CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Brief Fact Summary. Defendant Marrero was arrested for unlicensed possession of a loaded pistol in violation of a provision of a statute that made such possession a crime but which also exempted “peace officers”. Defendant raised a mistake of law defense but was convicted nonetheless. Defendant contended that he had reasonably believed that the statutory exemption applied to him given the fact that he was a Federal Corrections Officer.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Mistake of law regarding a statutory definition is not a valid defense unless the mistaken belief is based on an official statement of the law contained in a statute or issued by a public servant.
Issue. Does a defendant’s subjective mistake of fact with regard to his/her understanding of a statutory prohibition excuse the criminal conduct?
Held. No. Conviction affirmed.
Mistake of law is not a valid defense unless the mistaken belief is based on an official statement of the law. The purpose of having an “official statement” mistake of law defense was based on the legislative belief people should not face prosecution for reliance on an official interpretation of a statute and to encourage reliance on official interpretations.
If subjective mistakes of law, other than those based on official interpretations, were treated as valid defenses, mistakes about the law would be encouraged.
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