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USA v. James Humphries, 05-3172.  James Humphreys was convicted after a jury trial of possession of a firearm by a felon. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The district court found that he had three prior felony convictions for violent crimes and sentenced him to fifteen and one half years’ imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”). See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1).

At trial, the government  presented Michael Casey, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as an expert witness to testify to the existence of a commerce nexus. To support his qualification as an expert, Casey testified that he was trained in firearms identification and had identified between 1,500 and 2,000 firearms in his 25 years as a law enforcement officer. Humphreys failed to object when the district court qualified Casey as an expert witness.

Casey testified that the gun found in Humphreys’s bag was manufactured by the High Standard Manufacturing Corporation in Hamden, Connecticut, and thus, in his opinion, had traveled in interstate commerce. When the government asked Casey for the basis of his opinion, he explained that he could identify the gun’s manufacturer “based on its stampings.” The barrel of the gun was stamped with the words “High Standard Mfg. Corp. Hamden, Conn. USA.” Casey also said he conducted research to “verify” that High Standard did manufacture firearms of that type but had never done so in the state of Illinois. On cross-examination, Casey acknowledged that he never attempted to trace the serial number of the gun, but he was not asked why and did not volunteer an explanation. The jury returned a verdict of guilty.

Humphreys argues that the government failed to meet its burden on the commerce element of § 922(g) because, in his view, the evidence established only that the barrel of the gun had traveled in interstate commerce. He argues that the barrel cannot alone satisfy the statutory requirement, and that because barrels are interchangeable, nothing about the origin of the rest of the gun may fairly be inferred.

The Seventh Circuit  refused to accept Humphreys’s very speculative and self-serving interpretation of the evidence. The expert testified that the gun-and not just the barrel-traveled in interstate commerce. The expert stated that the weapon was manufactured in Hamden, Connecticut by a company that had never manufactured any weapon in the state of Illinois. He also stated that the gun was not a counterfeit weapon. Thus, there was no need for the jury to rely on any assumption in concluding that the gun had traveled in interstate commerce, since “[t]he requisite interstate commerce nexus can be established . . . merely by evidence that the gun was manufactured outside the state in which it was possessed.” United States v. Coleman, 22 F.3d 126, 130-31 (7th Cir. 1994).

The Seventh Circuit analyzes this argument under a sufficiency of evidence standard.  This is a difficult, if not impossible, road for any defendent.  As such, the Seventh Circuit affirms.

Humphreys also contends that even if his conviction can be sustained, his sentence must be vacated because the district court erred in finding that his aggravated battery conviction is a violent felony for purposes of the ACCA. He contends that under the Illinois statute aggravated battery may be nonviolent, and that the only “legitimate” items of evidence for proving that his particular conviction involved violence are inadequate under Shepard v. United States, 544 U.S. 13, 16 (2005). Shepard holds that a court should look to the statutory elements, charging documents, and judicial findings of fact to determine whether a previous conviction was for a violent felony. Id. at 16. In this case, Humphreys argues that the charging information and the state judge’s findings of fact are too “ambiguous” to support the district court’s finding that his conviction for aggravated battery involved violence.

The Seventh Circuit admits that an aggravated battery under the Illinois statute may in some cases be nonviolent.  United States v. Thigpen, 456 F.3d 766, 770 (7th Cir. 2006).  Specifically, Humphreys argues that he was not the sole defendant and that it cannot be determined whether he personally engaged in any violent conduct under the charging information alone. But Humphreys and his co-defendant were both charged with striking Cook with a gun, and under Illinois law, Humphreys could have been convicted of the offense as a principal or as an aider or abettor to his co-defendant.

The Seventh Circuit holds that when considering the totality of the evidence produced at trial and the charging information, they are convinced that the judge concluded that Humphreys played one role or the other when the Illinois State courts convicted Humphreys of aggravated battery.  Further, the Seventh Circuit has held that a conviction for aiding and abetting in a crime may constitute a violent felony under the ACCA. United States v. Groce, 999 F.2d 1189, 1191-92 (7th Cir. 1993).

As such, the Seventh Circuit has no doubt that this aggravated battery under Illinois law is a violent felony under the ACCA.