Court Cases By Federal

United States v. Charles
52 F. 3d 335, 1995 WL 230349 (9th Cir.)

Charles was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and was sentenced to 100 months in prison. The conviction was based on the fact that he pawned a rifle at a pawn shop for $150.

Charles offered somewhat equivocal evidence regarding FAS/FAE. A psychological report for the defendant concluded "I do not think that he actually suffers from a fetal alcohol syndrome. However, fetal alcohol effect could contribute to the patient's verbal memory deficits." 1995 WL 230349 *2. The report stated that Charles "may not have had the capacity to . . . understand that possession of the rifle under these circumstances was not acceptable." Charles stated that he had pawned an unloaded firearm solely to obtain money for his family. This may be a case in which an individual with FAS/FAE got in very serious trouble because he did not understand the conditions to which he was subject after his release from prison.

The trial judge relied in part on this in imposing a sentence at the low end of the Guidelines range, but declined to exercise his discretion for a (greater) "downward departure" from the Guidelines. The resulting sentence was still severe, and quite inappropriate if Charles in fact lacked the capacity to understand that he was violating the law. The court of appeals held that such an exercise of discretion was not reviewable on appeal.