Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant Marrero was charged with possession of an unlicensed loaded .38 caliber automatic pistol. As a guard at a federal prison, Defendant thought that he did not need to have the gun licensed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Mistake of law is not a defense, except to specific intent crimes.
Issue. Is a mistake in the interpretation of a law a defense to criminal liability?
A misreading or misunderstanding of the criminal offense is generally not a defense to criminal charges. However, in the case of a specific intent crime, ignorance of the law is a defense since one cannot intend to commit a crime if one did not know it was a crime.
Here, the firearms possession statute is a strict liability offense, meaning that an accused is guilty of the offense if he possesses a weapon regardless of his intent to do so. Therefore, the defendant cannot cite ignorance as a defense to the crime.
Accordingly, the underlying statute never in fact authorized the defendant's conduct; the defendant only thought that the statutory exemptions permitted his conduct when, in fact, the primary statute clearly forbade his conduct.View Full Point of Law