If we had a dollar for every time we had wished for more biker-gang cases in the appellate courts, we would be rich, (and full of guilt for wishing for more criminal cases.)
Regardless, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals - not known for releasing published opinions - pulled through for us this week with this little gem.
Defendants Richard Weaver, Elmer Moore, Kim Berryman, Steven Knight, Brian Mitchell, and Michael Phelps are alleged members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club (PMC), a gang located primarily along the East Coast.
The charges against them stemmed from orders they received from Floyd Moore, who was then the national vice president of the PMC. By virtue of his position in the PMC hierarchy, Moore was able to issue orders to lower-ranking PMC members. Moore was a convicted felon prohibited from possessing a firearm.
In an apparent attempt to circumvent the firearm prohibition, Moore ordered PMC subordinates, including the defendants, to carry firearms in order to protect him. On at least one occasion, defendants accompanied Moore while possessing firearms. Moore allegedly told various PMC members that he did not need to carry a gun because other members carried guns for him.
The armed posse eventually encountered resistance from the law; defendants were each charged with possessing a firearm while being employed for a convicted felon.
The defendants filed motions to dismiss the charges, arguing in part that the words "employed for" and "employment," as used in the statute, requires the government to prove that they were employed for wages. The government asserted that "employed" should be given a broader meaning that includes, but is not limited to, the hiring of a person for wages.
The district court agreed with the bikers, and dismissed the charges.
In reviewing the applicable statute, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that neither legislative intent nor caselaw support the proposition that compensation is the sine qua non of the words "employed for" under federal law. The Fourth Circuit reversed the direct court and reinstated the charges for possessing a firearm charges, finding that the district court's interpretation imposed an artificial restriction on the statute.
Do you agree with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals? Are gang-members "employed" by gang leaders?
- US v. Weaver (FindLaw's CaseLaw)
- Repeat Offenders' Sentences Remanded in Response to Simmons (FindLaw's Fourth Circuit blog)
- Gang Membership Up, Violent Crime Rate Down (FindLaw's Blotter)