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Supreme Court hears arguments on extra penalties for felons

People with criminal records in Georgia and across the country can face additional penalties for a range of other actions. For example, people who were formerly convicted of a felony offense would face additional penalties for carrying a weapon. These penalties can also apply in other circumstances; in the firearms example, people who were in the country illegally could also face additional penalties for possessing a firearm. There are questions, however, about what the accused person is required to know about his or her status.

In one case before the Supreme Court, several justices indicated that they saw these kinds of provisions as ones that require the defendant to have that awareness. The debate arose in light of a case involving a former student who failed his classes, thereby losing his student visa. He moved to a local hotel and, one day, went to a shooting range and rented a gun to shoot for an hour. Despite the fact that the man did not own a firearm or use it in any manner outside a firing range, he was later convicted of possessing a firearm while being in the United States illegally.

A lower court refused to tell the jury that the man would have to know that he was in the country illegally in order to be held responsible. During arguments, justices pushed back against the idea that the government would face an excessive burden in proving knowledge of a felony conviction or unauthorized immigration status. They noted that people are clearly aware of their status in most cases.

Criminal convictions can have long-term effects on people's lives, even years later and in unrelated incidents. A criminal defense attorney can work with someone facing allegations to challenge police and prosecution narratives.

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