United States v. De Castro, No. 21-2817 (3d Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
De Castro, a citizen of the Dominican Republic came to the U.S. around 2002-2003. In 2012, he married a U.S. citizen. In 2014, his spouse’s Petition for Alien Relative was approved. The State Department notified De Castro that his immigrant visa petition was eligible for further processing. Months later, he was arrested as an alien in possession of a weapon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(A). De Castro eventually pleaded guilty and was allowed to depart voluntarily in 2017. Thirteen months after the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Rehaif” decision, De Castro sought a writ of error coram nobis challenging his conviction. In Rehaif, the Supreme Court held that section 922(g)'s “knowingly” provision applies to both the possession and immigration status elements. De Castro argued that the government never proved he knew he was illegally or unlawfully in the United States; the court never informed him at his plea colloquy that the government was required to prove that element.
The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the petition, finding that De Castro did not have a sound reason for his delay in seeking relief; his knowledge-of-immigration-status argument was not futile in 2017 when he entered his plea agreement; and De Castro cannot establish actual innocence under the Rehaif standard because he cannot demonstrate it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would conclude that he knew of his status as an illegal alien at the time he possessed a firearm.