which was being kept in Mr. Staples’ home. The officers also seized an AR-15 rifle. Seven months later, Mr. Staples was indicted for knowingly possessing unregistered machine guns. The AR-15 was defective even in semi-automatic mode. The AR-15 was capable of firing “automatically” by malfunction. The law governing the case provided that possession of a machine gun was unlawful regardless of whether one knew it was a machine gun. At trial, the jury convicted Mr. Staples. He was sentenced to probation for five (5) years and fined. The Defendant appealed to the Tenth Circuit. The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction finding that the defendant’s knowledge as to the characteristics of the weapon was not an element of the crime which the government must prove.

Outcome:

This firm appealed the conviction to the United States Supreme Court with the central issue in the appeal concerning there being a lack of mens rea, or knowledge requirement, in the statute under which Mr. Staples was convicted. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the conviction. The trial court then entered a judgment of acquittal.